Proposal Parties Are Yet Another Way to Celebrate Engagements

Matt Singh wanted to do something over the top when he proposed to his girlfriend, Rabbani Singh (they have the same last name). The couple had been together since high school, and it was hard to surprise each another.

After buying a two-carat emerald cut diamond ring, Mr. Singh, 26, needed to figure out where and how to give it to her. He settled on Dear Irving on Hudson, a bar atop the Aliz Hotel in Manhattan. The room had two separate sides with magnificent views of the city. He rented the entire space.

On Nov. 27, Mr. Singh told Ms. Singh to dress up for a networking event in the city. In their Uber ride, he couldn’t stop checking his phone. This struck Ms. Singh as odd.

“She was like, ‘Why are you so uptight going to this networking event?’” said Mr. Singh, a real estate developer in Jericho, N.Y.

What Ms. Singh didn’t know was that not only was he going to ask her to marry him, but also that 40 friends and family members were waiting to celebrate with them. When they arrived at the location, Mr. Singh blindfolded Ms. Singh and shepherded her upstairs. When he untied the blindfold, she gasped. Rose petals were strewn about the room, along with photos of the couple over the years. A violinist played an Ed Sheeran song, and a photographer snapped pictures.

As Mr. Singh bent down on one knee, their guests drifted in. He asked her to marry him; she said yes. “He put the ring on and everyone cheered really loud,” Ms. Singh said. “It was a beautiful way to have everyone we adore involved.” The couple and their guests spent the next three and a half hours mingling, eating hors d’oeuvres and drinking cocktails.

No, nothing is private anymore, not even one of the most consequential questions one may ever be asked. Many proposals have evolved from something between a couple into something that now often includes family and friends. Not to be confused with the engagement party, which happens post-proposal and pre-wedding, the proposal party takes place concurrently with the proposal, or shortly afterward.

It can be held anywhere — at homes, in restaurants, outside or over Zoom — and it’s usually arranged by the one doing the asking, although a spate of proposal planners has also popped up in recent years.

This can be tricky, of course, especially if the person being proposed to says no. But if that were to happen, the proposer could “go to the party solo and gently inform the guests,” said Kim Forrest, a senior editor at WeddingWire. (Nothing like the comfort of friends.)

“Most proposers will opt to have 15 to 25 guests present at their proposal to celebrate afterward, and most after-celebrations require some kind of meal, whether that is passed appetizers for a more casual setting or a seated dinner with a planned menu,” Megan Bicklein, a proposal planner and head of client relations at The Yes Girls in Trabuco Canyon, Calif., wrote in an email.

According to a recent poll by the wedding registry website Zola, about 23 percent of 568 couples had a proposal party. The Knot’s 2021 Jewelry & Engagement Study found that 33 percent of couples had invited family and friends to witness the proposals, up from 27 percent in 2019.

Part of the allure has to do with the pandemic, which “showed people that there’s no time to waste,” said Tatiana Caicedo, who helped plan Mr. Singh’s proposal event. “People want to get married quicker and roll the proposal and engagement parties into one.”

Or, in simpler language: They want another excuse to party.

The relentless glare of Instagram and TikTok — and the pressing desire for heavily curated content — are also factors. “You’re creating this special environment for the proposal that also happens to look really good on social media,” Ms. Forrest said.

Then there’s the simple joy of sharing the moment with the people closest to you, as Will Beckham did when he invited a dozen friends to celebrate his proposal to Josh Cole.

Mr. Beckham, 42, brought Mr. Cole to Fells Point, a waterside neighborhood in Baltimore, where they had each recognized they were in love with the other on their second date in August 2020. The couple, both bedecked in pink and blue shirts and ties, walked to a table set up on a dock. “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” their favorite song, played softly.

As Mr. Beckham asked Mr. Cole to marry him, a handful of friends and family, including Mr. Cole’s twin sister and Mr. Beckham’s son from a previous marriage, surrounded them. Several more showed up after for food and drinks.

“It was a great way to include people we love in a moment and also be intimate,” said Mr. Cole, 36, an intelligence analyst and graduate student in the M.F.A. program at the University of Baltimore.

Ms. Bicklein suggests choosing a point-of-contact who is aware of the proposal plans and after-party, who can coordinate with family and friends on the day of the event. “Otherwise, the proposer’s phone will be blowing up and it may ruin the surprise,” she said.

She also advises proposers to put all the information into one document, including a timeline, point-of-contact information, instructions for where to go upon arrival and clothing preferences. “Whether the proposer is paying for food and beverage or is expecting guests to pay their portion, this should be noted as well,” she said.

Some couples roll the proposal party into another planned event, which is how Renee Ybarra proposed to Beverly Kearney, now her wife. Ms. Kearney was turning 44, and Ms. Ybarra decided to throw a surprise party.

Ms. Kearney, now 47 and a social worker in Antelope, Calif., had suspected something was up earlier that day when Ms. Ybarra suggested she spend the day with her cousin. When Ms. Kearney arrived home in the afternoon, 25 people jumped out and screamed, “Surprise!”

But Ms. Kearney had no idea how surprised she was about to be. “Renee brought in the cake, and everybody said ‘happy birthday,’” she said. “She had this weird look on her face, and her hands were behind her back.”

Ms. Ybarra took Ms. Kearney’s hand while Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s “The Rest of My Life” started playing through speakers. “Will you spend the rest of my life with me?” Ms. Ybarra asked, proffering a ring.

“I was kind of in shock,” Ms. Kearney said. The party went wild. The couple married on Nov. 13 at the West Shore Cafe and Inn in Homewood, Calif.

And then there are those who have had to come up with a Plan B when Plan A falls apart.

Rachel Tucker and Andrew Bobbitt moved to Boston from Dallas in 2020 and didn’t have a core group of friends.

Originally, Mr. Bobbitt, a law student at New England Law, wanted to fly to Texas and propose there, but it was December 2020 and Covid rates were high. So, he scrambled to do something else.

While Mr. Bobbitt proposed in Harvard Yard, a neighbor decorated the couple’s apartment in Jamaica Plain, Mass. “We got home and she’s walking out of our house, and I was like, what are you doing here?” said Ms. Tucker, 27, an office manager for an accounting firm.

The neighbor had blown up photos of the couple from Ms. Tucker’s Instagram page, along with streamers and balloons. Then Mr. Bobbitt brought over his laptop for a virtual proposal party for Ms. Tucker’s family and closest friends. “We had this cute little Zoom party,” she said. “It was so sweet. It was a really nice bright time in a pretty depressing 2020.”