Engagement time. Help!
February 5, 2009 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I want to propose to my amazing girlfriend! (Yay!) Please help me figure out how to talk to her parents. Details inside!

I have been dating my current girlfriend for over 4 years. It's time to pop the big 'question', and I'm very excited.

Many previous Ask MeFi answers have been extremely helpful to me as I have thought through this decision, as I shopped for the perfect ring, and as I set up the specifics of asking my (hopefully) to be fiancée.

I look to you now for a little more guidance! I'm not quite sure how to proceed in terms of 'talking to her parents' about my intentions.

A bit of detail:

My girlfriend's parents are originally from the Philippines. They are quite conservative and traditional. My girlfriend and her younger brother were born and raised here in the US.
I have a good relationship with her family and extended circle of relatives. That I am of European ancestry and that am not Catholic do not seem to be a problem.

As I move forward with my plans to get engaged, my goal is to be as respectful to her parents as I can. In my opinion, that would include trying to be as 'traditional' as possible in terms of how I approach them about this. From what I can tell, it is customary in the Philippines for a couple to meet with the parents AFTER becoming engaged. However, my girlfriend was raised in the US, and to her, the traditional (desirable) thing to do would be for me to talk with her parents first. I'm trying to reconcile these two conflicting definitions of 'traditional' and determine the best way to move forward.

Any suggestions about how to proceed? Should I go ahead and talk with her parents today, or come back to them after I have proposed on Saturday? Any other advice?

Thank you everyone!
posted by mockjovial to Human Relations (16 answers total)
Only you know your girlfriend, but I know that I would be extremely annoyed if my partner had talked to my parents before talking to me. It's a holdover from when marriage was pretty much a transferal of ownership from one man to another. However, if your girlfriend would want you to talk to her parents first, but her parents would want you to talk to your girlfriend first... that's a little tougher. How firmly does she believe in that tradition? How firmly do her parents hold to theirs? Will anyone be upset if you do it the other way (other than how they would prefer?) If you can only impress one - the girlfriend or the parents - well, there's no time like the present to start treating her like your primary family group and considering her feelings first. Whichever way you go, I'm sure it will work out fine. Good luck, and congrats!
posted by arcticwoman at 9:35 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

And on reflection, I don't think that talking to the parents first has been a commonly practiced tradition in the US in a long time. Even if your girlfriend is traditional - that may not be a tradition she particularly holds to. How many more times can I say tradition? Tradition! Tradition
posted by arcticwoman at 9:37 AM on February 5, 2009

I disagree with arcticwoman... Presumably you've discussed marriage "in general" with your girlfriend by this point. You're probably pretty sure she'll say yes, and what's left is the when/where/how of the formal proposal. If this is the case, and you're going to propose soon, I think it's OK to talk to the parents first.

I think you should defer to your girlfriend's (think "future wife's") wishes on the proposal, and if she wants you to talk to the parents before FORMALLY asking her hand in marriage, I humbly suggest you do so. She knows her parents better than you do, and if you're going to err, err on the side of following your girlfriend's wishes here.

Best of luck!!!
posted by BobbyVan at 9:43 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

(And after reading arcticwoman more closely, I don't think we really disagree at all...)
posted by BobbyVan at 9:51 AM on February 5, 2009

Best answer: First, I assume you are sure your girlfriend will say "yes."

Okay, I highly recommend talking to the parents before proposing. From my experience among Filipinos in the U.S., this is the most respectful route to take. Do it without your girlfriend present. Actually, if they are traditional Catholic Filipinos, ask for their blessing along with permission.

This whole process is purely symbolic, as they will likely say yes, but it is also a very good sign of respect.

I also recommend bringing them something - it is very good manners to not show up empty-handed. Call them and tell them you are bringing them lunch / dinner (I recommend Filipino food to go; or, invite them to a restaurant to tell them over a meal).

You are about to become part of their family; and I mean, really part of the family. Asking for their blessing and feeding them Filipino food is a good start to it.

Is it necessary to do all this? Probably not, not in this day and age. But if it's possible, I highly recommend it.

/am half filipino
posted by jabberjaw at 9:57 AM on February 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: From what I can tell, it is customary in the Philippines for a couple to meet with the parents AFTER becoming engaged. However, my girlfriend was raised in the US, and to her, the traditional (desirable) thing to do would be for me to talk with her parents first.

the filipino tradition of pamamanhikan means the two of you discuss marriage first, then your family goes to her family's house (with gifts of food in tow) and your father asks her father for permission to join the two families, because that's basically what's going to happen when you marry each other.

it's pretty easy to reconcile the two things because it's not a pamamanhikan unless your family is involved. so: go talk to her parents, ask her to marry you, and then get your family over to her family's house. that's how it's done in the philippines today.
posted by lia at 10:05 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Take everyone out to dinner and pop the question there.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:19 AM on February 5, 2009

Take everyone out to dinner and pop the question there.

Preferably, before the tension makes you vomit all over your shoes.

Let's assume you develop from the advice here some degree of confidence that your girlfriend's preference is consistent with tradition, properly understood -- go with that, and ask parents first. It all depends on how authoritative the Filipino vote is here, and the quality of your original advice to the contrary (which you don't get into).

Assuming, however, that the advice here is mixed, or there appears to be a conflict between the best view of Filipino tradition and your girlfriend's advice -- consider asking the mother or the father, depending in part on which you're closest to and which can keep a secret, what her or his understanding of protocol is. Put it abstractly, but unless they're idiots, they'll get the gist. If she or he says ask the parents first, why, do that. If she or he says seal the deal with the GF first, do that, and when she is ecstatically kissing you etc., confide that you got a hint from her parents that they would rather be asked afterwards, so the two of you should get on the phone or stop by their home.

Sound reasonable?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 12:31 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think that jabberjaw and lia are on the right track. Personally, I think it isn't a bad start to any marriage to involve your families in your decision. You are going to be related soon and a display of respect and good manners at the beginning will go a long way.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:10 PM on February 5, 2009

Best answer: there appears to be a conflict between the best view of Filipino tradition and your girlfriend's advice

there is no conflict! trying to please the girlfriend OR the parents is a false dichotomy, because filipino tradition allows for both to be pleased. the girlfriend wants him to go ask her parents for permission BEFORE asking her. doing that does not, repeat, does not preclude the traditional pamamanhikan AFTER asking her, which involves him taking his family to her house to meet her family. this is an ask metafilter question about a problem which does not actually exist.
posted by lia at 1:27 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

To be clear, I said "Assuming, however, that the advice here is mixed, or there appears to be a conflict between the best view of Filipino tradition and your girlfriend's advice .. ."

I understand, and understood, you to be denying that there was a conflict; my advice was expressly conditional on a disagreement which may not exist, or which you may deny exists.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:42 PM on February 5, 2009

If you want to marry her, you should probably ask her. If she's specifically said "you have to ask my parents first or I'll say 'no' and hate you forever" then that's a different story...
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 3:44 PM on February 5, 2009

I did something like this, not because I had to but because I felt it was right. Even though she's very non-traditional and her parents are supportive, I felt a tug to do something old-fashioned, so basically I went to her father and said something, "Dr. ___, I've been dating your wonderful daughter for a while now, we've become close, and before I proposed to her I wanted to let you know that I love her very much and I hope that I have your blessing." Something like that. He said something along the lines of. "Well, sure." And that was that. So a bit anti-climactic but still sweet and my gf got a kick out of it.

She wants you to do this, so you should do it. It won't offend them. The key is you don't want to tap into what arcticwoman was talking about, the idea of ownership. So you're not asking for permission to marry her; you're asking for their blessing which is related but a bit different. "Permission" would suggest that, first of all, the decision is up to your parents, when in fact it is up to her and that second of all once you have their permission her agreement to the marriage is a done deal. When you ask for their blessing, you're asking for an ally. Basically, "I am about to embark on an incredibly freaky and difficult life journey known as marriage, will you support me and be a positive force in this?" You shouldn't really ask this question if the answer might remotely be no (I keep thinking of that guy from Lost).

I realize this answer probably comes after the fact. I hope you had a nice talk with the parents, but if you didn't, I'd talk with them today (Friday). She knows the proposal is coming soon, after she says yes saying something like "I talked with your parent and they're thrilled." will make it even nicer.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:56 PM on February 5, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Great advice. I was able to find poncit and adobo at a local restaurant.....I arrived at her house with food in hand! We shared a good meal and talked about my intentions. The conversation went very well! I have the 'blessing'! They even promised to keep it a secret.
posted by mockjovial at 8:13 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by jabberjaw at 6:10 PM on February 6, 2009

huzzah! congratulations!
posted by lia at 8:17 PM on February 6, 2009

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