For most men, meeting the right woman is an idea that’s nice in theory, but not top priority for quite some time, especially during your 20s when you’re building your career. But whether you credit meeting your girlfriend to the universe, chance luck, some online dating site or to nothing at all, when you reach that point when you’re ready to take it from Facebook official to legally binding — it’s a big step.
In fact, that one question is what’s so essential — and no, not the one you’ll ask her — ‘will you marry me?’ but the one you’ll be asking yourself: ‘how will I ask her to marry me?!’
While a spontaneous proposal has it’s merit, most men have to think carefully, do some research, examine their finances and ya know, make sure that it’ll be a special memory for their relationship, and a story to tell their families (and ahem, future children). Figuring out how to propose doesn’t have to be so anxiety-provoking that you take all the magic out of the once-in-a-lifetime moment, though.
Here, relationship experts and therapists give you their best advice on how to approach, plan and consider your game plan for getting on one knee and hoping for forever.
1. What You Need to Do Before Proposing
There’s lots to consider when you’re about to become an engaged couple. And while the real work might come once you’re planning a wedding, for the guy, the anticipation and build-up to the proposal might feel more stressful. From determining which ring is the best one and asking her parents for her hand in marriage to ensuring you’re at the right point in your relationship to enter a marriage, here’s what you absolutely, hands-down need to do before you ask her to marry you:
Picking The Ring
No matter how well you think you know your girlfriend, chances are pretty high that she’s imagined her engagement ring since she was very young. Even if she usually goes for modern, chunky, gold costume jewelry with her everyday wear, she might want something more subtle and classic for the ring that symbolizes her commitment to you and building your life together.
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“Make sure you find out her likes, and her strong dislikes when it comes to a ring. While in a perfect world, she would love anything you give her, we all have personal taste, and this is something that she will wear and be looking at everyday of her life. Make sure it is something she loves,” psychologist Nikki Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC says.
If you’re willing to let someone in on the secret – say her sister or her best friend — then they can give you a clue into the rings she’s awed over in the past. And maybe, if you’re lucky — a saved screenshot from Instagram or a Pinterest link that’s exactly, to the cut add clarity and carat, that she wants.
How To Ask Her Parents
Before you book a plane ticket or set up a Facetime or Skype call, you should consider how close she is to her parents. While it’s very traditional (and often times, thought of as respectful), if it wouldn’t matter to her or to her parents, it might not be necessary.
“If you know your girlfriend and/or her family are more traditional, asking her parents may be more important than it is to a family who is less traditional. Asking the father for her hand in marriage is an old tradition stemming from when marriages were more business related than love related. A suitor had to ask for a hand to ensure the father approved and a ‘deal’ could be made between the families,” licensed marriage and family therapists Courtney Geter explains.
“These days, many people believe asking for hand in marriage shows ownership and opt not to incorporate this into their traditions.”
A bit of honest communication is important here. In a non-pressuring, casual way, Geter says to chat with your girlfriend about her viewpoints. If you're concerned about not giving away the upcoming surprise, you could relate the discussion to a pal who asked his girlfriend’s parents, or something you see while watching Netflix together.
“I suggest having a conversation before the proposal to understand your girlfriend and her family's viewpoint and preferences. Some families also see asking the father or parents as respect instead of ownership. Knowing the difference and how the family thinks will also help you formulate the conversation,” Geter says.
But if the old-fashioned way is important to her? Then Martinez says to make the effort — and make it count. Because if it is important to her family’s traditions, then disregarding it could start not only the proposal, but your marriage and relationship with your future in-laws, on the wrong foot.
“Leaving them out of the loop can start you off on a bad footing that is not needed. While it might feel awkward, hurt feelings will be worse,” she notes.
How to Know If You’re at the Right Point In Your Relationship
You're often told to trust your gut when you’re making a business deal or when you’re buying a home or a car, and the same goes with choosing the woman you’ll marry. While it may be beneficial to have a magic, no-fail formula or checklist to follow to know if you’ve found the perfect person, the truth is, you’ll never, ever truly know for certain.
What is a good thing to look at, though? How well you match up on the most important hot topics that will be make-or-break decisions as you age and grow.
“As a relationship therapist who works with premarital and married couples, common themes I see in clients with relationship conflict is they never had a thorough understanding of their partner's thoughts on relationship roles — especially around children, finance, and sex, and living together. I also find that couples never completely understood how their partner functions as a person, which can create conflict if each person's individual characteristics clash with each other,” Geter says.
In some cases, you might even chat about getting married with your girlfriend, long before you decide to propose. If you know you’re both on the same page — and well, you can feel it in that gut of yours — then you’re on the road to getting down that aisle.
2. When, Where And How To Propose
Not sure how to plan this mini-event? Should her family be there? Her friends? In public or in private? In town or on vacation? When, where, how? More than anything else — it’s up to your relationship and your individual personalities. A proposal should represent the experiences you’ve shared, how much you’ve learned about one another over time and more than anything, be something that you know would make her super-happy and feel loved.
“When, where and how to propose is so personal and unique, depending on the type of people and couple you are. You could be with them somewhere that is a special memory or place. You could do it unexpectedly at home. You could plan a surprise or make a game of it. The important thing is what feels genuine and memorable to the two of you, and not pressure from what other people think it should be,” Martinez says.
But some good rules of thumb? Make it about her — not about the attention it’ll bring. Even if you would like to rent out a theater, she might be more into a casual encounter at home while you’re cooking dinner. Make her the priority. After all, as the saying goes, "Happy wife, happy life."
3. How To Actually Do The Proposal
When it comes to getting down on one knee, some men find it old fashioned (kind of like asking for her hand from her parents). But if you decide to kneel, you should do it the right way.
“Getting down on one knee is still the custom when proposing to someone, and not doing so might make the moment too casual, or may not make it clear to the intended what is happening, and that this is the moment. The custom is from days when men bent down and kissed women on the hand. It is reverting and respectful, and it is a touch that should never go out of fashion,” Martinez explains.
Once you’re down there, you might worry about what to say. Again, as Martinez notes, it’s really up to the type of person you are and what kind of woman she is, that should inspire your speech. “If you are shy, like my husband, your preference is to plan something small simple and private. If you and your partner are extroverts, you might plan something more elaborate and unique.”
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And of course, last but not least? What to do with that ring. Up until the proposal, you should keep it somewhere safe and hidden (and nope, not the sock drawer). You could keep it locked with a key at your desk at work or in a safety deposit box, just to make sure nothing unfortunate happens or she doesn’t go searching and stumble across the prized good. And how about when to hand it to her? When she says ‘yes!’
“You show it to her while you ask, but you do not hand or exchange the ring to her until she officially answers with a resounding yes. Do not start to put it on their finger before she has answered the question, this is an exciting, but nerve wracking time. You do not want to add any additional pressure,” Martinez says.
4. How Not To Propose
The biggest mistakes you can make when proposing are all about not putting your partner’s happiness first. While lots of people have certain proposal expectations, make sure the one you plan is in line with your partner's wishes and personality.
What does that imply? Things like: “Having an audience, when this is not in your partner’s nature. Not asking the parents for their blessing, and not subtly finding out your partner’s preferences in the most important piece of jewelry they will wear everyday for the rest of their life are all mistakes that could ruin what would be a very special moment for your future wife,” Martinez says.
Bottom line? Think of her first — and think of how lucky you’ll be to hear that "Yes!"