5 Rules For A Successful Marriage Proposal

Martina in Barcelona for Flytographer

OK, so you’ve decided that she’s the one. Now, how do you pop the question? We can’t tell you exactly how to do it: the whole point of a marriage proposal is that it’s supposed to come from the heart. But there are some solid principles to help you make this proposal memorable in a good way, rather than in an impossible-to-forget Miss South Carolina in 2007 way.

Here are five rules to remember:

Be Yourself

Chances are, you’ve tried being yourself before–and maybe it hasn’t always worked out. But this is one time to trust your instincts, because no matter how calm you feel now, when the moment comes and you pull that ring out of your pocket, you will be a pile of jello.

This nervousness can quickly turn into a terror-loop that spirals out of control. Butterflies in the stomach are natural: the key is to not become paralyzed by the surge of adrenaline coursing through your hypothalamus.

This is one reason we’re always been against stunt proposals, like popping the question while riding a zip line or while scuba diving with sharks. Remember that your fine motor skills may be impaired. Your hands may be shaking like one of those machines that mixes paint at Home Depot, and you may start weeping and/or hyperventilating. You should not be operating any heavy machinery, as it were.

It’s best to keep things as relaxed as possible: choose a setting where you feel comfortable, and where the surface is reasonably soft (in case one of you faints). So don’t take the knee in the parking lot of your local Chilli’s, or on the ice at the Rockefeller Center rink. Go instead to the park bench where you first kissed, or the ballpark where you first got to second base.

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Make It About Her

The entire reason you’re reading this article is because you’ve never imagined proposing until now. But chances are she has imagined being proposed to. Give this proposal the amount of thought that you think she thinks it deserves.

Make sure the details of your proposal reflect your awareness of her tastes. If she loves France, but you can’t afford a trip to Paris right now, take her to a nice French restaurant and hide the ring in the chocolate ganache she orders for dessert. She may chip a tooth, but she’ll love the surprise.

On the other hand, if she is allergic to shellfish, avoid taking her to the local seafood restaurant to propose (though you could always present the ring taped to the side of an Epi-Pen). The main thing is to show that you thought about her when planning the proposal.

Give Her Some Wiggle Room

Maybe you’re thinking of popping the question during a Thanksgiving dinner, in front of her family. Or perhaps you’re contemplating surprising her while she’s out on a ladies night with her friends.  Or maybe you’re planning on running up and dropping to one knee during her graduation ceremony, as she is accepting her degree from the president of the nursing school.

Has it ever occurred to you that you are a jackass? These are all terrible ideas. Never forget that “Will you marry me?” is a question. You are asking her to do something enormously consequential. If you ask her in such a public setting, you are taking away her power to hesitate, to say nothing at all, to be fully human and alone with you in that moment.

It’s tempting to do a public proposal because everyone applauses and offers congratulations (assuming she says yes). But you’re taking this most intimate experience, and turning it into reality TV–or worse, a viral video. People will be posting that shit on instagram before you can even call your mom with the news. So keep it private–or at least between you, her and the waiter who will interrupt with “Can I get you guys anything else to drink?” as exactly the wrong moment.

It’s All About Timing

Marriage is a wonderful thing. But it’s not a way to salvage a rocky relationship. When considering the timing of your proposal, one suggestion: don’t do it a few months after she moved out and is dating someone else and you’re suddenly missing her because your laundry is piling up.

The right time to propose is when you feel like things could not possibly be better. The question “Will you marry me?” should be largely rhetorical. If you are asking because you’re seriously curious about the answer, and have no idea what she’s going to say, it’s probably not the right time. A marriage proposal should be the icing on the cake, not emotional duct tape.

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Keep It Short And Sweet

Sure, sure, everyone’s a writer. You have lots of romantic things to say. But your wedding proposal should be brief enough that you can recite it off the top of your head. The degree of a proposal’s romantic sincerity is directly inverse to its length and formality. This isn’t an inaugural address. It’s a yes or no question.

So start with a few simple truths from the heart. Maybe reminisce about how you first met, or when you first knew you wanted to spend the rest of your life with her. Don’t be afraid to go overboard here. Even if she’s an Aubrey Plaza-type who rolls her eyes at anything sentimental, her anti-cliché monitor will be switched off at this moment. She’ll eat it up. Then close with the key 11 words every girl has been dreaming of hearing since childhood: “Will you enter into a more favorable tax arrangement with me?”

Bottom Line

At this point, she’ll probably be standing there with both her hands held up to her mouth in surprise. That’s good: it seems to be what all women do right before they say yes to a proposal. Once you see those hands go up, you can relax: you’ve successfully gotten yourself engaged.

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