Man proposing to his girlfriend with a picnic on a mountain
The beginning to all wedding planning starts in one place — the engagement. And while there are countless ways to propose, there are still etiquette rules that need to be followed.
As we’ve covered in previous Well-Mannered articles, etiquette is all about empathy and treating others how they would like to be treated, contrary to the Golden Rule you were taught in Sunday school. Anticipating the feelings of others around you and how they will perceive your words or actions is crucial. This understanding will be central to executing every step as you transition from fiancé to spouse.
Depending on your age, at least one year of dating should precede a proposal. The younger that you are, the longer you should have dated prior to marriage if you’re interested in maintaining proper Southern etiquette. If you started dating in high school, allow eight years. Were you twenty-two like I was? Allow five. By the time you’re over thirty, a year can suffice as you likely know what you want in a partner by this time in life. This time period allows both people to get to know each other well enough to make an informed decision.
In the modern South, living together before marriage is commonplace and a welcome time to explore merging finances, discussing monetary goals and the prospect of starting a family. Once the couple has discovered their strengths, weaknesses and conquered a few challenges, they will reach a point of certainty on whether they can grow with each other and remain partners for life, weathering any storm that may come their way.
To any Southern gentleman thinking of proposing to his lady, it is proper form to ask the father of your girlfriend for her hand in marriage. Ask her dad to play a round of golf at the club or go out to lunch to talk through your thoughtful reasons why she is the one you’d like to spend your life with. Bringing the most important man in her life a token of your gratitude, such as an artisanal barbecue sauce gift set, is always a generous move if that aligns with his interests. Once you have his approval, you can move forward in planning the perfect proposal.
Ladies, while you may want to spread the word to the world as soon as the new sparkler is on your finger, take a moment to reflect on this experience and who should know about your engagement first. Posting iPhone photos of the ring to social media before you tell close family and friends (and likely your soon-to-be wedding party) is never a good idea. Call each important person in both of your lives and tell them the wonderful news. Or, if you’d like to do this in one fell swoop, tell everyone at a get-together. (Sounds like a mimosa bar is in order!) This gathering doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be an engagement party per se, but it could also serve that purpose if you’d like to put some planning into it.
After sharing the good news with those closest to you both, feel free to announce your engagement on social media to your wider circle. When crafting that announcement, try to consider what you’ll want to look back on in the future, but make sure to remain true to your personality. Keeping the post short and sweet, or with no caption at all, along with a subtle shot of your engagement ring is an easy and cheeky way to announce. Alternatively, if you’re more traditional and open on social media, telling your story and adding sentimental details or dates will show your romantic, soft side.
If you’d like to throw an engagement party, the parents of the bride are the first to have the honor of hosting the party if they would like, then that privilege goes to the parents of the groom. It’s rare for both to do so unless they live very far from each other. This fête is typically held between one and three months of the engagement, but logistics and timing may push this later in the timeline.
Keep in mind, though, engagement parties should always be closer to the engagement than to the wedding. Invitations are expected to be sent about a month in advance and should match the formality of the party. This pre-wedding event has the loosest set of expectations and allows the couple to set the tone for the affair. You could throw anything from a Low Country boil to an oyster roast or even a formal cocktail party. And remember, as with any wedding-related event, everyone invited to this event should be invited to the wedding ceremony and reception.
A typical engagement among belles in the South averages one year in length, so we will use that time frame when recommending the dates in which the planning steps should be completed. Whether you’re planning a barn, winery, estate, ballroom, beach or destination wedding, a few common elements are in your future. We’ll cover each step-by-step.
Next up: Set the foundation for your perfect Southern wedding
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Photo credit (hero): How He Asked Facebook
Photo credit (proposal in front of ornate building): How He Asked Facebook
Photo credit (cake with “engaged” topper): Sydney Cake Toppers Facebook
Photo credit (couple with signs): Namuundari Namuna's Facebook