A Step-by-Step Guide to Proposing to Your Partner

Pull off the engagement of a lifetime with these essential tips.
sarah hanlon associate editor the knot
by Sarah Hanlon
sarah hanlon associate editor the knot
Sarah Hanlon
Associate Editor
  • Sarah is an Associate Digital Editor for The Knot, with special focuses in fashion, pop culture and wedding trends.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Sarah was a contributing writer for Bravo at NBC Universal.
  • Sarah has a degree in journalism and resides in New York City.
Updated Jan 04, 2022
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If you're reading this, you've likely decided that you're ready to propose to your partner. Congratulations! Getting engaged is a monumental relationship milestone, and it's the first step to hosting the wedding of your dreams... and kicking off the rest of your life with your best friend. While this is an exciting season, it doesn't come without nerves and anticipation too. The all-important marriage proposal is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, so we don't blame you if you're wondering how to propose. It's important to note that there's no right way to get engaged—today, proposals look different for every couple. But if you're not sure where to start, we've got you covered.

Below, we've created a step-by-step guide for how to propose to your girlfriend or boyfriend. You'll learn exactly what steps to accomplish (and in what order) to ensure your engagement goes off without a hitch. And, because we know it can be helpful to have real-life insight, we've included data from The Knot 2021 Jewelry and Engagement Study, which surveyed over 5,000 couples (just like you) who got engaged last year. The results revealed several engagement and proposal trends, including the most popular ways real couples are popping the question today.

Decide When You Want to Propose

If you're not sure how to propose, note that most people take time to plan the moment in advance. Because, while you certainly can ask your partner in the spur of the moment if it feels right, many proposers take their time crafting the experience. In fact, according to The Knot 2021 Jewelry and Engagement Study, 86% of proposals are planned ahead of time. Once you've decided that you're going to ask for your partner's hand in marriage, choose when you want to pop the question. (And if you need inspiration to get your plans in motion, check out our roundup of romantic proposal ideas here.)

The more time you give yourself, the more flexibility you have in shopping for a ring and planning personalized details to make your engagement that much more memorable. In fact, our study found that 42% of engagements are planned one to three months in advance, while 18% are planned four to six months in advance.

Perhaps you want to propose on an upcoming vacation, or maybe you want to rent out a rooftop in your favorite city. Even if you envision the moment to be a simple, private moment at home or at a local destination, give yourself plenty of time to bring it to life. That way, if you need to enlist the help of family members, friends, or vendors, you won't feel rushed. This also gives you time to ask your partner's parents for permission, if you'd like to.

Confirm Ring Preferences

Once you have a proposal date in mind, start thinking about the engagement ring. Our data found that the majority of engagements take place with a ring in hand—90%, to be exact. In years past, couples didn't always talk about engagement ring preferences before the proposal, but that couldn't be farther from reality today. Now, couples know that an engagement ring is a lifetime investment, so talking about what your partner wants is not taboo. Instead, we recommend having an open dialogue about style preferences before you start ring shopping, as this will help determine what you can realistically afford to make an informed purchase.

Our study found that, of those who were proposed to, 41% hinted or discussed what kind of ring they wanted, and 26% even shopped for the gem with their partner. Of course, if you want a surprise proposal, you don't necessarily have to discuss ring preferences—26% of proposees weren't involved at all. If you're going to be the one to pop the big question, you can always ask your partner's close friends and family members for ring size and style help. (After all, there's a good chance they'll have some ideas or can guide you in the right direction.) Even a seasoned jeweler can help you make an informed decision, especially if you know what kind of jewelry your partner wears on a daily basis. The most important factor, though, is that you do some research before heading into a jewelry store.

Buy the Ring in Advance

Perhaps one of the most important proposal tips to know is that you should buy the engagement ring in advance of the engagement date. According to our study, 41% of proposers bought the engagement ring one to two months before the proposal. And, with potential supply chain delays affecting the wedding industry in 2022, starting the purchasing process earlier will give you plenty of time to get the finished ring in your possession. (Read: More time means less nerves for you.) Check out our guide on when to buy an engagement ring for timing and shopping tips straight from jewelers and industry experts.

Consider Hiring a Proposal Photographer or Additional Vendors

When deciding how to plan a proposal, consider hiring a photographer to capture the moment. While this certainly isn't a necessary expense, it may be worthwhile especially if you want the experience documented forever. Plenty of pros specialize in engagement photography, and many will even help you devise a proposal plan so they're hidden during the secret photoshoot, preserving the surprise for your S.O.

If you'd really like to create a big moment, perhaps you'd like to hire additional vendors too, like musicians, a proposal planner, or a special venue. Leaning on professionals has become an increasingly popular proposal trend. Our study found that about 20% of proposers hired a photographer or additional vendors for their engagement, which is up 8% since 2019. While hiring vendors isn't a requirement for your engagement, it can add a sentimental touch if your budget allows. Search for proposal vendors through a service like The Knot Marketplace, or a company like Flytographer, which specializes in destination photographers for hire.

Practice What You'll Say and Do

Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to the proper way to propose. While there are no steadfast rules for how to propose, you can turn to tradition for inspiration. Our survey found that 86% of proposers said the words "Will you marry me?" and 86% also got on a bent knee. To ease any nerves or pre-proposal jitters, practice what you're going to say and do ahead of time. Rehearse your speech, and practice taking the ring box out of your pocket and getting down on one knee if that's what you want to do. It won't hurt to wear your outfit too, that way you know which pocket to reach for and how much mobility you'll have.

The more you practice, the more natural your words and actions will feel in the moment. Since you'll already be filled with so much excitement and anticipation, you'll be grateful that you rehearsed ahead of time to diminish any performance stress.

Iron Out The Logistics

Whether you're searching for how to propose to a man or a woman, planning a wedding proposal is all in the details. You can make your engagement as creative as your heart desires, and we're firm believers that the more personalized, the better. (Plus, thoughtful details will make for an epic proposal story too.) Think about what kind of proposal would give your girlfriend or boyfriend butterflies. Do you want to pop the question on a scenic hike trail you both love, or with a grand gesture on an annual family vacation you look forward to every year? Would you like to go the uber-romantic route by setting up a picnic with candles, rose petals and friends watching, or would your partner prefer something simple and at home?

Regardless of what your dream engagement looks like, iron out the logistics ahead of time. If you're opting for a destination proposal, make sure passports are renewed, flight tickets are purchased, and bags are packed with appropriate clothes. (Psst: We also recommend reading up on how to travel with an engagement ring.) If you've hired vendors, touch base before the date to confirm that all plans are set, and come up with a secret plan of action with your photographer if you want them to be hidden when you pop the question. Touch base with necessary friends and family members to share the details and confirm that you have all the food, drinks and decor you need for the special occasion. Preparation is key for ensuring your engagement goes off without a hitch.

Don't Stress About It Being a Total Surprise

While proposals are often portrayed in movies and TV shows as complete surprises, your engagement likely won't be totally unexpected. According to our comprehensive survey results, only about one-third of people who get proposed to said it was a complete surprise. About 54% of proposees knew a proposal was coming but didn't know when, while 11% had a feeling it was happening. While we recommend talking about engagement ring preferences before the proposal, we also suggest talking about the future of your relationship to ensure you're ready for marriage. In having these important conversations, it's likely that the proposal won't be a surprise—and that's okay. You can still wow your significant other with an incredible experience that'll blow them away, even if they had a hunch something was coming.

Celebrate After

Once you're officially engaged, it's time to celebrate! Think about how you'll want to relish in the moment after you've slipped the ring on your partner's finger. Our study found that 57% of couples celebrated with drinks, so don't forget to pack a bottle of bubbly to pop if that's what you envision. We also found that 40% of couples went out to a nice dinner afterward, which is up from 28% in 2020. You can also invite friends and family to join in on the fun too, as we found that 30% of couples had an in-person celebration with loved ones immediately after getting engaged. This is especially important to consider if you'll have your nearest and dearest on standby to watch the proposal.

There's no right way to celebrate—perhaps you want to make dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant, or you can enlist the help of a friend or family member to organize a party at someone's home after getting engaged. While there aren't specific rules for how to properly propose, there's one thing we do recommend: celebrate as much as you want.

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