(Continued from Planning To Be Surprised)
Elise and I had flirted with the idea of ring shopping for ages but – much like my attitude towards the engagement itself – the idea of premeditating our shopping trip seemed queer and uncomfortable.
Plus, pre-meditation would lead to discussion with friends and co-workers, and another one of my (slightly less nonsensical) maxims is a firm belief that a relationship is entirely between the couple. Which, aside from meaning that I consider it arch betrayal for either of us to talk about our sex life to a third party, also seemed to preclude even talking about an engagement ring to someone in a store.
After a month of aimless internet shopping I decided to create a loophole for shop attendants, so as to render our hypothetical eventual engagement something other than an impossibility.
I suppose this is a post where I should be imparting seasoned fiancé advice on other men about to embark on the same journey.
Let me get back to you on that one.
In preliminary, non-binding discussions about our inaugural shopping trip we seriously considered making up stories and accents and disguises to make the outing less threatening. Elise was going to be British? Or, was I going to be from Florida? Something about us meeting at a convention and falling in love at first sight?
When it came down to it we just had a couple of mimosas for breakfast and charged right in – tipsy on a Saturday and four blocks from Jewelers’ Row with no other plans.
No plans at all, actually – we didn’t have a specific shop in mind, and we stood in awe of various dormant neon jewels hanging over a block packed with at least a dozen jewelry stores.
I turned to Elise.
“Pick a sign, honey.”
When it comes to engagement ring shopping, there are three kinds of jewelry stores and, by extension, three sorts of store attendants.
Suppressors do not want you to be armed with information or opinions. Or taste. In fact, if you are armed with any of those things they don’t really want to hear about it. They aren’t interested in educating you – their only interest is to be your one stop shopping center for multi-thousand dollar hunks of rock. They just want you to like what you see and buy it.
Passives understand that you might be armed with information or opinions – that’s okay – buy they don’t plan to do anything to encourage the further development of either. Often a Passive sees ring shopping as an arcane or mystical experience that cannot be approached scientifically. They want you to browse in their store and find the ring for you. If you don’t see it, it’s not for sale – don’t even think about asking for anything customized.
Empowerers hope that you come armed with information and opinions, and if you don’t have one or the other they’ll help you establish them. They want you to understand your purchase, and they’re confident that if you understand it well enough you will shop with them. However, some Empowerers get drunk on their empowerment, which can make them a bit pushy – especially if they are stodgy old men.
The tricky part is telling these people apart, which you might not be able to suss out on your first trip. Sometimes you find an empowering store but draw a passive staff member. Or, you find an empowering employee schlepping the products of a suppressing store.
As it turned out, our first store was a terrific choice, we knew a lot more about diamonds than we suspected, and our opinions were a lot more specific than we knew.
I had a certain carat weight in mind for a solitaire ring, but when Elise tried one on it dominated her delicate hand in an unsightly way. Elise knew she wanted a princess cut diamond, but it turned out that she preferred settings other than the basic cathedral she had previously dreamed of.
It was giggly, nervous business. For a while it felt like we were impersonating a happy, marriage-bound couple, until after a few stores we realized that we were a happy, marriage-bound couple.
Our strategy emerged quickly. We’d enter a store, reap the basic hellos and sales pitch, and then get down to business. By store number four we started to come to an understanding about the different types of attendants, and were easily extricating ourselves from undesirable shopping situations.
Teamwork; the sign of a potentially, hypothetically, eventually happily married couple.
After winding our way through a string of unremarkable stores we wound up in Robbin’s 8th and Walnut, which to me is a timeless Philadelphia landmark as much as it is a jewelry store. And, though I was skeptical that it wouldn’t live up to its reputation, it easily did – friendly staff, a huge selection, and warm cookies refreshed at regular intervals.
Any remaining nervousness about shopping melted away – we paced the case with our attendant wearing a half-dozen potential rings on her fingers, handing them to Elise one at a time for comparison. Two hours prior the sight would have seemed surreal, but in the present it seemed completely normal.
So, about that advice.
There’s no right time to shop for rings. You don’t have to wait until it’s dawned on you that you’re dating your wife. However, even if you do it in the most casual of ways, it will always hang in your relationship.
That’s not to say you should only shop for rings when you absolutely mean to buy one soon. Just be aware that – much like kisses and “I love yous” – you can’t take ring shopping back. It can mean as little or as much as either of those things can, but it can’t ever be meaningless.
We emerged from the trip breathless and armed with ideas. More importantly, we emerged feeling a distinct lack of pressure.
That would come much later.