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In the South, good manners are passed down like a treasured family recipe for pecan pie. However, unlike the formula for a favorite after-dinner treat, guidelines to being well-mannered are changing with the times. With the approaching wedding season—that brings an abundance of gatherings—many of our etiquette conundrums surface, and we are left feeling confused about social protocol.  Every other week throughout wedding season, Erika Preval of Charm Etiquette school in Atlanta, will answer a question that helps us navigate the grey area of modern etiquette.

I’ve been trying to plan the perfect proposal since buying my girlfriend’s engagement ring last month. Pinterest has lots of elaborate ideas, but I’m not really sure that she’s looking for anything over the top. Asking opinions of her friends and family might ruin the surprise. I’m getting really nervous about messing this up. Is there proposal etiquette that can guide me?

With the emergence of proposal planners and videos of marriage proposals going viral online, I can understand your anxiety over making yours perfect. Keeping your focus on your lady in waiting is most important for a successful event. As you continue to plan your special moment, consider this advice before, during and after you pop the question.

Stay in good graces - Tradition dictates the request of her hand in marriage, from her father, prior to your proposal. I suggest that you make both sets of parents – hers and yours, aware of your intentions. This will create a wonderful foundation of respect and consideration for the merging of your families. Since you’re ready to become engaged, chances are that you’ve already discussed marriage with your girlfriend. So, should someone have a slip of the tongue (barring shared details) your surprise will still be safe. Nevertheless, ask for the parents’ discretion.

Stay focused on her - Although there is a trend towards having elaborate proposals with an audience of family and friends incorporated, please know that only two people are necessary to make your proposal perfect: you and your sweetheart. You have the rest of your lives to share your proposal story, so if it relieves any anxiety, know that (unless she’s expressed otherwise) most brides prefer an intimate proposal. No matter public or private, after expressing to her your reasons for wanting to do so, get down on one knee to utter those four magical words. You’ll likely want to arrange for a photographer, videographer or both to capture this moment. If your budget is constrained, opt for a discreet friend with a steady hand.

Stay offline awhile - If you’ve chosen to keep the proposal private, you’ll want to share news of your engagement once the celebration with your fiancée is complete. Some gentlemen will have already arranged a surprise engagement party of sorts with close family and friends at a separate location. Should this not be the case for you, refrain from announcing your engagement to online friends and followers on social media until you’ve had time to connect with those closest to you by call or text with the big news.

I wish you all the best on your proposal and beyond. Be certain to insure the engagement ring and try not to rush into wedding planning mode – savor the moment!

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