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Asking for her Hand in Marriage

It is customary for the man to ask his future father-in-law’s permission for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Traditionally this gave the girl’s father a chance to question his prospective son-inlaw about finances, career prospects and future plans.

While this kind of exchange is now unlikely, some men still follow the formality of making their intentions known to the bride’s father or parents before proposing, and the gesture of asking is often appreciated. If there is no father to ask, then permission may be sought from other key family members, for example her mother or brother.

Many couples choose to seek permission, as a mere formality, after they become engaged. It is sensible to assess how traditional the family is to ensure that their expectations are managed.

A proposal of marriage is an occasion that will be recalled time and time again, so thought and planning are required to make it memorable. The manner in which a proposal is made is dependent upon the couple; the most important thing is that it is suited to the personality and style of the bride-to-be. Some may choose a public proposal, while most choose to ask the question quietly – getting down on one knee may well be appreciated. It is worth remembering, however, that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to ask for someone’s hand in marriage.

It is traditional for a man to propose with an engagement ring, but many do so without one so that the couple can choose the ring together. If there is no ring for the proposal, the bride-to-be can be given a token to mark the occasion, for example a bracelet or necklace. A ring should be on her finger within a reasonable time – weeks, not months – of her accepting the proposal.

Engagement rings

Some men want to propose with the engagement ring and decide to choose one on their own, or with the help of a trusted, usually female, friend. They should be confident of the bride’s taste and remember that she will be wearing it every day, for many years to come.

If the couple choose the ring together, a budget should be established to assist the bride in making a realistic choice. Alternatively the bridegroom may choose a jeweller and pick out a few within an affordable price range from which the bride can make her choice. The engagement ring should be the very best that the bridegroom can afford.

If there is a family heirloom or antique ring that belonged to a grandmother or older relation, the bride should be given the option of having the ring adapted or re-set.

If the bridegroom is lucky enough to have inherited a gem or set of stones, then the bride can start from scratch and choose her style and setting.

The bride should try on and experiment with different styles and shapes of stones and settings. It is best to try them alongside a wedding band to get a true feel for how the ring will eventually sit on the finger.

Diamonds are the traditional choice, but other stones, such as sapphires and rubies, may also be chosen or used as side-settings. While solitaires are popular, other styles are also traditional.

Popular metals for engagement rings are white gold, gold and platinum, which is the most hardwearing. The metal of the wedding band should be the same as the engagement ring both to ensure that they match and to avoid a harder metal rubbing away at a softer metal.

Bridegroom’s Present
Many brides-to-be like to give a substantial present to their fiancé as a way of marking the significance of the occasion and giving something in return for the engagement ring. Traditional choices include a watch, cufflinks or a fountain pen.


Length of an Engagement
The length of an engagement varies greatly but, on average, will usually last between six and twelve months. An engagement is the time between accepting a proposal and the marriage, rather than just a separate stage or status of the relationship. Less than six months would not allow enough time to organise a wedding comfortably, but anything over twelve months may feel too long. The length of time generally depends on the work commitments of the couple, the scale and size of the wedding, the availability of the wedding venue and the season in which the couple wish to be married.

The Couple
A couple that is engaged should be regarded, socially, as good as married. They should be invited jointly to parties, weddings and gatherings, even if both are not known to the host. Unlike married couples, engaged couples were conventionally seated next to one another at dinner; this tradition is now quite relaxed.

Calling off an Engagement
Traditionally, if there was an engagement announcement published in the newspaper, then it was usual to place a small cancellation notice if the engagement was called off. This procedure is now extremely unusual but, if deemed necessary – for example if the couple are of particular note or standing – then it would read: ‘The marriage between Mr John Debrett and Miss Charlotte Berkeley will not now take place.’

If the invitations have already been posted, then a printed card is sent out to guests (See p 242). Any presents received should be returned.

Traditionally it is correct for the woman to offer to give back the engagement ring; this may vary depending on personal circumstances.

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