Engagement ring terror: Darling, it's a yes... but how about a ring?
I have a male friend in his mid-thirties who's been thinking about proposing to his girlfriend of three years for about - ooh - two-and-a-half of them.
The main reason he hasn't yet done so? He has ERT - otherwise known in our circle of friends as engagement ring terror.
His girlfriend, like me, works in the fashion industry. By her own admission, she is ultra-choosy about what she wears - indeed, he confesses he dare not even buy her a pair of shoes for her birthday or a jumper for Christmas because "he knows it will always be wrong".
"It's not like she tells me," he says. "But there's a thinly veiled look of disappointment in her eyes when she unwraps it and then I never see the item again. It disappears into the black hole of her wardrobe. I find the whole process soul-destroying, so now I buy her practical things instead, like walking boots."
But there's nothing practical about choosing your beloved an engagement ring. If you want to do things the traditional way - as he does - down on one knee, complete with a sparkler, there's no way to shirk it. And yet, ERT is so prevalent that a poll has just revealed that a quarter of men now pop the question without proffering a ring at all.
Their fears would seem warranted, given a post currently going viral on social media, in which an unidentified woman on Mumsnet (the thread has since been deleted) clandestinely complained about her engagement ring behind her fiance's back.
"DP [Darling Partner] proposed and presented me with the ring he'd chosen, a diamond solitaire in white gold. I was so happy and excited to accept but was disappointed when I saw the ring," she wrote online. "There's nothing to dislike... per se," she continued, "a diamond solitaire would have been my choice - but it's the whole thing, the colour of the gold, the setting, the small stone and relatively chunky shoulders."
The poster didn't attempt to hide her disappointment with the value of the ring, either. "His salary is nearing a six-figure sum and he's usually very generous. Having seen the receipt, I know he paid £1,300 (NZ$2280), which is a lot less than I would have imagined he would have spent on such a significant piece of jewellery."
Opinion seems fiercely divided as to whether she has a right to be disappointed, or is ungrateful and spoilt to complain. Moaning about the value of something is, quite frankly, always pretty uncouth. In fact, her other half spent more than the average man now does on a ring: £1,080, according to recent statistics, down 19 per cent on 10 years ago.
But, value aside, I dare say this poster echoes the great unspoken sentiments of many a woman who is presented with an engagement ring she has had no involvement in choosing. For a man, picking a ring is fraught with old-fashioned rules of engagement: some decree they should cost a whopping three months' salary; others proclaim spending one month's wages is sufficient.
Yet for the majority of today's women, the price is irrelevant. Usually, she earns her own money and is happy to buy her own jewellery, "just because". Recent research shows millennial shoppers, especially, think nothing of treating themselves to relatively high-value jewellery, and even precious stones. We already know the settings we like - the stones, the metals - which makes us much harder to buy for.
Weddings are loaded with pressure and expectation from beginning to end, but it all begins with "the ring". Friends and family clamour to see it, the minute you announce your happy news. Ridiculously, the engagement ring selfie is even "a thing" (there are online guides as to how to get the best shot) and advertisers ramp up the hype, telling us diamonds are the "ultimate symbol of love" and something "she'll treasure forever". So, no pressure then.
Pressure is something I'm sure my (now) husband felt. Both in our mid-thirties when we met, we agreed early on that we'd both like to get married. Then, my father became gravely ill - there was a finite timeline in which he would be able to be at our wedding, which accelerated the ring chat.
Poor guy. He is ultra-low maintenance and couldn't give two hoots about clothes or fashion. I am bossy and picky and know what I like - what better way to paralyse someone with indecision?
I wanted something plain, but not too plain. Classic but not boring. Yellow gold, but nothing chunky or flashy. I quickly became the kind of woman who makes private Pinterest boards of rings and showed them to him, thinking it would help. Instead, he became horror-stricken at having to buy and choose something so expensive and precious on his own.
In the end, we ordered a ring from a jeweller friend of ours who gave us a good deal. I offered to contribute towards it, but he said no (several of my friends have gone halves, which is the more modern way to do things).
While I realise that doesn't sound very romantic, the way we got engaged means I wear a ring I love, and my husband avoided the stress of presenting me with a costly unknown quantity.
All of which explains the rise in popularity of the "place holder ring", which I assume is what many of the men proposing without a ring had up their sleeves, instead. Ami Amin, 34, a lawyer from north-west London, was relieved that her then-boyfriend, now husband, Ajay, 34, a director with Pricewaterhouse Cooper, proposed with a stand-in ring in 2013.
"We were at the Trevi Fountain and he told me to close my eyes," she says. "When I opened them, he was down on one knee with a box open, and I saw inside it a ring I didn't like, with a row of three stones."
Thankfully, it turned out he'd got it for free from the jeweller who went on to make her real engagement ring. "I was glad he didn't try to choose the proper ring himself," Ami says. "I didn't even know what kind of ring I wanted, so how could he have been expected to get it right?"
It's a tricky thing to buy, a forever purchase, loaded with symbolism. One alternative is to keep it in the family and propose with an heirloom invested with sentimental value, as the Duke of Cambridge did when he gave his mother's sapphire to Kate. But there's a growing movement of people shunning rings altogether, preferring to put their cash towards a deposit on a home or wedding costs.
Ultimately, engagements are about the relationship. And while disliking the ring you have been given, or wanting to choose your own, is awkward, it doesn't mean you don't love the other person, or that someone hasn't tried hard enough.
My advice, for men wishing to do it the old-fashioned way, is to consult with your other half before taking the plunge. And for men suffering ERT, I advise you to invest £1 in a bag of Haribo Starmix, which comes complete with several jelly rings inside. Down on one knee, with one of those in hand, and a promise to hit Hatton Garden together? There's no way you can go wrong.
- The Telegraph, London