How To Propose 101: 14 Things You Should Do for the Perfect Marriage Proposal

Make sure you cross off these crucial items before you pop the question

Updated 11/05/19

Photo by Chuy Photography

Whether you’re high school sweethearts, met through a friend, both swiped right, or actually managed to meet in a bar, somehow you found love—and it’s time to make it stick. But as we're sure you already know, figuring out how to propose is a major undertaking (hello, ring shopping and memorizing that speech). So to make your long-awaited moment run as smoothly as possible, we tapped the expertise of Alexandra Uritis, event design and proposal planner for the OG professional proposal planning company The Yes Girls. (Yep, this is a thing—and you may want to consider it.) Here, Uritis weighs in on 10 things you can’t forget to do before you get down on one knee, as well as four tidbits to keep in mind once you're actually putting your romantic plan into action. Plus, for any women planning to pop the question to their partners (power to ya), we broke down the table turning protocol.

What to Do Before You Propose

1. Make Sure You’re on the Same Page

This might seem obvious, but before you start plotting, it’s important to make sure you both have marriage on the brain. Talk to your partner about the future. Let them know that one day you’d like to be married, and ask if they see marriage in their future, too. Nervous about making this conversation feel too much like a proposal? Keep it broad by discussing your best friend’s recent engagement, and lead into it that way. Is it a hard conversation? Yes. But hopefully you’ll come away from it with an idea of what your partner will say when you open that ring box.

2. Chat With Their Parents

Old school? Yes. Important? Also yes (depending on the family). If your partner has hinted in any way that you need to ask his or her parents for their hand in marriage, do it. That doesn’t mean your partner is anyone’s property, though. Try something like this: “I am deeply in love with your son/daughter, and we want to spend our lives together. I am planning to propose, and want you to be involved in this exciting moment.”

3. Buy the Bauble

The engagement ring is a piece of jewelry your partner will be wearing every day for the rest of their life, so get a sense of what they’ll really love. Snap photos of the jewelry they wear every day, look for that secret Pinterest board, or ask a close friend or family member to help you narrow it down. As for jewelers, get some recommendations (or see if there’s a friend or family member in the biz who you should talk to) to make sure you’re purchasing from a trusted store with great reviews and service. Last but certainly not least, investigate their ring size. If it’s not a secret, just ask. If you’re going the surprise route, check your partner’s jewelry. Find a ring that he or she wears regularly (and make a note of which finger it goes on), then either bring it with you to a jeweler or mark how far it fits on your own finger. Many jewelers can also make a good guess at a ring size based on your partner’s height and weight. And there’s always resizing.

4. Get Personal

Now that you have a ring, it’s time to plan the proposal. Really think about the type of proposal your partner will love, whether it’s a grand gesture, an intimate moment, or a surprise surrounded by family and friends. No matter your budget, Uritis says to first home in on a beautiful, sentimental spot, which you can easily glamorize to set the mood. "Find a cool space that means something to them—it can just be your cozy living room but you deck it out with tons of candles and it completely changes the feel of the space, and you can make it special to them," she advises. Earn major points with personalization, too, and steer clear of one-size-fits-all ideas (cough—rose petals in the shape of a heart—cough).

5. Consider Turning to the Pros

You know your love best, but sometimes it's worth it to outsource for a bit of extra proposal help. Companies like The Yes Girls take care of everything from logistics to sourcing vendors—just know that such a luxury will cost you. Because of that, Uritis knows that said services aren't up everyone's alley. But with thousands of proposals under their belts, these planners know a thing or two about making your bent-knee milestone all the more memorable, and most important, worry-free. "You can stay calm and collected and enjoy this time because it’s a huge moment for you, too," she says. "We can do all the back end things so you can take all the credit and look fabulous."

6. Take Notes

You don’t need to have your speech totally written out, but spend a little time jotting down what you’d like to say. Getting your thoughts on paper and in order will give you some direction when it’s time to pop the question, even if you end up winging half of it anyway. As for what to say when you actually propose, Uritis's clients typically hit on their partner's best qualities, or even recap the moment they knew their SO was the one. "It’s just really being genuine and making [them] feel so loved and excited in that moment," she adds. "And it can be short—it can be a couple of sentences. But talking about what they love about them and how excited they are for their future together would be the two best things to bring up." Of course, don't forget to tack on the "Will you marry me?" bit.

7. Plan a Celebration

You don’t need to plan a full-on engagement party, but make sure you’ve got an idea of how the two of you will celebrate the big moment. Book a table at your favorite restaurant, tuck some champagne in the fridge, or have a few friends waiting in the wings. Really read into your partner's personality to determine whether a private one-on-one celebration or a full-fledged family affair would make them feel the most comfortable.

8. Find the Right Moment

Life happens, so be prepared to go with the flow. Don’t rush the proposal just because the sun is about to set or dinner is nearly over—wait until the moment really feels right. And if you’ve planned something a little more low-key, that very well might mean waiting a few days if your sweetheart is stressed from work or the weather isn’t cooperating.

9. Set Up a Fake Backstory

To avoid blowing the surprise, come up with a foolproof ruse that leads your SO off track a bit. They may know something's up, especially if you're taking a trip or have out-of-the-ordinary plans, but a fake game plan "keeps the guy calm if he feels he’s really secure in this 'lie,'" says Uritis.

10. Keep the Ring Safe

From the second you have the ring in your hands, keep it safe. Invest in insurance right away, then find a safe place to hide the ring until it’s time. When you’re ready to propose, safety is still key. Make sure the ring is secure in a zipped pocket or safely in the box, somewhere you’ll be able to reach easily without dropping it.

What to Do During the Proposal

1. Discreetly Store the Bauble

Nothing ruins the spontaneity faster than your partner seeing the bulge of a ring box from your pocket. To save the day, The Yes Girls actually invented the ultimate proposal hack: the Box Sock. This wearable accessory comes with a small pocket and tiny ring box, ready for immediate retrieval as soon as you stoop down to one knee.

2. Have a Photographer on Standby

Whether you hired a professional or trust your future sister-in-law and her iPhone, your soon-to-be fiancé(e) will love you all the more for finding someone to document the occasion. If they have no idea the proposal's coming, you can expect absolutely epic reaction snapshots. In fact, Uritis highly recommends that her clients book a photographer, "especially in this day and age when you do it for the ‘gram and they have these gorgeous pictures to announce that they're engaged." Bonus: You can even double down for an impromptu engagement shoot.

3. Pop the Question

Take a deep breath, get down on one knee, and pitch the sentimental speech you've probably rehearsed a million times. According to Uritis, it really doesn't matter which knee you go down on, but if you've stashed the ring in your sock, then kneel on the opposite side.

4. Don't Rush It

After you've asked for your partner's hand in marriage, let them have a moment—ample time must be given to process/cry/hug it out. Then once they've collected themselves, read the situation to figure out when to officially put on the ring. Or your partner may beat you to the punch and hold out their hand for you to do the honors.

How to Propose to Your Boyfriend

Ok, ladies, now let's get down on one knee—more and more women are stepping up and taking engagements into their own hands (because guys shouldn't have all the proposal fun). In this instance, Uritis considers traditional proposal etiquette fair game, ring and all. "I think all the same rules apply: Do something super special, something that he would really love," she says. "Try to keep it a surprise, definitely get a ring, include friends and family if that’s what he would love. But if not, just keep it really personal. Come on, ladies!"

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