I proposed to my girlfriend last month. It was the perfect proposal to the perfect woman and was seven months in the making. Unfortunately, I spent six of those months searching for the "perfect" engagement ring. Only now do I realize how pointless those months were.
To be fair, it is easy to fall into the "ring trap" -- spending too much time searching for an engagement ring -- because most men think it's the right thing to do. According to XO Group Inc., men usually spend three months picking a ring and up to another two months customizing it. Because it takes so long, we feel compelled to tell others how important the ring is. Ask any married man for engagement advice and he will lecture you for hours on everything from gemstones to jewelers, carats to cost. I hope I never again have to listen to someone talk about jewelry for that long.
My fall into the ring trap began in August 2012, when I first decided to propose. I thought I was ahead of the game: I knew I wanted a three-stone ring (symbolizing our three years of dating), had set a budget, and even secretly measured her ring size.
Unfortunately, things from there were not so straightforward. Following a friend's suggestion, I tried to ask my girlfriend about her engagement ring preferences without revealing that I wanted to propose. After a month of failing to slip the question between analyzing the latest "Modern Family" episode and complaining about grad school, however, I realized that the direct ask would be impossible. So I turned to her best friend to coax any suggestions out of my girlfriend. A few weeks later her friend finally got me the long-awaited answer: "She just wants to be surprised."
After those two futile months, I next turned to finding the right diamond. To get ideas, I read every online article about cut, carat, color, and clarity that I could find. I can't remember how many times I asked random women, "Could I take a quick look at your ring?" hoping for inspiration. Finally, I decided on a 1.5-carat round brilliant cut stone. One little problem: the diamond itself cost $2,000 more than my budget for the whole ring! Only after weeks did I settle on a cut and carat that I could afford.
Despite the setbacks I was still pretty happy that I had picked a diamond by November. The only thing left was to find someone to design the ring.
Unfortunately, I again turned to friends for advice -- a terrible thing to do if you have more than one friend. Their recommendations ranged from "Just buy it online" to "Why don't you use your mom's ring?" to "Tiffany's is the only place you can trust." After getting eight different pieces of advice from eight people, I realized how confusing I had made this for myself. I ended up just going online to pick a jeweler.
I originally went with a popular New York City designer. His first piece of sage guidance: "Let's scrap the three-stone idea. I only design solitaires." In other words, back to square one. He proceeded to give me a catalogue of generic designs and asked me to choose among them. After a month of working with him, I realized just how little in control I felt. I stopped working with the New York designer and went to another jeweler who happened to be a family friend. He quickly worked with me to find and design a gorgeous three-stone -- remarkably similar to one I had in mind in August. By January I had the ring.
So let's review. I spent six stressful months deciding between three-stones and solitaires, haggling over prices, and getting unheeded suggestions -- all to find the perfect engagement ring. A ring that I could have found in half that time had I just stuck to my instincts, followed a budget, and not asked for so much advice.
Was falling into the ring trap worth it?
Only the proposal day could answer that. I planned a surprise trip to Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, where my girlfriend and I had wanted to visit for years. Since she loved the outdoors, I put together a day of hiking and sightseeing. All I had to do was search online for a good restaurant and call to check park hours. Compared to finding the ring, planning the proposal was a piece of cake -- and a lot more fun.
Finally the big day arrived. I proposed under a beautiful rock formation in a secluded cavern. She said "yes." It was the happiest moment of my life.
When we got back home, my now-fiancée was gushing about the proposal. She couldn't believe that I had coordinated such an elaborate day, from hiking a waterfall to visiting a winery to proposing on a private cavern tour. She was admiring everything except, well, the ring. After a few minutes I asked her what she thought of it.
She looked at me strangely, then gazed to her left hand and admitted, "To be honest, I haven't really looked at it yet."