Proposing. Popping the question. Getting down on one knee. No matter how you phrase it, figuring out how to propose to the love of your life is a pretty daunting task.
There are a number of elements to consider in advance, from the ring to the location, the personal touches to the pictures – particularly in this age of social media, when proposals are getting ever more elaborate to meet Insta-worthy standards. But from showstopping public spectacle to laid-back and low-key, only you will know how to propose in the way that’s perfect for your relationship. We’ll help you work that out in our step-by-step guide below.
Before you get too overwhelmed, we also want to remind you that this should also be an amazing experience for you both – just because you’re the one doing the planning, it doesn’t mean you don’t get to bask in the joy of that all-important yes. Work through those nerves and focus on the excitement that’s waiting for you on the other side. You got this!
- 60 Romantic and Unique Proposal Ideas
- 36 Best Engagement Rings to Buy Online
- 25 Romantic Ways to Propose at Home
Before You Propose
1. Talk It Out
We know you probably want to keep your proposal a surprise, so don’t be too obvious about it, but it’s wise to make sure you’re both actually ready for marriage before you start making your plans. Research conducted in 2019 shows that the average couple is together for 4.9 years before getting engaged, and while you don’t have to conform to this exact timeframe, it’s certainly something to consider – why do you feel like you want to propose at this point, and are they on the same page?
Subtle segues, like mentioning someone else’s engagement or upcoming wedding, or watching TV shows or films about weddings together (Don’t Tell The Bride is on Netflix now, FYI) are clever routes to get the conversation flowing. Get a positive response? It’s looking good…
2. Speak to Their Family
‘Asking permission’ is becoming a somewhat outdated concept, mainly because it stems from the idea of women being the ‘property’ of their fathers or husbands, rather than independent people with their own hearts and minds. But involving your other half’s family is still important and thoughtful – it’s all about the way you approach it.
If you know that your partner has always wanted you to have that traditional moment with their parents, you can still let them in on your intentions – their enthusiasm will probably be evident anyway! Make it clear you want them to be a part of this moment and how thrilled you are to become a part of their family and everyone should be happy.
READ MORE: The 21 Best Places to Propose in the World
3. Make It Personal
So you’re going to do it! Hooray! Now what? ‘The most important element of a proposal is to ensure that your proposal is personal and bespoke to you both as a couple,’ says Amanda Brown, proposal planner at The One Romance (and therefore someone who knows more than a thing or two about proposal priorities).
‘It is in the detail, adding memories you have had together, special dates, include friends and family if that is an important part of your relationship.’
Start jotting down ideas around the happiest times you’ve spent together – how did you meet? Do you have a favourite restaurant, holiday destination, or even night in together at home? Is there an anniversary you want to mark? An easy way to whittle down your initial options is to consider your gut reaction to the following questions:
- Indoor or outdoor?
- In public or private?
- In the UK or abroad? (In our most recent National Wedding Survey, we found that 4 in 10 couples got engaged on holiday)
- With family and friends present or without?
Just those four factors will give you a clear starting point, and then you can start making tailoring things to you two specifically from there. If you’ve got budget to play with, great, but don’t feel you have to spend a fortune on intricate set-ups or expensive experiences to make it special – ultimately, it’s about the love between the two of you, and you can’t put a price on that.
4. Buy the Ring
From how much to spend to choosing the style that will suit them best, this can be overwhelming, so start from the beginning and do your research.
Consider their existing jewellery collection to find out their preferred aesthetic, and shop around to get a rough idea of cost (you can get some amazing deals online). If you’ve got no idea at all, ask a trusted friend or relative of theirs for a second opinion – they might not have told you what their dream engagement ring looks like, but chances are their closest pals or siblings have had the full breakdown the in past. Perhaps there’s even a family heirloom that they’re hoping will be passed down.
Remember, they’re going to be wearing this ring for the rest of their life, so there’s no reason why they can’t be involved in the decision making too. More and more couples are turning to temporary engagement rings as placeholders before shopping together to pick out the ‘forever’ band – some jewellers even let you offset the cost of the proposal ring against the eventual pick.
You could also consider proposing without the ring completely – it’s increasingly common, especially if you’re certain that they will want to choose the ring themselves.
5. Think About What You Want to Say
A proposal should come from the heart, so we’re not talking a full-blown script here, but it can help to calm your nerves if you have a few bullet points in mind that you want to share when you’re making your speech. Take this opportunity to tell your partner how happy they make you, and what you love about them the most.
When the moment finally arrives, you may find that all of your preparation falls out of your head completely, and that’s okay – a little spontaneity never hurt anyone. You can keep it short and sweet or spill your guts in their entirety – as long as the genuine emotion is there, they’ll definitely get the message (just remember to say ‘will you marry me?’ at the end of it!)
On the Day of the Proposal
6. Check the Location
This is especially important if you’re proposing outside – what’s the weather like? – or in a public setting – are there any events happening in the area that might impact your plans? If you’ve made a booking in a restaurant or hotel, call ahead to reconfirm – you might even want to let them in on your plans so they know just how important your reservation is.
However, life never unfolds quite like we expect, so don’t freak out if things have veered slightly off course – you can still make a magical, meaningful moment, even if you end up kneeling in the pouring rain. Read your partner’s mood and find the right moment – you’ll know when the time has come.
7. Take Care of the Details
‘It is the little things that you sometimes forget,’ Amanda says. ‘If you have a new engagement ring you are going to want to show it off, so make sure a manicure is sorted out before the big event. Think about footwear - high heels will not work if you are proposing on a boat or in the forest! Think about what they might want to wear and ensure we come up with a plan that will make that happen. Lastly phones, bags, coats – these often need to be subtly removed.’
It can be tricky to make this happen without giving the game away, so try to be casual with your suggestions. Get a friend to suggest a nail salon trip earlier that week, or tell a white lie about your plans for the day to ensure they’re dressed appropriately. Trust us, they’ll forgive you once they realise what’s going on!
8. Remember the Ring!
You may think you’ve checked it a million times, but it still happens – keep that ring safe and secure no matter where you’re headed to pop the question. You’ll probably need to carry it on you, so make sure you use a pocket that zips or buttons up, or slide it down the side of your (clean) socks.
One thing that many experts recommend but doesn’t always occur to the rest of us is to insure the ring as soon as you purchase it, even if that’s well before you propose. It might seem a little premature or overcautious, but if the worst does happen, you’ll definitely be grateful you got it covered.
9. Capture the Moment
‘Most of our clients have always wanted to capture their proposal on film,’ Amanda adds. ‘It is a memory that they want to keep forever and share with family and friends. We have noticed that our younger clients are more aware of social media and capturing the moment to post is important to them. The biggest change seems to be that everyone wants to see the images immediately and have lots and lots of them to choose from.’
If it’s a private proposal, you might set up a hidden camera to record the moment without inviting anyone else into the occasion; for more public proposals, you could hire a photographer or videographer, or ask loved ones to conceal themselves and snap away from all of the best possible angles.
10. Let Them Process
You knew this was happening, they didn’t. While you’re likely relieved to have finally proposed and shared the secret you’ve been hiding, it’s not unusual for the other person in the equation to end up in a slight state of shock. Let them cry, hug, scream with happiness if they need to – everyone will react differently, so give them time to let off that steam and take everything in.
They might want to put the ring on immediately, they might be so enthralled with the setting and the speech that they forget about the ring completely. Follow their lead and let them decide what happens next – the more you try to control the situation, the more out of control it will usually get, so let the rest of the proposal evolve organically.
11. Plan a Celebration
Your final order of business is to celebrate this momentous occasion! Again, the way you choose to do this will depend on what type of couple you are – some will want all of their friends and family gathered to party with them, others will prefer a more intimate option, like a bottle of champagne waiting for them at home or in their hotel.
As we hope you’ve realised by now, there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding how to propose – it’s all about tailoring it to yourself and your fiancé in a way that feels true to you both.
If you know you’re ready but need some more inspiration on the how part, here are 60 romantic and unique proposal ideas to help you on your way.