Asking someone to spend forever with you is no small decision. And once you’ve determined that your partner is marriage material and that you’re ready to take the plunge yourself, planning how you’ll pop the question deserves considerable attention as well. The moment should be personal and authentic—which might mean it’ll look considerably different from what you’ve seen in movies or on Instagram.
So how do you make a marriage proposal feel special without seeming cheesy? Beyond prioritizing what your partner will appreciate most in the moment, there are certain missteps and clichés to avoid to ensure the whole occasion runs smoothly. For help, we turned to experts Alysha Jeney and Michele Velazquez. Read on for their insight into the key proposal mistakes to avoid—and what to do in their place instead.
Meet the Expert
Don't make it a total surprise.
First and foremost: under no circumstances should your partner have no idea that a marriage proposal is looming on the horizon. Marriage is a major commitment, and both members of a couple should be all in before the question is formally asked. That requires several conversations about what a future together will look like. "Be sure the two of you have communicated at length about values, ideas of 'marriage,' child planning, finances, and expectations," says Jeney.
Once you’ve discussed the idea of marriage, the actual proposal will feel more special if it happens at an unexpected time—but don’t let the idea of catching your partner completely by surprise dominate your plans. Per Velazquez, having a beat to digest what’s happening before it actually happens makes the moment even more special.
"One of the most important parts of a proposal is the moment right before you get engaged, where you think, 'Oh my gosh, is this it? Is this really happening?'" says Velazquez. "Feeling those butterflies is actually a really good thing, and you can almost feel cheated without them."
So lead your partner down a candle-lit walkway or set up a scavenger hunt to the final proposal spot. Building the anticipation will give your partner time to savor the experience, which will lead to deeper memories of the occasion down the line.
Don't ignore your partner’s wishes.
While social media may have normalized high-production proposals involving flash mobs and surprise trips to Paris, that approach isn’t for everyone—and it’s important to prioritize what your partner will want over what will get the most likes on the 'gram.
"Romance isn’t about grandiose gestures to publicize your love for one another," reminds Jeney. "It’s about thoughtfulness." Meaning: if your partner will be more embarrassed than exhilarated by a major display, it won’t serve either of you—or set a strong foundation of respect for their wishes—to ignore their preferences.
You’ll want to consider wardrobe through the same lens, and use it to inform your proposal plans. "One of the first questions we ask clients is how their partner would want to look on the day they get engaged," says Velazquez.
If you want to propose on a hike or during another outdoor activity, but yoga pants and sneakers aren’t in line with what your partner pictured for themselves in the big moment, then, Velazquez adds, it’s probably best to rethink your strategy.
That said, if you are more of an attention seeker, but your partner is more reserved, there are ways to ensure you both get to experience the proposal you’ve always dreamed of. "A specific conversation about proposal and wedding boundaries should be had upfront," advises Jeney. "Gain an awareness of why your partner likes or doesn’t like attention, discuss any insecurities or expectations, then come to a compromise that feels authentic yet considerate of each other’s feelings." This may mean a private proposal followed by a larger gathering immediately after the fact, or trust that your partner will create a moment for you to shine or otherwise commemorate the occasion later down the line. (Like, say, with a special toast at your engagement party.)
Don't memorize a big speech.
"A lot of clients will come up with these beautiful, amazing things they want to tell their partner," says Velazquez. "But in the moment, they freeze up, forget everything they planned, and just blurt out 'Will you marry me?'" That’s why she advises clients to loosely plan around three key points instead:
- What led up to this moment.
- Why you can’t live without your partner.
- Popping the actual question.
By following this framework, there’s less pressure to get a speech exactly right, but you’re still sure to say something romantic, meaningful, and substantive. Jeney wholeheartedly agrees with the approach. "Just speak from your vulnerable heart," she adds.
Don't hide the ring in food or drink.
No matter what you’ve seen in old movies or heard in tales from your parent’s big moment, you do not want to drop the ring in a glass of champagne or hide it in the dessert. "It’s not hygienic, and it’s risky," says Velazquez, who notes that you could easily lose the ring, or your partner could end up accidentally swallowing it. Besides, even in the best case scenario, who wants to wipe fudge off such an important piece of jewelry before sliding it onto their finger?
Don't forget to budget extra for friends and family.
The costs involved in a proposal—even beyond the engagement ring—can add up fast. That’s especially true if you’re planning to surprise your partner with a gathering of friends and family immediately after the fact. "People that include their families tend to use part of their budget to entertain the families," says Velazquez, who notes that champagne, food, and venue space for the gathering can quickly eat into allotted funds.
"I always ask: Do you want to spend over fifty percent of your budget entertaining people, or do you want to give your partner the proposal you’re striving to give, and then have an engagement party later on?" With so many wedding-related events leading up to the main event, there will be plenty of opportunities to celebrate with loved ones, so it’s perfectly fine to make this moment about just you two.
Don't combine it with another occasion.
Christmas Day may traditionally be the most popular day to get engaged, but Velazquez strongly cautions against proposing during a time that’s already marked by another holiday or special occasion. "The proposal day should really be a standalone event," she says. "It’s about [your partner] and their moment." If you resume activities not related to the proposal—like opening presents or sitting down to a large family meal— immediately after it happens, the specialness of the occasion will be swallowed up sooner than it should be. You’ll also have limited private time to savor the moment as just you two.