10 Tips for Planning the Perfect Marriage Proposal

Plan the romantic surprise of a lifetime by following these helpful engagement pointers.

Ready to pop the question but you aren't sure how to make your proposal extra special? Coming up with the right way to ask those four little words ("Will you marry me?") can be a challenge even for guys who are romantic on an everyday basis. You're probably thinking it has to be a BIG proposal  — something she'll never forget. It should also be personalized to your relationship. Whew, that's a lot of pressure.

But don't worry, we have some fabulous ideas to help make your proposal even more unforgettable. Plus, check out our tips for reliving this magical moment throughout your "happily ever after!"

how to propose
Photo by: Stacy Kokes Photography via Lover.ly

1. Select a sentimental location. 
For example, it could be the restaurant where you had your first date, the rooftop bar where you shared your first kiss, or the spot where you first said "I love you." Going back to that locale now as the setting for your proposal signifies that your relationship has come full circle.

2. Surprise her by having family and friends share in this moment. 
They could be right there with you, perhaps at a family gathering or holiday dinner. Or, if you'd like the proposal to be just the two of you, you could arrange to have your closest loved ones just out of view, maybe looking on from a nearby vantage point. After you pop the question and she says "yes," wave everyone in for a big group hug and lots of congratulations. It's the best of both worlds — you get a lovely, intimate moment alone and then have all of your favorite people share in your happiness immediately afterwards.

surprise proposal
Photo Credit: Pap the Question

Bonus: Make it a part of your holidays. With friends and family in town for Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s, all of your respective besties will be present for the proposal. And in the future, this holiday will always have even more significance for you as you think back on the time when you got engaged.

3. Hire a professional photographer.
He or she can hang out close to your proposal spot and covertly capture amazing photos of your proposal scene. Expert photographers know how to capture the light, make your setting look even more magical, and position themselves perfectly to get a priceless shot of the look on her face when she realizes what's happening. It's a big trend now to invest in pro photography — these images are way too important to risk losing via dead camera batteries or other mistakes non-pros might make. 

Bonus: You can give the engagement photos as a surprise wedding-day gift to your bride!

proposal idea
Photo Credit: Alyse French Photography

4. Incorporate music. 
Do you have a song that is meaningful to the both of you? Or, does she remember the first song you ever slow-danced to? (You can subtly ask her without giving away your plan.) Having a sweet tune playing in the background elevates your proposal to "unforgettable" status. 

Bonus: Slow dance. No matter where you are. No matter who’s around, if you’re out at a public spot like a scenic overlook. No matter if there’s music or not. Just gather her close, and lead her in a slow dance to last forever in her memory. Sigh...

Next: When to pop the question, what to say and more ►

5. Get symbolic with the flowers.

Give her a surprise proposal bouquet and arrange floral décor at your proposal site. For a romantic touch, get symbolic with the number of flowers that you use. For example, if you've known each other for ten years, have a ten-rose bouquet made. If you've been together for three years, a three-flower bouquet isn't going to cut it, so how about including one flower for each month that you've been dating? Share the symbolism of your flower choice with her.

Bonus: You've got an instant ritual for your marriage! Each year on your proposal or wedding anniversary, you can add another flower to the bouquet, instantly transporting her back to this magical moment right here and now.

surprise proposal
Photos by: JKoe Photography on Inspired by This via Lover.ly

6. Do it earlier in the evening.
Instead of proposing at the end of the night, after a romantic dinner, carriage ride, concert, or some other activity, start off at the place where you'll pop the question and then enjoy an evening filled with events that you've planned. That way, you won't be nervous all night.

Plus, she gets an entire night of wearing and showing off that engagement ring, right now, rather than having to wait until the next day.

7. Speak from the heart.
You could plan anything, but it’s the words you say that make your proposal truly one-of-a-kind. Tell her what you love about her, yes, but also tell her when you knew she was The One. If you told your best buddy after your first date that you knew she would be an important person in your life, then add that to your proposal "speech." Then, talk about what you want to share with her in your future together.

Whatever you do, don't read word for word from a written speech. You can sound awkward, lose that connection of looking into her eyes, and she might wonder if you found any of those phrases or quotes online. Just jot down some key phrases or things you want to mention on a "cheat sheet" and you'll be fine. Don't forget to breathe! Speak slowly, and if you shed some tears, that just makes it all even more unforgettable.

christmas proposal
Photos by: Melissa McCrotty

Next: Show her a video, plan an element from her favorite movie and more ►

8. Show her a video of you asking her parents for their blessing. 

If you previously talked to her parents — which is quite proper and gallant of you — let her see that moment as well. You don’t need fancy editing or a soundtrack, although you could design the video that way if you wish! She’ll love being privvy to such a meaningful gesture and seeing how respectful you are of her parents (not to mention seeing how excited they are that their daughter is getting married!).

Bonus: If your girlfriend has kids, show her a video of you asking them if they’d be okay with your proposing to their Mom, or what they would like to have at the wedding. Same goes for your kids. Cuteness abounds!

marry daddy proposal
Photo by: The La Crosse Tribune

9. Plan an element from her favorite movie.
Remember the Keira Knightley wedding scene from Love Actually where the musicians pop up from within the guests and serenade them? If that’s her favorite movie, arrange for some musicians to sit in the rows of a movie theater that you’ve pre-arranged for your proposal. And friends and family can be in the seats as well.

When the big screen starts playing, it opens with that scene from the movie, and then live musicians play right there, making her favorite movie come alive as part of your proposal — total wow-factor!

10. Make that first meal you cooked for her early on in your dating days.
Thinking of proposing at home? Cook a sentimental meal that she'll never forget. You can celebrate future anniversaries with your chicken cacciatore.

Bonus: Break out the wine. If you remember which vintage you shared on your first date, how awesome would it be to revisit that life-changing first clink of your wine glasses now, with your proposal to follow?

sushi proposal
Photos by: Jaye Kogut Photography on Engaged and Inspired via Lover.ly

Lastly, one word of caution: Make sure she's up for a public proposal before you plan something elaborate or over-the-top involving a large crowd of people. Not everyone likes being the center of attention. Gauge her feelings on public proposals before you arrange for that "Will You Marry Me?" jumbotron announcement at a sports game or serenade her with a flash mob in the park. Don't be that guy who proposes in extravagant fashion, only to have his sweetheart look mortified — or, even worse — shake her head "no" and run away.

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Sharon Naylor is the author of The Groom's Guide: A Wedding Planner for Today's Marrying Man and and over 35 additional wedding books. Visit sharonnaylor.net for more great wedding tips and advice.


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