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How, when and whether to ask girlfriend's father for permission to marry her

Carolyn Hax on

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I plan to ask my girlfriend's father for permission to marry his daughter. How early is this commonly done before proposing and, if possible, should it be in person? I'm not planning on proposing for another three months. However, the parents live a considerable distance away and we are visiting her family next month. Do I wait until it's closer and ask by phone, or, take the opportunity to do it in person?

I guess my only concern is keeping the secret for that long. I'm fairly sure the father will, but while her mother is great, she may have more difficulty keeping it quiet (I'm assuming he'll tell her) -- maybe I should just trust her father to keep it a secret from her mother if he thinks she'll let the cat out of the bag. Thoughts?

-- Asking Her Father

Do you think your girlfriend wants you to ask her father for permission to marry her? Something that many women, this one included, see as a profoundly offensive paternalistic holdover from a time when women didn't make their own decisions like any other fully realized adult human being?

If your girlfriend is "traditional" this way, then I'm happy you found each other. Ask both parents when you see them -- elder deference > male deference -- and ask them to keep a lid on it, though I recommend proposing immediately afterward and not waiting, because keeping secrets from people you're supposed to be in an intimate relationship with is incredibly counterproductive. Especially when the secrets are about them.

Re: "Secrets ... about them":

You think this way about a surprise birthday party? So no planning ahead because it's keeping a secret?

-- Please ...

...continued

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