It was a dark and stormy night. You wandered in off the street, disoriented and tense, a stranger in a strange land — and that land is ... the jewelry store. All these choices, and unfamiliar terms! Halo, pavé, shank/split-shank; gold, white gold, platinum; and what the hell are carats, anyway?
Chill. There’s no need to totally freak out. (Maybe just mildly freak out, for starters.) Here’s how to handle proposing to your future fiancé, from buying a ring, to asking her parents, to getting down on one knee.
One Ring to Rule Them All
Buying an engagement ring is one of the most important (not to mention stress-inducing) purchases a guy will ever make, and there are two broad schools of thought on how to do it right:
This is a bold choice. To even entertain going it alone, or mostly alone, on buying a ring for your fiancé-to-be, you’ve got to have serious cojones, as well as an excellent sense for what your partner is into, jewelry-wise.
- Check out her jewelry box. What kind of rings does your future wife already own? Are they simple, vintage, or more modern? Does your girl have an eye for big rocks, or would something ostentatious make her feel uncomfortable? Make a note of a few standout factors amongst her existing jewelry — or, if you don’t have the words for that, lay out the rings she already owns and snap a picture with your phone, which you can later show to the shop clerk. If you can, maybe even swipe a medium-favorite ring of hers (for style as well as sizing purposes) and bring it with you. Be careful, though: If a favorite ring goes missing for too long, she may get wise.
- Take your time. Seriously. Would you buy a car from a dealership without kicking the tires, taking it for a test drive, asking a billion questions of the salesman, and probably coming back at least a couple Saturdays in a row? No you would not. And you don’t want to treat buying a ring any differently. This isn’t some random bouquet of flowers you’re picking up at the supermarket on the way home from work. Ideally this is a purchase that is going to last a lifetime, and you should treat it accordingly.
- Don’t bankrupt yourself. You know that received piece of “wisdom” about how you should spend three months’ salary on an engagement ring? That’s 100% insane. I mean, if you can afford it, go for it, but a ring is meant to be a symbol, not a dowry. And putting you and your SO in the poorhouse over a piece of metal and rock is a foolish (not to mention majorly stressful) way to start your engagement.
- Get a second opinion. When it’s time to make the purchase, bring a friend. And by that I mean one of her friends, not your idiot buddy who thinks pajama pants = “business casual.” After you pick out a ring or two that you like, confirm and verify with her best friend, sister, mother, parole officer — whatever. Just swear them to secrecy.
With Your Partner
This is the much safer choice, and it’s not a wrong one by any means. Sure, it’s not quite as exciting as braving the wilds of the jewelry store by yourself, but shopping for an engagement ring together can actually be really fun, and she’s sure to love it. If you do go this route, maybe just be sly about it.
- Make the jewelry-store visit a surprise, or half a surprise. Just because you guys made a plan to pick out a ring together doesn’t mean you need to send a Google Calendar invite specifying the exact time, place, and duration of the shopping trip. Instead, when you’re at the mall to see a movie, maybe you can just subtly steer her toward the jewelry store, and make a mental note about the rings she responds to.
- When you finally settle on a ring, don’t buy it right away. Ask the shop to set it aside for you, and come back later solo to make the purchase. That’ll add a little dash of the unknown back into the proceedings for your future bride.
To Ask Her Parents, or Not to Ask?
That is the question. And yeah, this is going to be really stressful — there’s no two ways about it. But you’re a modern man, who has asked bosses for raises, traffic cops to look the other way on speeding tickets, and exceptionally hot trainers at the gym to pass your sweaty self a towel.
- Include her mom. The operative word, should you choose to ask her parents for her hand in marriage, is parents, as in plural. It’s 2015, and her dad doesn’t own her any more than you will, should she say yes. This is going to score major points with your future in-laws, and it’s also going to head off at the pass any throat-clearing awkwardness as you sit in the den with her dad over a rapidly warming scotch on the rocks. Unless you’re a total bum, her mom is going to be psyched about it, and you’re going to want her on your side if your marriage ever hits any rocky parts, as it most certainly will. (To err is human; to blank on your future one-year anniversary is man.)
- Maybe you don’t have to literally ask? Like I said, your future wife is not anyone’s property. So asking for her dad’s permission to marry her is kind of … odd. But it also doesn’t cost you a lot to make a show of respect and let her folks know your intentions. Just find some time to go out to their house, or a private half hour when you guys are at her home, visiting, and give them the heads-up. Including them from the get-go shows that you’re courteous and respectful of them, and will pay dividends down the road, during the wedding-planning process.
The Proposal Itself
Outside of the ring thing, this is where the vast majority of dudes get themselves into trouble. Because while buying a ring is often a collaborative thing, coming up with a plan for how you’re actually going to pop the question remains almost entirely in the male sphere of influence.
And that’s why it often goes so poorly. Fifty percent of guys seem to think that a ring fumbled from one’s pocket and a half-mumbled, “So let’s do this thing, huh?” will suffice, while the other half believes that a proposal isn’t worthwhile unless it rises to the occasion of Major Broadway Theater, with a digital camera crew, guest appearances from everyone in the woman’s life up until that point, choreographed dance moves, and … lord it makes me tired just to think about it.
As with most things in life, somewhere in the middle is right:
- Pick a place that’s meaningful to both of you. Where did you go for your first date? Is there a particular park, restaurant, or cocktail bar that you guys love? If you do decide to propose at a place of business, give the restaurant or wherever a heads-up beforehand; reputable establishments will send out complimentary champagne or etc. after you ask the big question, if they are prepared ahead of time to do so.
- Put some thought into what you’re going to say. I’m not saying you have to develop a whole PowerPoint presentation (unless of course you think she’s going to need convincing), but you are going to be very nervous when this is going down, and if you don’t have a modicum of a plan, you are going to trip over your words like a fourth-grader who just got caught shoplifting. Just come up with a few “talking points” in your head, and give it a dry run or two in the mirror before zero hour.
- Do not put the ring in any drink, food, Jello shot, or etc. Just don’t. Murphy’s Law applies here, and you are going to straight-up lose the ring if you do this. You’re also going to end up super stressed if your fiance ends up chipping a tooth on her ring. Do you really want to spend the evening of your engagement at an emergency dental visit?
- Keep it simple, stupid. In many ways this is kind of a distillation of all the above points, but it bears repeating. This is a big event for both of you, and the excitement of it will carry the day — no extra bells, whistles, or fireworks necessary. (That said, if you simply must incorporate illegal fireworks, a few tasteful roman candles never hurt.)
Dress (and Groom) the Part
Don’t take a page from your pajama-pant–wearing buddy. Even if you’re typically a more casual guy, get yourself a hair cut, shave your face, and get all fresh and clean by applying Gillette Clear Gel. You don’t have to wear a tux, but dress up 25% nicer than usual. Because when the big moment arrives — even if you’ve done all your homework above — you are definitely going to be nervous, and you want to look (and smell) your best. #NoSweat
Hunter Slaton is a senior writer for Studio@Gawker. He asked his wife to marry him on an airplane, which is where they met.
Illustration by Rob Dobi.