This Is What You Should Say in Your Wedding Proposal

I promise not to get bossy in this one

by Stephanie Kaloi

engaged couple eating ice cream

First things first: When it comes to wedding proposals, I’m a big believer in saying what you feel, what you believe, and what makes your heart ache in all of the good ways. I am not about to deliver 1,500 words spelling out exactly what you should or shouldn’t say, because that’s fundamentally absurd. I don’t know you! You know you. You know your partner. You know what your partner would like to hear. Right?

I am, however, totally into helping you get ideas on how to create a perfect proposal for your person. (Because, you know, if you’re reading an article about wedding proposals, chances are you want some tips beyond asking, “Hey, wanna get married?” in your jammies while you watch Sunday morning TV. Which, for the record, is a totally valid way to do this thing.) So think of this like that Creative Writing 101 course you might have taken. I’ll give you a broad idea, and you get to fill in the details.

So, behold: tips for what you should think about saying when you’re proposing marriage.

1. use the first time you met

Here’s the thing. Your “how we met” story doesn’t have to be storybook perfect. My husband and I met in a sociology class, and my first thought about him was, “Oh wow, his handwriting is unnerving.” Neither of these things are super romantic, but they’re funny to think about ten years later. Another tidbit about when we met? I had my foot in a walking boot to treat a tendon injury. He loves to bring that image to mind whenever he can, and did so when he asked me to marry him.

2. what’s important to the two of you?

Most people marry someone who shares their values and goals, so… what are yours? What matters most? Does the way your partner always donates to the World Wildlife Fund really make your heart sing? Is his commitment to finishing grad school super inspiring? Are you both volunteers, or activists? What moves each of you, and why do you love it? You get the idea.

3. When did you realize you wanted to get married?

My husband had two moments in a 24-hour period that prompted him to propose. They’re both a little personal, so I’m not sharing them, but it means a lot to me that these two moments were the turning point. My hope is that most couples who are getting married have these moments as well—and it definitely doesn’t hurt to bring one up.

4. how has the relationship enriched your life?

If you guys have been together for months or years, what was your life like before you met? What is it like now? How have you grown, and what part of that growth happened because of something your partner brought to the table?

5. make it feel like “us”

I think it’s tempting to go big with the proposal in some way, and if that’s you guys, then go for it. Fly yourselves across the world and propose somewhere amazing, under a gorgeous sky, with the crickets and birds singing songs to you (seriously, it sounds incredible). But if your version of “us” is all about hanging on the couch, eating popcorn, and watching Scandal… well, maybe don’t propose during the middle of Shonda (because hey, don’t interrupt Shonda), but don’t worry about making your proposal a wildly out-of-character thing. Whatever your “us” is, keep it feeling like that.

What do you think, APW? What should you say in a wedding proposal—and what should you steer clear OF?

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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  • louise danger

    the proposal wasn’t anything elaborate on its own – but now i’ll never forget the first time we walked out the front door of our house after settlement, because the image of him on one knee in an empty and echoing room, holding out a ring hopefully, has been seared into my brainmeat forever. even the most mundane moments can become magical if you mean the things you’re saying or doing, so don’t fret, proposers!

    edit to add: i know with the big rollout last week there might still be a few tech gremlins, but the only place this post is showing up is on the APW facebook page – i can’t see it when i go to the APW main page.

    • Corey Winter

      Thank you for pointing that out! We were trying a new caching method to help speed up the site, but that prevented new articles from appearing. It should be fixed now!

      • emmers

        Hi Corey, I’ve noticed that for whatever reason, the top tagline is getting cut off for me. This is happening on both Chrome and IE (on a desktop, but not on mobile).

        • Corey Winter

          It looks like you’re still seeing an old, cached version of the site. We don’t have that slider anymore! Haha! A good browser cache refresh should do the trick. You can find out how to do that here:

          Let me know if this doesn’t work and I’ll help you figure it out. :)

          • emmers

            Thanks! Much better.

          • Corey Winter

            I’m so glad to hear it! Your browser would have caught up eventually, but clearing out the cache yourself speeds up the process. If you have any other issues, feel free to let me know. :)

  • Heather

    I don’t think my proposal had any of these items (my memory of it is pretty much only the way I felt when he was asking), but it was perfect and meaningful.

    • Keri

      I remember my husband saying, “I have three things to say,” and then listing them out, but I have almost no idea what they were, except that I guess the last one was, “Will you marry me?”

  • Amy March

    “Will you marry me?”

    Don’t get lost in all of Stephanie’s fantastic advice and forget to actually ask the question!

    • Eenie

      Oh and please make it a question. There’s something I personally dislike so much about: “Marry me.”

      • idkmybffjill

        My fiance and I had discussed engagement a fair bit before he proposed and he said, “I really think we should get married, do you agree?” And I really liked that alot!

        • E.H.

          Love this!

      • Keri

        Long before he asked, my husband requested that, when the time came, if I would actually verbally respond “yes” or “no” when he asked the question, and not just start crying/kissing/hugging/nodding.

    • stephanie

      WELL YES, I assume phrasing/asking/wording is an individual thing. ;)

    • Cathi

      I honestly think that’s all a proposal itself really needs.

      While I’m all for sweet, thoughtful words (and I am sometimes wistful that when my husband proposed to me it wasn’t something like what Stephanie laid out), you can also use those memories and thoughts while discussing marriage together.

      My own proposal had exactly zero words at first because my husband got too nervous to say anything, which is adorable and all but distinctly lacking in the most basic key element.

  • Rebekah Jane

    The only thing I didn’t like about my personal proposal experience is that I didn’t get “the speech.” He did, however, nail the two most important things you can say – “I love you” and “will you marry me?” – and if that’s all you say, it’s still a great proposal that does the job.

    • idkmybffjill

      If it’s any consolation, my fiance did the speech but I have no idea what he said… it’s a blur except for his last line!

      • cml

        Same. And I asked him to repeat what he said the next day, thinking that I was in a better position to commit it to memory at that point. And he couldn’t remember, either! Haha!

  • cml

    I’d add 2 things:
    1. Be willing to adjust your plan. Apparently, I was originally going to be proposed to on a hike, but it was a rainy, chilly day (and he was hung over. eyeroll!). So instead, he put the ring on my cat’s collar and proposed in my living room & it was purrfect.

    2. Don’t get too hung up on what you’re going to say, as long as it’s genuine and heartfelt…at least in my case, I know my guy said some nice things but I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember all of it!

    • idkmybffjill

      “I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember all of it!” – Same!

      I think this is fairly common. I was caught off gaurd (I knew it was on the horizon, but I didn’t think it was happening that night), and had one shoe off in our entry way and was so shocked by the moment and emotional. I know it was lovely but I can really only remember one line of it!

      • cml

        I do remember thinking I wasn’t dressed properly. (As if there’s a dress code for getting engaged?)

        • idkmybffjill

          YES omg. I was wearing tricky boots and had just gotten one off, and when he first began I remember desperately thinking DO I PUT IT BACK ON and starting to put my foot back in before I realized, Not Important, and focused up haha.

          • cml

            My big inner question was, “DO I PUT THIS CAT DOWN WHILE HE’S PROPOSING, OR NOT?”

          • idkmybffjill

            Oh my god I love it. Hilarious.

          • cml

            I think you made the right choice in leaving your boot off. Boots can be difficult. :)

          • idkmybffjill

            Haha thanks! I definitely would have had to sit down to put it back on and that would’ve been a real weirdo move during a proposal. lol

        • Kaitlyn

          Haha me too! I thought he was gonna propose the next day and picked out a cute outfit haha And instead, he proposed the day before when I was wearing a not favorite work-out outfit and hadn’t showered haha

        • NotMotherTheresa

          Me too!!! He’d given me a heads up that we were going somewhere nice and to dress appropriately, but I was still in college, and it was the dead of winter. Thanks to limited closet space, my college winter wardrobe consisted almost entirely of jeans and LL Bean fleece, so the “nicest” thing I could put together was a pair of jeans and a nice button up.
          Suffice to say, that is NOT what I pictured myself wearing when he popped the question!

      • Danielle

        I also was caught off guard, and can’t remember exactly what he said. I just remember he put the jewelry box on the table, and I stared at it in a really confused way, and looked around the ice cream shop where we were, and then looked back at him. Apparently he needed to ask me twice (and also open the ring box, since I just stared at it) before I answered :D

    • Alyssa Andrews

      YES to #1. For a whole year, my Fiance was planning to propose to me on our 6-year anniversary, but two weeks before our anniversary (and right after he had asked my family for permission), we ended up in a conversation about marriage and commitment, and I told him that I was ready to get engaged. The timing was too good for him so he talked me into walking with him to the ocean (a block from our house, so not far) with him at 10pm on a Sunday night (in my PJs) and we walked to three different lookouts before we found one without homeless people or high teens, and when I said “alright, I need to go to bed, are you ready to go?” He said “yes, but just one question” and got down on his knee. I couldn’t see anything because it was so dark outside so my first response was “are you serious?!”

      The point I’m making is — flexibility is key and sometimes makes for even more memorable proposals. No need for a lot of words so long as in my case, we had just had a conversation where we discussed many of the things Stephanie talked about and knew we were on the same page.

      • slmrlln

        Yes! We were supposed to go for a walk in the park on Friday afternoon, but there was a thunderstorm. So we sat on the couch discussing what to do that evening: we could go out to dinner, or we could order in, we could watch a movie, and then, out of nowhere, he suggested that we could get engaged and pulled out the ring! It was perfect.

  • Hannah

    Guys, this is such perfect timing for a question I have! I was just thinking I would have to wait until Friday’s Happy Hour to ask you my proposal questions so yay! My boyfriend and I just hit 6 years (holy crap!) and while we’ve known we would get married eventually for years, we’re finally at the age where it’s starting to feel a little more real. We’ve decided we want to get engaged sometime across the next year, probably around next summer. There’s already a family diamond that my aunt wants me to have for the engagement and I’ve told my bf that I want to be part of the process of creating the ring. My question is how to balance being a feminist couple that is making this decision as equal partners and will both be involved in creating the ring and still wanting the romantic proposal that’s maybe a bit of a surprise?

    • NotMotherTheresa

      Back when my husband and I were dating, we’d talked about getting engaged, and once things reached a certain level of “Yes, we both know that we’re definitely going to get engaged soon”, we went to the jewelry store for me to pick out my ring. He purchased it, and then he held onto it until he was ready to officially pop the question. That way, the ring wasn’t a surprise, and the fact that we were going to get engaged wasn’t a surprise, but the exact time and form of the proposal WAS a surprise!

      • Hannah

        That’s awesome! I think lots of couples probably do a version of that but it’s not the narrative you see as much so really nice to hear from someone who had that experience! I love the guy to pieces but I can’t imagine the ring itself being a surprise haha

        • Casey P

          The narrative from Hollywood/society really messes it up, when you think about it. I wanted to be suprised by the ring (and I was, and I love it), but afterward I fully realized how WRONG that could have gone! Lol.

          • Hannah

            Ahahaha for sure. I already told my bf, “babe, I love you and you have great taste in jewelry but there is no way in hell I’m letting you pick the ring by yourself!”

      • idkmybffjill

        We did something similar! Talked about and tried on rings, discussed likes & dislikes – then he ultimately designed the ring with my input and chose the time/place of the proposal on his own!

      • Jan

        We had a similar experience. We had discussed marriage and knew we wanted to do it, so getting engaged was no surprise (I am honestly baffled by couples for whom a proposal is entirely out of the blue– how?!). But in our conversations we had said two things: 1) that we wanted to choose a ring together because I have to wear it, and also it’s unfair to ask him to just figure out what I want. 2) He needed to do some kind of proposal. This was more because I had been the instigator of all our other moving-things-forward moments, and I just felt it was important to know we were doing this one because he was 100% ready.

        Anyway, he proposed when I least expected him to, it was simple and beautiful, and then we shopped for a ring about a week afterward. I was pleasantly surprised by the nonchalant reactions we received when we told askers of the “where’s the ring?!” question that we didn’t have one yet

    • emilyg25

      We talked about getting married a lot, knew we were getting married, and even had started talking about wedding specifics. We actually already had an appointment for him to get measured for his wedding suit! I sent him a bunch of rings I liked. In all our discussions, he mentioned that he really wanted to be the one to propose. Even with all that talking, it was still a surprise! I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know exactly when or how. So it can be done!

      • Hannah

        That’s so nice to hear that you can do all that planning and still have it be a surprise! I think we need to maybe talk a little about how we envision the proposal, because I definitely get the impression that he sees it more as a mutual thing, which obviously it is but I also would love for him to be the one to propose. Feels like he’s being a bigger feminist about all of this which is totally adorable but also annoying haha – I’m the one that introduced him to feminism in college!

        • idkmybffjill

          If you end up going the mutual proposal route, there’s an article on here that made me want to do it so bad (ultimately my fiance really wanted to propose as it was something he really envisioned in the proposal/I was cool with that).

          I can’t seem to find it but it involved camping – any other readers remember the one??

        • Ashlah

          Could you agree that you’ll propose back after he’s proposed? That way you get your surprise proposal from him, and you get mutual proposals. We hadn’t discussed a mutual proposal beforehand (he wanted to propose, and I was 100% down), but I surprised him with a ring and a proposal about a week later. I joked that we were then super engaged.

          • Hannah

            I love that!

    • Eenie

      Some people choose a day, but then each person gets to plan part of the day and propose. I really love the equality to it, but it still lets you be surprised by the what.

      I wish we would have done this. I designed my own ring, but my now husband paid for it (because of our financial situation at the time) and proposed on one of the weekends he visited. I wish I would have done something to propose back, and I wish I would have told him I hate the knee thing!

      • Hannah

        I love that idea! That actually seems more romantic, with both people getting to say their piece.

      • Alyssa Andrews

        One of our couple friends did this, and I love it. My fiancee is open to me proposing, but has been pretty clear that it’s not mandatory for him. For me, I also love the equality of “choosing your person” and “being chosen” (even if you’re the second one to propose), but I think for my fiancee me saying “yes” was as much affirmation for him in feeling “accepted” and “chosen” (his words) as if I had proposed myself. I still might, but it depends on my finances…

    • Casey P

      You can totally do this and still be suprised. Design the ring of your dreams and then he can pick it up when complete (or you can even see it and then give it to him for safekeeping, or some variation on that).
      Then he can propose at some unknown-to-you time in the future.
      We had definitely talked about marriage beforehand, & he knew i wanted a round-cut stone, and my friend had lots of examples of rings i liked. The part of my proposal that I left out of my earlier post is that he got INTOXICATED the night before and came THIS CLOSE to drunkenly proposing. So I saw it coming…but after him acting 100% normal the next day, & changing plans on me, I still managed to be suprised by the when & how of it. :)

  • Sosuli

    My tip would be, if you’re nervous but there’s something you really want to say, write it down. I proposed to my husband on our 7 year anniversary and I wrote the proposal in my card for him. I was a nervous wreck and there’s no way I would have been able to say what I wanted to say without balling my eyes out.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits


  • emilyg25

    Pajama proposal here! He said [Full name], will you be my partner and marry me?” He’s not really a speech guy.

    My dad proposed by asking my mom, “Hey, when’s your next weekend off?” That’s my favorite.

    • Hannah

      That’s so cute!

  • squirrelyone

    I want to say there’s no right or wrong way to propose, that it’s personal to the couple, etc. But then I think back on some friends of mine. She was sitting on the couch playing videogames. He passed her on the way to go to the bathroom, paused, dropped the ring box in her lap, and said to think on it while he was pooping.

    She made him re-propose.

    So in addition to any other bits of advice out there for crafting a proposal, I always like to suggest “do not involve defecation.”

    • Hannah

      Bhahaha that is too funny and so awful! Definitely don’t involve defecation :P

  • JenC

    We had the “wanna get married” kind of proposal. Mainly because I’m a romance killer and when he said he’d propose “properly” i said that was ridiculous. He surprise de me that evening though and got down on one knee and did a heartfelt speech. And as a few people have already said, I can’t remember a damn thing that he said. I’ve even tried getting him to repeat what he said but I start crying all over again! It really sucks because my husband is someone whose brain and mouth don’t always work in partnership and the little speech was one of the moments they did. And I just can’t remember it. It’s nearly two years since his little speech and I still wish I could remember it, it feels like something you should hold onto dearly. It’s not the done thing when you say you just heard white noise as soon as he got one knee.

    So if you’re the person proposing, don’t feel upset if your person can’t remember what you said. If you’re the person being proposed to, don’t beat yourself up too much if you can’t take in the words, it happens sometimes.

    • Alyssa Andrews

      Most people I’ve talked to who did the proposing have said “I don’t really remember what I said but I KNOW I asked them to marry me!” So I don’t think the proposer always remembers either!

  • E.H.

    I think proposals are only sometimes appropriate. I’ve heard talk of “mutual agreement” engagements – wherein the couple discussed that they both wanted to get married and then moved forward into their engagement side by side – like they’re some wild and crazy new way to get engaged. But doesn’t that seem more egalitarian? The surprise of a ring (or a ring for both parties) could still be involved. There’s still definitely a way to make it fun. And then when people inquire about “how did your partner ask?” you have a particularly special story to tell.

    • Anna

      We did that deciding-together thing, but then decided that rather than just kinda tell people “hey so we decided we’re getting married” that we would both get rings, both do proposals, and then have that serve as an officially-engaged moment that we could announce to people. It was super fun both being on the receiving end of FH’s adorable puzzle-hunt proposal (ending with giving me the ring I’d picked out in the Boston Public Garden) and also coming up with a sufficiently elaborate proposal for him (video game themed “quest” ending at a really excellent beer bar we’d been meaning to try). I actually did it twice, because when the ring he’d picked out came in the mail, I was so excited I couldn’t wait even though I hadn’t yet planned anything. The ring was too big and needed to be sent back, so I got another chance, and he made it clear he wanted something more involved than just giving him the ring on the couch haha. Nobody has told me that my proposal didn’t count since he was also proposing or that his puzzle hunt was less romantic because we’d already decided to get married, which were both things I was slightly worried I’d hear. The one question we did get (and actually spent an amusing amount of time considering ourselves) was “So did you officially become engaged after the first proposal or the second?” (We basically concluded the latter, but we also sometimes say we got engaged “on Oct 20-27th” since there was a week between his proposal and mine.)

      But yeah TL;DR: explicitly deciding by mutual agreement to get married doesn’t preclude fun proposal antics or rings, and then you can do them together as this super fun egalitarian start to your engagement!

  • greenish

    High fives to all the ladies doing the proposing!

    I proposed to my now-husband in the train station where we said goodbye the first day we met. We had already bought the rings, and I’d asked him if I could be the one to propose, because it would mean a lot to me. So he knew I would at some point, but he didn’t know when or how. I took him out for dinner, and then to the station “to go on to a bar I like”, and then got down on one knee. It was so awesome, he said he totally hadn’t guessed I was about to do it! We both got emotional and then I took him to the bar where we had our first date, to drink fizzy wine.

    Ladies not sure if you want to propose… let me answer the questions a lot of people ask me when I say I was the one to do it. YES it was romantic, it was the most romantic day of my life bar my actual wedding and I’ll never forget it. NO I didn’t feel cheated out of being surprised – I wouldn’t have wanted to have the ring chosen for me, and I’m not the sort to enjoy waiting to be asked. And NO of course I wasn’t worried he’d say no, he’s a beautiful, amazing, feminist man and was thrilled to be proposed to. And we’d had the conversation anyway – I knew I wanted to marry him and I knew he wanted to marry me :)

    Do it!! it’s the funnest!!!!

  • Sofarsogrool

    Personal stories: My dad had a conversation with my mom about marriage in general and how she felt about it. He ended the conversation with, “Well, how ’bout it?” My mom said, “How about what?” and made him actually ask her to marry him.
    My husband actually just said “Marry me?” at the end of a lovely dinner date, and he opened the box with the ring we’d picked out. All I replied was, “Yes.” That seemed like enough for us.

    That being said, I do enjoy a good marriage proposal speech in tv or the movies, so if that works for you, congrats!

  • Mary Jo TC

    One of the reasons I was disappointed in my proposal was that my then-boyfriend talked only about himself and why HE was FINALLY ready rather than about US and why WE had a good relationship or OUR future or even about ME and why he loved me. I didn’t find it romantic, and in fact it injected some bitterness into the moment for me because it reminded me of how long I’d waited, and of how much I would have preferred for the proposal to have come months or even years earlier.

  • Alexandra

    My now-husband had told me when we first started getting serious about each other, about two months into dating, that he would prefer we not to say “I love you” to each other. He said it was easy to throw around that phrase without any real meaning behind it, and that it should wait. I thought that was a little weird, but having been on both sides of the “I love you” in previous relationships, I knew that saying the phrase had been meaningless for me many times before.

    He proposed when we had been dating 7 months. We went to the beach to watch the sunrise, which is something we did all the time, and after our usual quiet coffee/reading time he stood up, pulled me to my feet, and went down on one knee. I remember him saying something like–“[my name], I think you’re beautiful and I love you. Will you marry me?” Pretty short and sweet, but the I love you was the first time he’d said it and he was right. It meant a lot.

  • Mrrpaderp

    I know this isn’t necessarily the point of this post – but I couldn’t help but think how helpful Stephanie’s list would be to someone writing her vows. Definitely going to have to bookmark this.

  • E.

    We did a mutual proposal and I kept it short and sweet something like- “I love you, I love who I am when I’m with you, and I love the life we’re building together. Will you marry me?”
    He did include a story about right before we started dating (we were friends first), but I honestly could not remember anything else he said after that because I was freaking out too much!

  • suchbrightlights

    I didn’t propose to my fiance out of a wish to make some grand statement of feminism and our decision to get hitched was not a great public affair, but almost everyone who has asked me “How did he propose?!” responds to “I proposed to him, actually” with a lot of surprise and just… “Oh.” (I’ve also gotten “That’s very modern of you.”) We’ve got this sociocultural narrative of women wanting perfect proposals with letters in the sky and all that that there’s so much built up around “how he asked” that it seems people don’t know how to respond to anything outside that storyline. Not even the friends whom I know really value a grand proposal seemed interested in knowing how I proposed to him. It makes me a little sad that the value seems to be on what the gents do for the distaff side, and that there’s no expectation or interest in the other way around.

    Has anyone else had that experience?

    (Two disclaimers: I’m deliberately referring to a gender binary because I suspect that plays into the narrative, and I mean no judgment here towards people who value being proposed to in a big moment- if you want letters written in the sky, I hope you get great weather so they show up!)

  • Ella

    I really like this wording: “How have you grown, and what part of that growth happened because of something your partner brought to the table?” (as opposed to the more common, “you make me a better person” etc.)

  • Sarah Jane Tinnelly-Williams

    We had a few of the “are we ready to get married” conversations, and we were both on the same page that he was going to propose soon and what kind of ring I liked – but it was still a surprise when he proposed on my birthday, after asking my parents for their blessing in secret. We had just climbed to the top of a mountain in Ireland, and it was starting to rain, and he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I threw my arms around him and laughed like a crazy person (out of shock!) for a good two minutes before finally saying yes, and then cried the whole way down the mountain. It was lovely and simple and perfect for us.