Should she pop the question?

The story begins at a Sonics basketball game in Seattle. He loves the team; she loves the sport. They sit side by side, holding hands, rising and falling with the sea of fans as the match heats up.

After the first quarter, Jasen Biro is "randomly" selected to win a Sonics jersey. He is blindfolded, and the crowd of 13,000 people screams "hot" and "cold" to guide him to the jersey.

When he reaches it his blindfold is lifted, and before him stands Tanya Ranchigoda, who drops to one knee, holds out a ring, and asks for his hand in marriage. He is too shocked for words. He falls into her arms on the shiny court and kisses her. The crowd roars.

Several weeks later, as Ms. Ranchigoda retells the story, she finds herself encountering skepticism about whether it was her place to propose - and most of the skeptics are other young women.

Even as more women decide to pop the question and buy the ring, others wonder ifthe role of proposing belongs strictly to men.

Women take the lead in nearly 1 in 10 proposals today, according to Bernice Kanner in her new book, "Are You Normal About Sex, Love, and Relationships?" But there's a gender gap among those who think that's acceptable and those who don't.

According to a poll commissioned by Korbel in 2003, 77 percent of the men deemed it "socially acceptable" for a woman to propose, but only 63 percent of women agreed.

It's a discussion that may come up more frequently in 2004, since it's a leap year - and historically, leap year is when women were granted the opportunity to turn the tables.

The custom of men proposing to women started in 5th-century Ireland, according to "The Everything Great Marriage Book." St. Bridget was said to have complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for a man to propose. As a result, St. Patrick declared Feb. 29 as the day a woman could ask.

Linda Olson, a New York radio personality known as America's "love doctor," says women who propose tend to be educated and confident, and they tend to date men who aren't threatened by those qualities.

"[Young] people are much more relationship savvy than my generation....," she says. "There are many more women willing to talk about relationships and commitment, i.e. proposal."

Dr. Olson has also noticed that more women today are willing to talk about relationships and commitment, and regardless of whether that leads to actually proposing, they know how to articulate what they want and why. "This is a partnership," she says. "If a guy or a gal can't talk about what they need for commitment, it greatly reduces the chances of success."

Julie Ferman didn't exactly propose to her husband more than 10 years ago, but the CEO and founder of Cupid's Coach, a dating service in Oak Park, Calif., nudged him in the right direction. It came up during a talk about commitment.

"I felt like a proposal had just happened, but he hadn't said the words," she recalls. "So I said I wouldn't make any arrangement until he said, 'I 'L' you, will you 'M' me?' " Soon thereafter, the couple was selecting flowers, linens, and place cards.

Ms. Ferman is not the least bit surprised that so many women remain skeptical of the idea of proposing, and she doesn't think it has anything to do with feminists versus nonfeminists.

"They've seen the June Cleaver generation do it the traditional way," she says. "Then they saw so many women who were tough, corporate-executive types and ... they came across as so abrasive and so intimidating. So there's this confusion right now."

Ranchigoda, however, was not expecting to have to defend her position against women of her own generation. "It kind of hurt my feelings," she says about one younger co-worker who wanted to know whether she proposed because her boyfriend wouldn't. "It was borderline rude. I hope I picked my partner well enough to know that he would accept this part of myself. It's not about a role; it's about making a great step. And it doesn't matter who it is that decides to."

Nicole Kenley didn't feel confused at all about who should ask and how. Just weeks after the founder of Lake House Opera in Houston started to date Edward Crowell, they found themselves discussing marriage on the phone one night. Without any planning, she asked him to marry her.

"It wasn't a decision to propose for some feminist statement," Ms. Kenley says. "It was more just an awareness of the fact that we both knew that this was where we were headed. And I think he was actually relieved that I was the one who asked."

Even Ranchigoda resists the notion of popping the question without pragmatic discussion beforehand. Her proposal may have been a show, but the months leading up to it weren't at all. "I felt proposing was a very adult decision," she says. "There was joy and love, but it never felt like it had to be a fairy-tale version with a magical moment. It was the best realization - the best reality."

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