Proposal Etiquette: What You Need to Know Before Popping the Big Question

There are guides for almost every first, but there’s no manual on proposal etiquette. Our complete guide can help.

By Jennifer Prince

Proposal Etiquette
Photo by Sabrina Steele Photography

The First Look ✨

  • Your partner and their family may want you to seek permission from their father or both parents.
  • Don’t steal someone else’s limelight, plan your proposal, and have a ring to give.
  • Traditions around the world include families giving gifts and presenting the father with a whale tooth.

There’s a first time for everything, and life affords a lot of “firsts.” While there are a plethora of resources available to guide you through purchasing a starter home and having your firstborn, there are few manuals regarding proposal etiquette. From seeking permission (should you?) to what to do during the proposal, remember these tips when you’re planning to pop the big question.

Is Asking Their Father Proper Proposal Etiquette?

No matter how nice they may seem, the mere thought of seeking your partner’s father permission sends shudders through your spine. That’s totally understandable. Questions surrounding parental consent is the first thing that comes to mind with proposal etiquette.

Traditionally, you should seek permission from your significant other’s father before you ask for their hand in marriage. Nowadays, both parents are often consulted. However, consider his or her relationship with their family. If your partner is estranged from their family, are older, or have had multiple marriages, asking may not be necessary. If your SO’s parents have passed, you could always ask their siblings. Gauge your partner’s feelings about it and how asking—or not—would impact their family.

If asking their dad is a must, then roll with it. Schedule a coffee date, and get their blessing. In some conservative countries, such as India and Greece, it’s necessary to receive the father’s permission. Yes, it can be nerve-wracking, but it’s worth it in the end—especially if it’s what your partner wants.

Proposal Etiquette Before Popping the Question

Be sure you’ll get a yes

Set yourself up for success, and know the answer before you propose. Long gone are the days of iffy asks by the guy whose carriage rolled through your town once a year. Most couples take the time to talk about their future together, which includes their thoughts on marriage. In short, take cues from your significant other to be sure that you should be asking.

Don’t steal the show

Popping the question at a baby shower, anniversary party, or someone else’s wedding is taboo. Unless you’re ultra-close with the guest of honor and it’s their idea, just don’t. Wait until you can have the limelight solo, and grant others the opportunity to bask in theirs.

Have an engagement ring ready

Popping the question involves a ring. And there will probably—ok, definitely—be disappointment if there isn’t some bling to show off post-engagement. Unless you’re skydiving or scuba diving while you ask, it’s good proposal etiquette to have the perfect engagement ring for that special person.

Get their nails done

Proposal Etiquette: What You Need to Know Before Popping the Big Question Photo Credit // Shutterstock

Ok, ok. We admit that this isn’t a must when it comes to proposal etiquette. However, everyone is going to ask to see that precious bling. Therefore, your SO needs to have hands worthy of an engagement ring. Have friends invite your partner for a spa day or get a mani/pedi.

Plan a meaningful proposal

You don’t have to pull out all of the stops with all of the bells and whistles. However, plan to pop the question in a meaningful way. Doing so will seal the deal and create a special moment. Whether it’s a private proposal or you ask in front of a crowd, how you ask is truly important.

Etiquette While Proposing to Your Partner

Stick with tradition if it’s what they want

Get down on one knee. Have the ring in a beautiful box and open it as you pop the question. If your partner loves traditional elements (see asking dad above), then go for it. It’s probably the only time in your life you’ll get the chance to do all of those things.

Know that it’s ok to cry during the proposal

“I’m not crying. You’re crying!” Actually, the truth is that you both may be crying. Even if you have already committed your lives to each other, there’s just something emotional about a proposal. Male or female. Young or old. It’s ok to let that flood of feelings come through. We have tear ducts for a reason—don’t resist the urge to use them.

Give your partner time to process

Your partner may not say yes right away, and it’s probably not because they don’t know the answer. It’s most likely because of the point above—they’re emotional. Floods of excitement, reality, and love are all flowing at once. Consequently, it may take them a few moments—or minutes—to verbalize their response.

Have alone time

Even if you choose to orchestrate a public proposal, schedule time alone afterward to chat and enjoy the moment. You may want to laugh, cry, hug, and reminisce. Bask in the occasion and take time to savor it together.

Proposal Etiquette Photo Credit // Shutterstock

Post-Proposal Etiquette

Tell family and friends in a particular order

When your parents aren’t aware, they better not hear it from their longtime neighbor instead of you. Tell those closest to you first, such as parents and siblings, and work you way out from there. Move on to best friends and then coworkers and acquaintances. Once you’ve told everyone you feel needs to hear personally, go ahead and post it on social media.

Take care of the ring

Jewelry can get lost, stolen, or damaged, and a replacement can be costly. Take the time to insure the ring, and also have it cleaned regularly. Many jewelry stores will do complimentary cleaning and inspection to keep diamonds sparkling and gems set in place.

Proposal Etiquette Around the World

Certain cultures require the families of the couple meet before proposing. In others, it’s an offense not to ask the parents for permission. Before you commit a social faux pas, take a peek at some traditions you may—or may not—want to incorporate.

Fiji

Not only does the groom have to purchase a ring, but he also needs to find the tooth of a sperm whale. No sweat, right? Presenting this as he asks his permission from his partner’s father is a symbol of true love.

Japan

Charming is the perfect word to describe this Japanese tradition. Each partner’s families meet and exchange gifts, such as fans, dried seaweed, and money. It’s an excellent way to build a relationship while honoring their culture.

Ireland

Most of us have heard of Sadie Hawkins dances where the girls do the asking. However, in Ireland, it’s appropriate for females to propose once every four years. Leap Day—February 29—is traditional, although most couples nowadays do as they wish.

Africa

The vast number of tribes in Africa allow for a range of traditions. One of which involves the groom knocking on the door of the home of his significant other. If he’s granted entry, he presents gifts and asks the father for permission to marry.

No matter your heritage or cultural traditions, it’s important to honor the wishes of your partner. Both roles—proposing and being asked—are equally valuable, so know what’s essential for each of you to include. Give nods to your customs while celebrating and solidifying the love you both share. For that, there’s no instruction manual required. Just go with your hearts as you anticipate your engagement.

Simplify Your Wedding Planning at Zola