Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Engagement Entanglement

Caveat: This has nothing to do with me or my current personal affairs, but has been bothering me for some time, and the recent engagement of a friend and his methods are the direct inspiration for this post. So all speculation is baseless :)

Having gotten that out of the way...

How does one get engaged?

Two issues come to mind. 1) The ring and 2) The surprise aspect. Both are very interconnected with one another.

Before I shift to the Jewish Orthodox take on things, I'll sum up a standard, secular take on how the actual engagement process works.

The couple have usually been going out for some time, often enough well over a year (sometimes 2-3 years), each having some sense that this could be the one, and then the guy saves up, secretly buys a diamond ring, and plans an elaborate/romantic means to propose. After he springs his carefully plotted and unexpected spectacle, he drops to one knee holds out the box containing the ring and asks his girlfriend to marry him.

Hopefully (and presumably) the girl says yes, unlike this poor guy. For the record, I don't think sports and engagements go well together, unless the girl is as big as, or bigger, fanatic than the guy is.

In the Orthodox Jewish world, things are different. The dating time frame is usually shorter, typical "YU procedure" is around 6 months dating before engagement, but that amount of time varies per individual case. The engagement itself is usually known in advance (to one degree or another), so often there are no major surprises. Sometimes wedding plans have already begun before any official announcement is made.

Which gets me back to the ring. Seemingly, the guy has to secretly find out the girl's ring size, as well as preferences and then pick the ring that fits his budget. However, how can he guarantee that the girl is going to like it - this is something she will hopefully wear for the rest of her life. I would be horribly nervous to get a ring that the girl ended up not liking, which would create a conundrum. Either a) she sucks it up and keeps the ring because of its sentimental value, though I wonder if this could become a point of contention later (I hope women aren't so petty) or b) she actually exchanges the ring for something she likes, which totally ruins the whole emotional impact of the ring itself.

The easy solution is to have her pick out the ring beforehand via Blue Nile or wherever. But if she knows what ring she's getting, doesn't that also let her on to the fact that a proposal is coming in the near future? Even if the guy then delays the proposal for some time, the girl will certainly have her curiosity aroused any time he does something suspicious.

One way around this conundrum, which makes a lot of sense to me, but requires more money, is to get her a bracelet first as the proposal item, then go pick out the ring together. I would hope that the particular bracelet he chooses (hopefully with female help) isn't so horrible that she might exchange it for another (though I did recently hear about a story where the girl did just that - with her fiance's permission). Then, she also gets to pick the ring that she likes and will cherish until 120. Though I could foresee some issues arising with regard to her liking a particular ring/diamond and his finances only going so far...

Anyway, back to the proposal itself. I've heard of/seen good ideas as well as some not-so-great and even bad ideas. The good ideas usually have something to do with a meaningful venue or other "thing" that has been a part of the relationship. I think that this is an example of a very well done, almost perfect in every way proposal. Chana's recent engagement is also a very picturesque story. Other examples I've encountered include:

A banner seen while sky diving, holding a banner/flowers while waiting at the airport, popping the question on a plane and having the pilot announce that they will not land until she says yes, the ring placed in a glass of champagne, an Old City of Jerusalem rooftop overlooking the Kotel plaza, spelling out the question using Bananagrams (saw this on two different occasions, actually), asking during a romantic dinner, and even just asking casually (anyone seen the famous Rocky II scene?).

One friend told me he had this shtick where he would always ask the girl he was going out with to get something from the glove compartment of his car, starting with the first date and periodically throughout their shidduch. This lured her into a false sense of security that retrieving things from the glove compartment was a totally normal thing to do. Thus, when he popped the question, she had no clue - and it worked for him.

The recent engagement I referenced above in the caveat involves a staged arrest with local law enforcement. I've seen pictures, but I heard more details from a first-hand source who was there taking pictures. While my friend and his soon-to-be fiancee were sitting in his parked car, a cop drives up and asks him to step out of his car. The policeman asks him a bunch of questions, physically searches him, and basically prepares to slap on the handcuffs and haul my friend off to jail. The girl, in the meantime, is crying and understandably freaking out. The officer asks my friend if he has any last thing to say, and he pulls out the ring and proposes.

Granted, she said yes, but I really don't think this sort of thing is a good idea. His original plan had something to do with planting a security risk item inside her carry-on at the airport and pulling a similar stunt using airport security. The other friend who related the proposal story told me he quickly nixed that when my engaged friend suggested it - and I think that was the proper course of action.

Anything that involves scaring the girl to tears is not worth it, in my opinion. Certainly, figuring out something clever and poignant (with personal in-jokes perhaps) is the goal, not to frighten her to death and then scream out "gotcha!"

A close friend who is part of the Lakewood crowd recently got engaged and I asked him about all the details. He simply proposed in a park, without any jewelry on hand. But a short while later when they got back to the car, he had 3 bracelets prepared for her, and let her pick the one she wanted - apparently in Lakewood there are these really heimishe jewelry stores that let you borrow a few items of jewelry, then you let the girl pick the one she likes, pay for it, and return the other ones. I think that's a pretty neat idea! Though it would definitely require a very specific kind of store to let you do that

As a side point, he also told me that there is a car rental service in Lakewood that guys use for dates that gives you a free upgrade every 10 dates. In addition, if you actually get engaged to a girl while using their car, they take your name and add if to their list of satisfied customers, haha.

Any married readers want to weigh in on this? Unmarried readers are welcome to share what they envision happening as well.


  1. I have the BEST engagement idea...well at least it would be for me or any other hardcore Harry Potter fan.

    So as you may know the Harry Potter theme park is near completion. Presumably there will be a place there to purchase wands. The guy suggests they go buy wands (any self-respecting harry potter fan will want to buy a wand at Ollivander's) So they go to the wand shop and the shop keeper has a special box that he hands to the girl saying "the wand chooses the witch or wizard". Unbeknownst to her, her guy has put the ring on the wand in the box so when she opens it she sees the ring! She turns around and her guy is on one knee and proposes! And they live happily ever after. All is well.

    I really should start dating again...sigh...

  2. "Color War Breakout" proposals are a terrible idea. Period. There is no reason to have to scare the girl and then turn around and say "Just kidding, it's color war. I mean, will you marry me?"

    I don't know if this story has reached urban legend yet, but here goes:

    A groom-to-be arranged for a cop to pull the couple over on the highway. The ring was in a dime bag filled with white powder inside the glove compartment. Before the cop got to the window, the genius ordered the girl to dump the bag out the window. The lucky lady felt the ring inside the bag, threw it back into the glove compartment, and said "Not like this." She made him repropose.

    Romantic is one thing. Stupid is another.

  3. JustAGirl - sounds like it would work for HP fans, and isn't too extreme either!

    Jughead's Hat - egad, man! That is one terrible idea.

  4. My husband proposed without a ring. I think most frum couples do it this way. We went together to choose the ring a few days later.

    Re: proposals--keep it cute and simple. I have to agree that any proposal that makes a girl cry (unless it's tears of joy) has gone way, way too far. It should be tasteful and personal and IMHO, should not involve other people.

  5. My husband also proposed without a ring. I actually didn't know it was coming- I had just taken him to meet my parents for the first time. I thought we were heading out on yet another date.

    He did what you know about- borrowing 3 bracelets, and proposed to me with one of them, and if I had hated it, he would have let me pick one of the others. I loved it though.

    I will say that some people have the idea that if they ask the girl to marry them with a ring, it is something like a kiddushin of some that might be another reason why the bracelet is used instead.

    I think most guys would have NO clue what their future bride wants in a ring- so they are better off proposing with something else.

    I think that scaring a girl before proposing is about the WORST thing one can do- it'll give her bad memories forever.

  6. My chatan proposed to me with the ring in the box. He asked me earlier about what kind of ring I wanted. I browsed online diamond sites, and got an idea of the perfect ring. He said that if I don't like it-I can exchange it.

  7. Shades of Grey- I agree with you that it is very risk for a guy to pick out the ring by himself because hopefully she will be wearing the ring for the rest of her life. I think they should pick out the ring together before he proposes.

    "But if she knows what ring she's getting, doesn't that also let her on to the fact that a proposal is coming in the near future? "

    If the couple hasn't discussed getting married at all, then they are not ready to get engaged. Hopefully when the guy proposes it isn't a big shock to the girl and she knows that it's coming and just isn't sure when exactly. Since it's not a HUGE surprise anyway, she might as well pick out the ring.

  8. Kollel and nmf#7 - so how did the process work with going to get the ring? Did he say had had $X to spend and let you go wild? If he wasn't upfront with a sum he could afford, was there negotiations? Was the whole thing just awkward to begin with?

    Also nmf#7 - any yeshiva bochur worth his learning should know it's not specifically a ring, but a pruta value (assuming he's learned Masechta Kiddushin) that can be used to creat kiddushin.

    The bigger issue in proposing, with regard to being worried about effecting a quasi-kiddushin, is making sure that there are no kosher eidim witnessing the event. OR in any case making it clear that this isn't kiddushin, such placing a small note inside the ring box saying "I love you honey, but this ain't kiddushin." As long as both the guy and girl KNOW this isn't kiddushin, there isn't a real concern. This is quite different from the mock-wedding fiascos that have taken place at summer camps in the past, which proved to be highly problematic.

    SternGrad - point taken regarding the not-so-suprised part. I heartilly agree that discussion of marriage is a big prerequisite to actually making that decision.

  9. On the surprise engagement, see For the surprise ring, see with answer in
    On the planned surprise ring, see

  10. "Then when your mother did come, when I still hardly knew her, she gave me that look of hers - no twinkle in that eye - and said, very softly and very seriously, "You ought to marry me." That was the first time in my life I ever knew what it was to love another human being. Not that I hadn't loved people before. But I hadn't realized what it meant to love them before. Not even my parents. Not even Louisa. I was so startled when she said that to me that for a minute I couldn't find any words to reply. So she walked away, and I had to follow her along the street. I still didn't have the courage to touch her sleeve, but I said, "You're right, I will." And she said, "Then I'll see you tomorrow," and kept on walking. That was the most thrilling thing that even happened to me in my life. I could wish you such a moment as that one was, though when I think of everything that came before it, for me and for your dear mother, too, I'm not sure I should."

    A magical and lovely scene, from that most magical and lovely book, Gilead, by she who has been called (without hyperbole) the "world's best writer of prose" - Marilynne Robinson:

  11. I don't know how most people do it (ie girl picking out the ring without knowing the guy's price range) but when I got engaged, my husband asked me which cut I preferred and then went and bought the diamond. I picked out the setting after that. Since the central diamond is usually the bulk of the price of the ring, this way seems to circumvent many issues.

  12. my husband proposed on the beach with a pretty rock he found in the sand. then he made me show everyone at our le'chayim the "huge rock" he gave me :-). it also happened to have a hole in it so we put in on a chain, i don't really wear it much but i do for our anniversary and stuff. we designed my diamond ring together after.

  13. When we went to the store, my husband told the salesman privately how much he wanted to spend and the salesman then showed us what our options were. I still have no idea how much it cost.

  14. Kollel, that was a very sensible approach. One doesn't want to be embarrassed by having the kallah pick out something he (or really his parents in most cases) can't afford. And the kallah should not be put on the spot of setting the amount by being told what the prices are. So what your husband did is the best solution -- only have things within his price range shown for your selection.

    One of my relatives didn't do that, and her daughte-in-law at first picked out a setting that alone cost over a thousands dollars. She had to nix that choice. But she allowed her to select $2000 candlesticks (silver was much cheaper back then) and then made her wait months for it while she paid it off on layaway. If I were in the kallah's position, I would have instantly asked for something less expensive that could just be bought outright, but she didn't.

  15. A friend of mine's chosson proposed with a sterling silver ring (it had some designs on it- pretty but simple) that had their names engraved on the inside. He also gave her a tennis bracelet at the l'chaim, but I think the ring was a great sentimental way to propose while maintaining the surprise! Then the following week they went to choose a diamond together, and it was ready in time for the vort.

  16. First off - great blog post! Really informative and sparked a good conversation. I have heard many different engagement stories... from the guy simply asking the girl in the car with a glass flower, to a guy proposing on a boat with a plastic ring. I've also heard of a guy proposing in the middle of a circle at a Shabbaton. Either way, the surprise aspect is almost always lacking in the frum world, but that doesn't make the sentiment any less sweet or touching. As long as the guy says the right thing, tells her how much he cares about her, the venue is not important. However, most girls do like romance (even if they will vehemently deny it), so it is important to make some effort on the guy's part.
    I am personally a fan of the couple going shopping together for the ring, whether it be before or after the engagement. I do know of some people who have chossons who chose out great rings on their own, but it is a very hit or miss situation.

  17. My husband proposed in a park with a view of the ocean, right after lunch. He proposed with a gold rose and a platinum rose (real roses that had been dipped in the metals and then had a process done to them). We went afterward to pick out the ring, later that day. I wasn't expecting the proposal, I had told him he had to wait to propse until after meeting my father, so he did wait...he proposed the day after. My best friend, (who goit engaged the day before me) her husband proposed at sunrise on the beach. He picked out the ring before hand, I think he went with his sister, and my friend loves it.


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