How to Pull Off a Surprise Proposal

These are the best ways to keep it a secret, according to the experts.

Man getting down on one knee and putting a ring on his girlfriend

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Getting down on one knee to ask for your partner’s hand in marriage is one of the most exciting moments in your relationship. What makes it such a thrilling experience is not only making the decision to spend the rest of your lives together, but also being able to successfully keep the plan a secret. “People want the romance, especially in a time when they have been through many life experiences prior to the engagement. A grand proposal really sends a strong message of wanting to take the next step,” planner Amber Walker says.

Since popping the question is such a momentous occasion, keeping it confidential is a big ask, especially if you’re used to telling your partner everything. Not to mention, if you’ve been dating for years, your significant other might have a suspicion that asking the ultimate question is coming. You also probably know each other so well that attempting to hide anything from your other half may seem unlikely.

Regardless, pulling off a surprise proposal is possible. To accomplish the task, we’ve consulted some of the best in the business to ask for their best tips. Here are expert-approved ways to plan a proposal your partner won’t expect, plus the benefits of a surprise proposal, mistakes that could interfere with the plan, and anyone who might not want to keep it under wraps.

Meet the Expert

  • Amber Walker is the owner and lead planner at Amber Walker Events, a full-service event planning company with offices in Toronto and Los Angeles. She’s been working in the event industry for over 10 years.
  • Yolanda Smith is the owner and lead planner and designer of By Love Events, an event planning and design firm in Richmond and Hampton Roads, Virginia. She has five years of experience as an event planner.
  • Marvin Velazquez is a proposal planner based in Orange County, California and a co-founder of The Heart Bandits, which was founded in 2010.

Why Consider a Surprise Proposal

Keeping the proposal from your partner is usually the most popular way to pop the question, but the decision is ultimately up to you. Here are four reasons why people often want to surprise their significant other when getting down on one knee.

You Get to Witness a Candid Reaction

If your person detects a proposal is in the works, you won’t be able to see the genuine surprise on their face when you pop the question. There’s nothing more rewarding and emotional than witnessing your significant other’s shock and joy once you pull out the ring. Their excitement will be contagious and will give you all the confirmation you need to take your relationship to the next level. Plus, their authentic facial expressions will lend to the best photos if you're hiring a photographer.

You Have the Opportunity to Plan Something Special

By keeping the big occasion a secret, you’ll have the autonomy to orchestrate the event to your liking and won’t have to worry about anyone else’s input and opinions. Without your fiancé-to-be’s knowledge of the proposal, you can plan an incident that speaks to your relationship and your partner’s personality and interests, whether it’s the location or the decorations.

It Communicates Your Intentions for the Future

Concealing the details of your proposal expresses that you’re serious about your future together and builds trust in your long-term union. “Partners want to know that there’s a genuine desire to move forward in their relationship without force, and a surprise proposal helps intensify the romance,” Yolanda Smith of By Love Events notes. 

It Makes for a Good Story

Your partner won’t be the only one surprised—so will all of your friends and family members. Once you FaceTime your loved ones with the news and post the engagement photos on social media, everyone will be eager to celebrate with you. “To be able to share this incredible surprise with the people who have supported you through it all feels like a whole different type of excitement,” Walker shares. 

How to Keep Your Proposal a Surprise

Since popping the question is such a huge moment in your relationship, keeping it a secret will make the occasion even more rewarding. Below, experts share seven tips and tricks to keep the plan under wraps.

Create a Solid Plan

The success of your proposal depends on how well you orchestrate it. The stronger your game plan, the better your chances are of concealing the details. Smith recommends selecting the time and place of the proposal, booking a photographer, and choosing the decorations far in advance. If others are involved, make sure they know their exact role in the proposal. An organized plan will help you relax and act naturally when the time comes, so your significant other won’t suspect anything. 

Devise a Backup Story

Even with a thoughtful plan in place, details can still slip. Since it’s better to be safe than sorry, Walker advises having a false tale at the back of your mind in case your partner questions you. For instance, if you’re going engagement ring shopping one weekend, tell your significant other that you’re going to spend the day exploring a museum with a friend or another excuse along the same lines. Make sure to loop your friend in on the plan, so they know exactly what to say in case your loved one asks about the “hangout.”

For the proposal itself, it’s also helpful to devise a fake narrative in case anything goes wrong. “Get people you trust in on the story and backup the story with tickets, fake invitations, and even email records or texts,” Walker says. “I want you to channel your inner FBI agent and cover your tracks, so if there was ever a suspicion, all the facts that you have back up your story.”

Stick With Something Simple

Anything out of the ordinary will probably give your partner pause. Instead of popping the question on your long-awaited trip to Italy or during a hot air balloon ride, which could cause some speculation, consider something in line with your everyday routine. Getting down on one knee at home or on your morning stroll around the park will more likely catch your significant other off guard. “If the couple has a standard routine, it’ll be harder to throw off the plan than if it’s something special,” proposal planner Marvin Velazquez states.

Select an Unexpected Date

“If there’s one thing that your partner may suspect, it’s proposing on a date that is significant to your relationship,” Walker remarks. Intending to ask for your other half’s hand in marriage on the anniversary of the first day you met or when you first started dating might spoil the plan. “I would suggest doing your proposal on a date close to that date but not on the exact date, so it doesn’t raise questions or suspicions,” she adds.

Hide the Ring

After you purchase the engagement ring, the next step is finding a good hiding spot. Placing the rock in the drawer of your nightstand or on top of your bookshelf just won’t cut it. Look for spots that are less obvious and places your partner never goes near. Some examples include your toolbox, luggage if you aren’t planning a trip any time soon, and the pocket of a garment that's out of season at the moment. Remember to cover all of your tracks, so don’t forget to hide the ring box and receipt as well.

Use Friends and Family Sparingly

If other people are involved in planning your proposal and you must tell them about the way you intend to pop the question, make sure they won’t disclose any details to anyone. Communicate how important it is that the proposal stays confidential.

If you’re inviting friends and family to celebrate your engagement after you get down on one knee, give them a vague reason why you need them to come to the proposal site to play it safe. “Let them know you’d like them to meet you for something important,” Smith recommends. “You can hire a planner or have a trustworthy friend or family member onsite that knows the plan and is able to explain everyone’s roles ahead of time. This liaison should also help minimize outside contact that could draw suspicion from your partner on the day of the proposal.”

Common Mistakes That Could Ruin the Surprise Proposal

The last thing you want to do is ruin the surprise. Although there will always be factors outside of your control, here’s how to avoid—to the best of your ability—some common pitfalls that could interfere with the proposal.

Leaving the Ring Lying Around

One of the worst ways to spoil the surprise is having your significant other find the engagement ring, whether she comes across the jewel while searching for a bandage or grabbing a book off of your nightstand. Luckily, this worst-case scenario is highly avoidable. After buying the sparkler, keep it out of sight. “Make sure it’s in a safe and protected area that your partner wouldn’t check or suspect,” Smith advises. Consider some of the hiding spots mentioned above.

Not Having a Well-Thought-Out Plan

Not only is it important to create a solid plan, but it’s also essential to consider all of the potential barriers to that plan, so you avoid running the risk of spilling the secret. “Plan ahead and give yourself and your partner additional time to get ready for, travel to, and arrive at the proposal destination,” Smith says. “Be clear about the timeline with others to ensure they’re ready and in place upon your arrival.” 

Getting Too Many People Involved

At the end of the day, it’s your moment, so you don’t need to clue everyone in on your scheme. Although you might want to enlist a planner to help arrange the event or fill your parents in on the details, it’s best to have as few people as possible included in the planning process. “If they're involved in the planning of the proposal, they may either slip up and tell the person, or they might affect the planning of the proposal, so that it’s not what the proposer originally wanted,” Velazquez notes. 

Not Having Enough Help

On the flip side, you can also have too little involvement from others. Taking the reins all by yourself might be a difficult feat and could increase the chances of exposing your big idea. “Using outside assistance helps ensure your secret is kept and that the plan is well executed,” Smith explains.

Is There Anyone Who Should Avoid a Surprise Proposal?

Although the surprise factor is important to a lot of people, there are certain instances that might prevent someone from keeping the proposal a secret. If your partner really hates surprises, you might want to reconsider another route, so you avoid an argument. Additionally, culture and religion are other exceptions. If your significant other comes from a background where it’s expected to speak about the proposal before it happens, then that will definitely influence your plan of action.

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