Honorable Marriage Proposal

In some societies, a woman's sexual reputation is a very important thing. As she is expected to be a virgin on her wedding night, having sex before marriage (especially with a man other than the one she marries) is just about the most scandalous thing she can do. Not only will she have to suffer the disapproval of those around her, but it will seriously lower her chance of getting an offer of marriage in the future. If she already has a fiancÚ, he would be considered justified in breaking off the engagement. The stigma is so bad that if a woman is even suspected of having had sex with a man, due to being alone with him for an extended length of time—typically overnight (there is no such thing as Innocent Cohabitation in the mind of society)—she will still have to suffer the consequences. The only thing that can avert this is for her to get married as quickly as possible.

Men in these societies are, of course, aware of the negative consequences as well. So a man who sees a woman at risk of getting a bad reputation may decide to help her out by offering to marry her. He may have other motivations for making the offer, of course—from being in love with her to needing a wife in a hurry for reasons of his own—but saving her reputation is the main impetus for the proposal.

Note that thanks to the good old Double Standard, men typically do not suffer the same stigma if suspected of having sex before marriage. Therefore, the proposer is basically Always Male, while the proposee is basically Always Female.

This trope is a particular favorite with writers of historical Romance Novels, especially Regency romances. In Western works, it rarely appears in anything set later than The Fifties, as the social upheavals of The Sixties largely did away with the set of expectations that made it work. It may still apply in other parts of the world, however, or in fictional societies.

A clever couple can use this strategy to overcome a Parental Marriage Veto by arranging to be alone together long enough to cause talk. In such a case, the parents may find that they have to accept what they see as a less-than-ideal match in order to save their daughter's reputation. This is one of the purposes of an Elopement: even if the couple are caught before being married, the woman's reputation will be compromised if they have been alone together long enough.

A woman may also try the same tactic in order to force or encourage a proposal from a reluctant man. The phrase "make an honest woman of me" may come into this discussion.

See also Defiled Forever, My Girl Is Not a Slut, and Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe. Contrast Marry for Love, although it occasionally overlaps.

Subtropes: Shotgun Wedding (where the proposal is coerced), Give The Baby A Father (where the woman is pregnant or has a child when the proposal takes place).

Examples

Film - Animated
  • In Lady and the Tramp, after Tramp spends the night alone with Lady, Jock and Trusty discuss proposing to her to protect her honor. (Possibly also a case of Give The Baby A Father, since Lady and Tramp have puppies at the end of the movie.)

Film - Live Action
  • In the film version of A Damsel in Distress (1937), based on the novel by P. G. Wodehouse, Lord Marshmorton uses this idea to gain his battleaxe sister Caroline's consent to his daughter's marriage to an American Broadway star. After sending Jerry to Alyce's room to make up with her after a quarrel, Lord Marshmorton informs Lady Caroline that the two are alone together. Once it becomes clear that this tidbit is about to spread to the guests at their fancy party, Lady Caroline is suddenly in favor of the match because "There's never been a scandal in Totleigh Castle!"
  • After being discarded by Antoine Tardieu in Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman (1956), Juliette is poised to be sent away to a dissolute shelter. Antoine's younger brother, Michel, takes pity on Juliette and hastily marries her, believing that he can tame her wild ways. In fairness, Michel was also looking to score a hot babe to show up Antoine. Things unravel when Juliette, played by Brigitte Bardot, slips into sex kitten mode.

Literature
  • Happens twice in Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer. First Vidal insists he must marry Mary to make up for compromising her reputation by taking her to France with him. Then Mr. Comyn, who happens to meet them in France, offers her a way out of that dilemma by offering to marry her himself.
  • Gender-Inverted in A Brother's Price; Cira, who has been rescuing Jerin from kidnappers reassures Jerin that she is willing to marry him to protect his reputation. He doesn't believe her, as she would never be able to pay the brother's price for him all by herself. (Monogamy is unheard of in the setting, sisters share a husband.)
  • In The Breaking of Northwall, Jestak's primary motivation for most of the novel was rescuing Tia from slavery. Meanwhile, while a slave, Tia was raped at least once by the guards, and faces Defiled Forever as a result. After everyone escapes, the elders agree to ignore the time while Tia was enslaved, but ask Jestak to marry her since the two were together (and unchaperoned) for a few nights during the escape. This misses Shotgun Wedding because both Jestak and Tia are eager to wed.

Live-Action TV
  • On Mad Men, Bob Benton offers to marry Joan Harris in part because her unmarried status means that she is getting less respect at work, despite being one of the senior partners, and in part so that she can avoid the stigma of being a single mother. (He also wants to avoid questions about his sexuality.) She turns him down, not wanting to get stuck in another unhappy marriage.

Religion
  • In the Bible, the young girl Miriam (Mary) is visited by an angel and told to rejoice, as she is now pregnant. Her fiance Joseph accepts her anyway and marries her so that no shame falls on her. He then brings up her firstborn child as his own. (Zigzagged a bit because they were already engaged at the time, but Joseph mentally re-committed to marry her in order to save her reputation.)