Over the years, Sarah and I have had the joy of photographing more than 25 surprise proposals as we watched young men ask a single question that would change the course of their lives. Between that and my own experience of proposing to Sarah, we’ve learned a lot! I certainly wish I had all this information before I got down on one knee!
But now it’s our turn to pass along our experience and wisdom to every guy out there wondering to himself, “How do I propose to my girlfriend?” Every week throughout this Spring, we’ll be posting an updated version of this 2018 blog series. It’s mostly written as a note directly from me, Hunter, to all the guys out there who are exactly where I was back in 2016: head over heels in love with a girl, with absolutely no plan on how to ask her to be yours! Sarah will even be chiming in with some of her input to the ladies who think the big question might be coming soon!
A Guy’s Guide to Proposing Well Part 2: How to Pick the Right (Sized) Engagement Ring
Last week, we asked four serious questions to make sure that proposing was the right move for you and your special someone. This week, we’re moving on to the multi-thousand dollar decision: how to pick out the right engagement ring! Starting with the day you propose, your future wife will likely wear her engagement ring every day for the rest of her life! So this is not a decision to make lightly.
How do I find out my girlfriend’s ring size?
Picking out a great ring won’t do you much good if you have no idea what size to order it in! Maybe you got lucky and your lady has been dropping hints (like her ring size). However, if she hasn’t directly told you, you have to ask yourself an important question: how important is it that the proposal is a surprise?
If the two of you have been having lots of conversations about an upcoming proposal, or you’re even planning it together, then obviously this won’t be much of an issue: just ask her! However, if you’re keeping her on her toes and want the big ask to be a huge surprise, you’ll have to get a bit more creative. Here are a few options:
- Be a Super-Sleuth – if she already wears rings, you can probably borrow one and get it sized at a local jewelry store to get a close approximation. However, make sure it’s one that fits well on her left ring finger or, at the very least, on her right ring finger. Every finger is a different size, even the same finger on the opposite hand!
- Recruit Some Friends or Family – this is my preferred method, although it takes a bit more planning and a very convincing friend or mom. Here’s how I found out Sarah’s ring size: I recruited Sarah’s dear friend Clara who was in a serious relationship with my close friend Ryan. Although I knew that Ryan wasn’t actually going to propose anytime soon, I let Clara in on my plan and sent her to do her spy work. She called Sarah one evening and nervously told Sarah how she thought that Ryan was going to propose very soon, and wanted to get her ring finger sized to make it easy on him to buy a ring. But, she told Sarah, she was really nervous, and wondered if Sarah would go with her. Being the great friend she is, Sarah went along. While they were there, Clara casually asked if Sarah wanted to get sized too since she was, you know, already there. Might as well, right? Clara then sneakily reported back to me Sarah’s ring size with Sarah suspecting anything! I imagine that a modified version of this plan would work with the help of your girlfriend’s mom, too.
What engagement ring should I buy?
Great! You’ve got the ring size. Now you’re ready to do some shopping. But where do you even begin? Well, here’s a few things to think about to help you be slightly less overwhelmed by all the options.
- Diamond vs. Gemstone – While diamonds are certainly the most traditional choice for an engagement ring, always keep her personality in mind. We photographed Cheryl & Caleb’s wedding in the summer of 2018, and Cheryl’s beautiful peridot engagement ring was as fun, quirky and non-traditional as Cheryl! Caleb knew when he picked the ring with Cheryl’s birthstone that he would not only save some money, but make a statement about how well he knew his bride-to-be!
- Family Connection – While every family situation is different, I’m extremely grateful that I spoke with both my parents and Sarah’s dad before I proposed. I spoke with her father before the proposal and got his blessing, which was a great first step in the joining of our families. But in speaking to my family, my grandma revealed that she had been holding on to my great grandmother’s diamond ring since my brother and I were kids with the hopes that one of us would use it to propose to our future wife. Instead of selling the ring like she suggested (it wasn’t an engagement ring), I had the diamond removed and set into a new setting. Not only did this save me thousands of dollars, but it also means that Sarah is wearing a piece of our family history every single day! The last few years we’ve been shocked at how many of our brides are also wearing family heirlooms!
- Place of Origin – If you aren’t as lucky as I was and are looking to buy a diamond, it’s still important to know your future wife. Is the origin of the diamond something important to her? Is she going to want to wear a diamond that’s ethically sourced, conflict free, fair-trade, etc.? If this will be important to her, keep that in mind as you shop!
- Where to Buy – There’s an overwhelming amount of options when it comes to where to buy an engagement ring. There are online retailers, big chain jewelry stores with heartwarming Christmas commercials, and local mom-and-pop jewelry shops. Here, my best advice is simply to ask around to other friends who have gotten engaged or to your parents or other friends who might have advice, experience or wisdom in the area. A personal reference beats an online rating every single time! I know I wanted a personal interaction when I shopped, so I bought Sarah’s setting from a local jewelry store here in Charlottesville, and they performed the diamond-swap.
- Always Focus on Her – Now that you know what stone you’re looking for and you know what store you’re going to look at, how do you know what to look for? As with everything in this series, always focus on her and what she would want. However, if she isn’t the type to make Pinterest boards of all her favorite rings, you’ll have to do your best with what you already know about her (which is hopefully a lot!). Walk around a store or browse online, and see if anything strikes you as ‘totally her’. Is she the type who loves the classics and adores her family traditions? Consider something like a solitaire (a single diamond set into an unadorned band). If she’s always up to date on the latest fashion trends, a halo setting (series of small diamonds surrounding a larger main diamond) or marquise diamond (football-shaped rather than round) might be more her style. If she’s quirky and loves being different, then a swirled or vintage or engraved setting will really set her ring apart.
How much should I spend on an engagement ring?
The old myth of spending two months’ salary on an engagement ring was created by (big surprise) marketing experts at a jewelry store. Instead of blindly following their advice, know as best as you can your girl’s expectations and your own financial situation.
When I decided I was going to marry Sarah, I was only a sophomore in college. I was studying Engineering, working as a tutor to make some extra cash, and running a photography business that was intentionally unprofitable as I reinvested into camera gear. If I had saved two months’ salary, I probably would have proposed to Sarah with a Ring Pop! Instead, I put away a chunk of what I made every month for more than two years straight just to afford her setting!
Again, know your own financial situation and what makes sense for you. If you’re a college student like I was and the best you can hope for is scraping together a thousand dollars over the next few months or year, she’s probably doesn’t expect a grape-sized rock on her finger! On the other hand, if you both have killer incomes and she has big expectations, a simple ring with a small diamond could miss her expectations and create some let-down. You get the idea: be true to yourself and to her expectations!
One Final Caution
While the engagement ring is a symbol of your own love and devotion and commitment and therefore should certainly be taken seriously, it will never be as important as the actual relationship you have. That would be like thinking the wedding is more important than the marriage! I hope you never feel pressured to put yourself in an unwise financial situation just to match what people around you expect of an engagement ring. At the end of the day, all that matters is that she loves the ring and that she says yes!
But anyway, thanks for reading! We hope this has helped you as you jump-start the ring search. In the next section, we’ll talk more about planning the big day, but for now, happy ring-hunting!
Check out the rest of the series at the links below!
If you’re interested in planning your own surprise proposal, click here to get in contact with us!