The Top 12 Rules of Proposing

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Photo Credits:
Groom and Father -- Geoff White Photographers
Groom and Groomsmen -- Sara Remington of Anna Kuperberg Photography
Nervous Groom -- Isabel Lawrence Photographers
Smiling Groom -- Geoff White Photographers
Diver –- Maui Ocean Center
Ring –- Ann Sportun


Proposal Basics

The Top 12 Rules of Proposing

Thinking of asking the love of your life to marry you? These are some classic dos and don'ts to keep in mind before you plan your big proposal.

It’s your first big step as a future husband, and many a man will say it’s the toughest: proposing. Nothing fills a prospective groom with more trepidation than pulling off the proposal. We’ve got some pointers to help you figure out how to create a moment that will make her heart leap with delight. Although these suggestions are directed towards you guys out there, we’re well aware that some brides prefer to pop the question themselves, so ladies, feel free to use these ideas if you’re doing the asking.

Make it a surprise… but not too much of a surprise.

When polled, women say that one of the things that makes a proposal great is that it isn’t anticipated. But don’t jump the gun and ask a woman to marry you on the second date. If the two of you have been committed to one another for some period of time, have declared your love for one another, have discussed marriage and your future together, and are in agreement on all the big points, you probably have a green light to move forward.

And don’t wait too long to do it.

We’re not trying to rush you to the altar. But we know that the fear of the proposal itself is what keeps some guys from taking that step. If she loves you, she’d rather have a tardy proposal than none at all… but timing still counts. Mark asked Hilary to meet him in Central Park at lunchtime. When he reached into his inside coat pocket, she caught her breath. When all he pulled out was his sunglasses, she was clearly disappointed. He realized she had expected a proposal. Two weeks later, he again asked her to meet him in the park. And on a moonlit ride in a horse-drawn carriage, he popped the question. Arguably, in the nick of time.

Create the proposal of her dreams… not yours.

This is your moment to show her how much you love her, how well you understand her, and how deeply you care about her happiness. With that in mind, create a proposal that will make her heart sing -- not one that will make your buddies think you’re cool. Unless she’s the world’s biggest Broncos fan, proposing during the halftime of the Superbowl is probably not the way to go. If she wants to marry you, she may have been dropping hints about what she thinks is a great proposal. Pay attention to what she says and you’re likely to get clues as to what she would love.

Pick a memorable location.

A great location for the proposal can make all the difference. But that doesn’t mean you have to climb a mountain, rent a penthouse, or jet to the islands. A memorable location can be any place of significance to the two of you: the burger joint where you went on your first date; the front porch of her parent’s house; at home, by candlelight, over a special dinner you prepared. Don proposed to Linda in the street where they jogged together every morning during their courtship, pulling out a ring that had been strategically hidden… in his running shoe. John proposed to Joyce on the beach where they frequently took sunset walks. Their dog Eddie witnessed the magic moment.

Consider the time of day.

There’s no right or wrong time of day to propose. But you might want to consider what time of day will set the best mood. For some couples, first thing in the morning is perfect. For others, it isn’t right unless the proposal is delivered by starlight. Sunset is a favorite too. Whatever your preference, consider that there’s a strong possibility that she’ll want to make a half dozen phone calls to family and friends, sharing the exciting news. If the two of you live on the West Coast and her family is back East, a late night proposal could mean she’s ringing up Grandma at 3am, scaring the old lady to death. If you think your bride is going to want to phone home, plan the proposal accordingly.

Unless you’re sure she’d like an audience, keep it private.

For the woman who is a huge movie fan, proposing via a homemade video run before the Friday night showing of that hit new epic romance may be perfect. But most women prefer a private or semi-private proposal. You’re both more likely to be candid and genuinely expressive if you aren’t surrounded by onlookers. Consider where she falls on the privacy scale and plan your proposal accordingly.

Speak from your heart.

The only genuinely horrible proposal is one that is insincere. One woman, who later divorced, realized after the fact that her now ex-husband’s lack of conviction was apparent even in his proposal. He asked, "What would you do if I asked you to marry me?" Your proposal should not be speculative. Nor should it be conditional. You should be clear in your purpose: to express your love and your wish to spend the rest of your life with her. Be honest. Be direct. Be sincere.

Don’t underestimate the power of a gesture.

She’s a thoroughly modern woman. That doesn’t mean she won’t be moved by a little old-fashioned chivalry. If you think she’d be wowed by roses, plan to have a bouquet at hand. A bottle of champagne is great too. Many brides appreciate a groom asking her parents for their blessing, either prior to or just after popping the question. Despite the patriarchal origins of this tradition, it has come to represent a more general gesture of respect towards her family. And in many cases it’s a meaningful moment of bonding between the groom and his future father-in-law. Before Jon asked Anne to marry him, he called her father to ask his blessing. Anne’s father was so moved, he could hardly speak. Through his tears, he asked Jon to call him back later… at which time he gave his whole-hearted consent.

Perhaps no single gesture prompts a bigger reaction in a woman than a man getting down on one knee. It’s not essential (and in some cases, it’s simply not practical) but in our straw poll of 20, cosmopolitan, single career women, all 20 said they thought it would be nice if a guy got down on one knee when he asked. Even in a modern world, a little old-fashioned romance can work wonders.

Don’t worry about perfection.

There’s always the chance that something will come along and spoil your plan. Don’t let it daunt you. Todd had carefully thought through his proposal to Cheryl. On a ski holiday at Lake Tahoe, he planned to pull out the ring on the slopes and ask her to be his wife. Only the weather didn’t cooperate, and it rained throughout their stay. They never made it to the mountain. Todd improvised, convincing a reluctant Cheryl to take a walk with him out on a pier… in the pouring rain. The waterlogged proposal was every bit as memorable, if not more so, than the ski slope proposal would have been.

Don’t obsess on the issue of the ring.

Most women say they would like the proposal to include the presentation of a ring. But a good number say they would forego the surprise of the ring in favor of being involved in the selection process. If you have a good handle on her style and taste, and have a strong idea of what she wants, go ahead and get a ring in advance. If you’ve purchased jewelry for her before and she wears it regularly, you’re probably on target. Many jewelry stores will let you exchange it later, if necessary, for a ring that suits her taste better.

Dave came up with a great approach to the matter when he proposed to Luci. He selected a simple gold ring with a diamond solitaire to use when he proposed, intending that Luci would later select her own setting. After they became engaged, they worked with the jeweler to create Luci’s actual engagement ring and wedding band. The ring was designed to incorporate the diamond. The jeweler set a cubic zirconia in the gold "proposal" ring for Luci to wear while her actual engagement ring was made with the real diamond. Luci has kept the old setting with the cubic zirconia to wear when she’s travelling and doesn’t want to risk losing her real ring.

All that said, you don’t have to have a ring to propose… although it’s a great move. Ultimately, the proposal is about the decision to spend your lives together -- not jewelry.

Don't be afraid to ask for help.

You want your wife-to-be to remember the proposal for the rest of her life, but let’s face it – sometimes it’s hard to come up with something romantic and creative that you haven’t already seen in the movies.  One of the newest trends is hiring a professional planner to help you whip up the perfect proposal.  There are planners for every budget.  For about ten dollars, websites will give you access to their database of proposal ideas that you can implement yourself.  Need even more help?  Ranging from a few hundred to some thousands of dollars, a personal planner will help you brainstorm a custom plan, come up with step-by-step instructions, arrange the necessary details, and even help you choose the ring.  And don’t worry--everything will be kept confidential, so she won’t ever have to know that you had a little assistance!

Don’t read too much into her reaction.

It’s a big moment… one which she has probably thought about more than once. And yet it’s not likely to play out as she has imagined it, or even as you had planned it. Real life is less glossy than fantasy, but a whole lot more rewarding. She will probably cry, but she might not. She may be so overwhelmed that the tears don’t come. She may fall into joyful laughter, as was the case after Katherine accepted Steven’s proposal. The waiter at the Japanese restaurant thought the couple was a bit daft.

The only bad reaction is, of course, a refusal. It could happen, but isn’t likely if you’ve heeded our advice above. If she does say no, don’t panic. Talk through it. Find out why she isn’t ready. It’s probably taken you a while to get up the courage to ask. She may need some time to get up the courage to say yes. If there’s no hope: move on. There are plenty of great women out there interested in a guy who wants a partner for life.

The bottom line on proposing: just do it! You don’t need to stage an elaborate event. Most women really just want a quiet, romantic moment, a little chivalry, something sparkly, a heartfelt expression of why you love her, and a good old-fashioned, "Will you marry me?" It’s easier than you think.

See More: Engagements , Grooms