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Wedding things

“Well, we wouldn’t recommend that”:

An adventure in purchasing an engagement ring

When I proposed to my partner, I thought that I would like a ring, but I’d also told myself that I could buy something small for myself as a “proud of me for shaking the patriarchy a teeny tiny amount”. The morning after we got engaged, my partner informed me that we would try to go ring shopping in the next day or two. What would only emerge later is that we are both impatient/efficient and are not slow shoppers. After several experiences (soon coming), I said to him that I didn’t want to drag him through another shop when he turned to me and said he was fine and was happy to keep going in case we found The One because then the engagement was really, really on.

            Some people reading this account will hate that I was present at the ring search and shopping. I also know what my ring cost. However, I hate surprises and my partner is an anxious person. I fully believe that he would have made a great choice on his own, but it turns out that every time he’d considered proposing to me, he’d got stuck in worry about the ring. This was partly my doing. Not because I’m high maintenance but because on our first date, I told him about a saga unfolding around my (now happily married) friend who hated the ring their wife proposed to them with. There was much counselling and group chat chaos. It kept lockdown zooms occupied for many weeks. Anyway, I had forgotten about this and he’d been intimidated on a profound level. WOOPS.

            Having told him that I’d love to come and would find it special to share the process and find something we both liked, we went and had brunch, treated ourselves to some shampoo from The Body Shop (I KNOW, BIG SPENDERS) and started to wander around looking for jewellery shops. About two minutes later, we got out our phones and followed a list on Google.

When I say the first stop was instructive, I’m telling you that I learned a lot. We are looking in this fancy window with lots of velvet and window dressing while I try to explain styles and relative costs. We are huddled over ££££ diamonds when my love spots a £££££ of earrings and we get sidetracked on why they might be so much more than the others. This is a fancy jeweller so I start pulling everything I’ve ever heard in sitcoms about jewellery to the front of my mind. Then, he says “is it worth going in?”. While we were discussing the earrings, I noticed that the security guard for the store had moved from by the door to stand directly behind the door in front of the entrance. My partner, on task, had spotted some coloured stones and wanted to sound me out on preferences. What he didn’t see is that we, almost ready to walk in, were being blocked from entering. I just said “it’s not worth it” when he asked about looking inside. My suspicions were made doubly sure when a thin white couple swept past us and the security guard EVAPORATED from sight. Hmm.

By this point, I was feeling a little overwhelmed. Before my wonderful fiancé, I had been engaged before and it was a bad time. In the 36 hours we had been engaged, my partner had shown more interest and care than I ever saw from my abusive ex. He was getting into colours and shapes and sizes, and clearly intended that we go into shops and speak to people. I thought we were window shopping so had to adjust. It was a happy adjustment but I regretted painting my nails pink, which I almost never do. I was also learning lots about the things my love does and does not like. He is into shiny and classic but doesn’t like plain diamonds or several of the most popular cuts.

Eventually, having paused to go and get a drink from Tesco (GLAMOUR!), we went into a mid-level chain jeweller. This is not a shop I would ever have gone in on my own and at some point, I will write something about being fat and gender non-conforming in this space because that added a whole different level of anxiety with narrow seats, rings too small for my hands, and correcting my hard-earned “Dr” from Miss over and over. Anyway, we settled into a booth in the jewellers and I was handed an IKEA beaker of water. The assistant, also named Hannah, also from London originally, really earned the commission on a purchase we didn’t end up making. (Sorry, Hannah. We appreciated you.)

We were in the store about 45 minutes and Hannah clearly knew her business sensing that, while I was pushing for the cubic zirconia and silver costume jewellery, my partner could be sold something better. I’m sure she was speaking from truth but I’ve never heard someone slam cubic zirconia before: “Well, we wouldn’t recommend it. It’s very damageable and this is for life. We don’t want you to be disappointed when it breaks in a couple of years.” I should have been prepared for the “we” of ring shopping in which almost every assistant inserted their employer into our future: “We wouldn’t want you to come back upset when you drop in to see us.” Alongside the costume jewellery hate, we learned lots including that my partner wouldn’t tell the assistant what he actually thought and she could not cope with me asking him for his opinions. Given that many people disapproveof me being involved in the ring buying process, I found it very confusing to be represented as a spoilt princess who should just have whatever I wanted, regardless of my partner’s feelings (and budget). Is this what having lifelong disposable income does to you? I don’t know but it was weird.

We left with an idea of what we wanted after I stared down Hannah who decided to pitch a £5000 diamond at Adam. As I said on Twitter, I respect the hustle but I was not there for that. (No disparagement to anyone who expects a very expensive ring but I am clumsy, highly conspicuous, and would rather not spend or wear that kind of money.) Dazed from the very bright lights and prolonged hard sell, we stumbled into another shop where we had seen a similar style to the one we ended up looking at most. DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE ARE IKEA STYLE JEWELLERS? Obviously there are, but I will say that the salesman who dealt with us basically told us not to buy the ring we were interested in. We also learned that we were not seeing an accurate replica of what we might buy. The actual stone would be a completely different colour and we could always get a refund if we didn’t like the different modules we put together. Interestingly, Adam spotted that the replica had several “weakening” design flaws that Hannah had warned us about. Then, the guy dropped his Fanta down himself, which I totally relate to, but it did not inspire confidence. The energy was like someone trying to sell a limited edition colour of iPod Shuffle or Motorola Razr. Shout out to the people my age who remember those days.

Walking off the extreme confusion and brain fog, I remembered an independent jewellers that was not in an obvious location. (It wasn’t on Google’s list.) And we went to find it. By contrast with the other chains and expensive expensive jewellers we’d seen, this place had a really eclectic range of styles and a whole window of “vintage”, second-hand options, which was my original preference. At the same time, my partner noticed a ring very close but slightly different to our favourites elsewhere and encouraged me to go in. This shop was clad in dark wood and had an easy listening playlist of Sinatra and Martin going on. Behind the counter were two women in head to toe M&S. My partner asked if we could see his favourite and begrudgingly asked if I wanted to see the vintage opal ring (very, very unusual in style), which I declined given the disapproval on display. The shop person got it out and then spotted that I have a large otter tattoo and talked to me about that. It was only when we asked questions that she got into any sort of sales patter and it was as light as it could possibly be. We tried on two others and, recognising my “stressed face”, my partner suggested we get some caffeine and come back.

It was at this point that I burst into tears in a busy Café Nero while trying to hold a very low-key conversation. I felt both exhausted by navigating the expectations of “newly-engaged couple” with its weird gender performances and entirely overwhelmed by the care, attention, and time my partner was spending on this. He was very concerned that, having established that he has a favourite stone, I’d stopped looking at other options that I’d mentioned liking. I was very concerned that he had lost his mind and wanted to buy me something fancy I don’t need or deserve. Coca-cola, hand patting, and snacks were administered and I caved and sent pictures to my mum and a couple of friends for approval. They not only approved but unanimously voted for the indie jeweller ring.

Minutes later, we were back there talking about sizing, valuations, and free cleanings for life. It turns out that jewellery over £30 is very complicated. I was still dazed and emotional so I instinctively tuned into the radio which was playing My. Favourite. Doris. Day. recording: “Everybody Loves A Lover” immediately followed by “Secret Love”. (If you are new here, “Hi! I work on musical theatre!”) Somehow, that felt cosmic. Doris, a fave, was singing a song in an arrangement I love and regularly play in my most sunshine-y moods. The universe was smiling on this bizarre moment.

I’m so excited to meet my ring when the resizing is done. I have prematurely christened her Cruella because she is very much the highest of my femme and a sparkle to be proud of. If you get engaged, tune out the other people and do what you want. Instead of settling for what I thought was proportionate, we had a very funny, cute, choatic time together and like my partner, I am ending up with a very fun and unexpected marker of our partnership. Do you. Ignore the noise. Pack snacks.

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