By Richie Frieman for TheKnot.com
I don't think many people -- men and women -- quite understand the roller coaster of emotions a person goes through while shopping for and picking out an engagement ring. It happened to me. Despite the joy that came with popping the question (I proposed to my wife 8 years ago), I wish I had had someone to tell me the real life secrets that nobody talks about surrounding the ring. Although there are some parts you just have to see for yourself (like when she says yes), I hope to pass along a few helpful hints to those of you on your way to picking the ring.
1. You'll listen intently anytime she talks about jewelry.
Once you've made the decision to propose, conversations about jewelry will become instantly interesting. I'm talking about any hint you can get -- from whether she likes the vintage style of her friend's engagement ring to what she may or may not have so subtly pinned to her inspiration board. If you don't have enough info, but you've both talked about marriage (which hopefully you have), you might even want to take a day to browse rings together. It doesn't mean you should walk into the nearest jewelry store, pick one out, swipe the credit card, and propose right there. And although it may sound a little unromantic, it'll definitely help ensure you end up giving her something she really likes.
2. Asking for permission will feel awkward.
It doesn't matter if you've known your partner's parents for five months or five years, formally asking for their daughter's hand in marriage isn't exactly comfortable. It's kind of like jumping off the high dive. You're pumped until you're at the edge of the board looking down into the pool. My advice? Just do it. Now is not the time to be secretive or discreet with her family. And if you're the traditional type, you'll agree that the act of asking shows respect and appreciation for the other person's family. They'll love you more for it.
3. You'll want to talk to other guys who've gone through it before.
This is just too big of a purchase not to get an opinion on. And even if you are a private person, ring shopping is the time to open your inner circle and invite in someone with experience. Ask previously engaged friends for great jeweler recommendations. You might even want to take that friend with you on your first ring shopping trip to help offer support and back up your opinions.
4. You'll also feel the need to consult her friends.
Sure we get gift-giving right from time to time, but for the most part we rarely hit a home run. Now is the time to knock it out of the park. To be sure you score major points, confide in someone close to your partner to see if they can gather some feelers as to what she's been thinking about, or if there was something she saw in a magazine that really caught her eye. You can also bring them with you to make the purchase, as a second opinion. Your girlfriend's girlfriends will probably love nothing more than to come with you, do research for you or even help you plan the proposal. They are your best allies in this venture, hands-down. Just don't tell too many people. (The more who know, the more likely it is that someone will accidentally let it slip.)
5. You might not want to buy her exactly what she wants.
When guys shop for their ladies, they tend to think it's only the effort that counts. Not true. This is not a present where only credit counts. This is the time when you ditch your tastes or favorite stores, and think, "What would she really like?" You may love gold but she prefers platinum. You may like one cut, but she prefers another. It may be your wallet but remember it's her ring. You don't have to wear it for the rest of your life, she does. So always, always, always (did I say always enough times?) think about what she would buy, not what you like.
6. All diamonds look the same at first.
When you see you see your first diamond, you will probably be awestruck. It's shiny, sparkly and looks perfect. At this point, you might be tempted to whip out your wallet and call it a day. Don't do it. Diamonds are not all the same and the first price you're quoted won't always be the best price. Play the field and shop around, ask lots of questions, take your time.
7. Learning the 4Cs is like studying for an exam.
If you've ever bought a car and thought it was stressful, multiply that by nine. Ring shopping is the World Champion of Stressful Moments in a man's life. But if done properly, it can also be one of the most memorable purchases you'll ever make. I'm talking specifically about learning the 4Cs -- that is the diamond's cut, carat, clarity, and color. Put it this way: If you buy a ring without considering the 4Cs, it's like buying an expensive car because of the price, and then finding out it has a crappy engine, a rust-filled body, and won't last you a week. So take the time to study up before you shop.
8. Going custom will sound complicated and expensive (but it's not).
One thing you'll find out is that the diamond and the setting do not always have to come as one package. Yes, it's easier to buy a ring as you see it, but you can buy the setting and diamond separately, and then have the jeweler make your own custom ring. But don't let the word "custom" overwhelm you; this does not mean "expensive". What this means is you happen to like the stone on one ring, and the setting on another, and now you can make your perfect engagement ring. It never hurts to ask. I promise you, the jeweler will do whatever they can to make you happy.
9. Your budget will be tested.
Let's face it: Regardless of your budget, buying an engagement is going to be expensive. You will not find a Groupon or Living Social deal for the perfect ring. Almost without fail, you'll say you are set on one price and then you'll feel pressured to go higher. Don't be afraid to tell the jeweler your limit and remain firm. If upping the carat means count means you skipping out on a few month's rent, then it's time you put the breaks on. Believe it or not, when you go to buy an engagement ring, you are in the driver seat, and not the smiling person across the counter. It's your money, your time and your moment, so make the most of it by shopping around for your best option.
10. You'll be exhausted by the time it's time to plan the proposal.
After it's all over -- you did your homework, talked to her friends, shopped around and finally picked one out, you'll probably just going to want to get the ring out of your hands (and on to hers) as quickly as possible. You're not done yet though. Planning the proposal is just as important as buying the ring, so make it count. It doesn't have to be elaborate, or over the top but it should go beyond a text saying, "Oh, by the way, I bought you an engagement ring." After all, you only get once chance to pull off an amazing proposal. So just like you did with the ring, come up with a plan that you know she'll truly love. (Need ideas? Read 50 most romantic ways to propose.)