Look before you leap?

When I was at school, leap years seemed really exciting. One of the girls in my class was born on 29 February, and so we all found it hilarious that she was still only 2 years old, rather than 8 like the rest of us.
Fast forward a couple of decades, or 8 leap years to be precise, and now the talk has shifted from idle playground gossip to the usual adult conversations – jobs, houses, babies and, of course, marriage (not necessarily in that order). 

The leap year proposal is perhaps the most well-known 29 February tradition – the one day out of 1,461 when women in history could pop the question.

The tradition is thought to date back to 5th century Ireland and a story known as “St Bridget’s Complaint”. Bridget herself had been complaining about long many women had to wait for a man to propose. On discussing this with St Patrick, he told her that women could propose on the leap year.   

Historical records show that a law was passed in 13th century Scotland whereby any man refusing a leap year proposal must pay a fine. This fine could take the form of a kiss, a silk dress or a pair of gloves. 

This year, friends have jokingly been asking each other if they will be proposing to their man. But why should it be a joke? Society is shifting towards equality, including same sex marriage and gender equality (admittedly we do still have a fair way to go to achieve this), but technically, and legally, women can of course propose whenever they want and indeed should feel able to do so. 

The stats

Research by Nationwide has suggested up to 6% of women are planning to propose to their partner his year. One in three said they would consider popping the question on 29 February and one in 10 said they had already asked their partner to marry them (fortunately, just 7% were turned down). Around half of the men surveyed said they would feel flattered if they received a marriage proposal (although I’m not sure what this says about the other half of the demographic questioned).

Marry in haste, repent at leisure 

Whilst it is easy to get swept up in the romance and excitement of a leap year proposal, it is important to be certain before proposing that marriage is a leap that you and your partner are both ready to take in your relationship.

Some things to think about include: 

  • Have you discussed marriage?
  • Do you share the same goals for the future (house, children, work, money, family)? 

If you are still confident that an engagement is the next best step in your relationship, the consider: 

  • Where and how to pop the question?
  • Will you have a ring?
  • What happens next if he says no? 

Financial and legal considerations

Good communication is a solid foundation to any relationship. It is vital that you are able to have frank and open conversations with your other half about your finances before you marry.  

Chances are that you and your partner are in very different financial positions and may also have different views about how your finances should be treated during your marriage, and if the worst happened and you decided to separate.  

Premarital agreements are becoming increasingly popular, not only amongst those with significant generational wealth to protect, or self-made millionaires, but also amongst average-income couples who simply wish to have certainty as to what would happen if sadly things didn’t work out. 

 However, it is important to note that premarital agreements are not automatically binding so they won’t necessarily be upheld by a court on separation. However, provided that certain boxes are ticked, it is extremely likely that a couple would be bound to the agreement, and so if you are thinking of having a prenup, it would be advisable to have a chat with a lawyer to find out more about the conditions and what your agreement should contain. 

For those planning to embrace tradition on 29 February: good luck! And for the thrifty, but romantic, horticulturalists amongst you, take note – the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge are opening their gates gratis on “Marry Me Monday”.


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