This Is Why You Get Down on One Knee to Propose

That knight in shining armor from your favorite childhood fairy tale may play a part.


A traditional marriage proposal typically plays out like this: Your partner bends down on one knee, betroths themselves to you, and presents a sparkling diamond ring nestled in a black velvet box. But why do we get down on one knee to pop the question in the first place?

Unfortunately, nobody can agree on the historical origins of this romantic gesture, but there are a few reported theories that show promise.

During the Middle Ages, chivalry was not yet dead and formal courtship was the medieval version of modern-day dating. Kneeling was also the protocol for many ceremonial rituals and rites of passage, including those of the romantic kind. Medieval artwork and literature shows knights genuflecting before their feudal lord as a sign of honor and respect, or kneeling in front of a noblewoman to express their eternal servitude and admiration in a show of “courtly love.”

But medieval rituals aren’t the only possible explanation; religion may play a role as well. Many faiths, like Christianity and Islam, have their worshippers kneel in prayer to express their devoted service and everlasting respect for their God.

So when your beloved takes a knee and whips out that ring, they’re not only hoping you’ll say “yes,” they’re telling you you’re worthy of honor, respect, and love that lasts an eternity.

Now that we have that answer, the true question is why are proposals done with engagement rings? And, as far as the wedding ceremony itself goes, why do brides stand to the left, and why do bridesmaids wear the same color? The more you know!

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Ashley Lewis
Ashley is an Assistant Editor at Reader’s Digest. She received her Master’s Degree from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in 2015. Before joining Reader’s Digest, she was a Jason Sheftell Fellow at the New York Daily News and interned at Seventeen and FOX News. When Ashley is not diligently fact-checking the magazine or writing for, she enjoys cooking (butternut squash pizza is her signature dish), binge-watching teen rom-coms on Netflix that she’s way too old for, and hiking (and falling down) mountains.