Parkin researched the folk tradition that claimed women could propose only during a leap year. She found that the idea triggered mockery every four years for much of the 20th century. Postcards, ads and articles portrayed women who would propose as desperate, aggressive and unattractive. The leap year joke has faded, she said, but the stigma lingers.
"I don't see much changing to challenge that notion, to say a regular woman, a good woman, could propose," Parkin said, although she notes that a few celebrities, such as singer Britney Spears, have done so in the public eye.
Becky Paska, sister of Steve, said she worried that proposing to her longtime boyfriend, Danny Brady, might make him feel embarrassed or emasculated.
But she wanted to demonstrate the depth of her commitment, because years earlier she had accepted Brady's surprise proposal and then backed out.
So Paska, 28, asked for his hand at the Thanksgiving dinner table as her family was reflecting on their blessings.
"I said I was so thankful for having him in my life, and we'd gone through so many things, and I'd love to marry him," she said. "And he said, 'I'd love to marry you, too.'"
Paska, of Richmond, Virginia, and Brady, of Charlottesville, Virginia, plan an August wedding on the beach.
In the AP-WE tv poll, recently married couples were less likely to say they got engaged by "mutual agreement," instead of through one partner's proposal, than were people married longer. About one-quarter of those married at least 30 years say it was a mutual decision; that drops below one-tenth of those wed in the past decade.
Among the newer unions, 83 percent said the man proposed.
That may reflect today's emphasis on creating a good proposal story to share with others.
Pitts, the proposal planner, said her clients usually have discussed marriage with their girlfriends and sometimes they shop for rings together before the man formally "pops the question."
The Rev. Joel Stafford of Patton, Missouri, sees nothing wrong with women taking the lead, the way his future wife did more than 40 years ago.
"It just got to the point where she said, 'Why don't we get married?' and I said, 'Of course," Stafford recalled. "I would have eventually built up the courage to do it myself. But she didn't wait."
They did wait a little longer for the ceremony, so she could graduate high school. Stafford and his wife, Sherry, married in June 1973, raised four children and have 13 grandchildren.
"Whether you are the boy or the girl, if you feel you are at the point you want to make a lifetime commitment, express that," Stafford advises. "Don't be shy like I was."
The poll was conducted in conjunction with WE tv from Jan. 17-21 using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,060 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for the full sample.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report. Follow Connie Cass on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ConnieCass Online: Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com
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