According to romantic comedies, “Yes, of course I will marry you!” is the only possible answer to a marriage proposal. In real life, however, things don't always work out. You have every right to turn down a marriage proposal if you don't really want to marry the person who's popped the question. But remember that you should do it as gently as possible. How to politely reject a marriage proposal?
There are a lot of valid reasons for rejecting a marriage proposal, such as uncertainty that your partner really is the one, lack of trust in the relationship, being afraid of the commitment, bad timing, etc. Sometimes a marriage proposal is a desperate attempt to keep the relationship from falling apart, and in this case accepting it is not the wisest decision. Be that as it may, agreeing to marry a person is an important life decision, and you definitely shouldn't say yes unless you really mean it.
Rejecting a marriage proposal is hard, because no matter how polite you are, the person who's been turned down will get hurt. But it is still better to say no right away than to say yes and then change your mind. So here's the first rule of turning down a marriage proposal in a polite way: don't lead the other person on. Don't say yes if you want to say no. Don't act like you're going to say yes if you're going to say no. Being proposed to is flattering even if you don't intend to accept the proposal, but you shouldn't look too excited.
The second rule is breaking the news gently. First of all, thank the suitor and tell them you're very moved and honored. Then give them the reason you can't marry them without being misleading. Be honest with them (and yourself). If you're not ready for marriage yet, just say so. Tell them you love them, but you're not ready for this kind of commitment. If you can't see yourself being married to this particular person, say it without being mean. For example, “You're a good man/woman, but I don't thing out marriage is going to work out.”
Your further actions depend on how the suitor is handling your rejection and whether you are going to stay in this relationship. If your “no” to marriage also means the end of your relationship, you'd probably better say goodbye. If you still want to date the person proposing and they're not opposed to it, help them deal with their feelings. Maybe they will want some space, maybe they will need you around to make sure you still love them – give them whatever they want. When neither of you is angry or upset, sit down, talk about your feelings and figure out what you are going to do with your relationship.
If you have to deal with a public proposal, don't cause a scene. Give the person proposing a gentle hug and ask them quietly to go somewhere more private. You shouldn't say no while you're being watched, but at the same time you shouldn't say yes just to get out of the situation and give your real response later.
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