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Wedding Guide

Part II, 10 Ways to Mess Up Your Marriage Proposal

You’ve got one chance here, don’t flub it. The warning label for your proposal.

Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.
—Benjamin Franklin

She’s the one. When she walks in the room, the lights dim, the music swells, and someone cues the wind machine. You’ve got one shot at a marriage proposal she’ll remember forever, and “I guess you win” isn’t the way to go.

But you know this. Maybe you’re a little nervous, but you’re one helluva guy. You’ve got imagination, charm, and intellect on your side. She’d be insane not to say yes.

Now all you have to do is run the proposal gauntlet. We’ll review potential mis-steps, and then you’ll step around them, yes? Right. Let’s get started then. The first way you could blow this is:

1. Premature Elaboration

You love her. Your friends love her, your family will love her (once they meet her). But, sweets, it’s only been three months. It will be at least six months before the two of you get truly comfortable around each other and you find out that she uses the toilet with the bathroom door wide open. Knowing this, let the honeymoon phase pass before you do anything rash.

2. Sneaking Up on Her

No matter how long you’ve been dating, she should know that your proposal is coming. If she does a spit-take when you ask, you didn’t drop enough pre-proposal hints. Discuss all the major relationship issues. Does she want kids? Was she serious when she said her parents would disinherit her if she ever married you?

3. My Ring Is Bigger Than Your Ring

In this instance at least, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Not all women welcome a gigantic, ornate ring. You’re out to impress her, not your friends.

The old rule of thumb was to spend two month’s salary on the ring, but remember that your debt becomes her debt the moment you walk down the aisle. Buy what you can afford. The engagement ring is a gift, and gifts are no fun if the recipient knows that you’re having trouble paying rent.

Happily, jewelry prices are often negotiable, especially if you’re buying an estate ring. After you’ve haggled a bit, ask the jeweler to give you a week to return the ring for a complete refund. This gives you time to have it appraised by an outside source. Your receipt should indicate the ring’s materials and stone quality, and should note that the piece is returnable for a full refund in the time allotted.

4. Assuming Your Taste Is Good Taste

If you’re buying a ring, don’t buy an ugly one. And we’re not talking about your sense of style here: An ugly ring is any ring she doesn’t like.

If your family has a ring that’s been passed down through generations, this discussion is moot. That ring is the perfect ring. Sentiment and history far outweigh aesthetics.

However, men who are purchasing a ring themselves often take their sweethearts out jewelry shopping as a courtesy. Why? If you were getting a tattoo you couldn’t cover up, would you want someone else to choose the design without any input from you? (Yes? Excellent. Unicorn it is!)

It’s unlikely that she’ll tell you if she hates what you selected. If you feel strongly that the proposal should be a complete surprise, make damn sure that you’re getting a ring she’ll love. Ask one of her close friends if your beloved has said anything about what she wants, or watch how she reacts to other women’s engagement rings. You can also propose with a simple band or a gumball-machine ring and explain that you want her to help choose something perfect later.

5. Letting Her Dad Turn You Down

The proper way to ask for her parents’ blessing is to ask your intended for her hand in marriage, secure an affirmative response, then visit her parents.

It’s presumptuous to ask their permission beforehand, and it makes for an uncomfortable situation on the off-chance that she finds you unworthy (or they do). It’s also a nice touch to have your fiancée in the room when you ask her parents for their blessing. That way she gets to see their faces light up when you deliver the joyous news.

6. Right Girl, Wrong Time

It takes about a year to plan a traditional wedding with all the trimmings. Weddings require a lot of forethought and labor that may be tough to accommodate if she’s in her first year of medical school. Time your proposal so that you won’t have to wait years for the right time to plan a wedding, but won’t have to rush things either.

What’s more, don’t propose the week before her bar exam or try to make up with a ring after you’ve just had a big fight, you insensitive clod.

7. Umm-Urr Syndrome

Flexibility is key, spontaneity is death. Your plan shouldn’t be so complex that a rainstorm will ruin everything, but neither should it be so spontaneous that you end up saying something unintentionally offensive like, “We’re not getting any younger.”

Pick a meaningful date, place, or song to incorporate and rehearse what you’re going to say. Focus on making this a happy memory and everything will turn out fine.

8. Having It Your Way

Remember that your ideal proposal may not be hers. If you like things larger than life, but she tends to be reserved, flashing your proposal on the scoreboard at a baseball stadium is a bad idea. If you’re a quiet person, but she likes the limelight, you may need to put in some effort to make sure she has a good story to tell her friends.

But speaking of friends, don’t let word of your proposal get out to too many people before the event. You risk spoiling the surprise, and it’s more exciting to tell everyone the news as a couple.

9. Forgetting to Go Down

Unless you’re on a rollercoaster or just broke your leg, you’d better get down on one knee, buster. If you don’t, rest assured that it will come up later.

Next, don’t just hand her the box. Open it, and put the ring on her finger. Finally, no matter what your speech may be, it should end with the words, “Will you marry me?”

You can be as creative as you want with everything else, but if you don’t 1) get down on one knee, 2) actually put the ring on her finger, and 3) say the magic words, it’s not an official proposal. Get those three basics in and you’re golden.

10. Inability to Maintain Direction

Better to delay a proposal until your would-be bride is tapping her impatient little foot than to propose and hedge when it’s time to choose a date. If you’re ready to buy the ring, but unprepared to choose a wedding date, now is not the time to propose.

On Bended Knee

You want her, but what does she want? What kind of ring? What kind of proposal? Most importantly, what kind of husband? Proposals are nerve-wracking because—the moment you slip the ring on her finger—she answers all of these questions with just one look.

Best of luck to you, chum. I suspect she’ll be smiling.