10 Proposal Ideas That Aren’t about the Male Ego

Because dudes aren't the only people who get married.

by Stephanie Kaloi

couple in front of yes mural after executing a great proposal idea

Weddings these days can often be as heavy on the sequins and feminism as you want them, but there’s one area where our cultural norms and narratives are still quite traditional: the wedding proposal. (I can tell you all about this, because I’ve spent the last few days of my life researching what the Internet provides in the way of wedding proposal ideas, and I feel like I need a shower/cry/Shonda binge watching experience, just to cleanse my soul.) On APW, we’ve talked about what to say in your proposal, and we’ve also talked about the plague on our society that is the public proposal, but today? Today we’re going to talk about why wedding proposals no longer have to cater to the male ego… I mean, give you a bunch of wedding proposal ideas. Or both, maybe both.

Since we know that our world is in fact not solely compromised of straight people who want to get married, and where the dude proposes, it makes sense that we need to shake up the story around proposals in the first place.

Pro-Tip: If you are a woman proposing to a man, you shouldn’t have to worry about “stealing his thunder” or bruising his ego by doing so. If you are a man who is proposed to by a woman and you do in fact find that your ego is nursing a bruise, dude: no one likes male fragility.

Wedding Proposals 101

Before we dive in though, let’s review some wedding proposal 101:

  1. Your wedding proposal (and your proposal idea) does not have to unique. Like, at all.
  2. Your proposal doesn’t have to be pre-planned or thought out beyond “Do I think this person wants to marry me? Okay, cool, I’ll ask them”.
  3. You really don’t need a photographer present (unless that works for both of you).
  4. And unless you guys have pre-planned this together every step of the way, remember there is a (hopefully small, but still real) chance they’ll say no. Or, “let me think about it.” Or, “I’m not ready yet, but I think I will be soon.” In short, the romantic part about asking a question is that you’re giving your partner an option to answer it, to choose you, to say yes. So if your proposal idea sets up a situation where your partner feels they can’t say no? That’s not only not romantic, it’s manipulative. TL;DR: Having all of your friends and family flown in to watch you while you propose? Not cool (unless they’re in on the plan).

The bottom line? You just need to figure out what is right for you, and what’s right for your partner. And if the two of you are the types who want to get creative with it, we have a whole slew of proposal ideas for you… (that are not even a little bit creepy… Internet article that suggested a naked massage where you end by shoving a ring on her finger). In fact, we’d go so far as to call this list kinda feminist and egalitarian.

10 proposal ideas that #Slay

Fill a space with memories

This can be as much of a big affair or a low-key happening as you want, but the general proposal idea is that you create a timeline of your relationship in a space that is significant to the two of you. You know, photos of you together hung along the hall of your apartment, an animated stop-motion movie played in a theater that you rented out, etc. (Or medical scans in an elevator, if you’re Meredith and Derek.)

write it in a book

Fellow bookworms, unite. I am a hundred percent here for wedding proposals by book. There are so many options: pre-order a book your partner is really pumped about and hide the proposal somewhere that makes sense (but maybe make sure the book is proposal appropriate, and not something dark, terrible, and super sad). If you feel like writing, you could draft a story about two characters who are very much like you, who fall in love, who decided to get married… and then have it bound and gift it to your partner. You could even have an author your partner loves sign your proposal IN a book. (J.K., you free for that?)

set up a photo shoot

Some of my favorite proposal stories all involve the photo shoot surprise. This proposal idea is pretty self-explanatory: set up a photo session for your anniversary—or just because—and toward the end of the session, surprise your partner with a proposal. (There are a couple of real life examples here.) On top of getting engaged, you’ll also have sweet photos of the exact moment where your partner realized what you’re up to. (Note: This is good if your partner won’t feel pressured by you popping the question in front of a photographer, and won’t feel photo-shy.)

write the proposal together

So maybe one of you does really want to propose, and the other does really want to be proposed to, but you want to make sure you both LIKE what is said. That’s cool, I dig it. In that case, why not just draft the proposal together? If you want to leave room for an element of surprise, maybe you can agree on what will be said in general, but not specifically. If you both want to have something to say, add that in. You do you, guys!

propose when they least expect it

There’s definitely a lot of fun in the idea of planning out a killer proposal for weeks—but why not just go for it, in the spur of the moment? Instead of setting up an elaborate day with all the bells and whistles, propose quietly while the two of you are making dinner after work, or get engaged while you’re out walking the dog. Note: This obviously works better if you’ve been together for a while (and have at least talked about getting married).

Write it out

Do you have sidewalk chalk handy? Are you planning a trip to the coast? Then y’all, if you’re in the mood to get hitched, why not ask in chalk, in sand, or spray paint (you know, with permission)? You can also think more low key and use lipstick on the mirror or magnet letters/words on the fridge for a more comfortable, intimate proposal at home.

propose after having sex

First and foremost, I don’t mean propose while you’re actively having sex. I also don’t mean propose in the initial few minutes right, right after you’ve had sex, because that might not feel genuine. But you know, in the lazy-hazy, feel-good post-sex time? When you’re cuddled up and naked and digging on each other? Propose then—just make sure you have a G rated version of the story to tell everyone else. (This of the alternate story as your proposal idea that might have been…)

scavenger hunt proposal

This is another “know your audience” type of move, but it’s a good one if it fits. Set up a scavenger hunt that leads to you, waiting to propose. The details will obviously vary, but some ideas include seeing if local businesses that you frequent will collaborate and enlisting friends to help with clues (again, assuming you know your partner will be down with that). Bonus points if you end in a favorite public spot (a park, the corner you met on, etc.).

be engaged to be engaged

Maybe one day you accidentally refer to your partner as your fiancé, and then, oh hey, both of you realize that you kind of like how that sounds, but you both want to have an equal part in the process of getting engaged. The solution? Choose a day in the future to become officially engaged, and then make a whole thing of it (kind of like Molly and Casey did here), doing whatever it is you guys like to do (eat, drink, and be merry, right?).

wrap it in a box

It’s straight out of a TV show, but I’m always a sucker for the big box with a slightly smaller box… that holds a slightly smaller box… that holds an even smaller box, which holds an engagement ring (or some other token). You could use this proposal idea on a holiday (Christmas, birthdays, and so on) or… just because.

what would you add to this list? what proposal ideas totally work for you, and what don’t? How did You get engaged?

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! ? ? ?).

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  • Kalë

    I guess now would be a good time to stop in and say, we got engaged! By a beautiful lake, at sunset, in the Patagonia region of Argentina. I knew it was coming during this trip (although didn’t expect it right then) and it could not have been more perfect. No flowery speech, nothing elaborate or contrived, just a beautiful moment with my new fiancé!

    • Lisa

      Congratulations!!! What a gorgeous ring!

    • Abby

      CONGRATULATIONS!!! I was feeling happy-weepy throughout this whole post and now I’m even more happy-weepy. Enjoy being engaged it’s wonderful!

    • Jess

      Travel Proposal!!! This is such a beautiful moment!

    • Kara

      Congratulations!! Patagonia is a gorgeous place. Enjoy this new time together!

    • Gaby

      Congratulations! That ring is beautiful and the background is too.

    • Ashlah

      Hooray! Congratulations!

    • E.


    • Leah


  • NolaJael

    Love the idea of writing the proposal together! Proposals in general make me uncomfortable, because my family is a “talk it out” family. So a single question with a yes/no answer is so not my style, there’s a whole discussion missing there — possibly months or years long! But if you need the long negotiation (like me) but also like the idea of having a concrete moment that the agreement was made (a proposal) this is a great compromise. Kudos!

  • NolaJael

    Can I also make a plug for the idea that you don’t have to announce your engagement immediately after the proposal? Whatever your proposal or decision, it’s one of the most personal of your entire life. If everyone knows it’s coming and you are bursting with joy, go ahead an blast it from the mountaintops. But it’s also okay to take a day or week or month to adjust to the new reality with just your person.

    • Lisa

      Definitely this. We waited a week before announcing anything on social media because it gave us time to let our important people know and bask in the newly engaged-ness before telling the world. And it spread out the well-wishes for a couple of weeks longer!

    • MrsRalphWaldo

      We got engaged on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean, and all of my family knew about it before I did, so it forced me to not announce it for a few days. I have to say that for me, not splurging for the on-board internet was one of the hardest things I’ve done!!

    • Akes

      I completely agree with not announcing immediately on facebook etc.. we didn’t even call our families for about an hour because we were in such la-la-love land. However… we actually waited a while (over 6 months) to announce on social media because we wanted to tell as many people in person as possible. Unfortunately this resulted in some hurt feelings because some peripheral friends didn’t know for quite a while after it happened (although of course all of our close friends knew by then). If I were to do it over, I would have still waited a week or so, but not waited as long as we did. It was awkward to be getting congratulations, and people ask when it happened, and have to awkwardly say “erm… 6 months ago…”

      • Rebecca

        Bleargh. We’re pretty private and just aren’t announcing on social media at all. It’s been 6 months since we got engaged, and if you don’t know about it by now, we’re not that close and you’re not allowed to care, basically. Perhaps not the most generous stance but the one most genuine to us :-D

    • Leah

      Everyone in both of our immediate families knew before I did so we weren’t fussed with announcing pretty soon after. I have a wonderful memory of calling one of my best friends who was slightly drunk at her friday night drinks (it was midday where I was) and both of us crying over the phone.

      Definitely agree with the waiting as long as you want for the social media announcement. Anyone you’re close to will know and facebook can just wait.

  • Kara

    My husband proposed nearly 9 years ago, while we were hiking in Big Bend National Park. It was simple, sweet, and we hadn’t showered in 5 days (plus I had snot frozen to my face). We had to wait to announce our engagement because there was no cellular service in the park. I highly recommend waiting to share the news just a little bit to bask in the joy you are experiencing together.


    • Colleen

      My husband proposed on our annual camping trip in the Adirondacks. We also hadn’t showered in MANY days and I may not have been wearing a bra (I totally wasn’t wearing a bra). There was no cell service, so we also got to enjoy the “OMG, we’re engaged and we’re the only two people who’ll know about it until this camping trip is over” fun of having such a sweet, special secret. I recommend doing some basking, too!

      • Kara

        Oh man, I’ve always wanted to see the Adirondacks! Sounds absolutely perfect to me :).

  • We got engaged at home, in the living room, right after I had gotten home from work. I saw a sign on the dog and wondered what he was being shamed for (I assumed he had eaten/destroyed something that he shouldn’t have). He actually was wearing a sign that said my husband had promised him TWO cookies if I said yes to the thing on our other dog’s neck. Our other dog was wearing my engagement ring on a ribbon. It was lovely because it was at home, with no audience (except for the dogs) and that it meant that we were able to celebrate by ordering a pizza and drinking prosecco in our sweatpants. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c0adc09d66145bc1afdf0ebfb92c5f892cfa47a537557f01d5143938e367f156.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9272419b5aa268078e47feb4c41eac142975300e091ca316434023c9276f112b.jpg

    • Kara

      This makes me teary (happy tears)…it’s so sweet, and I love your pups!

    • Alyssa

      OMG this is so cute. What sweet pups!

    • KPM

      Awww, my husband had wanted to propose on the beach where we were vacationing with the ring on our dog’s collar but the beach didn’t allow dogs. I think the lack of canines is his major regret regarding our engagement. (Mine is that I was holding a bottle of Diet Coke and said “Are you f-ing kidding me?”)

  • sage

    We totally scheduled an “Engagement Weekend” in the future and that worked out perfectly for us! My fiance had time to pick out a ring and plan a bunch of little surprises for that weekend (as did I) and I didn’t waste any time being anxious or feeling let down from wondering “Is this going to be it?” during the months beforehand.

    • EF

      basically did this too! it allowed each of us to have the personal plans we wanted, but i *hate* surprises so it helped with that, too. but my partner still got the ‘i just have to have the right moment and i want to ask!’ that he wanted, and i got to ask too. we scheduled a long weekend away for it, worked great.

    • E.

      yes! We did this too, except just one day. I loved it!

  • The husbandperson did the scavenger hunt and it was so great. The locations were places special in our relationship and the clue givers were my friends – I loved that he included people that were important to me in his proposal. And best of all, we had friends secretly taking photos so I also have photos of the moment he proposed, which I also love.

  • Laura C

    The after sex one … I once knew a guy (not particularly well!) and when someone asked him how he proposed to his wife, he was like “uh, well, I didn’t realize that people would be asking me this question for years to come, so … let’s just say I was looking up at her at the time.”

    Anyway, as I’ve often said I’m not a fan of big-deal proposals at all, but one that someone I know did that feels like it could be a scene in a movie — “99 Red Balloons” was their song as a couple, and he actually got 99 red balloons that were in the apartment when she got there.

    • anontoday

      ha the sex one reminded me that last year, we had an earthquake close to midnight that shook our city pretty well, and then the next couple days, people would ask ‘what were you doing’ and ‘did you feel it’? And I think my face kept turning bright red in response. :-)

  • Alyssa

    My guy had been planning his proposal to me for months, and he was all set to do it on our 6-year anniversary celebration. But the week before, marriage came up in our conversation on a Sunday night, and I FINALLY told him that I was feeling ready for marriage and wanted to get engaged soon (like before I graduated from my masters). Immediately afterwards he INSISTED that we go on a walk to the ocean by our house, in our PJ’s, at 11pm on a Sunday night, and he proposed on a little walkway that leads down to the water. He got a lot of flack from my family for not waiting the extra week (he had just driven to see them and ask their permission that day), but sometimes the moments that develop organically are so much sweeter and more memorable than the original plan. Plus, it gave us a night together before announcing it to our families, which was so nice!

  • Gaby

    Ohhhh I am so grateful for engagement stories to have happy tears over this week <3

  • Akes

    My fiance had been planning a whole big thing – proposing at the place on my college campus where we had our first kiss, and then walking me to a local bar where all of our friends would be waiting to surprise us. Weeks before that was supposed to happen, on a beautiful day in May, we decided to ride our bikes to the local Arboretum, one of our favorite spots. It was perfect weather and we just hung out on a blanket under our favorite tree, laughing and smiling all day. All of the lilacs were in bloom and we were surrounded by the smell and sight of beautiful blooming lilacs. It was really the most perfect day. He happened to have the ring with him, and felt the urge to just propose in that moment. I don’t remember anything he said, just all of the happy tears. Less than 20 minutes later, we looked up and there was a couple getting married in a small ceremony not 50 feet away from us. The whole thing was so spontaneous and magical!

  • MrsRalphWaldo

    We got engaged while on a cruise to Mexico. He actually bought the ring while we were at the port in Cozumel and proposed that night on the ship’s balcony! It was spontaneous and roman https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/be86b60d0ad02a26782ca2727b67d125f18b69b2067641caac16731b33bf346a.jpg tic and wonderful!

  • Colleen

    Awwwww, my stepdad proposed to my mom with the box-in-a-box-in-a-box thing on her birthday. I was 8 at the time and remember thinking it was the most fun thing ever!

  • Liz

    My fiance wanted our engagement experience to be as equal as possible (not just him decided when to propose to me, but more of a mutual decision we both agree on). I still wanted a ring and the experience of being proposed to, but I also wanted to do something that was equally meaningful for my fiance to mark this big decision in our lives. He is very into traveling, so I bought him plane tickets to South Africa for the 2 of us (approx. the same price as the type of ring he would buy) and he surprised me with a beautiful ring on a hike a few months later. Instead of him saying “Will you marry me?” and getting down on one knee, he said something along the lines of, “Well, should we do this thing?” and I couldn’t be happier! We talked about marriage a lot in the months leading up to our engagement, and were both in agreement about this decision, but the proposal/exchange of gifts sealed the deal and we could then announce to our friends and family that “WE said yes”! Not exactly the typical proposal story, but we are all about kicking tradition, and it was important to both of us to start our lifelong partnership off on equal footing.

  • Kelly

    Mr. Kelly hired a photographer under the guise of doing a family photo shoot since my mom, dad and brother flew down for the holidays :)

  • E.

    Thanks to some ideas on APW, we did a mutual proposal! I absolutely loved it. I knew I wanted to have some of the fun, and also share the control on such a huge step in both our lives, but we both really love surprises so we decided to combine them. We picked a day, I planned the first half and he planned the second. It was a perfect day and I loved that we both knew because the build up was so exciting and we could both freak out and be nervous and excited together!

  • clarkesara

    I proposed. I took him out to brunch at our favorite place on Valentine’s Day because I’m a dork and handed him a stack of Valentines, each of which had one word of “Will you marry me?” written in it. He figured it out on the second card. I was very happy that I decided to propose someplace where there was liquor handy, because who knew that proposing is scary.

    I kind of wish I’d thought of the book thing.

    I also *really* wish there was more acknowledgement and support for women being the ones to propose. It’s fine if that’s not what you did or what you want or whatever, but I’ve been surprised at the number of self-avowed feminists I know who think it’s morally wrong for a woman to propose to a man.

  • Rebecca

    Glow-in-the-dark paint on the bedroom wall, followed by pink champagne and Chinese takeaway. Pretty awesome. While there is something to be said for just basking, I called a close friend I knew would be super enthusiastic and that upped my excitement even more, and kind of made it more real, too.

  • Leah

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/875a0e95beccec84d54013597cea8cd966997c4d59aa9ad2bd2d185f1196b821.jpg We discussed marriage at length for about a year before my fiance proposed. He wanted to do the traditional thing and design my ring himself and “surprise” me and I wasn’t that fussed about it. As in, we’d decided we’d be engaged by the end of 2015 and then I was happy to leave it in his hands because I had a date (I’m a BIG planner) to work with.

    He proposed at the base of what would usually be a waterfall in Mlini, Croatia near where his family is from (it was dried up which was actually hilarious because I had no idea what we were there to do and was wondering why his mum was freaking out so much about there being no water). It was beautiful regardless and a good reminder for my perfectionistic self that sometimes imperfect is more perfect than anything.

    I kind of had to tell my family quite soon after because all of them had known he was planning to propose while we were away but not when. Everytime I spoke to my mum prior to the proposal she would kind of pause and wait for me to say something because she was waiting for the news.

  • Amie Melnychuk

    He proposed at my parents house on a long weekend visit. He planned it that way so we could share the high with my parents the next day, and drive to tell my grandparents before telling the whole world.


    • KPM

      My husband proposed when my family was visiting. He knew I was ready to get married and was definitely going to be saying yes and though I hadn’t ever said it, he knew how much my family meant and that I would want to tell my parents in person and immediately hug them. (And actually, they all knew because he plotted the whole thing with them but did the actually proposing when it was just the two of us. His parents came over too and brought cake.)

  • Angela

    Can I just say, reading these proposal stories is just so nice!!! It is so lovely to hear all the joy! We mutually proposed to each other in a beautiful garden – he had a ring I had helped design and I had a watch he had semi-chosen. It was sweet and simple and I feel like it embodied values that are important to us i.e. mutual consent, equality. I would not change a thing! And now, on Saturday I marry him!

  • I’m planning to propose next weekend, when we’re in a cute little cottage in the Yorkshire Moors. He really wanted a few days away to focus on reading and relaxing and not working. Currently, the ring is hidden in a box of chocolates I insisted we save to go away and I’m figuring out how to hide a bottle of champagne in the suitcase without him noticing. My debate now is when to do it – at the beginning of the weekend so we’ve got several days to snuggle, at the end to cap it off, or somewhere in the middle. We’re going to take a day trip to Whitby, which is a town we both love, and it would be romantic to propose there but I’m worried I’ll get distracted looking for a perfect moment. Also, it’d be weird to bring the chocolates to the seaside, and I’ve written a proposal I know I won’t actually be able to say in person so this is going to involve handing him a bit of paper (and Whitby is a windy, rainy place).

    I don’t know how aware he is that it’s coming. He knows I’ve been wedding crazy recently, and I even measured his ring finger (but I think I got away with it?) and I keep asking him questions like how long he’d want his hair to be. So I’m not being subtle! But I’ve been equally unsubtle in the past with surprises and still pulled them off, so I’m pretty confident that it will still be surprising enough that he’ll find it super romantic.

  • Caitlin

    I know the intro wasn’t saying that the very conventional “him proposing to her” option is bad but I’m still battling with my guilt over waiting for him to propose to me.
    The situation went like this: We talked about getting married (to each other), agreed that it was what we wanted long term but whilst I was ready for it to happen he wasn’t, so I waited for him to propose but also gave him a date when if he hadn’t proposed I would either ask him or we would just agree that we were engaged. He did propose a few months ago and I was lovely and personal and right for us. But I had almost a year of pitying looks, questions from his Mom, friends misunderstanding and getting angry that I wouldn’t “just propose to him” and leap year jokes.
    I am happy with how things worked out and I do believe that I made the right choice but I hate that because I put my partner’s feelings ahead of my wishes and respected that he was in different place to me, I was cast as “desperate nagging anti-feminist” (yes, all words that were used to refer to me).