Planning a SURPRISE marriage proposal? DON’T do these things!

1/10/22

I am the only one who thinks it’s kinda weird that you’re expected to craft an elaborate LIE before asking someone to love and trust you forever? 🤔 😂 But if you want to plan a surprise proposal that’s actually a surprise, this blog is for you!

Maybe you’re nervous you might accidentally spill the beans before the day comes. Or maybe you’re super confident and assume your partner has no idea what you’re planning. But changes are, you’re not quite as good at planning surprises as you think you are. Or maybe I should say… Your partner is probably more perceptive than you give them credit for. After all, they know you better than anyone. They know when you’re telling the truth and when you’re anxious about something.

Today, I’m listing the most common ways you may accidentally spoil the surprise of your marriage proposal.

That being said, the majority of proposals I’ve photographed have not been complete surprises. In most cases, the partner knows a proposal is coming soon, or they designed the ring themselves, or they simply figured it out. And that’s okay. Your proposal will be awesome, even if you’re not the best at pulling off surprises. The real magic happens when you’re down on one knee, asking the love of your life to marry you. It’s surreal, and special, and life-changing no matter what.

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❌ Don’t be too insistent on getting her nails done

This needs to be #1 on the list, because it’s the most common way (for girls especially) to figure out they’re about to get engaged. Ask yourself these two questions…

1. Will she care whether or not her nails are professionally manicured?

If you’re not sure, ask one of her best friends or a family member if she’s ever mentioned it being important to her.

2. If she cares, how can you make sure she has her nails done without giving away the surprise?

You could ask a friend or family member to invite your girlfriend to get their nails done together. Just make sure that YOU are not the person initiating this idea. If you’ve never before suggested she get her nails done, now is not the time to ask. She’ll probably be suspicious if you ask. Also remember that most of the time, nails will look great for up to two weeks after they’re done. 

It ISN’T the end of the world if her nails aren’t perfect when you propose. She can still get her nails done the day after you propose, because she’ll be showing off her ring to friends and family for WEEKS. She’ll also have more time to prepare before your engagement photos later on too!

So, ask yourself “Is it more important for her to have nice nails or for the proposal to be a surprise?”

Along the same lines…

❌ Don’t be too insistent on dressing nicely

If you’re going hiking, don’t suggest that she wear heals. If you don’t ever wear a suit, don’t wear one now. Don’t buy a whole brand new outfit.

Be flexible and casual. If you’re really worried that your partner won’t like what they’re wearing, you could secretly pack a change of clothes for them to change into for photos afterward. But honestly, I wouldn’t worry about it. You’ll likely schedule a separate engagement session, where your partner will have more control over the outfits, locations, and timing.

Hamilton Pool Photo

❌ Too many people are involved

The more extended family members and distant friends are in on the plan, the more likely she’ll find out about it. Even your partner’s best friends – who have the best intentions –can let something slip or behave in a suspicious way.

This doesn’t mean you can’t involve other people in your plan. In fact, involving a few trusted people can help corroborate your story. 

❌ Parents, Parents, Parents

It’s common for parents to know about a proposal before it happens. It can actually be really fun letting them in on the secret. But, emphasize how important it is that they act normally around your partner.

  • Don’t ask about her nails EVER
  • Don’t get too excited and let something slip
  • Don’t ask leading questions like “Do you ever think he’s going to propose??” just because it’s funny
  • Don’t call your friends and spread the news around town
  • Don’t totally avoid communication for days or weeks
  • Don’t call to ask what they’re wearing on a date night and then suggest they wear something nicer

That last one is really specific, but I’ve seen this happen MANY times. It only takes one small comment to give the whole thing away.

And while we’re on this topic, I once saw someone use iPhone tracking to figure out they were about to get engaged! Yep, her parents had shared their location information with her (years prior), and she saw that they were in town. She called her parents to ask where they were, and when they lied saying they were at home thousands of miles away, she knew she was about to get engaged!

This photo was from an awesome proposal with tons of people involved, so it’s definitely possible to pull it off. In this case, she thought she was going to a friend’s birthday party!

❌ Don’t do anything too out-of-character

If you’re not usually one to make big plans, keep it relatively simple. If you don’t usually make plans months in advance, wait until closer to the date to introduce your idea. If you need to be somewhere at a specific time, you want to be in charge of the day, but don’t be too assertive about it.

❌ Disguising it as a photo session

I have photographed a few proposals that were disguised as regular photo sessions. If it’s more important to surprise your partner than it is to look nice, than I don’t recommend this. In my experience, it’s a great way to convince them to dress nicely, but it may let them know that a proposal is coming. If planning a photo session would seem out of character for you, they may become suspicious. It’s also possible that they’ve heard of this tactic being used before.

Of course, if you love that plan, and you don’t think it would make your partner overly suspicious, than I’m on-board. It’s all about the way you introduce the idea I’ve seen it work really well when someone tells their partner that they’re talking family photos instead of couples photos. If other family members are “in” on your plan and will even talk to her about preparing for family photos, that makes it even more convincing.

Again, remember that you can always take more engagement photos later.

One more note about this – As a proposal photographer, I know how hard it can be. I’ve photographed over 200 proposals, and I’m super comfortable with it, but I was definitely nervous the first few times. If you’re working with another photographer and they suggest disguising your proposal as a photo session, it may be because they’re not confident they can capture your proposal well unless it’s set up that way.

❌ Stay off of your phone

In the hours before you propose, avoid texting people about it. For example, if you’re planning an afterparty, you don’t want 20 people texting you asking for directions to the restaurant. Put someone else in charge of that.

Have clear expectations and a communication plan with your photographer. Don’t wait until the last minute to change plans or ask a question.

Speaking of phones – don’t leave your texts and emails unattended! You never know what your partner will accidentally see.

All this being said, don’t stress too much about your partner finding out you’re planning to propose. There’s no way they’ll be able to guess alllllll of the details. And remember the true meaning behind this gesture… You love each other so much that you’re deciding to spend the rest of your lives together. They’re going to be SO excited to see what you’ve put together, hear what you have to say, and to say “yes”!

Blog: Choosing WHERE to Propose: Somewhere Beautiful + Meaningful >

Blog: How to Uplevel Your Proposal >

Blog: 6 Reasons to Hire a Proposal Photographer >

Blog: Best Places to Propose in Austin, Texas >

Learn more about proposal photography with Lauren >

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