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.

Wedding things

The proposal that wasn’t

About three months ago, I decided that I would like to propose to my partner. We had had “marriage chats” so I was not proposing blind. I was 99% certain that, if done with love, we would end up engaged at the end.

Having made the decision with myself, I began to think about what an ideal proposal might look like, which included thinking a lot about my partner’s likes and dislikes and about what the best occasions we’ve shared have included.

Immediately I knew that neither of us were going to be happy or comfortable with a noisy or public proposal. I also anticipated that we were likely to have a conversation afterwards. We are not a social media-y couple and would not need or probably want photographs of the moment. Neither of us drink much although food is a big part of our lives so maybe I would cook a surprise curry feast or book a restaurant and propose on the walk home. I very briefly considered training Sula, our seven-month-old Rottweiler puppy, to do some sort of trick or to deliver whatever I used to propose with. I know now that my partner was also considering putting a ring for me on the puppy’s collar. However, I eventually decided that I wouldn’t do it at home.

I also flirted briefly with buying the coveted missing piece from my partner’s Star Wars Lego collection. I had a feverish exchange with one of my closest friends about whether I should sneak the walker into the house, build it, and write something on it before deconstructing and repackaging it. However, this plan was put aside when Sula (35kg puppy) tried to get into our toolbox. I feared that maybe a three/four-hour Lego project might end up not done for months and a post-it on a box was not really it.

Being a control freak, a planner, and a perfectionist trying to do something that made me feel vulnerable, I abandoned the “how” for “with what” for a few weeks. In our hypothetical wedding chats, I knew my partner did not intend to wear a ring. He’s intensely sentimental but also practical and I felt it was a shame not to get him something he would actually use and like. I went through various options but settled on a pair of cufflinks shaped like otters, which have had (for reasons) lots of presence and love in our relationship. Several check-ins with friends later, the pair I initially chose were ordered but they would arrive unboxed, so I moved onto a receptacle for them.

I really don’t know why but I decided to google “Star Wars ring box” on Etsy. My partner likes Star Wars a lot, but I definitely had an ADHD hyperfixation moment here. He likes many, many things that are not Star Wars, too. However, it was 11pm and I was feverishly looking for The One. The One turned out to be a 3D printed model of the Death Star, which opened up to reveal a hollow interior. Reader, the actual proposal – when it came – was entirely overshadowed by my love getting relentless giggles because I, an abolitionist passivist, used an imperial weapon of mass destruction as a symbol of my love. Many, many nerd jokes were made. If I could add a gif of our puppy sighing and rolling her eyes before flumping on the ground, I would.

When the Death Star first arrived in Nottingham, I had been sent one the size of a chocolate orange and not the size that I ordered. To receive my ring box, I had to post this one back and there was some excellent email exchange about the correct size of The Death Star, which I did not see in my life outline. The wrong box arrived while I was sick with Covid and a very minor blip felt devastating.

I also had a personality bypass when the cufflinks arrived without any dispatch notice or warning. We had been to see Thor: Love and Thunder and returned to the debris of some post that Sula had seen fit to destroy as a punishment for our absence. My partner held up a weird container that I had never seen before and asked what it was, obviously perturbed that it was swallowable size. About 10 minutes later, I saw the email saying “hurray, item delivered” and my stomach DROPPED. Had he seen what was in the little tin container? Had the dog got into the container? Were the cufflinks in the dog? He hadn’t. She hadn’t. They weren’t. But paranoid control freak me was then convinced that he knew what is coming. (He absolutely didn’t.)

Looking through my calendar for a good weekend, I saw that we had planned a very modest trip away to London to see a musical and committed that I would do it then. When I tell you that everything I planned fell apart, everything I planned fell apart.  

We had already agreed to do a couple of tourist-y things in London, so I wrote to one of the places and asked if they let visitors do a particular activity. (I’m paraphrasing because the details of actual real people would be identifiable, and I can’t get hold of them to check if they mind.) The venue responded immediately that they’d never been asked before, but they loved the idea, and these were their terms. As part of our correspondence, they let me know that there was a secluded bench with a lovely view that I could have after the experience where we would be private but still in the attraction so I could do the actual proposal and I was so chuffed. It was going to be cute, personal, private, and a nice story/memory.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. I receive an email that the person who needed to be present to allow the activity to happen had come down with Covid and wouldn’t be able to meet. Their deputy was on leave. They were very sorry, but could we re-arrange? While I completely understood, I knew that we wouldn’t be making another trip to London together until the winter and that we probably wouldn’t want to do the activity then. Frustrated, I thanked them lots for all they’d done and called a small Lebanese restaurant I know and love, asking if we could have a specific table that’s practically in a room on its own. We’d feast and I’d ask over the dessert or on the walk back to our hotel.

Three days before the trip, we receive an email reminding us of the rail strike taking place (solidarity! Get your pay rise!). And my partner does a lot of logistical wrangling and swaps the trip around, so we do all the things planned on Friday and just need to get home on the Saturday. What a gem of a human. Reader, the restaurant does not open Friday daytime, and we were already booked for dinner with my parents and the musical in the evening. Doom.

I decide I’ll be spontaneous. (Lol. NOT MY NATURAL STATE. I was born a Scorpio, but I really identify as a Virgo.) There’s bound to be a moment. There’s bound to be a quiet time where we are happy and laughing and I can just make it happen. Our dogsitter arrives early and we decide to dash for the train an hour early to make the most of our day in London. The train is cancelled because there is a fire on the line. We are both anxious and impatient travellers. There is no moment when a 2.5-hour journey takes five hours. I’ll remember it fondly because it was so sunny and pretty, but we arrive in London three hours after we had intended to.

We decide to go to the zoo to be outside in the beautiful weather as it is near, and we can marvel at animals before our evening plans. When we arrive, many of the animals are shielding from the heat or their enclosures are being refurbished. We are relaxed but are surrounded by hot parents and tired children who are frustrated by the lack of things to see. There is no moment. We get to the otter enclosure, and they are out and playing and I think “here we go”. A child is almost sick and drops down the stairs in front of us. They are fine but there’s really no moment and we end up sitting in the park talking about whether zoos are even OK and if people should be angry if animals are asleep or absent. Not the moment.

And it’s time to be social and go and see a very mediocre musical. We are tired and content but not … in a moment. As we arrive at the hotel, footage of the writer Salman Rushdie being attacked is playing across numerous plasma screens.

The details of what actually happened about an hour later are ours and I’m not going to share them with anyone outside our close circle but suffice to say that frazzled and nervous, I left the Death Star on his pillow, went to brush my teeth, and we ended up happily engaged and listening to a playlist of Beyoncé lead singles in the first hours of Saturday morning.

Absolutely nothing went as it should. Adam thought he’d forgotten to buy me a present and then when he understood, the Death Star giggles began. RIP my childlike pride about getting something so particular to him/us on that front. It was cute and quiet and silly and intimate. It was all the things I wanted and I’m so happy he said yes.

I’m never planning a surprise anything ever again.