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Engagement Etiquette; How to propose

Updated on June 20, 2009

Popping the question is the start of the happy process towards marriage. But how do you get to those starting blocks?  Engagement etiquette has changed rapidly in recent years with tradition having to merge with modern 21st century life. Whether you want to up hold tradition or go your own way, this article will help answer a few of those small questions before you ask the big one.

Before proposing

Traditionally, the father of the would-be bride would have been involved in the dating process from the very beginning. He would be expected to choose suitable young men for his daughter’s consideration, based on the suitor’s family and financial prospects, etc. The convention that the man should ask the bride’s father for permission to marry his daughter was just another part of this process.  However, despite the context changing, this part of the tradition has survived to an extent, so it is still a good idea to ask for consent. This will help you to establish a nice relationship with your future father-in-law and give you a chance to show your respect. If you are 99.9% sure he will say “No way!” then perhaps you should reconsider; likewise if he and his daughter are not close for any reason, then you will have to weigh your options. If the bride’s father is not in the picture, then consider asking her mother – although in either case be prepared for tears (hopefully of joy!)

Asking the big question

Ideally after receiving permission from your future father-in-law, you may now pop the question. Tradition dictates that you go down on one knee, although your cartilage may have other ideas. The groom would present an engagement ring, to be placed on the bride’s ring finger (the one next to the pinky) on her left hand. Choosing a ring can be very difficult. It is often assumed that a man should know his partner’s tastes, but of course many women never wear rings. If you do not have the confidence to make a decision, then do not fear; these days, it is common for the bride and groom to choose a ring together.  The bride-to-be may choose to reciprocate with a gift of her own. Any tasteful item of jewellery would be appropriate.

Choosing an engagement ring

You may have heard that the engagement ring should cost one or two month’s salary. This rule of thumb should be most rigidly ignored.  To spend more because you have the money available and you are planning a long engagement in which you can save for your wedding is perfectly defensible.  Likewise, to spend less because the love of your life isn’t really a ‘ring person’ and would like to be showered with other kinds of gifts is also OK. There is nothing romantic about crippling yourself with debt at the beginning of what should be the most exciting period of your life. If you are thinking of keeping your spending to a minimum, be sure to discuss this with your partner first and clearly explain your reasons – which should not be selfish ones.

Informing family and friends

When your proposal has been accepted, the first people to be informed should be the bride’s parents. Next, you should let the groom’s parents know. After this, it will be a race against time to be the first to let everyone else on your family and friend list know the happy news. If you are the parents of the bride or groom-to-be, make sure you give the couple the chance to tell as many people as possible themselves. This is assuming, of course, that they want to share the news – or, indeed, that you do.

Do not announce your engagement at an occasion that belongs to another person or couple; for example someone else’s wedding or a birthday party. Also never announce your engagement if you are still married to someone else. You can make an announcement to the local newspaper but this should not be the first that your closest friends and family hear of the news. The bride or her mother would normally send an announcement to the local press. Remember, however, that this is strictly voluntary.

Engagement parties

If you opt to have an engagement party, then the bride-to-be should avoid wearing her ring in public until the event. Engagement parties are usually informal affairs. The first speech should be made by the prospective bride’s father, who should announce the engagement, and the second should be given by the bridegroom-to-be. The latter speaker should propose a toast to both sets of parents on behalf of himself and his future bride. The cost of the party should be born either by the bride’s parents, or the bride and bridegroom’s parents together.

If the engagement is broken off, then all gifts should be promptly returned. Particularly if the termination of the engagement was the woman’s choice, then the ring should be returned. The man may accept or refuse its return. It is entirely his choice (assuming that the bride didn’t ‘chip in’ to cover the costs, of course.) In most countries, an engagement has no legal status so people can be informed quietly and informally in the manner you see fit.


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      cherry lewis 7 years ago

      I am readind alot about men proposing to women, but what is the correct etiquette for a woman to propose to a man, like when she buys his ring, does she also buy hers? etc,etc.

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      Michele 7 years ago

      Nice article teaching proposal etiquette. I am a Marriage Proposal Planner and men always need help in this area.

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      Diane Denenberg 8 years ago

      After the future son-in-law calls the father of the bride for permission to ask his daughter to marry him, are the bride's parents suppose to call the groom's parents. I know that the groom's parents know because the mother was involved in the son's purchasing of the ring. Also, when the groom called the dad, I was in the other room, shouldn't my husband have called me over to let me know what was going on; i believe my husband was a little nervous and felt it was a "private" call to the dad, but it was Sunday and the groom called our home and the groom new I was in the house but didn't ask my husband to let the mom know. I was very disappointed at the groom and my husband to imagine this was just a future son-in-law and future father-in-laws private moment unless he called my husband a work or on his cell or mentioned that they didn't want me to know. he did mention to my husband to keep this a secret to the extended family. I am very excited over the time in my daughter's life and very happy with her future husband to be, we like him very much. I didn't have a chance to show my excitment or to talk to him on the phone to let him know I was so excited that he is going to ask my daughter to marry him. I know I could have called him back, but it would have been too suspect for my daughter; I also can call him on his cell phone on my own, but I am not sure he would expect me to call and just expect my husband to have told me. Can you let me know if there is etiquette with these to concerns.