By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Tribune Newspapers
December 6, 2011
After five years of long-distance dating, during which they traveled some 300,000 miles to rendezvous in more than 25 cities, Danny Patel knew he wanted to propose to his girlfriend, Tanvi Kamdar. He just didn't know how he wanted to do it.
Skywriting? Corny. Restaurant? Lame. He searched Google for ideas, consulted his buddies, but nothing original came to mind.
"It's tough. (Men) are not wired this way," said Patel, 32, a kidney specialist who lives in Daytona Beach, Fla., and wanted to propose in New York City, where Kamdar lives. So he was relieved to find an ally in proposal planner Sarah Pease, who helped him hatch and execute a plan.
In March, thinking she was meeting up with Patel's family, Kamdar walked into a suite in Manhattan's Eventi hotel to find a guitarist playing "You Are My Sunshine," one of the couple's favorite songs. There hung a giant world map surrounded by vintage trunks, snapshots from the couple's travels and paper airplanes inscribed with Patel's memories from their trips. A carpet runner read: "To a Lifetime of Adventures Together."
Patel dropped to one knee with ring in hand, and Kamdar laughed and cried as a photographer and videographer captured the whole thing. Then they were whisked off in a champagne-stocked Mercedes to dinner at the three-Michelin-star Le Bernardin. When they returned to the hotel suite, the room had been covered in rose petals, and atop the bed sat a compass engraved with the "Lifetime of Adventures" motto. The next morning, after breakfast, they got a couple's massage.
"It was very unique to us; I think that's what made it so special," Patel said. "And I didn't have to stress out about any of it."
It wasn't so long ago that the most stressful part of proposing marriage was wondering whether you would get a "yes." But with most brides today involved in picking their engagement rings, the yes typically is a foregone conclusion and the greatest pressure lies in pulling off a creative, retellable and, for some, YouTube-able proposal to knock a girl's (or guy's) socks off.
"It's not really a proposal anymore, it's a surprise party," said Julie Raimondi, editorial director at the new wedding site Lover.ly, launching early next year, and former editor-in-chief of Brides.com. In an even more pervasive trend, people are documenting the moment to share with others, she said, reflective of a culture that deems little too private for public consumption.
To help people devise sufficiently spectacular proposals, specialized proposal planners have carved a niche in the wedding industry.
Pease, "The Proposal Planner" at Brilliant Event Planning in New York, was inspired to the task after learning of a friend who proposed to his girlfriend by placing the ring at the bottom of a bucket of fried chicken.
"What do you do? Do you rinse it off before you put it on?" Pease said. "When I heard that story, I thought, 'There has to be a better way.'"
The point isn't to concoct an elaborate scheme, Pease said, but to make it thoughtful and personal. Of course, having an outsider help plan your proposal may seem to negate intimacy, to say nothing of spontaneity, but some people need a creative helping hand.
Pease, who specializes in luxury proposals, conducts extensive interviews about the relationship, the personalities of the lovebirds and looks at their photos. Some clients use her for brainstorming alone, while others have her orchestrate to the last detail (full packages start at $2,000). One lavish example: A man with a girlfriend who loved "Sex and the City" sent her on a scavenger hunt that took her to Barneys, La Perla and a boudoir photo shoot, and ended with him on his knee in the private offices of Cartier.
"I really want every girl to have a story she can tell everyone," said Pease.
Heather Vaughn, president of the Yes Girls proposal planning agency in California, rattled off some favorite proposals she helped organize: A guy whose girlfriend sang karaoke on their first date performed a song-and-dance medley in a South Carolina park; a woman who longed to see a Broadway show was handed roses by strangers on the street postshow and discovered her own bio in the playbill.
"In that moment you want it to be extra special," said Vaughn, who charges $95 to brainstorm two ideas; the cost of planning the proposal varies, but most guys budget $1,000, she said.
With so many people vying to make a splash, getting down on a pajama-clad knee in the kitchen "is starting to sound like one of the most unique ways to propose," Raimondi said.
But Kamdar, 34, loved her travel-themed proposal, which felt personal because it incorporated details specific to their relationship, and they used the candid photos from the evening for their save-the-date cards. Having Pease help orchestrate it was logistically helpful given that Patel was not in town.
"I'm kind of one who wanted an elaborate gesture," said Kamdar, a neonatologist. "The first question that everyone asks you is, 'How did he do it?' It's kind of a social expectation."
When you ask…
December reigns as the most popular month for getting engaged. With most brides taking the lead in wedding planning, the proposal is the groom's time to shine, said Jeff Wilser, editor of ThePlunge.com, an advice site for grooms-to-be.
Here are some pointers for proposing with panache, plucked from conversations with Wilser and wedding planning experts Sarah Pease, Heather Vaughn and Julie Raimondi.
Do make it personal. Incorporate your favorite memories together and things she likes.
Don't be cliche. That means no proposing on a Jumbotron at a sports game, no dinner date that ends with a ring in the champagne glass and a "will you marry me" written in chocolate on the plate.
Do consider what she would want, not just what you would like to do, including whether she'd prefer a quiet proposal or a public spectacle.
Don't assume that because your girlfriend is laid-back she won't care how you propose.
Do ask her parents for permission, if it's a family who would appreciate that. A more modern way is to ask for their blessing.
Don't tell everyone that you're going to propose, as loose lips sink proposals.
Do have a ring. Even if you want her to pick her own, you could propose with a place-holder, like a Ring Pop.
Don't hide the ring in a spaghetti dinner or in sand or anywhere it might get lost.
Do get down on one knee. Look her in the eye and say something thoughtful and sincere.
Don't read from something, especially not from notes written on your smartphone.
Do document it, whether that's with a professional photographer, a friend with a video camera hiding in the bushes or just a journal in your pocket to jot down notes. The moment is such a blur, this lets you relive it later.
Don't live-tweet the proposal or announce your engagement on Facebook before telling all the important family members and friends personally.
Do know what the answer will be. You should already have had a conversation about your future.
Don't get paralyzed by the pressure to make it awesome. If you find yourself putting off proposing because you're worried it's not spectacular enough, you have a problem.
By the numbers
5,200: Average cost of an engagement ring
77: Percentage of grooms who proposed on bended knee
71: Percentage of grooms who asked the bride's parents for permission
57: Percentage of grooms who proposed privately
43: Percentage of grooms who planned the proposal down to the last detail
10: Percentage of grooms who winged it
Source: 2011 Engagement & Jewelry Study from The Knot Market Intelligence
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC