How to Ensure Your Surprise Proposal Goes Off Without a Hitch

They won't see it coming.
Jessica Estrada - The Knot Contributor.
Jessica Estrada
Jessica Estrada - The Knot Contributor.
Jessica Estrada
The Knot Contributor
  • Jessica contributes wedding planning, wedding etiquette and relationship content to The Knot.
  • She also covers lifestyle and wellness topics for print and digital publications such Refinery29, Bustle, Well + Good, Cosmopolitan, Byrdie, The Zoe Report, The Cut and more.
  • Jessica has a journalism degree from Cal State University, Northridge and is certified as a life and success coach.
Updated Jun 19, 2023

Planning a surprise proposal is no easy feat. No matter how simple or over-the-top you want the proposal to be, at least some strategic planning will be involved to ensure your partner is surprised. This is especially true if they have an idea that the proposal is coming (i.e., you've talked about getting married or even shopped for rings together). To help you plan and execute an epic and memorable surprise marriage proposal that goes off without a hitch, we enlisted the help of an expert wedding planner to walk us through the step-by-step process of planning a surprise engagement.

In this article:

6 Steps to Plan Your Surprise Proposal

From crafting your vision to practicing what you'll say, here are six steps to planning your surprise proposal.

1. Come up with a vision.

First, Jamie Chang, owner and destination wedding planner for Mango Muse Events, advises brainstorming surprise proposal ideas that your partner will love and find romantic. "Think about their favorite things and places, what excites them, what makes them happy, and also what wouldn't because creating a great surprise proposal is about creating an experience tailored to them," she says. "Not everyone wants a grand proposal or to be in front of people in a public setting or to have family or friends present. You want to make sure you're creating a surprise proposal that fits your partner's style, personality, and comfort level." Once you have some surprise proposal ideas down, narrow it down to The One vision you want to bring to life.

2. Choose a date and location.

With your surprise proposal vision in mind, the next step is to choose a location and a date to pop the question. Chang says this step may require making reservations, booking tickets, scouting, or talking to others. Or, she adds, it may not require any of those things, but getting clear on what specific action steps you need to take is essential before moving on to the next step.

3. Recruit a photographer and other vendors.

Every surprise proposal will be different, but if your vision involves the help of other people to pull it off, this is when you want to start recruiting them. "This could be a photographer, videographer, musician, entertainment, florist, actor, etc.," Chang says. Remember to do your research to find the right vendors for you. Pro tip: The Knot is an excellent resource for finding a proposal photographer to help capture the perfect proposal pictures.

4. Gather your props.

Next up on your wedding proposal checklist: Get all the props and accessories you may need for the surprise proposal. Chang says this can include buying a ring, if that's something you and your partner want, or something else you want to propose with such as a note or an inside joke item. She adds that props can also include a special outfit for you or them to wear and surprise proposal decoration ideas like fun signage.

5. Start planting seeds.

To ensure the surprise proposal is indeed a surprise for your soon-to-be fiance, Chang advises planting some seeds ahead of time to avoid arousing any suspicion, especially if the proposal is part of a grander plan. For example, if you're planning on popping the question on a rooftop (so on trend right now!), you can casually mention upcoming plans explaining why you'll be at a rooftop location, such as for a friend's birthday party. Chang says you can even throw them entirely off track by hinting at proposal plans for a specific date and time and surprise them with what you really have planned instead.

6. Practice if needed.

Proposing to the person you love most in the world can be nerve-racking. You're trying to figure out what to say and how to say it during the proposal. Chang's advice: Practice, practice, practice, and do whatever you need to calm your nerves. Here's why: "Sometimes the biggest giveaway of a proposal is the person proposing," she says. "In order for it to be a true surprise, you have to act normal, like your normal self. So figure out what makes you most nervous and try to eliminate that."

How to Actually Keep Your Surprise Proposal a Secret

Given that your partner is expecting a proposal soon, there are some extra steps and tips to implement to ensure you really do catch them off guard when you finally ask them to marry you. Here, learn three tips to actually keep the surprise proposal a secret.

Include other people.

In addition to any vendors you hire for the surprise proposal, don't be afraid to let other people into the surprise. "Including a friend or a family member (who can keep a secret well) in your plans or hiring an event planner helps to keep a surprise proposal more of a surprise," Chang says. "They can do tasks or errands for you, which means there's less your partner can stumble upon or ask questions about that you fumble over the answers."

Keep your texts and emails clean.

Another key to a surprise proposal is to avoid accidentally leaving behind clues, such as texts or emails, that will spoil the surprise. "As you're talking to vendors, your planner, or the friend/family who is assisting you, make sure you don't leave those texts open or in your inbox," Chang, who has been planning weddings for over 15 years, says. "Not that your partner should be snooping, but it's possible they could see a text come through or an email on your computer. So, hide those as much as you can. Maybe even get a Google voice number or create a separate email so that your partner can't accidentally stumble across anything."

Plan the proposal at an unexpected time.

While there is something special about proposing during a big life moment, such as during a trip or a special celebration (not someone else's wedding, though!), your partner may suspect the proposal is coming during those times. For this reason, Chang also suggests planning the surprise proposal for an unexpected date, time, and even location to ensure it is a genuine surprise.

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