Marriage Proposal Ideas: How Couples Who Wed in 2021 Proposed

Marriage stories from around the world continued to fill the Weddings pages of The New York Times in 2021, proving that no force of nature, not even a pandemic, could overwhelm the power of love.

But before those marriages came the proposals. In South Africa, one man had a lion cub deliver his fiancé her ring. On a rooftop in Phuket, Thailand, a missed sunset led to an even more special moment for a couple on vacation. The shortest proposal on this list took place on an airplane high above The Atlantic Ocean, and the longest unfolded as one nonagenarian attempted to get another to say yes for more than a year.

Here, those and six more of our favorite ways that couples who wed in 2021 said, “Will you marry me?”

Matthew Steuer 56, and Constance Collins, 32, met in August 2016 at the American School of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he was an early childhood specialist and she a middle school social studies educator.

By September 2020, the two were still living and teaching in Africa, and had been dating for almost two years, too.

On Sept. 6, 2020, Mr. Steuer and Ms. Collins visited a wildlife reserve in South Africa where lion cubs roamed freely. As they sat on the grass together admiring the cubs, one of the young lions suddenly started walking toward them, and Mr. Steuer pointed out that their visitor had Ms. Collins’s engagement ring neatly tied around its neck.

“When I saw the ring glistening from the lion cub’s neck, my heart nearly skipped a beat,” Ms. Collins said. “It was such an unexpected moment, filled with equal parts tenderness and euphoria.”

They married on July 22, 2021.

When Abigail George and Agney Deshpande, both 27, walked into a gym in Chicago on March 14, 2019, Ms. George said she knew right away it would be for no ordinary workout. “There was a photographer there, which was a signal to me that something was going on,” she said.

In addition to a photographer, the pair arrived to find an obstacle course that Mr. Deshpande had secretly worked with the gym’s operator to concoct in the style of the challenges featured in two of Ms. George’s favorite TV shows, “Survivor” and “American Ninja Warrior.”

“For the proposal, I wanted to do something fun, and something unique,” said Mr. Deshpande.

The obstacle course’s final component was a puzzle, of which Mr. Deshpande created two. One, with the “Survivor” logo on it, was made as a decoy. The other, which awaited Ms. George as she finished the course, revealed the message “I love you Abby, will you marry me?” when she completed it.

“It took a lot of work, and it was so sweet,” said Ms. George, “especially considering the fact that he knows ‘Survivor’ is a show that I like and enjoy.”

They were married before the bride’s family on Dec. 24, 2020, and held a second ceremony with the groom’s family on Jan. 1, 2021.

Throughout their relationship, Caroline Gholson and Andrew Fallon looked for ways to surprise each other with “gotcha” moments. But none could compare to the prank that he pulled on her on Aug. 30, 2020.

Ms. Gholson had often told Mr. Fallon that she wanted him to propose over coffee in bed, and that the concept of a public proposal “mortifies me.” That August day, as the couple took a walk in a park near their home in Houston, Ms. Gholson, 37, noticed an unusual sight: On the grass was an air mattress covered in sheets and placed next to a night stand with two cups of coffee, one labeled with an “A” and the other with a “C.”

When Ms. Gholson saw Mr. Fallon, 36, reach for the cups, she shrieked, “It’s just a coincidence, don’t touch that person’s coffee!” He then reached for her hands before telling her that the bedroom in the park was no aberration, nor did it belong to anyone else.

“You always said you wanted this to happen, to be proposed to over coffee in bed,” Mr. Fallon said. “But I wanted to give you a grand gesture, so I split the difference and brought our bedroom here to Memorial Park.”

They wed March 6, 2021.

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By the time Meredith Woo, 63, and Dr. Neal Kassell, 75, officially became a couple in 2018, they had been friends for a decade — long enough, Ms. Woo said, for her to become comfortable with “all of his eccentricities,” which include regular trips to Venice, where Dr. Kassell has traveled more than 50 times.

In the months leading up to a September 2021 trip to Venice, the two, each of whom were divorced when they started to date, had been ambivalent about marriage.

But on Sept. 9, while sitting next to each other in relative silence on an airplane bound for Italy, Dr. Kassell leaned over to say something to Ms. Woo as she was reading a book.

“Hey, should we get married,” he said to her somewhere over The Atlantic.

Ms. Woo looked up from her book and said, “Oh yeah, sure,” before continuing to read.

And with those eight words, they became engaged.

Less than two months later, they married on Nov. 4, 2021.

Neither Joy Morrow-Nulton nor John Shults Jr., both 95, remembered the exact date they became engaged in February 2020. By then, Mr. Shults had made proposing a regular routine, after Ms. Morrow-Nulton soundly rejected his first attempt made more than a year before.

He tried for a second time a week after his first proposal, and then again a week after that, keeping at it daily until Ms. Morrow-Nulton finally said to herself, “‘You better say yes.’’

Of her decision to finally accept his proposal, Ms. Morrow-Nulton said, “We have a good time together. He’s not like anybody else I’ve met in my whole life.”

When asked about his refusal to take no for an answer, Mr. Shults said, “I kept asking Joy to marry me because I fell in love with her! She smiled wonderfully, had a good sense of humor and we liked being together. I wasn’t going to give up until she said yes because she was worth it.”

The couple married on May 22, 2021.

Stephen Klein, 74, first became engaged to Anne Santos, 59, in Marbella, Spain, in 2014. Plans for a wedding did not immediately follow, however, because both had previously gone through divorces and wanted some time to pass.

Four years later, the couple was ready to try married life, but Mr. Klein said that “too much time had gone by” to pick up where they left off after his first proposal.

So he decided to propose to Ms. Santos again, this time in Bormes-les-Mimosas, in the Provence region of France, her native country.

In addition to a different setting, the second proposal also came with a different ring. “It was time for a new ring,” Mr. Klein said. (Ms. Santos kept the first one she received, but said she does not wear it.)

The couple also ended up planning two weddings: Their first, set to take place in June 2020 in Bormes-les-Mimosas, was canceled because of the pandemic. Instead, they wed in Tarrytown, N.Y., on June 26, 2021.

Jackie Chang, 35, and Rosanna Fugate’s two-year relationship had been mostly long distance by the time they took a vacation to Honolulu together in 2018.

The couple had no imminent plans for a wedding, nor a proposal, back then. But that did not stop them from purchasing what would be their engagement and wedding rings on the trip.

For Ms. Fugate, who wanted something nontraditional, Ms. Chang bought one ring from Tiffany & Company that served as a dual wedding and engagement ring. For Ms. Chang, Ms. Fugate bought two rings from Cartier.

“We knew we wanted to be with each other, but we didn’t have a solid plan beyond 2018,” said Ms. Fugate, 34. “We did know, though, that we wanted to get married, and it was just a matter of sorting out all of the details.”

Three years later, in March 2021, they became engaged. “It was a very touching moment,” Ms. Fugate said of each finally getting to give the other her engagement ring.

A wedding followed almost immediately, on March 13, 2021.

Nina Umont and Ondrej Antos became engaged on Mount Diablo, in the Bay Area, on March 28, 2020.

“When we reached the summit at about 1,200 feet, Ondrej took a bottle of champagne and two glasses out of his backpack, and he proposed to me, though not very well,” said Ms. Umont.

Although Mr. Antos, 32, had rehearsed his proposal several times in his own mind, he said he could not get any words out of his mouth, with the exception of “you are so smart,” which he repeated three times in a row while on bended knee on the muddy mountaintop.

Ms. Umont, 30, said, “I was elated; I didn’t know what he was doing. He remained very traditional and got down on one knee despite the fact that we were on a dirt trail.”

Despite any initial confusion, Ms. Umont said yes, and the two were married on March 27, 2021.

While on vacation in Spain in July 2019, Chris Baker and John Federspiel, both 33, decided to spend the last day of their trip at El Retiro Park in Madrid. They rented row boats, drank a bottle of wine and ate ice cream cones.

Later, they found a secluded sculpture garden, where a string quartet was performing “Spring” from Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”

The piece was familiar to Mr. Baker, who had played it on the cello when he was younger. Listening to it, the couple, who started dating in 2013, was overcome with emotion and began to cry in one another’s arms.

As each looked into the other’s eyes, both simultaneously blurted out “Will you marry me?” in an unplanned double proposal.

They wed on Sept. 25, 2021.

Gavin Hall, 31, was traveling in Southeast Asia on an extended winter break during graduate school when, in December 2018, he decided to board a plane for Phuket, Thailand, where Raquel Smith, 29, was vacationing.

By then, the two had been dating seriously for years, and had known each other for even longer: They first met, and started developing feelings for one another, in high school.

After meeting up in Phuket, Mr. Hall said that the couple made a reservation at a rooftop restaurant “that had a great view of the sunset, a real romantic moment.” But, he added, “we were late and missed the sunset.”

As the evening continued, however, the rest of the patrons departed, leaving the two alone on the rooftop, allowing for an even more special moment. Seizing it, Mr. Hall proposed then and there.

“Looking back at that time, it was a pivotal and momentous occasion in our story,” Mr. Hall said. “From there, our relationship was able to blossom.”

The couple wed on May 16, 2021.