You've built a strong, loving relationship with Mr. Right. You have the same dreams and values, and you're both ready for a commitment. You want to take that big leap and build a life together as husband and wife. There's just one little issue -- how to get engaged.
In the movie "Jerry McGuire," Jerry (Tom Cruise) utters that unforgettable line: "You complete me. And I just …" and Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) says, "Shut up, just shut up. You had me at 'hello.'" Jerry sweeps Dorothy into his arms, everyone cries and all is perfect in the world [source: Osgueda].
But what if that's just not your style? Maybe you're more of a take-the-bull-by-the-horns sort of gal. Maybe you're ready to get engaged, he hasn't popped the question, and you don't want to be one of the women author Ariel Meadow Stallings calls "ladies in waiting," women who ostentatiously ogle every diamond ring they see, endlessly gush about their friends' engagements and drive themselves crazy waiting for him to get the hint [source: Meadow Stallings].
What's a girl to do? In years past, the only acceptable thing would be to wait for the man to propose, or move on. A proper lady would only consider proposing marriage in rare circumstances: For example, if her suitor was "below her station" and not permitted by society to ask for her hand. In such a situation, a woman could tell her beau that she loved him anyway and was willing to be his wife [source: Meade et al].
In the 21st century, such old-fashioned rules have gone the way of the corset. We ladies are now free to follow tradition if we want to, or write our own rule books. If you and your guy are the unconventional type, why not ask for his hand in marriage?
Should You Propose?
Proposals are not one-size-fits-all. Some women dream of their boyfriend kneeling before them in a starlit gazebo flashing a nervous smile and a rock the size of Tennessee, while other ladies would rather have a no-frills discussion on the matter and pick out a ring themselves. Since you're reading this article, you're probably not too stuck on the traditional way of doing things. One important thing to ask yourself is: What are his dreams?
Don't take for granted that you "just know" how he feels, and don't assume he feels the same way you do. In this case, Mom's warnings about what happens when you make assumptions were on the mark. Talk to him about his views on marriage and get an idea of his timeline for his life. While his actions say a lot, you still can't assume you know all of his motivations. Don't make it an inquisition -- chat with him during times when you're both relaxed, such as during an evening stroll. Look at it not as a fishing expedition, but as a way to learn about the man you love. Tell him about your dreams for the future, and ask him about his. You can even bring up another couple as a way to start the conversation, such as, "Your aunt and uncle seem to have such a beautiful life together -- I want that someday." These conversations will give you a good idea where he stands on marriage and whether he feels ready [source: Meadow Stallings].
If the two of you are on the same page about marriage, find out how he feels about a nontraditional proposal. For example, tell him about a friend of yours who proposed to her boyfriend, or about a story you read online. He probably already celebrates your take-charge attitude, or he wouldn't be with you [source: Meadow Stallings].
But if he doesn't seem very enthusiastic about a woman proposing, you might want to think of a compromise. For example, you could say, "I'm asking you to marry me; you can still ask me whenever you want."
You're ready to propose. Now what? Read on for some ideas on popping the question.
Doing the Asking
Once you have decided to propose, you're ready to start planning the event. Remember that marriage proposals are as unique as the couples they bring together. There is no gold standard for proposals -- if you are both smiling afterwards, then your proposal was a success. How you get there is up to you.
Author Ariel Meadow Stallings went for an artistic approach -- she proposed to her boyfriend by painting "Psst: Will you marry me?" on her project at a pottery painting shop, where they were celebrating their third anniversary. He was a little taken off guard, but it all worked out and the happily married couple has a ceramic souvenir with which to remember their engagement [source: Meadow Stallings].
Keisha Durham went for romance. She treated her amour to a picnic in the park with their children from previous relationships, while her cousin sprinkled rose petals around the house, dimmed the lights and lit candles. When the couple returned home, Durham's cousin took the kids out so the adults could have some alone time. Durham popped the question during a romantic bath, and sealed the deal with an engagement ring [source: Durham].
Joan Indiana Rigdon, on the other hand, went for the simple approach. She and her live-in boyfriend were hanging out at home one evening, when she said, "I have a great idea." Indiana Rigdon had a few nervous moments as her love tried to guess what her great idea was: A canoeing trip? A bike ride? Indiana Rigdon pressed on despite her jitters, and popped the question. Her guy, apparently a no-frills sort as well, had just one question: "Where?" [source: Indiana Rigdon]
These are just a few examples of the limitless ways to get engaged. Look around you for ideas. Type "how to propose" into your Internet search engine and read some of the stories that are out there. Talk to your friends, your mom, your hairstylist. How did their husbands propose to them, or how did they propose to their husbands? Think about your history with your boyfriend: Are there certain places or dates that are special to you? Stallings proposed to her boyfriend on their anniversary, and Durham asked for his hand in marriage on Father's Day, since fatherhood was very important to him.
Bottom line: Do what feels right for you, and what fits your style as a couple.
Dealing with Everyone Else
You've bucked convention and proposed, and he has accepted joyously. The two of you are dying to announce your engagement to the world, starting with your friends and family. As you share your happy news, keep in mind that more traditional folk might react differently than they would have if your fiancé had proposed to you.
According to social psychologists, we all grow up with "scripts" in our heads that tell us what to expect in our lives. We learn these scripts from our families and friends, and from stories we read or see on TV. For example, our senior prom script includes frilly dresses, cummerbunds, corsages and photos taken in front of a cheesy-themed backdrop. And, like it or not, the marriage proposal script still casts the man on one knee, making a romantic speech and pulling a little velvet box from his pocket while his girlfriend cries with joy. This script is perfect for many couples -- just maybe not for you.
When you stray outside the norm, some people will react with shock. Don't take it personally -- we all have expectations, and it's natural to be surprised when something different comes along. If Grandma's reaction is "That's … nice, dear," instead of the unalloyed joy you might have hoped for, just smile and tell her how happy you both are. Give her a chance to get used to the idea. People who love you will usually get over it once they see your contentment.
Some people are sticklers for tradition, though, and might not ever quite approve. When one non-traditional woman told her friends she was planning to propose, they urged her to drop lots of hints and cross her fingers instead. A dear friend told her: "Men will propose when they are ready. We just have to wait for them," and another couldn't imagine a female proposal. If you type "marriage proposal" into your favorite Internet search engine, most of the results will either be aimed at men who want to propose, or will contain advice for how to get your man to propose [source: A Practical Wedding].
Again, don't take it personally. A friend's reaction to your proposal is all about his or her own expectations -- it's not about you. Remember that your engagement, just like your relationship, is about you and your partner. So do it your way, and walk (or skip, or somersault) off into the sunset with smiles on your faces.
- A Practical Wedding. "Team Practical: Women Proposing to Men." April 6, 2010. (Oct. 8, 2010.)http://apracticalwedding.com/2010/04/women-proposing-tomen/
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- DiCiacomo, Frank. "Should Women Propose in Wartime? Charlotte Ford's New Etiquette." The New York Observer. Nov.r 18, 2001. (Oct. 4, 2010.)http://www.observer.com/node/45240
- Durham, Keisha. "Commentary: I Proposed to my Man." Essence.com. Feb. 4, 2010. (Oct. 6, 2010.)http://www.essence.com/relationships/will_you_marry_me/commentary_i_proposed_to_my_man.php
- Gallup. "Marriage Poll." 1997. (Oct. 6, 2010.)http://www.gallup.com/poll/117328/marriage.aspx#2
- Indiana Rigdon, Joan. "Why I Proposed to My Husband." Forbes Magazine. March 4, 2010. (Oct.r 4, 2010.)http://www.forbes.com/2010/03/04/marriage-proposal-love-forbes-woman-time-family-matters.html
- Meade, L. T., A. Balfour Symington and Edwin Oliver. "Atalanta, Volume 10." London. Marshall, Russell & Co., LTD. 1896.
- Meadow Stallings, Ariel. "Proposing Part 1: Why You Should Propose to Your Boyfriend." Offbeat Bride. Jan. 5, 2009. (Oct. 6, 2010.)http://offbeatbride.com/2009/01/propose-to-your-boyfriend
- Meadow Stallings, Ariel. "Proposing Part 1: How to Propose to Your Boyfriend." Offbeat Bride. Jan. 16, 2009. (Oct. 6, 2010.)http://offbeatbride.com/2009/01/how-to-propose-to-your-boyfriend
- Osegueda, Elisa. "Memorable Movie Proposals: Behind the Screens." Fandango. June 17, 2009. (Oct. 6, 2010.)http://www.fandango.com/commentator_memorablemovieproposals_242?source=ca_title
- Smock, Pamela J., Huang, Penelope M, Wendy D. Manning and Cara A. Bergstrom. "Heterosexual Cohabitation in the United States: Motives for Living Together among Young Men and Women." PSC Research Report No. 06-606. Aug. 2006. (Oct. 6, 2010.)http://www.psc.isr.umich.edu/pubs/pdf/rr06-606.pdf