There are loads of articles out there that list 60+ ways on how to propose — anything from creative to romantic, modest to lavish, or intimate to public ... and such resources are fine if you want to spend hours figuring out which advice actually works (hint: most of it doesn't).
You see, most people make one of three mistakes when they propose to their loved one:
- they fail to come up with a killer game plan, which should be the starting point for any wedding proposal;
- they underestimate the time it takes to pull off a personalized (and memorable) proposal;
- they make the proposal about themselves instead of their partner.
Here’s the truth: asking the person you love to marry you is a big deal.
You only get one shot at planning a fairytale proposal … and with so many details to keep track of, popping the question can quickly become a little overwhelming …
But not with us.
You see, as the number one proposal photographer in Paris, I get to plan and witness fabulous marriage proposals almost daily (yes, that’s hundreds of proposals per year). I also don’t give much credence to Plan B thinking.
Importantly, I went through the process of planning a wedding proposal myself :-)) … and spent countless hours analyzing why some proposals just work while others tend to fizzle out.
- assisted hundreds of men (and women) propose like rockstars;
- published the number 1 ranked proposal guide on Google, The Ultimate Guide to Yes;
- reached thousands of people with my step-by-step proposal help videos on YouTube; and
- gained priceless insider secrets through a series of interviews with gentlemen whose creativity, romance and authenticity made me pause (and in some cases even cry).
Well, because when it comes to extraordinary proposals that touch the heart, this video offers three insanely inspiring ideas on how to propose. The Airport Proposal will have you in tears …
In this guide, I’m going to walk you through the top 12 tips on how to propose that you absolutely need to know. Each tip contains proven, actionable advice that you’ll be able to turn to again and again as you plan a dream proposal she’ll love for the rest of her life.
Ready to dive in? Let’s do this!
1. What’s your gameplan on how to propose?
We all want a marriage proposal that will make her heart sing—one that flows naturally, feels sincere, and crescendos with an emotional surprise-element. But the difference between wanting and achieving is your ability to create and stick to a gameplan.
Interestingly, it’s less about the budget than about your effort and personalization.
Hey, I’d even go so far as to say that the proposal is not about you, and all about her.
When you keep that in mind, it’s easier to invest in the right ring, select a location worthy of the amplitude of the moment, and confidently deliver a message from your heart that will touch her deeply; in turn, she’ll tell everyone she’s the luckiest girl in the world to be engaged to you—her loving and dedicated soulmate.
So while each proposal is as unique as the relationship you both share—and assuming she’s the soulmate you want to spend the rest of your life with—it’s crucial that your roadmap to “Yes” considers the following essential proposal checklist:
- Get her dad’s blessing;
- Decide on the proposal date;
- Tips for picking out and ensuring the perfect engagement ring;
- DIY vs. proposal planner;
- Secure your proposal location (private vs. public);
- Book your photographer (and videographer) to document the special occasion;
- What to say when you propose: your “Will you marry me?” pitch;
- Memorable proposal ideas: personalize the proposal experience
- the actual proposal
- make the entire evening special: the follow-through after she says “Yes;”
- Dress to impress;
- Master the logistics on the day of the proposal;
- Spread the great news and celebrate (with others);
2. Get her dad’s (family’s) blessing
And I’m not talking about a casual “I’d like to marry your daughter” phone call.
Officially asking your future father-in-law for his daughter’s hand is a signal of respect to him, to her, to tradition, and to the romantic institution of marriage.
With that said, you need to time your in-person visit to your girlfriend’s family such that …
- her dad is available and able to commit quality time (be respectful of his work schedule);
- Select a date and time when you know your girlfriend will be out of town or otherwise engaged as to not raise any suspicions. If you can trust your girlfriend’s best friend to keep a secret, I like the idea of sending them on a weekend-getaway together. Like this, you can visit your girlfriend’s family in peace of mind;
- While you’re at it, try to capture some well-wishes from her dad (and family) on your mobile phone. You can then immediately play their congratulatory words to your fiancée after she says “Yes” … while demonstrating your forethought and appreciation of her family.
3. Decide on the perfect proposal date as soon as possible
Timing your proposal date is easier said than done.
According to a British survey, Christmas Eve is the most popular day of the year to propose … followed by Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve (interestingly, the same study maintains that 23% of women prefer that the proposal take place on Valentine’s Day).
With that in mind, pick a date with personal significance to you as a couple while paying attention to the following calendar-related considerations:
- you need an official proposal date before you can hire a photographer, make a restaurant reservation, book your flights and hotel, …;
- Will your proposal involve extensive travel, the need to secure a visa, asking her employer for time-off, …;
- Any seasonal constraints, e.g., expected weather conditions for an outdoor proposal, sunrise and sunset hours, airfare deals, availability of key vendors and venues, special events that could obstruct your fancied proposal spot (real examples I’ve experienced include Paris Fashion Week, United Nations event, filming of a Tom Cruise movie, etc.).
- Is your girlfriend available on your favored date? Consider her work schedule, school, kids or pets, birthdays, holidays, previous commitments, and other responsibilities.
To that point, below is an actual email from a client who had booked me … just to realize that her girlfriend would not be able to get time-off from work.
Happy new year! I’m writing to get your opinion: I had originally scheduled the surprise proposal for October 1, and am now wondering whether we can postpone it until February? I know your schedule is extremely busy and I feel awful to ask you for this favor. I just found out that Kathy is unable to get this October off from work. Please let me know if it’s possible to switch the date? Anytime in February that works best for you. Thank you so much and have a great day.
4. I’m new to this whole ring thing …
In many cultures, the diamond engagement ring is considered a romantic symbol of endless love and commitment. And let’s face it, she’ll expect you to produce a fabulous ring when you get down on one knee.
So how much should you spend on an engagement ring?
Well, I’m not a big fan of spending more than you can afford and would make the following observations:
- be prepared to do plenty of research since you’re likely to spend real money on her engagement ring. As with any significant investment, quality jewelry comes at a cost;
- Your partner will be the one wearing the ring … so unless your proposal plans are an open secret, pay attention and try to figure out her style before going ring shopping. Enlist her mom, sister or best friend for advice as long as they can be discrete;
- Think in terms of a total marriage proposal budget that includes the ring and also accounts for travel + hotel, photographer, a romantic dinner, flowers and other personal touches;
- This nifty engagement ring affordability calculator allows you to estimate the cost of an engagement ring based on the quality of the diamond you’re after. I highly recommend that you first familiarize yourself with the 4Cs—cut, carat weight, color, and clarity—and ideally visit a reputable jewelry retailer to get a sense of what kind of ring you want;
- Desire the distinctive Tiffany Blue Box? Well, you’re not alone, but you’ll need to pay a premium for the convenience and peace of mind that comes from dealing with a luxury brand name. Just appreciate that companies, such as Tiffany, Cartier, Bulgari, and others spend millions on marketing and operate with higher margins … which in laymen’s terms means you’re paying more for an equivalent diamond ring;
Ok … so you purchased the ring … what’s next?
Well, you’re not done yet:
- make 100% sure that the ring is in your hands well before the proposal date (no ring => no marriage proposal);
- Protect your investment against loss, damage, and theft with worldwide jewelry insurance; you may also want to check your homeowner’s insurance policy to see if it covers damaged or lost jewelry. Do note, however, that many homeowner’s insurance policies are subject to exclusions or maximum limits that may not cover the full replacement value of your ring (here’s a list of 16 ‘listed perils” that are typically fully or partially covered by homeowners insurance;
- If you’re considering a destination proposal (i.e., one that includes travel), you unquestionably want comprehensive insurance coverage. Importantly, you need to come up with a foolproof method of keeping the ring unnoticed as you and your girlfriend go through airport security and share a hotel room.
5. Do I need a proposal planner?
Well, it depends …
- Are you considering a more elaborate proposal and find it challenging to put together all the pieces;
- Perhaps you just want to hire someone else to help you come up with best proposal ideas;
- Or maybe you have your heart set on a destination proposal and don’t have the time to assemble an experienced local team of vendors;
- Flash mob anyone?
- Hey, I’ve worked with clients who hired a proposal planner just to gain access to an exclusive venue, celebrity performer, helicopter, vintage car, or a yacht …
If you go with a proposal planner, make sure to understand her approach to proposal planning. Ask your planner to spell out the process from initial consultation over concept design to execution. What’s her method and frequency of communication?
Some luxury resorts will ask their guest relations officer or catering staff to assist you when you book one of their exclusive suites, salons, or grounds & gardens. This works out well since such hotels have well-oiled systems and vendor relationships in place.
And yet another option would be to leverage the experience and network of your photographer; it’s quite common for me to assist my clients with location choice, attire, timeline, and a curated list of my favorite vendors.
6. Where should I propose (private vs. public setting)?
I’m going to come right out and connect the dots for you … your partner’s experience will be shaped by two things:
- how does reality meet (her) expectations;
- your ability to create a setting that stimulates her five senses in concert.
That should be music to your ears since you pretty much have full control over both elements and it’s relatively easy to move the needle in your favor when you appreciate the importance of location choice.
If she’s more the sentimental type, I’d consider taking her to a spot of personal significance, such as where you first met or professed your love for one another—it kind of symbolically brings your relationship full circle.
If you’re thinking of a romantic destination custom-made for lovers, then how about making your next vacation a dreamy escape to Rome, Paris, Venice, or Buenos Aires? Here’s a list of the World’s Most Romantic Cities.
Say she’s into the untamed wilderness, then a private helicopter tour in New Zealand or a majestic hot-air balloon ride in Colorado might just be beyond epic! Hey, there’s always the mountaintop in Aspen, Colorado, where Paris Hilton said “yes” to Chris Zylka.
Public proposals don’t necessarily make things easier—especially when you’re thinking of, say, a flash mob or streaming your proposal onto a jumbo-screen in a stadium during a live event (here’s how to propose at a live baseball game).
Then again, the whole idea of a public proposal is presumably to have it witnessed by the masses, right? As such, you at least don’t need to worry as much about crowd management and other potential distractions, and can instead shift your focus to logistics.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with proposing in front of family, friends, or even thousands of people. After all, you know your partner, traditions, and cultural practices best.
So you’ve settled on a general location (e.g., Venice) and let’s further assume you value privacy … what’s next?
Well, as you might imagine, you’re not done yet. Most cosmopolitan cities offer plenty of fabulous options. Options, in turn, mean you’ll need to make some decisions … and each decision comes with a set of expectations. Let me explain applying a simple, real-life example:
Say you have your heart set on a romantic Eiffel Tower proposal in the City of Lights. You could propose in plain public view, e.g. the Bir-Hakeim Bridge, Trocadéro, Champs de Mars, or along the Seine River.
As you see from the photographs above, the public view can be stunningly beautiful and, at times, even offer privacy … if you’re lucky. With that said, it’s equally possible to arrive at Trocadéro just to find the square
- blocked off for the filming of Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster;
- congested with tourists, photographers, street vendors and other bystanders;
- obstructed by large cranes building out a runway set for Yves Saint Laurent during Paris Fashion Week;
When you invest in a private venue, you’ve essentially secured the following benefits:
Enhanced control over your environment:
- More privacy: privacy and intimacy seem to go together. In the absence of any public boundaries, some of us simply do not feel comfortable expressing our true self, exposing vulnerability, and sharing our most personal thoughts.
- Noise control: allows you to reduce ambient noise from cars, bystanders, and other unwanted distractions;
- Ability to personalize the proposal setting: since you now de facto rented space, you, your proposal planner, florist, or the venue’s catering staff are free to transform the environment as you see fit—candles, rose petals, musicians, scavenger hunt, candlelight dinner, and a host of other cute proposal ideas.
- Predictable lighting conditions: light is the one element nobody wants to pay for; yet, it affects our five senses and helps bring the atmosphere to life. Just imagine being able to create a setting with the same exposure as the Eiffel Tower at night—it’s just you both and the most magical structure in the universe;
Timeline flexibility is a significant side-benefit of acquiring a private venue—notably for surprise proposals given that it’s not always straightforward to get your partner to be ready and show up at the designated spot without giving away the surprise.
Weather contingency plan: well, I always tell my couples to box up their worries and not stress over factors beyond their control, such as the weather. I also don’t give much credence to Plan B thinking. With that said, venues that offer both indoor and outdoor solutions will often accommodate a proposal location switch on short notice … which, ultimately, amounts to peace of mind, right?
7. Book a professional photographer (and videographer) to document the special occasion
Let’s make this one easy: you absolutely need to hire a professional photographer (and videographer) to document your proposal forever.
Sure, we’ve all heard horror stories of photographers who ruined the surprise element, missed the actual proposal, or otherwise diminished the proposal experience.
Then again, that’s all the more incentive to take the photography decision seriously and invest in the best photographer you can afford—an experienced and caring professional who’ll deliver extraordinary photos fast (I’ll get to the importance of a quick photo turnaround in a little).
The question then becomes how to identify and book the right photographer for you.
The simple answer is that you need to get to know and trust your photographer and love her work. Full stop.
Next, reach out to your favorite photographers as soon as possible to ensure their availability. Chances are that if an artist is good enough for you, she’s also good enough for other gentlemen. In other words, good people get booked fast and well in advance.
In your inquiry email, be personable, engaging, passionate, and forthcoming with as much information as you feel comfortable sharing. Tell the photographers about you as a couple, why your partner is your soulmate, your initial proposal ideas, and what you love about their photography.
People like to work with people they like … and you might even get a better deal when a photographer feels like you’re a brilliant fit.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices of potential proposal photographers, you must decide how much you want to invest in your photography services?
The answer depends on multiple factors—notably on your economic situation and how important the photos and photography experience are to you as a couple. Just keep in mind that there are no do-overs and that photography may be more important to her than to you.
You see, proposals (and weddings as you’ll find out soon) do not come cheap … and chances are you’re already spending a pretty penny on the ring, a fancy hotel, potentially flying your families into town, props & Champagne, fine dining, the proposal setting, and a host of other elements related to your proposal concept. Why then take a risk and cut corners on the documentation?
I’d even go one big step further and encourage you to invest heavily in photography and videography, which are splendidly complementary services.
Craft, practice and refine your “Will you marry me?” pitch
13. Got her to say “Yes.” What’s next?