Popping the question, asking for one’s hand, plighting one’s troth—call it what you will, but a marriage proposal is kind of a big deal. OK, it’s a mammoth, monumental, massive deal.
You’re inviting a person to spend the rest of their life with you, after all (the rest of your life!), so the words you use to propose should be just right.
Some people go to elaborate lengths to surprise and delight a potential life mate with proposal stunts and situations (proposing mid-skydive jump, anyone?), which is great, but it’s you words that can truly pack the most powerful personal punch.
That doesn’t mean a proposal has to be Pulitzer-Prize-worthy or a pages-long dissertation, but you do want your proposal to be meaningful and memorable for all the right reasons.
Here are six tips to help inspire a great marriage proposal.
1. It’s all about the why
When writing a marriage proposal, the most important thing to consider is why you want to spend the rest of your life with that person … and then try to put that down into words. We know, easier said than done. But think beyond just love—which is, of course, important—to other reasons, such as a person’s honesty, their caring nature, or ability to always make you feel safe.
Also consider their quirks and little things that make them who they are, like the way they use impeccable grammar or always let you have the last cookie, and try to convey why they—over any other human being on the face of the Earth—is the one you choose.
Talk about when you first met each other. Was it love at first sight, or were you archenemies at work? When did you know they were the one?
You may want to reflect on how your relationship has progressed over time and how you’ve grown together. Include some of the most amazing times and experiences you’ve shared.
While you want to keep things positive for the most part, you may also want to mention obstacles you’ve overcome to keep your love alive. Take inspiration from everything, from the little things like accepting their penchant for hanging toilet paper the wrong way (over the roll, people, always over!) to more significant challenges involving distance, health, or ideological differences.
3. Look into the crystal ball
As you look ahead, what do you see for your life together? What plans and goals do you have, and how do the two of you complement one another on the way to achieve them?
While saying “I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else” is great, you may want to get specific about why that is and what you see that life together looking like.
A swoon-worthy example comes from Ernest Hemingway, who wrote in A Moveable Feast, “We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.”
4. Don’t forget to actually pop the question
After you express your sentiments, don’t forget to actually ask your beloved to marry you.
You can use a simple “Will you marry me?” or elaborate a little more, like “Will you make me the happiest person on Earth?” or “Will you do me the honor of becoming my husband/wife?”
But if you want a clear yes or no answer, you have to ask a clear question.
5. Avoid clichés
If we’ve heard “you complete me” once, we’ve heard it 1,000 times. It’s a sweet sentiment, but it’s not very original.
Consider other ways to express it, such as “you fill my heart,” or “you fulfill me.”
And if you want to learn more about how to write without using clichés, read this!
While spontaneity can be romantic, if you want to make sure you truly express all your feelings, then writing your proposal down and practicing it is key. (Bonus: A written copy of your proposal makes a great, romantic keepsake).
Nerves will likely be running high on the big day and being prepared can help keep you on course. You don’t want to sound like you’re reciting something and have it come off as rote, but you do want to feel confident in your delivery.
The final word
While you want your proposal to be special, if your heart is in the right place, it’s hard to go too wrong with a marriage proposal.
Let your love lead the way, and if things don’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped, that’s OK. This is one time that it’s the thought that truly counts … and, as long as they say “yes,” you always have a chance to redeem yourself by writing the perfect wedding vows.