Whether you met the old fashioned way through friends, at a DC happy hour or social event, or on a dating app, you're in love and ready to make it stick. Your proposal is a major undertaking that is often remembered and discussed even more than your wedding.
I put this guide together to help you understand and plan a surprise proposal so that it's a positive memory that you can share for the rest of your lives. Even if your proposal is not a surprise, this guide is still helpful for planning.
Planning your proposal
What is a special proposal for anyway?
Your proposal marks your intent to have an official commitment to your partner.
On a practical level, the photographs taken at your proposal are typically used for announcements of your upcoming wedding and in creating your wedding website.
Make sure you are on the same page.
Movies and television make it seem like people are surprising each other with marriage proposals that in which partners have never even discussed getting together. To the contrary, your engagement should be carefully considered and discussed with your significant other, and possibly their family, before you start planning your proposal. If you aren't sure how to broach the topic directly, consider using an example of a friend's proposal or one of those movies I alluded to. After all, if you truly love your partner you won't want to force them into a life altering decision they aren't ready for.
Ask the parents
This old school approach is very important because when you get married, you are legally connected to your partner's family. Depending on the family, it can be very important to involve them. Try something like this: “I am deeply in love with your son/daughter, and we want to spend our lives together. I am planning to propose and want you to be involved in this exciting moment.”
Acquire a ring (or something similar)
There are endless options for purchasing rings, from name brand jewelers like Tiffany's to antique shops to artists who customize jewelry for their clients. There are rating about clarity and color and karats, but what you really need to know is what your partner wants. A good approach is to snap photos of jewelry your partner wears already and show that to your jeweler. If your partner wears a ring, try to trace it on a piece of paper or measure how far it fits on your own finger so the jeweler can know the approximate sizing, and remember that you can always have the ring re-sized afterwards.
My personal favorite place for reasonably priced jewelry is Antoinette's in Portland, OR. If she ever stops working I won't know what to do, I like her that much! But she and I share a taste in art deco jewelry from the early 20th century.
In some cases, rings are not a "thing" for the couple. I've seen couples give artisanal bespoke shoes, ear rings, necklaces, watches, pins, and other alternatives. Many athletes or medical personnel want a thin metal band or a silicone ring so that the ring won't slip off during a workout or they can wash their hands more easily. Pay attention to what your partner likes and try to get something in that vein.
Whatever you get, make sure you can safely hide the surprise from your partner. I personally carried my wife's ring in my briefcase for months, checking furiously every few hours to make sure I hadn't lost it.
Enlist your photographer's help
At this point you have a ring, you have done whatever you are going to do with parents, it's time to plan your proposal!
A proposal is a huge moment in your family history that is wonderful to photograph. It goes without saying that a Washington, DC area wedding and engagement photographer can capture your once-in-a-lifetime images of your proposal for you, but your photographer should be able to do much more.
Photographers in the DC area know all the tricks and spots to get good proposal photographs. At Damon Bowe Photography, my goal is to get you memorable photographs that look really good. Want good light without people or something unsightly like trash cans in the background? Your photographer can help choose a location, time, get permits, work with other vendors and businesses to coordinate your big event. I enjoy photographing proposals so much that I am constantly considering new locations and ways to pull them off!
If you are willing to spend more time with your photographer after the proposal itself, you can really double down on the number of photos you receive. This should be planned ahead of time with your photographer.
Plan your proposal location and timeline
The proposal is essentially a gift of your love for your partner. Remember that the proposal is about you, but it really has to be about your partner. You want to look back on this moment as one where you pulled out ALL OF THE STOPS. This isn't the time to be demure and conservative--you can do that any time. This is the time to proclaim your love loudly and confidently.
Think about what your partner would like and personalize your experience. Find a location that is personal and make it really special by dressing it up, brining in things that will make it even more special. It can be at the Lincoln Memorial, the United States Capitol, that bar where you first met, or the deck of your condo. If you choose a low key area like your condo, do your best to make the feel of the space truly special, for instance by laying out candles and flowers, or whatever your partner may like. If it's a mountain top, find a way to make it really special by enlisting others to help set the place up for a nice surprise. You really want to blow your partner away with this.
I don't want to say that the proposal is a competition, but it kind of is. You want your partner to have an experience special enough that it will easily procure appreciation from their friends and family.
Once you have your location selected, consider your timeline of arrival and what to do afterwards. In the minutes after you propose, you need to snap a few photographs. Remember that after you propose your partner will likely want to call everyone to announce your engagement and show off their ring or other gifts. Make time for this to happen so you can really enjoy these moments together.
Write your speech
It doesn't have to be a long speech, but it should be meaningful. Don't allow the planning of the big event derail your key moment. It can be very challenging to actually deliver this speech, as all of the emotion and surprise well up inside of you. Make sure to practice until you feel great.
A couple of sentences talking about what you love about your partner and how excited you are to share a future together are great things to mention...and don't forget to ask them to marry you at the end!
Whether you setup a special picnic, a Champagne spray celebration, confetti, sparklers, a bouquet, props can elevate the elegance and emotion of a proposal. Props also take the pressure off the emotional moment and allow you to play. Spraying around Champagne is a unique moment that is rarely experienced in life, I say go for it!
Plan to celebrate
The celebration does not have to be huge, but it helps to consider how to celebrate afterwards. Whether you book a table at a fancy restaurant, invite a few friends to a local bar, have some Champagne in the fridge, or have family gather at the location, it's important to enjoy your special moment together. You may have been together a short time, or a long time, but this is a notable moment in your relationship that deserves special treatment to celebrate your relationship together. Consider whether you want to bring your photographer along to this celebration so you can grab candids and group shots of you celebrating with friends and family!
What happens next?
With your surprise proposal out in the open, it's time to start thinking about the wedding. Because you have been inundated with details of the proposal, this might come as a shock. But for most couples the planning starts the very next day. This is because your partner is now on board and will likely have their own taste and interests on everything from wedding location to your guest list.
It's important to note that date scarcity exists for all vendors, from wedding venues to caterers to photographers, to planners, there's only so many weekends a year that are available. So plan early and often, and have fun with it because this is a celebration of you!