And, more importantly, how do you separate pre-proposal jitters from more serious nerves about marriage?
Credit: Jose Villa and Joel Serrato

We've all been there before—in the days and moments leading up to a big presentation or an exciting job interview, you get a case of the pre-show jitters that feel impossible to shake. They're the ones that make your heart beat a little faster or leave your stomach in knots, and those feelings don't get any better, even as you run and re-run everything that is about to happen through your mind.

It stands to reason then, that someone would experience some of those same feelings in the days leading up the moment they intend to ask the love of their life to spend the rest of their lives together. A little pre-proposal nervousness should be expected and is a normal part of the process; sometimes, though, it can also be a sign of something far more important, including that you're not ready to ask this particular question yet. So, how can you tell the difference?

We spoke with psychotherapist, relationship coach and divorce mediator Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, about what it means—and how to deal—when you're a little anxious about popping the question.

Know that there's a difference between being nervous about the proposal itself and the idea of proposing marriage to your partner.

Anyone who's nervous about the proposal—when they'll officially ask their significant other to be their lifelong partner—is concerned about the when, where, and how of the moment. Usually, says Coleman, they're also concerned that their plans won't go just right and that the proposal itself with disappoint the other person. These feelings, the expert explains, are totally normal.

What you should worry about is if you're nervous about the idea of embarking on a lifelong commitment. Questioning whether you should propose because of feelings of doubt or concerns that you are only doing it because it is expected are completely different than the standard "jitters." When you are honest with yourself, you know the difference and what your feelings are telling you. 

What are some red flags that indicate the nerves come from a more "long-term" place?

Two big red flags that you shouldn't be proposing? "When you don't feel ready to do this, but it is expected, or if you are proposing because everyone is telling you not to let this great person get away," says Coleman. If you're not entirely committed to a future with this person, don't asl the question. Another common reason people propose before they're ready? Coleman says some people reach a certain age and see that all of their family members and friends are getting married and assume they should too because it's the next expected step. "If any of those are at the heart of why you're asking, you may want to take some time and reevaluate the situation first," she adds.

How can men (or women) fight regular pre-proposal nerves?

"Don't fight your nervousness if asking just feels wrong," says Coleman. "Address it instead." If your nerves around the proposal stem from fears of not pulling it off perfectly or causing disappointment, ask your future spouse's closest friends for ideas, and keep the proposal simple but unique. If you put your heart into it, you can't go wrong.

In the end, only you can decide if your nerves are typical pre-proposal jitters, or if they are a sign of a deeper concern surrounding marriage. Trust your gut, listen to your heart, and you should be able to determine the difference between the two feelings with ease.


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