Can I propose to someone else’s lady?

What would you say about proposing to a girl that is in a relationship with someone?


Dear Tafadzwa,

What would we say?  We’d say “Go for it!” Or we might smilingly allude to movies like The Wedding Planner, Made of Honor, and Sweet Home Alabama in all of which the bride ditched the groom just before the wedding, for her true love. But we think we can do better.

You are clearly a straight-forward guy and we hope you don’t mind that our answer will be a mite longer than your question. The bottom line is that we see no moral, ethical, or religious reason not to pop the question.  You see, any woman is in only one of two states: single or married. That’s all.  There is nothing else.  Engaged; in a relationship; seeing someone; got a boyfriend; are all meaningless.

It’s like someone who is interested in buying a certain house and being told by the mailman, “Oh no, you can’t make an offer on that house, someone else is thinking of doing so.”  Or perhaps, “Oh no, someone else has taken a photograph of that house” or “Oh no, someone else has already printed personal stationery with that house address.”  All irrelevant.  Until the seller has accepted and signed an offer from some buyer, anyone is free to make an offer to the seller. What is more, by discouraging you from making perhaps a higher offer, the mailman is doing the seller a major disservice.

We once had personal experience of this non-intuitive reality.  At the time we were involved in the administration of our local parochial school which was affiliated with a community umbrella group of private schools. This group proposed a rule that no affiliated school be allowed to offer a teacher from another school more money to entice them to move schools. They saw it as a way to prohibit poaching of teachers.   We saw this as an immoral rule. It effectively kept top teachers at a lower salary than they might otherwise merit.  It is nearly always moral for one person to make an offer to another that might improve the circumstances of the latter.  A teacher, a house seller, and a single woman can all well evaluate their own best interests. 

Similarly, the fact that a girl you now realize you want to marry is seeing someone else or is maybe even engaged to someone else is no reason for you not to propose marriage to her.   If you and she are best for each other, you are offering her a chance to improve her life.

Of course, life is never that simple. If you are friendly with the man she is dating, you will most likely end that friendship. Even if you are just acquaintances or even if you don’t know one other, you must be aware that someone out there will probably hold a grudge against you. If you are acting thoughtlessly and spontaneously and are not truly ready to commit to this woman, you may be causing her harm as well as damaging your own reputation.

In this discussion, we are assuming that you are not motivated to propose to her because of this timeless truth from ancient Jewish wisdom:  most men feel a stronger attraction to a woman already attached to a man than they felt while she was still available.  This is one of the factors that drives adultery.  It also helps explain why so often the woman divorces her husband only to discover that her paramour is not nearly as interested in marrying her as he was in having an affair with a married woman. 

If you’ve known this woman for a while and only now feel driven to marry her once she is in a relationship with someone else, you might try peering into your soul. 

We can think of any number of circumstances in which you realize that you messed up by not approaching a woman quickly enough or not recognizing the treasure you had. Fixing that situation does not have to wait. Obviously, if she was already married to someone else that would change everything. You would have no recourse and it would be very wrong to even let her know that you were interested.  But, until a marriage has taken place, there is no bond that precludes you stepping forward. We wish you good fortune and do let us know how it works out.

May you and the woman involved make the right decisions,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

11 thoughts on “Can I propose to someone else’s lady?”

  1. This brings to mind that old, simple, riddle. Three frogs are sitting on a log. One decides to jump off. How many are left? Three, of course.

  2. Miss Susan, I proposed to my Susan 45 years ago when she was engaged to another man. It has worked out beautifully. Neither she or I have had second thoughts about it.
    Contemplating marriage is not like deciding to buy a house or car, or other chattel. This is not slavery, where you are buying a wife, but a matter of the heart and the exercise of freewill .
    There was once a cause of action called ” Alienation of Affection” n the era that considered a wife as an investment property, but that tort is now Gone With The Wind, along with dowery and bride price.
    An engagement ring is not ernest money to bind a contract, but only a gift from the heart that can be returned when circumstances change.
    Fair winds and smooth seas.
    Bill Brower

  3. Conversely, what is your response to a woman that seduces a man WITHOUT even asking nor even concerned if he is in a relationship? ___ Nor even married? ___

    If & when discovered, the seducing woman responds,
    “It is not my problem if wife or Significant Other of any gender allows their man to be seducible?”

    1. The verb ‘seduced’ is a loaded one, Herb. If a man is married then it is the same as if a woman is married. It should mean hands off to all decent people. A woman letting a man know that she is interested when he’s seeing someone else? The same answer we gave in the Ask the Rabbi. I’m reading a suggestion of some nefariousness in the word seduced – that’s not positive in any way. Judging by your quote, we are not talking about a wise and good woman.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Herb–
      There are very few husbands who have not experienced the opening seductive overtures from another woman. How he then reacts distinguishes the knight from the knave. The way the good Lord created us provides a clue to answering your question. A man can take a woman without her acquiescence–we call that rape. However, a woman cannot take a man without his willing and active participation. When Lot’s daughters seduce their father (Genesis 19:33-35) ancient Jewish wisdom calls attention to some clues in the repeated phrase “he did not know of her lying down or of her rising up” that betray that he did know exactly what was going on but feigned unconsciousness. For this he is blamed. We hate sounding anything like today’s scurrilous #MeToo movement or like the ‘blame toxic masculinity’ nonsense so prevalent in our culture right now, but the guilty party in the sad scenario you depict, is the man. She may throw herself at him or otherwise advertise her availability but the subsequent actions, if any, were his. She was certainly a blameworthy active participant, but we do place greater accountability on the man. The woman you describe is hardly a lady or a good woman but paramount guilt for the illegitimate liaison rests on the married man not on the woman. In the final analysis, he did want to do what he did. There are too many further aspects and reasons for this approach to male/female morality to discuss here but just one is that “She seduced him” is too vague for legality. What did she do? Wear a red dress? Leave a few top buttons undone? Smile at him? Or did she do more? And did she acquiesce? What if, in a fit of post-sex self-loathing, she changes her mind afterwards as has obviously happened in so many of today’s college campus ‘rapes’? The only thing that can really be clarified is did he or didn’t he. Finally, imagine how hard it would be to find a wife, who upon discovering that her husband had strayed, compassionately accepted his teary “But she seduced me”. No, that is not how the world REALLY works.

  4. Once again – great answer.

    The best things in my inbox are “Ask the Rabbi”, “Thought Tools” and “Susan’s Musings”

    Appreciate you both and what you do

    Blessings continued to you

  5. Thank you for your frank and wise advise. This has assisted me in a better mindset. I love you, your wife and ministry. I pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Jesus!

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