HOW TO PROPOSE: A GROOM'S GUIDE
Think about her
As tempting as it may be to ask for her hand at half time, remember: This moment will be a trillion times more important to her than it could ever be for you—and will be retold by her again and again—so consider what she would truly like. Think back. She has probably dropped a hint or two along the way and will appreciate any effort you make to personalize the proposal in a way that says, "Yes, I've been paying attention ... I totally get you."
Timing is everything
Just as important as how you pop the question can be when you do it. If your fiancée has always had her heart set on October nuptials, you'll want to ask her about 18 month in advance. A proposal on Valentine's Day, while an ultraromantic day of the year, leaves you a little over seven months to plan a fall wedding—not much time.
Public or private proposal?
Asking her to marry you at a family gathering or televised event can be exhilarating and special. But unless you are absolutely sure she will be thrilled, think twice about this option. It's for guys who know the answer before they ask and not for those secretly hoping she won't be able to say no with an audience.
Make a memory
Hiring a videographer to secretly catch the proposal on film is an increasingly popular route guys are going these days. This is also a great way to test-drive a videographer you might want to consider for the big day. If you're on a tight budget, however, why not call in an early favor from a groomsman-to-be?
Don't be afraid to keep it simple
Some guys form elaborate plans involving props like white horses, strolling violinists or billboards. Big proposals are impressive, but heartfelt declarations of enduring love will win her over every time, even if they take place spontaneously and without fanfare. Just remember, the more elaborate the plan, the greater opportunity for it to malfunction.
Yes, they do exist, and they can really help out a guy who's lost for words or stumped for the perfect proposal spot. Many wedding planners provide this service, so that's a great place to start your search. What they do: offer diamond-buying tips, dos and don'ts, ideas on where and how to pop the question, what to say and more! Strapped for cash? Try hitting up her mom or sister for proposal advice and search the Internet for ideas too.
Pick the spot
Think of places with meaning for the two of you: your first-date restaurant, the park where you met, even in the empty rooms of your new home. Or plan a destination proposal while vacationing in the south of France or the Caribbean. Popping the question in a place you can visit each year on your wedding anniversary also adds a special touch.
Make a plan
Intending to fall to one knee in a romantic restaurant? Make reservations and explain your plan, so that the staff will be super attentive. Choosing to surprise her at her favorite art museum? Ask a friend to chill a bottle of champagne and put out glasses and some flowers for your arrival home afterward.
Should you ask permission?
That depends on you and your girlfriend. While some women think this is a completely charming tradition, others will be appalled that you would ask her father's or a family member's "permission" for her hand (note: asking their "blessing" is often a more amenable approach and less problematic should a parent object). On the other hand, most parents adore this tradition because it clues them in that you are about to pop the question and also shows your respect for them.
Think about the ring
Many a brave man has decided to forgo buying the ring until the question has been asked so his fiancée can pick out her ring. Considerate or cowardly? (We judge not.) But if you're looking for a little insurance against disappointment, it is perfectly acceptable to take her “looking” for rings if you've been discussing marriage. If you're flying solo on this one, using jewelry she already owns and wears—gold or silver, modern or antique—is a good indicator of the type of ring she may like. And many jewelers offer temporary settings you can borrow for the proposal and later swap for the ring of her dreams. For tips on buying a ring she'll love, visit our Wedding Rings Essential Guide.
Keep the ring safe
Slipping the ring into your pocket each day until you find the right moment to pop the question is a recipe for disaster. Keep the ring in the box in a safe (and secret) place until you are certain you are ready. Planning on proposing away from home? Never check the ring with your baggage—your carry-on is your safest option.
Read real couples' proposal stories and get inspired!
HOW TO THROW AN ENGAGEMENT PARTY
One of the main challenges of throwing a party so early on in the wedding planning stage is that you are forced to really think about who you would like to invite to your wedding. Extending an invitation to only your closest friends and family members buys you a little time in finalizing your complete list for the big day.
A formal affair?
There are no rules when it comes to the formality of this fete. A poolside party at your parents' home or a sit-down country club dinner is fair game.
Time to party
If your engagement period will last a year or longer, set the date for your party a month or two after the proposal. If you are tying the knot quickly, say, within six months, you may want to consider skipping this celebration to prevent guests from feeling obliged to attend two parties so close together. With such a short engagement, you'll also likely want to dive right into planning the main event.
Meet the parents
The engagement party is a great opportunity to gather everyone together—especially if both families haven't met—to toast your upcoming nuptials. The more comfortable everyone is with one another, the smoother the planning process will be.
Is a party right for you?
This celebration is certainly not a mandatory part of the wedding-party roundup. If you're on a tight budget or have a short engagement, you may want to forgo this fete. Sending out a simple "we're engaged!" card is a classy, budget-conscious alternative.
While the parents of the bride traditionally assume the role of planning the engagement party, there are no hard-and-fast rules. The couple or even a dear friend can certainly host the event.
Showering the newly engaged with gifts at their engagement party is completely optional. But since some guests simply won't stand for showing up empty-handed, preregister for a few items early on. Just don't include your registry on the invite, it's—in a word—tacky.