15 Dos and Don'ts for an Unforgettable Marriage Proposal

Lindsey Ocker Photography

There is no wrong way to ask your special someone to marry you, but there are ways to make sure the marriage proposal goes off without a hitch. With the help of Sarah Pease, professional proposal planner at Brilliant Event Planning, here are the tips for taking this big step toward wedded bliss in stride.

01 of 13

Do Make It Meaningful


If ever there was a time for getting sentimental, this is it. Think back on the noteworthy moments in your relationship. Take your sweetheart back to where you first met, kissed, or said, "I love you!" Share a favorite restaurant, view, stroll, or even a song, movie, or book? Creatively draw on these special details to, well, make a special day even more so.

02 of 13

Don't Be Trendy

NYC & Company/Joe Buglewicz

Sure, that restaurant that everyone is talking about may be the perfect option for a romantic night out, but will today's hot spot be tomorrow's old news?

When it comes to selecting a destination for popping the question, "I advise my clients to consider finding a place that will always be there," Pease says. "Whether it's a historical monument or an outdoor location, the idea that you can always return there—even when you're old and gray—is a great one."

Still interested in ressies at your original destination? Consider going there before or after your proposal. Then jot down the evening's highlights—from your drink choices to your dessert fare. That way, you can always re-create the magical meal for anniversaries to come.

03 of 13

Do Consider If the Proposal Should Be Public or Private

Amy Hart for the Times Square Alliance

Not everyone wants to be in the spotlight, while some may dream of sharing the joy. If you are unsure what your beloved would prefer, it's time to do some digging, which, honestly, may start with subtly asking him or her themselves. Scour YouTube for proposal examples, act like you have just come across them on your social feed, and see how your sweetheart responds to different scenarios. Or ask friends and family whose secrecy you can trust for their advice. When in doubt, always play it safe. He or she obviously adores being alone with you, so you cannot go wrong with a one-on-one environment sans an audience.

04 of 13

Don't Forget Your Permits


If orchestrating an elaborate proposal plan, like a flash mob in the middle of Chicago's Millenium Park or a series of organized events at the San Francisco Ferry Building, cover your bases. "Cops and park officials are positively heartless when it comes to any kind of special setup that doesn't have the proper permits, even if it's for a proposal," Pease says.

And, if at all possible, "Try to find a location that you can actually rent versus doing some sort of guerrilla pop-up plan that can easily be foiled."

05 of 13

Do Develop a Decoy

Jessica Lorren

"An airtight decoy story is a vital part of a great marriage proposal," Pease says. "Begin developing it by thinking of things that she can't say no to—and would be excited to do. Involve an accomplice to really throw her off track and plan it out." Some of Pease's favorite excuses? Friends or family members are in town, and you're meeting them for dinner. You got tickets to an invite-only performance at the theater. There's a cocktail party for work that you have to attend with a date. You get the idea.

06 of 13

Don't Let the Secret Slip

Millie Holloman

The more details people know, the more you risk ruining the surprise. Find out who needs to know what ahead of time, and keep everyone on a need-to-know basis. "Even vendors that you hire to help you pop the question—if they do not absolutely need to know, then don't tell them," Pease advises. "It's more fun to share the happy news together as a couple anyway."

07 of 13

Do Know Where She's Coming From

Chase Jarvis

We mean this literally. If you're planning on proposing on a Thursday night in front of all of your friends and family, find out in advance what your girlfriend's or boyfriend's schedule is like on that day.

She might be on an endorphin high if she's coming straight from her evening run or weekly spin class, but what she probably wants in that moment is a shower, not the spotlight. Likewise, if he's been putting in long hours at the office and comes home every night completely pooped, you might want to wait until the weekend when you're both relaxed.

08 of 13

Don't Neglect Your Own Look

Q Weddings

Planning your "proposal outfit" may sound silly, but we're talking logistics more than we are fashion (though you will want to look sharp). Keep the ring box safe and concealed up until the big moment by choosing pants or a jacket with deep pockets (and no holes!).

09 of 13

Do Have a Backup Plan

Flora + Fauna

Thinking a walk along the beach would be the perfect place? Or the top of a mountain after a daylong hike? Those choices are both lovely … until you wake up that day to dark skies and stormy weather.

As you're brainstorming your plan, have a few indoor spaces—her favorite museum, for example, or the place you first met—in your back pocket should Mother Nature prove uncooperative. Furthermore, know what to do in case of traffic, or if she arrives later or even earlier than expected.

10 of 13

Don't Forget the Follow-Through


To go above and beyond, think about what comes next. What happens after your intended says yes (besides jumping up and down!)?

"If you're on vacation overseas, think ahead and have your international calling set up on your phone, or Wi-Fi so you can Skype to share the news," Pease recommends. "If you're popping the question on a Friday morning before work, be sure it's okay if she runs a few minutes late. Once you hear yes, you'll want to bask in the glow of being engaged before having to run off to 'real life.'"

11 of 13

Do Stick to an Idea, Not a Script

Lindsey Ocker Photography

Of course you'll want to have some notion of what to say when you propose and how to say it. Maybe you want to reflect on a shared memory or common interest, or to simply tell him or her what you love most about them—do that, and it will be heartfelt no matter the words you choose. But if you memorize lines like an actor in a play, it will sound unnatural at best and forced at worst.

"Think about what you want to say ahead of time and focus on three things that you definitely want to communicate," Pease suggests. "More than that will be too much and you'll forget it."

12 of 13

Don't Sweat It

Elisabeth Millay

If something unexpected ruins the moment, Pease says, "Laugh it off and remind yourself that this is real life—not a rom-com. And think of the hilarious story you'll have to tell in the future."

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Do Share the News


If you're a guy about to propose to your girlfriend, tradition would tell you that you should approach her parents first to ask for her hand in marriage. If you're not the traditional type, however (and won't be offending any of her family members who are), there's nothing standing between you and your to-be-fiancée, except maybe a mean case of the jitters. That said, once you slip the ring on her finger, you should call or visit both sets of parents before broadcasting your news to the wider, social-media world. Marriage means putting family first, starting right now.

Find out how to submit your proposal pics and details at marthastewartweddings.com/submit.

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