We all know how popular culture portrays the classic marriage proposal: the man on one knee, the proffered ring box, the woman overcome with emotion. It’s an image that needs no explanation. Even in a modern world, the kneeling man with a perfect ring remains the visual reference point for a wedding proposal.
But just because something is classic doesn’t mean it’s the only way to go. Plenty of women throughout history, from Queen Victoria to Elizabeth Taylor, proposed marriage to their husbands, and the trend is only growing. Still, the water can be tricky to navigate, as there’s a real lack of guidance on the subject.
Luckily, the Zola team is here to help with the woman’s guide to proposing to a man.
The best time to propose is after you and your partner know that you want to get married. For many couples, the formal proposal is the last step in a much longer series of conversations about marriage. You don’t want your moment of proposal to be the first time you and your partner have ever discussed marriage. While the proposal itself might be a surprise—the day, the time, the method of asking—the question itself shouldn’t shock your partner, especially if you have friends or family present for the big moment.
If you’ve never discussed marriage, first open up a conversation about how each of you envision the next step of your relationship. If you sense your partner is reluctant to commit, do not propose as a way to force their hand.
There is also the big question of when you hope to plan your wedding. Some couples don’t like to have an extended engagement, and so one partner might propose only when they’ve decided on an ideal wedding date.
You should also consider work schedules and other big family announcements. Proposing right before a two-week work trip or having your engagement announcement conflict with his sister’s wedding is not ideal.
Of course, some couples get engaged during an informal, spontaneous conversation in which one partner asks the other to marry them. This organic moment can be very intimate and beautiful. Some couples might choose to follow up with a more elaborate proposal idea, and some will consider the question asked and answered.
For a woman, deciding to be the one who proposes can also mean making waves in traditional marriage protocol. This might matter to some brides, and it might be no big deal to others. But the proposal remains one of the few gendered marriage rituals, even among otherwise egalitarian social groups. You might be surprised by the reaction of family and friends to your decision to ask the big question. If you haven’t discussed it at all with your partner, you might be surprised by his reaction, too. Checking in is one of the most important things in how to plan a proposal. For all you know, he was planning an elaborate proposal of his own. If your partner is a pretty traditional guy, check in with him about his general feelings around proposals. Proposals should be delightful surprises, not come with unexpected reactions.
The proposal is about asking someone to marry you, and finding out if the answer is yes—that’s it. There certainly doesn’t need to be a ring involved to make that happen. As such, many women decide to propose and then discuss the question of buying rings separately from the decision to get married.
In recent years, an alternative tradition has emerged for women to buy the man a watch when they propose, symbolizing the time they will spend together. If you go this route, then make sure to pay close attention to your partner’s style and taste in watches. This should be a substantial purchase that he will wear for years to come, and you want to make sure he likes it. You could even go watch shopping together.
Some women want to have something on hand for the moment they propose, but a ring or a watch doesn’t quite fit their vision. You can get creative with your proposal idea. Maybe present him with a heartfelt card about why you want to get married or a gift that will be particularly meaningful to him. This might be something of sentimental value, tickets to his absolute favorite band, or plans for a once-in-a-lifetime trip together. Again, the most important thing is to mark the moment as meaningful for you as a couple.
If you do want a ring to be a part of the proposal, you have a few options. You can give him a wedding band that he can choose to wear after the wedding, you can present him a ring that he will choose to wear as an engagement ring, or you can buy him a ring he might wear on his right hand until the wedding.
The tradition of kneeling in order to ask someone to marry you is very old. In many traditional contexts, kneeling is a sign of respect that demonstrates loyalty and allegiance. Knights, for example, knelt before their king and queen, and in many religions the faithful will kneel in front of an altar, respected clergy, or sacred image as a way to pay homage and respect. Similarly, the man knelt before the woman to symbolize the honor it was to ask for her hand.
For a lot of people, the gesture of kneeling feels symbolic and meaningful for a wedding proposal. Women who want to kneel when they ask the question should definitely do so. If you have a gift to offer, make sure it’s in easy reach before you go down on that one knee. If you’re not offering a gift, then kneel down and take your partner’s hand when you ask the question, or keep your hands on your knee.
You should also be dressed for the occasion. Don’t wear a tight pencil skirt or high stilettos, as it will make the kneeling position more difficult. You want some stretch in your clothes. You should also be mindful of short, flowy skirts that might blow in the wind or prove too revealing in the position. Some people find trousers the easiest option. Whatever you wear, practice kneeling in your outfit beforehand, so you’re not caught off guard during the moment.
For women who don’t want to kneel, but want to physically mark the moment, there are gestures of intimacy you can adopt. You can take your partner’s hands and look into his eyes as you ask him to marry you, for example.
Women and men will often announce their engagement in gendered language, for example proclaiming “she said yes!” or “I said yes!” to share the good news. Similarly, social media is full of engagement pictures that are nothing but a woman’s hand with a perfect ring, announcing the engagement without any words.
For women who propose to their partners, it can be tricky to find the right language. Some couples want to celebrate the fact that the woman popped the question. This can be a great way to flip any stereotypes on their head and normalize women proposing to men. You can take some fun pictures captioned “he said yes!” or “I can’t believe I convinced this guy to marry me” to share with family and friends. This is a time to have fun.
Other couples may opt to put the focus on the upcoming marriage and not the proposal. Social media captions such as “we’re getting married!” is a more forward-focused way to let people know about the engagement.