The rules of engagement
February 28, 2006 6:08 AM   Subscribe

What is the etiquette for getting engaged?

I want to ask me girlfriend to marry me and I'm 100% sure that she'll say yes, the thing I'm worried about is general ettiquette for getting engaged. I don't have many (maybe 1) friends that have been married before so I'm not sure about things like... Am I supposed to ask her parents' permission? Should I tell my parents first? What's the best way to explain it to friends who have been in much longer relationships but aren't engaged (this one seems to already have caused problems)? Any other advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by pembleton to Human Relations (52 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of problems do your friends have with your plan?
posted by jon_kill at 6:18 AM on February 28, 2006

I would talk to both her parents and yours first to make sure they are happy with things -- assuming neither of you is estranged from your parents. Then I'd ask her. Ideally, you could just ask her and be done with it, but I think proper etiquette would be to get permission from her family.

Why do you need to convince your friends? You aren't going to marry them. They should be happy for you. If they want, they can talk behind your back later.
posted by chunking express at 6:18 AM on February 28, 2006

1) On the parents' permission question, this is something you're best poised to decide. Many (most?) women today would find the idea of asking her father first a little strange, I think.

The important thing is to do what your girlfriend will be most happy with, not what you think her father will like best.

2) I'd tell your parents after.

3) As for friends, you'd think they'd just be happy for you. I wouldn't worry so much about this one. It'll work itself out.
posted by BackwardsCity at 6:20 AM on February 28, 2006


Am I supposed to ask her parents' permission?

Provided she has a good relationship with her parents, going through this formality is sure to win you extra bonus points (with the parents).

Should I tell my parents first?

You can if you want to. Again, it depends on your relationship with your parents.

What's the best way to explain it to friends who have been in much longer relationships but aren't engaged (this one seems to already have caused problems)?

You don't need to "explain" it to anyone. You're in love, and you want to get married. If anyone has a problem with that, its their problem, not yours.

I do find, however, that one engagement may often lead to several more in your socal circle as other couples tend to think about it more once you've done the deed.

Here's some fine but old fashioned (circa 1922) advice from Emily Post (scroll down to "First Duty of an Accepted Suitor")

Here's some advice from the 'modern' Emily Post

If you do nothing else, remember to make it a very special and romantic experience for her. Sad to say, that even now in the 21st century little girls often daydream about the 'big moment'. I'd advise taking a very old-fashioned approach -- asking her parents in advance, getting her flowers, finding a quiet and romantic spot, getting down on one knee, havign a ring ready (even if is a $15 ring, its the symbol that counts), and in general behaving as though this is the most special and important moment of your life -- which it is.

Have fun and good luck!
posted by anastasiav at 6:21 AM on February 28, 2006

Many (most?) women in America, that is. If I were a woman (which I'm not) I'd definitely be a little insulted by the idea that my father got veto power over who I married, even if the action was purely symbolic.

Speaking as someone who recently tried to figure out if I was obliged to "ask permission," I didn't -- and it was clear afterwards that if I had asked permission it would have been the wrong thing to do.
posted by BackwardsCity at 6:23 AM on February 28, 2006

I agree with Backwards — what's with the "making sure your parents are okay with with things." You're marrying her — not her family.

The etiquette for getting married is this:

1. Ask the question.
2. Make it official.

The rest is up to the two of you.
posted by Brittanie at 6:24 AM on February 28, 2006

This is about you, your girlfriend and a future life together. You therefore need to broach the question with her before considering friends or parents. The tradition of asking parents is probably only relevant if you are talking about things like doweries and other not very 21st century considerations. Neither should you worry about your friends relationships in comparison to yours.

As far as the actual proposal goes the onus is on you to create something memorable, remarkable and appropriate. If that means taking her to the Taj Mahal, hiring a white horse from which to sweep her off her feet or seranading beneath her window with a rose in your teeth so be it.
posted by rongorongo at 6:27 AM on February 28, 2006

I think asking her parents first is a dated custom, and would be offensive to many people (including me). I'm shocked that the answers so far have given this a thumbs up. But you know your girlfriend best. Maybe she'll think it's nice.
posted by alms at 6:28 AM on February 28, 2006

There really isn't any "proper" way to do it anymore. Just ask her and then call your parents afterwards to tell them the good news.

That said, depending on your relationship with her parents, and depending on the type of people they are, it could be a classy move to ask them permission, assuming you know they won't have a problem with it. You can do it just for show, knowing you'll marry her anyway even if they forbid you to. Just imagine your new father-in-law telling all his friends what a great guy you are, asking for his permission. When it comes to in-laws, brownie points can go a long way. I'll always regret not asking my father-in-law, he was the type of guy who really would have appreciated the gesture.

As for your friends, just tell them. Marriage isn't for everyone and some relationships get to that point sooner than others. Just because one couple has dated longer than you have it doesn't mean you should be afraid to tell them. Anyone who has a problem with it can go pound sand.

Be prepared for a lot of "your life is over, you no longer have any freedom!" comments from both married and unmarried friends. These comments seem to be required by law. Ignore them. Most people are joking and the ones who aren't are usually from people who never should have been married in the first place.

As for the ring, if your girlfriend knows you're going to propose one of these days, and if you're not too confident about your ability to pick out a ring, you can either go shopping with her ahead of time or just go buy her a ring from a gumball machine and go get one afterwards.

Better yet, if she has a close friend that knows her really well and that you can trust, go ring shopping with him/her.

I don't care what anyone says, and I don't care how long you've been living together, marriage IS different. No, I can't explain why, it just is. For most married people, it's different in a good way.

Out of having a baby, buying a house, and planning a wedding, I think planning the wedding was the most stressful, probably because the other two seemed to have more of a purpose. And we had a relatively small wedding with no parental influence. Whenever the wedding planning starts to drive you crazy, stop and remember WHY you're doing it. Not why you're spending $80,000 on chocolate covered rose pedals, but why you want to marry each other in the first place. Break it down to the simplest terms and then tell yourself that the wedding part of it is just a big-ass party in celebration of it.

The second you're married people will begin asking you when the baby is coming. Start thinking of a witty response now.

Good luck!
posted by bondcliff at 6:28 AM on February 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Dude, my husband "asked" my dad's permission. Sure, it was a formality, but it was important to everyone involved. It wasn't "permission" exactly - my dad likes my husband more than he likes me, so it wasn't as if he was going to say no - it was more a right of passage. Time for my dad to provide words of wisdom, time for them to bond a bit. This depends on the relaitonships involved, but as long as everyone gets along, I think it's a nice thing to do.

Other than that, its just a matter of asking to make it official :)

posted by dpx.mfx at 6:29 AM on February 28, 2006

"Be prepared for a lot of "your life is over, you no longer have any freedom!" comments from both married and unmarried friends. These comments seem to be required by law. Ignore them. Most people are joking and the ones who aren't are usually from people who never should have been married in the first place."

So, so true. Thanks for expressing what I've always felt when people gave us the old "things are gonna change" speech.

Absolutely nothing changed, and that's just how we wanted it.
posted by Brittanie at 6:37 AM on February 28, 2006

The custom was not and is not to ask the parents first. It was to ask the parents after the young lady has already said "yes."

Ask her to marry you. If she says "yes," then immediately visit your parents and her parents in person (if feasible) and make sure that they know before anybody else tells them. Then y'all can tell your friends as you see fit, and let the wild ride begin.
posted by waldo at 6:38 AM on February 28, 2006

I would talk to both her parents and yours first to make sure they are happy with things

That's totally up to you. If you feel comfortable doing that, it's a nice gesture. If you don't, don't sweat it-- obviously this an old, old convention that smells a little bit of "women are children and/or property" to some folks. But if it's fine with you and your girlfriend, it's also a way to show your in-laws that you respect them, which can help you feel assimilated to your new family dynamics. The best guide is really "would it please your girlfriend when she knew that you did it?" (I considered it but didn't do it, mostly because my wife's parents are divorced and live 250 miles away and I knew it wasn't terribly important to my future wife.)

As for your friends, it's nice that you're considering their comfort, but this is simply to important to put any minor discomfort on their parts ahead of your life plans. Let's be honest-- we all measure our life's milestones but what our friends are doing. I certainly felt a little weird when it got to the point that most of my friends were married or engaged and I was not (I was 29 or 30 when I got engaged) an in my head a few times I certainly said "this friend and that friend are still single, too, so I'm not too far off track."

As for the ones who have been in a relationship longer than yours, they either have to fish or cut bait, or wait until they're ready and not worry about what you're doing. Seriously, if they're visibily agitated about it, I suggest avoiding them until they get used to it because they really ave no acceptable response except to be happy for you. (as chunking express suggested.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:38 AM on February 28, 2006

Just my two cents: make it special for HER. Don't take her to YOUR favorite restaurant, or your favorite landmark-- take her somewhere meaningful to her or do something meaningful to her (or both of you). My husband proposed in Marshall Fields department store-- had no meaning to him, but he knew it had sentimental meaning to me and my family. It really touched me and scored him huge points with my family. He also asked my father-- more like, hey, I'm planning to ask Orangemiles to marry me, and I'd really be thrilled to have your blessing. So not so much of a permission, no veto power (thankfully- I wouldn't trust my dad to pick out my mate), but a sign of respect for the (then) most important man in my life. I was glad to find out later that he had done that. While your girlfriend might not think much of it, I'm almost sure it matters to her father.
posted by orangemiles at 6:39 AM on February 28, 2006

I asked my wife's parents for permission, but it was always a formality. I knew they liked me, and you should already have a good read on whether or not they like you.

Having said that, it can't hurt!

posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:39 AM on February 28, 2006

Waldo is correct.
posted by JanetLand at 6:40 AM on February 28, 2006

My piece of "any other suggestions" advice is to not to make the actual question too big of an event. Just ask her while you're making breakfast or something. Too many people make it obvious that they're going to propose. She knows it comng, but the exact day shouldn't be obvious. My wife, who works with a lot of young women, is always bringing home news lke "so-and-so thinks she going to get engaged this weekend because she and her boyfriend have [unusual event] planned." And the girl is usually right. Well, where's the fun in that?

If you don't trust yourself to choose a ring, give her a toy/cheap ring and tell her that you'll pick one out together.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:44 AM on February 28, 2006

Just to throw in a different point of view here, some women would not just think it "weird" for you to ask her father. They'd be furious. It's not that anyone thinks the dad actually has veto power. The symbolic tradition--no matter how symbolic--of a father having some sort of ownership over a daughter's sexual/romantic life is disgusting to many people. Granted, it's unlikely that your girlfriend feels this strongly about it. But my advice is find out.

Usually when a woman has come to the point where she's ready to say "yes" to a proposal, she's dropped some hints about what she'd like. To be honest, if she's never expressed some kind of romantic affinity toward this tradition, then chances are she and her family don't care. And if you don't feel compelled to do it from your own family tradition, I don't much see the point. Bottom line, do it the way she wants. There are no rules other than that.

Your friends? I'm having the same problem as you, I think. I know how it feels to be considering marriage when it seems like the people in your life are pushing for waiting longer. I've come to the conclusion, I think, that you can't let people pull you in different directions. You have to do what's best for you. They'll come around.

On preview: wow, a lot of people already said this stuff. I also agree with Waldo--I was going to suggest the same thing. Ask her first. If you're supposed to ask her parents, she'll make it clear then if she hasn't yet.
posted by lampoil at 6:50 AM on February 28, 2006

Seems like the 'asking her parents' thing is pretty divisive. I think you'll have to make a judgement call about how traditional their family is. If someone I was dating asked my father or parents for permission to marry me before asking me, both my parents and I would be offended. My dad would probably wonder if I'd fallen and hit my head to be dating a guy that would treat marriage this way. However, more traditional families may feel this is a requirement.

Speaking as someone that has seen many of her friends get married while I remain unmarried but in a long-term (8+ years) relationship, and as part of a couple where all our friends have been or gotten married - there is no need to explain other than to say, "We're getting married, the date is XXX." Marriage is much less formal than it used to be and there are a lot of different types of relationships out there - no need to explain your engagement - just tell people where the party is and where to send gifts. Could it be sour grapes from the one friend that is not married yet (but perhaps wants to be and is wondering why the other person isn't getting with the program)? If a friend told me they were getting married, most peop
posted by Cyrie at 7:02 AM on February 28, 2006

Oops, pardon the incomplete thought at the end, put it earlier in the paragraph. Stupid twitchy mouse finger.
posted by Cyrie at 7:03 AM on February 28, 2006

Even though I think he's a great guy, I didn't ask my wife's father for permission. She wouldn't have been pleased and I wouldn't have done it anyway. In my mind it's a throwback to the days when women were seen as possessions.
posted by ob at 7:13 AM on February 28, 2006

In my mind it's a throwback to the days when women were seen as possessions.

I have several friends who have done it, and they have always approached it as "I'd like permission to become a member of your family."

Perhaps we're all just old fashioned newenglanders, but I don't know of anyone -- parent or daughter -- who has ever been offended by that approach.
posted by anastasiav at 7:15 AM on February 28, 2006

Anastasiav sees it the same way I do. Like I said, I think ideally it should be a matter between you and your finance alone, but in some cultures people would be offended if you didn't discuss the matter with them first.
posted by chunking express at 7:20 AM on February 28, 2006

I'm a little confused by the question. How long have you known your soon-to-be fiancee? Surely you know how she feels about asking her parents first or not and how she might like to be asked. So are you asking about "proper etiquette" like proper table settings? Not sure where you live, but unless it's the kind of small town where there's no shopping on Sundays because everyone's at church (okay, that was kind of a bad example - but you get what I mean), there are no rules. This is your exciting day! Make it your own however you and your girlfriend want it. Congratulations!
posted by meerkatty at 7:25 AM on February 28, 2006

I should say that when I proposed it didn't come out of the blue for her family. They knew that it was on the cards. I just see it as her decision and hers alone, but I do understand that others see it differently. The important thing is does your fiancee see you asking permission as important?
posted by ob at 7:28 AM on February 28, 2006

I can't imagine dating a girl who wouldn't get offended at the thought of me asking her father first.
posted by Netzapper at 7:49 AM on February 28, 2006

I second meerkatty: Make it however you and your girlfriend want it.

As far as modern etiquette goes, there's no rule that you have to tell anyone before you ask.
Your relationship and her relationship with her parents is a huge factor in how you approach them. If you know of a particular family tradition they have, that could earn you points if you know your fiancee-to-be likes the tradition.

As for your friends, you don't have to explain anything.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:51 AM on February 28, 2006

Parents usually see the engagement coming and are not surpised by it. My Mom made it painfully clear that he'd better ask her for her blessing before he asked me. Since there was no Dad in the pciture, it was very important to Mom that we acknowledge her role in my life. This seems odd to me since she acknowledges that even if she had withheld her approval, we'd have married anyway and not included her at all. Emotions are far from logical.

I agree that you don't have to go crazy with trying to make it romantic. If that's not your style, don't force it. The fact that you love her enough to want to marry her will make whatever you're doing more special when you do ask.

Best wishes and remember that the wedding is about you and your love; not about any parents desires to impress.
posted by onhazier at 7:59 AM on February 28, 2006

Second ob: it's her opinion that matters most, not her dad's. And Mayor Curley is right -- why make a big production of it, when you both already know you want to get married? I think it's silly when people enact these engagement scenes from movies/commercials; make it about the two of you, not what the television tells you it's supposed to be like.

Final thought: please don't go to your local mall jewelry store and throw down 2 month's salary on a huge rock. Before "investing" in an engagement ring, do some research on blood diamonds and the Debeers cartel, both of which have been discussed on the blue and the green before.
posted by junkbox at 8:04 AM on February 28, 2006

I think the question of asking her father first has to be your call based on your understanding of her relationship with her father. I asked my, now, father-in-law before proposing because I knew how close their relationship was and is and I knew that, even though it wasn't necessary, it would mean a lot to both of them. It wasn't really about tradition for me. I viewed it as me (the new most important person in her life) showing respect to him (the previous most important person in her life). But that was just me and my situation. Given some of the above comments and reasoning for being offended by such a jesture, I'd say the best answer is "know your audience".

Not to be too blunt but, as far as "explaining" this to your friends, F--- them if they're anything but happy for you (...Assuming you didn't just meet this girl 2 days ago, that is).

No one knows your relationship better than you do. So, have confidence and do what you think will be best.

on Preview: I second junkbox's final thought
posted by srw12 at 8:30 AM on February 28, 2006

Speaking as someone who wrestled with these issues pretty recently (I just got married 5 months ago), I'll agree the asking permission is a very tricky thing- it depends a lot on your girlfriend and her family. I would agree that it could very easily be considered offensive; it's not her family's choice. However, if her family is somewhat traditional (or, if she's very close to her parents), here's what I'd recommend-

1. Make sure to ask BOTH parents. The tradition of asking a father is sexist and dated. Of course, the exception is if she's close to her father and doesn't communicate with her mother.

2. Ask for a blessing (or whatever term you prefer) rather than permission. Seeking their permission suggests it's required, which it isn't; permission isn't theirs to give. Their blessing is.

As for the other parts of the question-

Don't worry about what your friends think. They'll express their opinions (or, perhaps keep them to themselves), but this decision really only concerns you and your girlfriend.

More advice-

1) Make sure to ask her in a way that will be special for BOTH of you. It's about starting the next chapter of your life together, so make it clear this is something important. Plan out approximately what you're going to do and how you're going to do it, but be prepared to go with the flow. Things don't have the be perfect, but it's good if they are wonderful, even if it's in a surprising way.

2) If you take her on a vacation or to someplace special, I'd recommend asking early in the trip. Otherwise, you'll spend your time being nervous and won't enjoy yourself.

3) You'll need some time to celebrate together and decompress after you ask, so try and leave yourself that time.

4) Try and do it somewhere where you won't be away from a phone for a long time; odds are she'll want to tell her family and possibly her closest friends pretty soon after.

5) Be careful that what you say doesn't sound wrong. When my brother asked my now-sister-in-law, he started with, "I'm not sure I'm happy with where our relationship is," before saying he wanted to take it to the next level. That did not start out well, especially since he had been acting weird for a couple of days. (See #2 above).

6) Regarding jewelry: That's really a matter of personal taste. My wife and I both dislike diamonds, but I still spent a sizeable amount on a sapphire engagement ring. That was, however, because I wanted to and I could rather than out of obligation. If you do go the ring route, be sure to at least have a good idea of her tastes before picking out a ring.

Good luck, and congrats in advance!
posted by JMOZ at 9:09 AM on February 28, 2006

Ah, Metafilter, so reliably and vehemently liberal. At the risk of redundancy, my two cents.

Am I supposed to ask her parents' permission?

Asking the parents first is old-fashioned, formal, and fun. If you know her folks and you like each other, they'll get a real kick out of knowing their daughter is going to get a proposal soon. With any luck, they'll keep the secret, too. Obviously, YMMV, as many of the comments above this one suggest.

Should I tell my parents first?

I agree with the "depends on your relationship" angle. Your parents' reaction (and you know already what it will be) can guide you.

Anecdotally: I'm close to my parents, so they were very much in the loop, and I asked my father-in-law for his daughter's hand in marriage, so everyone was in on the fun. When we did get engaged, lots of happy phone calls ensued, and instead of "oh my GOODNESS" the response was celebratory and participatory. We wouldn't have had it any other way.

Any other advice would be greatly appreciated.

Just go with your gut. And if you choose to buy a diamond from a traditional outlet, don't Ask Metafilter for advice.
posted by werty at 9:18 AM on February 28, 2006

Orangesmiles has it. I didn't ask "permission", I asked for their "blessing". I think that is right balance. I wasn't giving them veto power, I was asking their opinion.

Of course this all comes down to your relationship with the future in-laws and your future wife's relationship with her parents.
posted by mmascolino at 9:26 AM on February 28, 2006

I'll agree with earlier comments that you don't need to overproduce on the engagement. Don't do it over TV dinners and football, unless that is somewhat special to you. But just the act of proposing is memorable. There is no requirement that you have to make it big, flashy and public. And to be quite honest, I think it's tacky and manipulative to involve a large audience.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:33 AM on February 28, 2006

If you're close with her parents, I say ask for the blessing (instead of permission). And be sure to note all the reasons why you feel their daughter is the one for you. As noted above, it will be a bonding experience.

Congratulations. Marriage is a wonderful thing.
posted by inviolable at 9:43 AM on February 28, 2006

FWIW, when i was about to ask my now wife to marry me, I first met with both of her parents and asked for their blessing, and not their permission, in asking their daughter to marry me. My wife didn't need their permission or blessing, but it was meant to be a nice gesture to acknowledge their care and concern for their only daughter. Upon preview, it looks like inviolable just beat me to the sentiment, but I certainly second inviolable's statement and add my experience to flesh out the opinions.
posted by battlecj at 10:17 AM on February 28, 2006

I didn't, and my relationship with my partner's parents is good.

I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all answer.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:30 AM on February 28, 2006

I know some very feminist women whose parents' "permission" was "requested" by their soon-to-be fiances, and not one of them was offended.

I think that it's worth noting that it's not an entirely symbolic act.

While, of course, their daughter is free to marry, or not, as she sees fit, it's a very real acknowledgement that the parents will retain an important role in their daughter's life, and sort of a preliminary agreement that mutuality and occasional compromise in favor of in-law desires are going to be part of the marriage. And, anyone who's married can tell you that in-law management is an important aspect of it.

Also, if you or your girlfriend envision an elaborate wedding paid for by her parents, their blessing has an obvious practical significance...
posted by MattD at 10:32 AM on February 28, 2006

Just to chime in: this may sound off, but I'd be personally offended if my dad got asked for "my hand" before I did. It's _my_ marriage proposal, and though I love my Dad dearly, the idea that he'd have any kind of say in whom I marry before I have made my decision harkens back to an age of when women were property. Sure, some people value this tradition of 'asking the parents,' but depending upon the girl, I'd suggest some of us find it offensive as a 'first move.' Then again, I know the man I live with (unmarried) knows my feelings on matters like this pretty well... therefore, I bet you know her mind...

Ultimately, you know your girlfriend better than any of us.

As for friends, it's no one's business but yours to be happy as a couple. If they aren't warning you to 'get rid of that abusive, horrible, smelly, law-breaking, drug-addict' then forget 'em.

... just my $.02.
posted by eatdonuts at 10:47 AM on February 28, 2006

I'll also throw in my vote for the "don't ask for the parents' permission/blessing" side. I consider myself close to my parents, but if a fiance felt he had to ask them such a thing, I think I'd be offended and my folks would just find it plain weird.
posted by sanitycheck at 11:26 AM on February 28, 2006

Even Emily Post in 1922 did not, as many people have already pointed out, advocate asking the woman's family before asking the woman (emphasis mine):


If a young man and his parents are very close friends it is more than likely he will already have told them of the seriousness of his intentions. Very possibly he has asked his father’s financial assistance, or at least discussed ways and means, but as soon as he and she have definitely made up their minds that they want to marry each other, it is the immediate duty of the man to go to the girl’s father or her guardian, and ask his consent. If her father refuses, the engagement cannot exist. The man must then try, through work or other proof of stability and seriousness, to win the father’s approval. ...


Usually, however, when the young man enters the study or office of her father, the latter has a perfectly good idea of what he has come to say and, having allowed his attentions, is probably willing to accept his daughter’s choice; and the former after announcing that the daughter has accepted him, goes into details as to his financial standing and prospects. If the finances are not sufficiently stable, the father may tell him to wait for a certain length of time before considering himself engaged, or if they are satisfactory to him, he makes no objection to an immediate announcement. In either case, the man probably hurries to tell the young woman what her father has said, and if he has been very frequently at the house, very likely they both tell her mother and her immediate family, or, more likely still, she has told her mother first of all.
posted by occhiblu at 12:29 PM on February 28, 2006

As others have pointed out, asking permission depends on her and her relationship with her parents. I didn't.

One thing that doesn't seem to get emphasized here enough, though, is that you'e got to put some thought and preparation into it! It doesn't have to be flashy/public, but for god's sake don't do it as an aside while you're cooking eggs in the morning. Do it in a way that has meaning for both of you, whether that's a private dinner at home, a remote camping trip, or at Yankee Stadium.

You only (hopefully) have one chance to do this. Do it right. I did not, and I've regretted it ever since--I can never go back and fix this, and she's stuck with an unhappy memory.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 12:44 PM on February 28, 2006

To clarify my comment above, the second/third paragraphs refer to the actual act of asking your future spouse to be married, not the parental permission bit.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 12:46 PM on February 28, 2006

I asked my now-wife to marry me. (Actually I just got down on one knee, and she figured it out.) The next day we declared our engagement to her parents. They were furious -- not because they didn't want her to marry me, but because we presented it as "the moment of engagement has now passed" which forestalled some traditional engagement party that was, apparently, required in their culture. (Not that they'd ever told my wife.) It was actually a really big issue! So if your girlfriend's parents are from a culture you're unfamiliar with, research this issue first.
posted by Aknaton at 1:44 PM on February 28, 2006

My husband asked my parents "permission" as a courtesy and formality, knowing the answer. It was a given. But it really made them happy to know first and be excited about it.
If you don't feel comfortable "asking permission", say "I wanted you to know I'm asking your daughter to marry me on Sunday. I thought you would be excited to know before she does."

Then do it RIGHT. Like was said above....have a ring. It doesn't need to be THE ring (make sure it can be returned in case she wants a different one) but make sure you have one. Do something husband asked me on a carousel ride in Martha's Vineyard. Not typical. And it was awesome.

Screw your friends. They are either jealous or bitter if they give you grief. They will get used to it. Unless your fiancee-to-be is really not a good person, but that's a whole different ball of wax.
posted by aacheson at 2:18 PM on February 28, 2006

Keep in mind that the first thing everyone will ask her upon finding out you're engaged is "how did he propose?". Then make sure it's an answer you're both happy giving. That way you've covered your/her expectations (ie she'll be most happy telling people the story that is most likely to make her happy) and covered any 'etiquette' also (if you're happy with whatever response the story will get then other people's expectations are adequately covered).

The story could be a moonlit dinner and getting down on your knee etc through to a drunken 'by the way' after getting home from a big night out with the boys. I know two recently married couples, one with the first story and one with the second and both are very happy. The first couple are more traditional anyway and she loved telling the story and having everyone go misty eyed, the second couple live life their own way and she finds it amusing when epople get horrified. You should know your girlfriend well enough to know what story is going to make her happy, both to live through and to tell everyone.
posted by shelleycat at 3:30 PM on February 28, 2006

What waldo, JanetLand, and occhiblu said: you ask for a parental blessing after you've proposed to your girlfriend, not before. "Blessing" rather than "permission", and you can ask for it together, not alone, if you like.
posted by Melinika at 3:41 PM on February 28, 2006

Permission = not unless she's under the age of consent and it's therefore required by law.

Blessing = possibly a thoughtful gesture, depending on her family and her.

Agree with all who said to get your stories ready now. Even your unromantic friends are going to want to know the details.
posted by desuetude at 5:47 PM on February 28, 2006

RE: asking parents

It, of course, depends on the relationship you have with your girlfriend and her relationship with her parents, but I personally would be upset if my future fiance did NOT ask for my parents' blessing. It has everything to do with the respect you show for your girlfriend's relationship with her parents - realizing that they were with her LONG before you were in the picture and that they know her well (if that is her relationship with them - as it is mine).

Besides, in asking for their blessing, they may help you come up with a proposal idea or engagement advice you hadn't thought of before. For instance, my best friend's husband asked her uncle (her mother's brother, her mom had passed away a year or so before hand, and she didn't have a great relationship with her father) and he came up with a truly wonderful way for the engaged couple to ask their friends to be members of their wedding party - something the couple otherwise would have never thought of.
posted by MeetMegan at 9:55 AM on March 1, 2006

What waldo said! Do not ask the bride's father before you ask her.

I think it's a fine gesture to ask the parents for their blessing, after you've asked the lady. If they're of the traditional sort, they'll really like the gesture. Or if you think they would prefer, the asking-to-join-their-family approach is cool too.

But it all sort of depends on who these people are. If they're religious, or part of some alternative culture, then research it before you do anything.

(And congratulations!)
posted by Count Ziggurat at 2:17 PM on March 1, 2006

Whoa-- ask for the blessing afterward? What if they say no? I heartily recommend asking for their blessing beforehand, so if they say no like my friend's dad did, they have a bit of time to work things out before the ring is on the finger. In my friend's case, her boyfriend received a big fat "No, we do not bless this as we have not seen you be responsible." He was asked to write an essay stating his future plans and how he was going to support his family (I agree, over the top), and then the girl's parents were appeased and consented. This is a pretty traditional family, so your experience may vary. However, had he not asked for their blessing ahead of time and worked things out before the engagement, I bet they would still all be at odds, or at least there would be a real sour taste around. Plus, he benefitted from thinking ahead as they were pretty young when they got married.
posted by orangemiles at 1:44 PM on March 2, 2006

Pembleton was a sockpuppet account I created solely to ask this question.

For those looking for an update, I proposed to my girlfriend yesterday and she said yes. I didn't ask her parents permission beforehand, and when I asked her if I should have, she said "Hell no."
posted by drezdn at 1:17 PM on March 12, 2006

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