21st Century Proposal Etiquette

From location planning to sharing the happy moment on Instagram, we’ve got all of your new-fangled engagement etiquette covered.

In an age where pretty much anything goes, many couples are now doing away with tradition and re-writing the rule book when it comes to the perfect marriage proposal.

We asked 1,000 married women and men about their proposal secrets and found that almost two thirds (64%) admitted they didn’t ask their loved one’s parents for permission to propose, while a similar proportion (61%) didn’t drop down to one knee as has been tradition before now.

A proposal isn’t something to be taken lightly. After all, this is a story your partner is likely to tell over and over again for the rest of your long and happy marriage. But with so many choosing to forgo the traditions that would have once been a huge faux pas had they not been adhered to, we take a look at the proposal etiquette of a 21st-century proposal.

The planning

Really consider your partner’s tastes, likes and dislikes and any touching stories that are unique to your relationship.

In our survey, almost two thirds (62%) of besotted Brits claimed the location of the proposal is hugely important. You can earn romance brownie points by thinking about where you had your first date, special holidays you’ve shared or somewhere you’ve both said you’d love to visit.

A beautiful backdrop plays a huge role for the perfect proposal. Is your other half a Disney fan? Whisk them off to Paris and pop the question in front of Cinderella’s castle. Are you both hopeless romantics? Propose at Shakespeare’s Globe like a modern day Romeo and Juliet.

Other things to think about are the loving words that will make your proposal unique and how you’ll celebrate immediately after hearing that life-changing ‘yes’. Whatever you do, don’t rush towards your ‘happy ever after’ without putting a great deal of planning into it first.


Choosing the perfect moment to profess undying love is a must. Give yourself plenty of time, ensure the proposal isn’t rushed, and afterwards, really enjoy spending time together as a newly engaged couple.

Don’t take over other people’s special moments with your own flamboyant proposal. All you’ll do here is risk upsetting the person whose birthday or wedding it is by taking the spotlight off them, and worse, your significant other may feel you haven’t put the thought into creating a just-the-two-of-you special moment.

Choosing the right ring

Many would argue there’s nothing more romantic than having their significant other propose with an engagement ring they’d put the thought and time into choosing themselves. However, you know your partner better than anyone – are they particular about the type of ring they’d like?

If you’re dropping too many hints stealthily attempting to find out your partner’s tastes, consider going shopping instead, so both of you can search for the ring of their dreams. In fact, 37% of people we spoke to, proudly told us they chose the ring together.

Size matters

Choosing the right ring for that oh-so-special moment is only half the battle – making sure the size is perfect without your partner guessing what you’re up to is a different story. You could borrow one of their less-favoured rings for the day - one that won’t necessarily be missed - and take it to the jewellers.

If it’s too risky to take their jewellery for a longer period of time, take one of their rings, place it on paper and draw a circle on the inside and outside of the ring – jewellers are usually able to work out the diameter from a sketch.

If you’re going for a plain band, it’s often simple enough to get the ring resized if you’ve gone a little on the larger size, but if diamonds are crafted around the band, it’s going to prove a little trickier. Use our ring size guide to get a close match to your loved one’s size.

Do have a back-up plan

You’ve planned the perfect proposal and gone over the plan several times. You’ve arranged a meal for two on the beach and ordered dozens of rose petals and candles for the ultimate romantic setting. But at the last minute, stormy weather threatens to ruin everything… what do you do?

However you’re planning to propose, always make sure you have a plan B in mind. Consider some indoor spaces for when the weather doesn’t cooperate with your original plans and think about what you’ll do if traffic isn’t on your side. Importantly, make sure you have some sure-fire excuses up your sleeve for if your partner begins to suss out what you’re up to on the day.

Spreading the news

Your partner will naturally want to shout it to the world that you’ve just got engaged, but traditional etiquette states that the parents should be the first to be informed of the happy news.

Lorna Haddon, diamond ring and jewellery buyer at Beaverbrooks, explains: “Engagements are becoming almost as important as the big day itself, and how the moment is shared with friends and family is incredibly important for many newly engaged couples.”

It’s common now for betrothed couples to conjure up a creative image to post on social media to help with their announcement. However, think carefully before you do this. Have all those closest to you been told first, or do you risk offending your little brother because he’s found out via Facebook and not directly from you?

Do take the time to really soak up the moment with your partner before restaging it for that Instagram upload.

And remember that less is more. Don’t over-do the images – simply choose one or two that beautifully sum up the moment. Take a look at our ideas for the Picture Perfect Proposal if you need inspiration.

However you choose to propose – whether you’re a traditionalist or have your own version of romance – what counts is a moment that is personal to you both. But as a final tip, take the time to simply enjoy being engaged - before all the wedding planning begins.

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