I'm going to propose; is there a particular way I should do so?
October 7, 2011 10:10 AM   Subscribe

I've got the ring. I've got the location where I plan to ask the question. Now what do I actually say?

I'm going to ask my girlfriend to marry me soon. Hooray! This is awesome. But I am nervous. I'm not so much nervous about what she'll say (although, there is always that small chance she'll say no). I'm more nervous about what I will say.

Other than the basic: "Will you marry me?" I don't know what else to say.

I tend not to think on my feet very well, so I'd like to have some idea of what to say ahead of time. Neither of us are grand, romantic types and the place that I'll be proposing is already somewhat public, so I'd rather not draw more attention to us than is necessary (neither of us would really enjoy having our personal moment become a public spectacle).

So...what do I say?

I'm thinking something simple: "I love you; I want to spend the rest of my life with you; will you be my wife?" But I feel like there should be something more than that. Maybe I've just been socialized by stupid Hollywood myths to think that something that simple is not enough. Maybe that's all I need to say?

I guess I'm asking for a variety of things, that all sort of stem from the same place: if you've proposed to someone, what did you say? Do you think my simple proposal is good? Is there some traditional way of asking that I would be wise to fall back on?

Also: should I ask her parents for their blessing? I feel like this is kind of old fashioned and sexist (even though I would not be asking for permission, just a blessing). But, at the same time, I will have a rare opportunity to see them in person before the big day and I wonder if, because of this, it would be rude NOT to talk to them beforehand (assuming, of course, that I am actually able to get a moment alone with them). On the other hand, she and her parents have a relationship that, while not terrible, is strained at the best of times, so maybe it would be better for us to just tell her parents after I’ve already asked and she has, hopefully, said yes. Why do you think?

For more details or to answer privately, use this throwaway email: proposal.filter@gmail.com.
posted by asnider to Human Relations (45 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go with your gut.

Some people like long speeches. I'm a grandiloquent type and I love dramatic flourishes. I am not you. There's nothing wrong with simple, and - well, at the end of the day, you're asking her to marry you. I'm guessing that's not a shock to her. You can say whatever you want, but really, it's not like you're trying to convince her. Your whole life together already did that. You're just offering the ring, and yourself.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:13 AM on October 7, 2011

Response by poster: OK...I meant to post this anonymously, but oops!

I'm OK with leaving it under my own account, though, so no need to use the throwaway email, I guess.
posted by asnider at 10:14 AM on October 7, 2011

Please do not take her to a sports event and have your proposal, and her reaction, flashed on the Jumbotron.

I think that anything you can say in private would delight her. Just look in her eyes, speak from your heart, and allow the moment to take over.
posted by Danf at 10:24 AM on October 7, 2011

I think what you said is lovely. I also have a very good relationship with my parents and would reconsider marrying someone who would ask them in any form before he asked me, so unless you have reason to think she really likes the traditional trappings, I would avoid that.
posted by jeather at 10:25 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

I said, "I love you and will till the end of time. I want to spend the reswt of my life with you. Will you marry me?" Worked like a charm.

I also asked her father for his blessing. They were the old fashioned type and even though my wife to be did not have a great relationship with them, she did respect them and I thought it would be better for everyone's long-term relationship if I did so. It was the right move. (Long story, but it turned into a nice corny and funny moment. He gave me a test. I passed.)

Sounds a lot like you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:25 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Simple is fine! Don't give a thought to stupid Hollywood movies. She knows you and will know the sentiment behind even a simple "will you marry me?" question.

Since the parent thing is strained, I vote for also going with your gut on this and ask her first, then tell the parents and ask for their blessing.
posted by Eicats at 10:25 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

You tell her briefly what she means to you, that you want to spend the rest of your life with her and would she marry you.

You should be able to tell her this from your heart. That's what matters the most. Unscripted, but already imprinted on your heart.
posted by inturnaround at 10:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

As for her parents, don't bother. She should be the first person to know ideally when you ask her.
posted by inturnaround at 10:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

You ahould only ask her parents if she would like that. Lots of women would like their parents to be asked, but the ones that don't tend to really hate it.

Whatever you say will be perfect. Do not overthink this, but go with your gut.
posted by plonkee at 10:27 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Now what do I actually say?

"Will you marry me?"

Stick with the classics.
posted by mhoye at 10:28 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Proposing is a kind of terrible experience! The problem is the timing of events. There's the preamble, the ring-popping, and the thing you're saying while that happens, and then whatever you're trailing off with as the ring is being opened or examined.

The good news is you can't go wrong. Well you probably COULD. Don't say anything mean!

But the thing you should know is that, when it is obvious there is a ring in the room, the saying of things should largely be over, because neither party can hear anything anymore and it's like all the light in the room is being sucked into a black hole.

So keep it brief.

(OR SCAVENGER HUNT IT. Wait. Don't do that probably.)

(Just hope she doesn't make you wait more than a week for the answer. GOD, THAT WAS ROUGH.)

(Voting "no" on the parents, for what that's worth.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:30 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I like JohnnyGunn's approach. In my case, I knew my dad would like to be asked (even though it was purely a formality as we would have completely ignored him if he said no), so I let me then-boyfriend know before he ever got a ring. He did ask my dad, and it was a very touching moment for them. (My dad got all teary-eyed and broke out the fancy bourbon at like 10 am and they hugged it out.) I think it scored my now-husband some brownie points and got him buy in from my dad. But my parents are old fashioned that way, and I'm very close to them.

But I also like JohnnyGunn's slightly-more-than-the-basics phrase. You probably can't go wrong with "will you marry me?" but a little more feeling would be nice.
posted by n'muakolo at 10:35 AM on October 7, 2011

My normally verbose husband said "wanna get hitched?". It worked. (And if he had asked my parents first I would have said no. And then punched him.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:36 AM on October 7, 2011

Response by poster: Please do not take her to a sports event and have your proposal, and her reaction, flashed on the Jumbotron.

Oh, god no! Nothing like that. The place I'm planning to ask her is a public place, so there will probably be other people around, but there won't be an audience. I can't actually imagine wanting to do something like that (or her wanting to have me subject her to that).
posted by asnider at 10:43 AM on October 7, 2011

I feel like you should know her well enough by now to KNOW if she wants her parents asked first; I have an excellent relationship with my parents but if someone had asked my parents before asking me, my answer probably would have been "no" because I was a fucking grownup and who I marry is about as personal a decision as you can get. I know other people feel differently and I respect that, but to me, it would have been so disrespectful that I wouldn't have been able to marry someone who disrespected me so much.

I agree you can't go wrong with simple and from the heart. My husband had a notecard in his breastpocket in case he forgot any important words like "will" or "marry." He was pretty nervous. It was cute.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had NO plan whatsover. Didn't have a ring. I was literally on a glacier in the middle of Canada.

So, you're already miles ahead of most of us schmucks.

"I love you. I will always love you. Marry me?"

Boom. Done.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:50 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Thinking back on my proposal, I don't think my now-husband actually *asked*. He gave me my ring in a very specific way (attached to a birthday present that he handed to me, dropping the box it came from as he gave it to me so that he had to go down on a knee to retrieve it) and at that point I realized RING + GUY DOWN ON A KNEE = MARRIAGE PROPOSAL = OMZMFG YES.
posted by Lucinda at 10:53 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you have a shared joke, or phrase, something that is unique to the two of you, maybe something that was said or shared between the two of you early in your relationship that you both still remember and say to each other? It would be cool, and romantic, to somehow work that in to what you end up saying.
posted by Angus Jung at 10:56 AM on October 7, 2011

Dig into your memory and see if you can remember the moment you realized that you loved her, or the moment you knew you wanted to marry her. Then tell her about that moment before you ask.
posted by notion at 10:59 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have been surprised by how many girls, no matter how independent (liberated? feminist?), expect (or have parents who expect) you to ask them. You're not really asking permission; you're respecting tradition.

Alternatively, you could ask her first, then ask her parents, and then make it public.

Now if you're in a place where her parents are likely to say "no," you got other problems.
posted by jander03 at 11:00 AM on October 7, 2011

be doing something you both like doing, and like doing together. "I love you. I will always love you. Will you marry me?" is just wonderful.

Note: Try not to have this be riding bicycles single-file, unless you want the answer to be "What?? I can't hear you!"
posted by peachfuzz at 11:02 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My fiancee and I mutually proposed to each other. I can't remember what either of us said as we both winged it, rambling on for a bit, although I know it was touching and emotional in the moment. If you say more than a sentence or two, this will probably be the case.

I suggest thinking of one sentence - one short, but bold and definitive statement - that best summarizes the way you feel about her and your relationship, followed by "will you marry me" as you present the ring. Something like, "I love you, and every day is happier with you in it. Will you marry me?" or "I love you, and I can't imagine a better person to have on my team. Will you marry me?" or "(Name), we were made for each other, and I love you desperately. Will you marry me?"

Good luck!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 11:12 AM on October 7, 2011

I would suggest that knowing a few basic points you want to include and willingness to be flexible would be key, since things don't always go the way you want.

Case in point, I had planned a walk on the beach on the first night of a trip to Santa Barbara to ask my wife (Hooray, it worked!) the big question. I looked at maps, beach spots, figured out family visit times, etc to work out the right time and then when the evening finally arrived, after a long and busy day, she decided that she was too tired. I finally got her to agree to a walk in the park, talked about what she meant to me, the things we shared, and the future I hoped for... and then popped the big question.

Turned out that she suddenly had enough energy to then walk - seriously - half way across town (with me in tow) to the all night coffee shop and then upon returning home, when I had collapsed into a coma-like sleep, stayed up the rest of the night planning and dreaming up ideas.

Be yourself. That's what she loves about you. Best of luck and best wishes for a long and happy life together. Cheers!
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:12 AM on October 7, 2011

I second RJ Reynold's experience that once it becomes obvious that you're proposing, the adrenaline kicks in an neither one of you can really hear, or will be able to remember, exactly what's being said. You will likely be nervous as hell already and liable to trip over your words if it gets too verbose, so short and sweet is best.

Also: if you are both of legal age and enjoy alcohol, I recommend engineering the scenario so that you will each have had at least one, but not more than two, drinks. My then-girlfriend and I drank champagne often enough that cracking one open on a Saturday afternoon did not raise any suspicion, and I took the plunge just after pouring the second glass.

As P.G. Wodehouse wrote, total abstinence is very dangerous to the gentleman who wishes to make a proposal of marriage: "Use your intelligence, Jeeves. Reflect what proposing means. It means that a decent, self-respecting chap has got to listen to himself saying things which, if spoken on the silver screen, would cause him to dash to the box-office and demand his money back. Let him attempt to do it on orange juice, and what ensues? Shame seals his lips, or, if it doesn't do that, makes him lose his morale and start to babble."
posted by Mendl at 11:21 AM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

That whole thing about asking the father is sexist and I don't think anyone does that anymore. It's not rude to not tell her parents. It's supposed to be a surprise.

If it makes you feel any better my husband and I got engaged at the top of twin peaks in San Francisco with a bunch of tourists all around and nobody paid any attention to us. I was actually surprised at how little everyone around us either noticed or cared. So I wouldn't worry about it being a big spectacle.
posted by bananafish at 11:22 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I will have a rare opportunity to see them in person before the big day and I wonder if, because of this, it would be rude NOT to talk to them beforehand

So... you don't see her parents often and her own relationship with them is (in your words) "strained at best"? Unless she is in other ways a very traditional-minded person, asking her parents before you ask her doesn't sound like the way to go.

Think about it this way: your prospective fiancee is your only connection to these people; they are closer to her than to you --- and not cozily, comfortably close to her, but strained --- yet you're thinking about sharing a big exciting intimate piece of news with them before you share it with her. It doesn't seem like a great way to start off. Let her decide how and when to tell her parents.

"I love you; I want to spend the rest of my life with you; will you be my wife?"

That sounds wonderful: simple, clear, loving, and to the point. And it might be hard for you to get the words out if you're nervous (which, let's face it, you will be!) so keeping it reasonably simple is a good idea.

One more note: don't fret if you ask and she doesn't answer right away. Though The Fella and I had already talked in very concrete ways about Forever and about Us, we hadn't talked about marriage, so his proposal surprised me. It took me a few seconds to notice that, even though we already knew we were committed to each other forever, he was still kneeling there nervously waiting to hear a yes or a no.

Congratulations! Best wishes to you both.
posted by Elsa at 11:29 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband and I were in the process of buying our house from some very difficult sellers. The day he proposed, it actually looked like they were going to back out, at considerable cost to us. We went out for a picnic, to get away from well-meant but not helpful suggestions from family. We were talking about how sad it was that we would likely lose this house we loved. He told me, "It doesn't matter if we lose the house. What matters is that we'll have each other, no matter where we end up living. We'll always have each other. Will you marry me?" While he talked, he pulled the ring from his pocket.

It was totally unexpected - at least I didn't expect it, but both sets of parents were on standby to hear that I had said yes. The thing that made it special was that it served to reassure me about a big thing that was happening in our lives and to remind me what was actually important. Can you incorporate something like that - a part of your joint life experience?

Oh, and we got the house.
posted by SeedStitch at 11:43 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Agree that she should decide when and where to tell her parents.

You can get a little more detailed than the above proposal if you want. I think the key to romance is honesty and specificity. Consider telling her why you like her, above all other women--the way she looks when she's sleeping, or the way she snorts when she laughs at episodes of The Office, or how she gets carried away when talking about her passions, or whatever. Those kinds of little details that you only know because you know one another so well--the ones that make her stand out from the crowd for you. It doesn't have to sound grand, or eloquent. Just honesty about why you love her and why you're looking forward to sharing a life with her should be more than enough.

Good luck!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:46 AM on October 7, 2011

Neither of us are grand, romantic types and the place that I'll be proposing is already somewhat public, so I'd rather not draw more attention to us than is necessary (neither of us would really enjoy having our personal moment become a public spectacle).

Why not go somewhere more private? People like adventures, romance, and peering into other people's lives. Marriage proposals are exactly that. The moment you get down on one knee, or she starts crying (or shouting with glee) with a small box in her hands, people start looking. I'm not saying this to harsh on your plans, but to nudge you to refine them.

Personally, I proposed to my wife in our living room, with just the two of us. I took pictures (because I like taking pictures), which was a bit awkward, but there was a process she had to go through to get the ring (no scavenger hunt, just cutting open a bear full of gummi-worm guts). I totally flubbed the wordy part, and I don't recall what I said (I don't think she does, either), but she said yes, and we still have the bear (sans gummi-guts).

I'm saying that sometimes the setting and the gesture is plenty. Unless she loves words (reading, writing, singing, whatnot), the phrasing doesn't matter so much as the actions and the emotions. At least, that's my take on the whole thing.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:54 AM on October 7, 2011

To be perfectly honest, when my now-fiance asked me to marry him, neither of us remembers what he actually said. I remember my train of thought at the time, which sounded something like oh, he has another present for me that looks like a ring box but it can't be a ring I wasn't expecting this today but he wouldn't present me with a ring-like box on my birthday dinner if it wasn't actually a ring because that would be a douche move and omg why is he on one knee oh wait back up what did he say but YES OBVIOUSLY. I also don't remember what I replied, beyond enthusiastic assent, and... he doesn't remember either due to the, I'm told, overwhelming whoosh of relief that he hadn't puked.

What we do remember is happy nervousness and and warm sense of everything being right in the world. Do it in private, if you can, it can take a couple minutes to come down from cloud nine and act vaguely like human beings who are not drunk, and you'll appreciate the quiet in between.
posted by lydhre at 12:38 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have an alternative quiet, private place in mind in case the first place doesn't work out.

We went to a very nice quiet restaurant in Singapore where I planned to pop the question, but the ambiance was ruined by a loud high-end prostitute arguing with her elderly sugar daddy about pricing at the table behind us.

"Will you marry me?" is just fine.
posted by benzenedream at 1:08 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My proposal was literally "this is it: are you ready?" followed by pulling a ring out of my pocket. Then she started making squeaking sounds like a dolphin, then everything went fuzzy.
My point is that it's not going to matter what exactly you said. Rest assured that you're going to be sweating bullets. Get it out as briefly as you are able to.
posted by Gilbert at 1:10 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I asked the future father in law for his blessing. He respected me a lot for caring about his feelings. As a parent myself now I would also think well of a young man who approached me prior to asking the big question. It isn't so much about asking permission as it is about demonstrating respect for someone who is soon to become an extended family member.

No one here can know the extent or nature of the strained relationship referenced between your girlfriend and her father. You will need to judge if it is strained in such a way that you are better off bypassing this custom.
posted by dgran at 1:14 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I should add that "this is it: are you ready?" is a terrible line, as my girlfriend thought at first that I was breaking up with her.
posted by Gilbert at 1:15 PM on October 7, 2011

I'm in the interesting position of having asked my now-wife's mother's blessing (her dad's out of the picture), which she declined to give. That didn't really stop us, obviously, but I can tell you I think about it a lot and it certainly didn't start our relationship off on a great footing. YMMV, obviously, but it seems in your case that it may not be worth the hassle.
posted by jasondbarr at 1:16 PM on October 7, 2011

It may be helpful to mention that I was given the run-around by my MIL because I'm not Catholic (neither is my wife, but her mom is, and apparently I wasn't up to snuff because of that).
posted by jasondbarr at 1:20 PM on October 7, 2011

Anything you say will be wonderful, I'm sure! And if it helps at all, neither my husband nor I remember exactly what he said and it was just three years ago. All I know is that it was a very sweet and super exciting moment!
posted by echo0720 at 2:05 PM on October 7, 2011

The whole parental-blessing thing skeeves me, actually. Smacks of patriarchal bride-selling. But you know her better than we do.

I can't offer any personal advice, because my husband proposed spontaneously and surprised himself (we never bothered with rings). So much so that I offered him the chance to back out if he wasn't really sure. Been 13 years, he's still around, so that seemed to work ok.

Don't make this too big a deal, or the wedding either. They're just the starting gun, not the race.
posted by emjaybee at 2:53 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My father was my only living parent when we got engaged so my husband called to tell him that he was going to ask me to marry him. However, I don't know how he did it but he managed to phrase it in such a way that it sounded like he was asking for my father's permission. I thought it was perfect - it made my father happy and feel like he was involved and I thought it was respectful and showed that my husband understands that my father means a lot to me. YMMV.
posted by kat518 at 3:41 PM on October 7, 2011

I also vote no for asking the parents, even for a blessing, although if you have a moment alone with them and it's not awkward, you could indicate something about how absolutely awesome their daughter is.

My husband did not ask my parents, and I would have been offended if he had. I have a pretty good relationship with them, but I'm not their property to give away. (I know my dad kind of wishes he'd been asked, but he got to walk me down the aisle, so one out of two ain't bad).

As for the proposal, I knew it was coming and I still was blown away. I think all he said was, "[my full name], will you marry me?" as he went down on one knee. It was much later that I learned he was terrified about saying my full name because his ex and I share a first name and he was afraid he'd get the middle and last names mixed up. Even if he had, I probably wouldn't have noticed.

In short: whatever comes naturally will be fine. Good luck, and congrats!
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:31 PM on October 7, 2011

If you want to be formal: "Firstname Middlename Lastname, will you do me the honor of spending the rest of your life with me?"
Ideally you're on one knee with the ring in hand. If it goes like my proposal did, you won't get past "honor" before she starts crying (in a good way).
posted by sleeping bear at 11:52 PM on October 7, 2011

Don't do it the way my folks did: they were having a terrible fight. Just before my father stormed out of the apartment, never to return, he glared at Mom and said "And to think that I was going to ask you to marry me!"

My mother, nettled, snapped back "Well, I was going to say YES!!

And there they were. Worked out pretty well, though, as they've now been married for 58 years.
posted by jrochest at 1:13 AM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would be extremely offended if someone talked to my parents before proposing to me. I have found the opportunity to slip this fact into conversation with every serious boyfriend I've ever had, just in case. You don't know for sure where she is on this, but given the strained relationship with the parents, I think the safest option is no.
posted by naoko at 9:53 AM on October 8, 2011

Response by poster: I did it! And she said yes! Thanks for your help, everyone.
posted by asnider at 5:38 AM on October 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by jeather at 7:26 AM on October 23, 2011

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