Sally Hall: Never mind the wait, just leap at the chance to pop the question

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So, it’s the last week of February – meaning it’s two more years before women are next ‘allowed’ to propose to their blokes.

Leap Year isn’t until 2016. It’s a long wait, ladies.

While some of us would question whether this patriarchal convention deserves to last even one more year, let alone continue unchecked throughout this new(ish) millennium, the tradition of women proposing on February 29th is now deeply ingrained in British culture.

It’s believed the practice first started in 5th century Ireland after St Bridget complained to St Patrick about the one-sided nature of marriage proposals.

St Patrick’s response was to graciously allow women to propose marriage on a single day once every four years.

Reports that St Bridget subsequently gave her fellow halo-wearer a kick up the cassock are impossible to confirm or deny.

Fast-forward to 1288, and Scotland reportedly passed a law threatening men with punitive measures if they refused any proposal made by a woman on February 29th.

‘Fines’ apparently varied from a silk dress to a pair of gloves, presumably depending on how much the man was prepared to pay to get out of tying the knot.

For all that I’m minded to scoff at this whole tradition, I do know one couple whose happy ending began with a Leap Year.

My friend decided to propose to her partner, convinced that his failure to initiate the process was nothing to do with lack of devotion and everything to do with chronic ‘I’ll get round to it one day’-itis.

Knowing her partner well, my friend was keen to incite passion with her proposal.

And nothing incited his passion more than a well-cooked pork pie.

So she visited a bakery a few days before and ordered one specially.

Spelling out the words ‘Will You Marry Me’ in pastry, the pie was a work of art.

It was pretty difficult for my friend to keep this shortcrust masterpiece under wraps – especially as her man could sniff out a good pie from half a mile away – but she managed it.

On February 29th, she packed a picnic and persuaded him to come out for a walk.

Keen to select a good spot, she ignored all of her boyfriend’s repeated requests to eat the pie until they’d reached a dell with a beautiful view.

Even then, she only just managed to get her partner to pause for a glimpse of the pastry-etched message before chomping into it.

Happily, it was a yes. They’ve been married for almost a decade now, and have two little girls.

The story of their parents’ engagement will no doubt keep them both amused for decades more to come.

It’s a tale that always makes me chuckle too. Just like the proposal made by Sarah Mead, who appeared on Don’t Tell the Bride after popping the question to her boyfriend Stuart on 29 February 2012. As the couple stood in front of a giant fish tank at the London Aquarium, a diver swam past holding up a sign that read: ‘Sarah has something to ask you….’

I love a good proposal story. Etched into the sky by an airplane. Created as a specially screened film at the local cinema. Delivered into a glass of champagne via a cupid’s arrow...

The whole point is to be expansive. Romantic. Overblown. Throw caution to the winds.

So why confine it?

Now that gay marriage is part of our cultural landscape, and couples live together for years before tying the knot, the Leap Year proposal tradition seems increasingly anachronistic.

So if there’s a woman out there hankering to propose to her boyfriend – or her girlfriend – don’t wait two years for the privilege. Take the bull by the horns and just do it. Wherever, and whenever, you like.

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