How to Propose Marriage

In our uncensored survey, real women revealed their wish list for getting engaged. (Guys, this is your cheat sheet to a great marriage proposal.)
by The Knot
New York City marriage proposal
Brian Leahy Photography

Surprise Her

Since your girlfriend probably has her own dream marriage proposal ideas, you may be tempted to ask her for guidance on how to pop the question. Don't do it. Keep your plans under wraps—she'd much prefer that you come up with a plan, any plan, than ask for her input. The surprise factor is key. Even if you went engagement ring shopping together, or if she's suspicious that a proposal is imminent, your lady wants to be caught off guard when you get down on one knee. A whopping 90 percent of women say they do not want to be involved in the planning of their engagements (after all, they need to save up all their planning energies for the year of wedding prep that awaits), and only 4 percent dismissed the "surprise factor" as unimportant.

Pick the Right Location

The spot you choose for the special moment can make or break the mood, and if you think that having a waiter bury the ring in a gooey dessert is a good idea, listen up. More than half of women we surveyed would not want to be proposed to in a restaurant. (As for the dessert thing: Diamonds really have been swallowed, and it isn't worth the trip to the ER!) The top three spots our girls said they'd prefer: On vacation, at the site of your first date, or at a local landmark. Home was a close runner-up, but somebody else's home (your parents', a friend's) was deemed a bad idea. And although this should hopefully go without saying, the majority of women wouldn't want to be proposed to at a sports stadium (a tip-off that your girlfriend is one of the 11 percent who would: She cherishes her collection of team jerseys more than any handbag). Here are a few other ideas of where to propose.

Ask Her About Engagement Rings

Yes, the surprise factor is huge, but not when it comes to the ring. 24 percent of Knotties admitted to going ring shopping together and then letting him make the final choice. You too can suss out her cut, carat, and color preferences by browsing jewelry stores together or by asking one of her close friends what style of finger candy she might prefer. If you gather this insider information, you'll be among the majority: More than 80 percent of engaged women said that their fiances got at least a little input from them or one of their friends or family members before purchasing the ring. Make it easier by telling your partner to visit our ring gallery to create their very own Hint profile where they can get style recommendations, “favorite” rings and find jewelers near you. When they’re ready, they can drop a hint for you and share their selects!

Size Doesn't Matter...That Much

Although few women would object to having a massive rock sparkle on their fourth fingers (don't believe her if she says, "It's too big!"), you might be surprised to know that quality is equally or more important than carats to the majority of women. So don't sacrifice clarity and color in order to afford a mega-sized stone—only 7 percent of women said they'd prefer a big ring over a more beautiful small one.

Slip Something on Her Finger

It takes a lot of, um, confidence to choose an engagement ring with no guidance from your hoped-for fiance, but if you're not feeling bold enough to buy one on your own, that doesn't mean you can propose empty-handed. "Proposing with no ring" was first in our survey as the biggest marriage proposal mistake a guy can make. What also made the cut: proposing with a placeholder ring. She wants to show off her brand new ring right away—not have to explain to everyone that the real one is on its way.

Ask Dad (and Mom!) for Her Hand

Since she's a modern woman who makes her own decisions, you might think you can skip asking her father for permission to propose—but you'd be wrong to ignore this old-fashioned tradition. Only 19 percent of women said that a guy should bypass this step in the betrothal process; the rest think that it's absolutely essential or at least a nice gesture that would score points with their parents (and 22 percent specified that an aspiring son-in-law should ask the moms as well). Read seven more tips on how to ask for her hand over on How He Asked.

Say the Words, "Will You Marry Me?"

Yes, you'll be nervous, but don't forget to get on bended knee and use the right lingo. Nearly 90 percent of women said they want their future grooms to put their kneecap to the ground as they ask the question. And no matter what you say—even if you've written her an epic poem or composed a rock ballad in her honor—it's essential that you finish with the precise words: "Will you marry me?" If you've paid attention to our proposal pointers, you're certain to get the answer you're hoping for (plus a passionate display that your proposal passed muster).

Looking for more advice? Head over to How He Asked for tons of proposal advice articles and even a nifty proposal idea generator too!

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