From Throwing Apples To The Eiffel Tower: The Wild History Of Proposals

By Molly Farinholt
·  5 min read
From Throwing Apples To The Eiffel Tower: The Wild History Of Proposals

It’s believed that cavemen made ropes out of grass and tied them around the feet of the women they loved to propose. Marriage proposals have come a long way since then, but have we taken them too far?

Like all traditions, marriage proposals have evolved throughout the ages, gradually becoming what they are today. In ancient Greece, an odd profession of love grew out of mythology. Inspired by Eris, the goddess of chaos who threw a golden apple inscribed with "for the fairest" at Peleus and Thetis’ wedding, men tossed apples at their love interests. 

Throughout the Middle Ages, marriage proposals were less romantic and more contractual. Suitable spouses were chosen by parents for their children, and negotiations regarding the bride’s dowry would precede the marriage. 

medieval marriage painting

Eventually, with the Enlightenment’s emphasis on individualism, the tide shifted away from arranged marriages and towards romance. People began marrying for love (gasp). Even then, though, it was not uncommon for a man to propose to a woman on his friend’s behalf (less than romantic). 

It wasn’t until the 1800s that men began getting down on one knee to propose. This custom likely began as an imitation of knights who bowed before the noblewomen they were vowing to serve. Kneeling has also long been a sign of humility, loyalty, and undying admiration (certainly romantic). 

How We Got the Diamond Engagement Ring

It’s speculated that the tradition of the engagement ring began in ancient Rome. Made of iron, the ring was worn on the left middle finger as the Romans believed that a vein connected that finger to your heart.

In the late 1400s, Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring, setting a solid foundation for the tradition of proposals with this outward sign of fidelity. However, it wasn’t until the late 1940s that diamonds became the standard. 

debeers diamond engagement ring advertisements

Before World War II, engagement rings rarely contained diamonds. That all changed, though, when, in 1948, De Beers Diamond Jewelry introduced the slogan, “A diamond is forever.” De Beers also introduced the idea that an engagement ring should cost a man two months’ salary with ads that said, “Isn’t two months’ salary a small price to pay for something that lasts forever?” Diamond rings quickly became the norm and have stayed so ever since. Today, the average cost of an engagement ring is a whopping $5,500.

The Marriage Proposal in the Modern Age

Now, we have bended knees, massive diamonds, and an entire “engagement season.” This time of year, which runs from Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day, sees the highest percentage of proposals. 19% of proposals happen in December (thanks to Christmas Day, of course). You could say it’s a bit cliché to pop the question during this time, but who doesn’t love sharing good news around the holidays?  

Proposals have become bigger, bolder, and far more complicated. According to a 2017 study by The Knot, 40% of grooms admitted that their proposal was “meticulously planned, down to the last detail.” The trend has also been away from intimacy, with nearly half of proposals taking place in a public location (often with at least one designated person present for capturing the moment on camera). 

The venue has become extremely important. A 2018 study found the top 15 locations for proposals. The top three should come as no surprise: Central Park, the Eiffel Tower, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The Louvre, the Taj Mahal, and the Trevi Fountain also made the list. 

Restaurants are a consistently popular spot, and men have gotten quite creative in this realm — putting the ring box in the bread basket, coordinating with the staff, and bringing in musicians to set the mood. 

The Pressure To Have an Instagram-Worthy Proposal

The pressure to have a picture-perfect proposal seems to be getting a little out of hand. There are many Instagram accounts dedicated solely to photos and stories of #howheasked. There's even an entire website that details the engagement stories of others, lists proposal ideas for each season, and helps you plan a proposal step-by-step.  

There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to make the day memorable, but is the emphasis now being placed on the wrong thing? Wouldn’t it be better to focus less on the photos, the audience, and the ring itself and more on the person with whom you wish to spend the rest of your life? 

We don’t need to go back to making grass ropes or tossing apples, but what if we brought it back to sweet simplicity — to asking where you first met or in a quiet space beneath the stars? To not planning every detail, but just buying a ring and asking as soon as possible because you don’t want to wait a second longer, and you know that perfection is not found in a physical time or place, but in the life of love that you will create? 

In the words of Harry from the iconic film When Harry Met Sally, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible!”

Closing Thoughts

Men, if you love a woman, just get down on one knee and ask. The perfect time is the moment you decide you can’t live the rest of your life without her. Women, don’t think that you need a camera crew, an exotic venue, and a million dollar diamond to say “yes.” The sheer joy that you will feel when your man says those four words will be the same whether it’s beneath the gaze of the Eiffel Tower or in a gas station parking lot. The moment will come and go, but the marriage is forever. 

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