Engagement Customs

There are many ways for a couple to become officially engaged. Though traditionally we imagine the man on one knee asking for a woman's hand in marriage, some couples become engaged after talking about it together and deciding that it's time — without a ring, a bended knee, or a billboard in Times Square. Though in many instances it is expected that the man will propose to the woman, for some couples it's quite appropriate and flattering for a woman to propose, or to decide together.

Proposing

If you are going to propose, give it some thought. The process of proposing should reflect your personalities. Just because one friend rented a camel and dressed up as a sheik with an entourage to propose and another had an engagement ring baked into his girlfriend's dessert (risking serious dental mishaps), you do not have to follow their examples. When it comes to proposing, be sure that it's real, that it is a moment to remember, and that you are both involved in the intimacy of it instead of putting on a show for the neighborhood or trying to live out one partner's dramatic fantasies. Men can set a good foundation for marriage by realizing that most women appreciate forethought and planning but do not expect you to be someone you are not.

Think about the person you are proposing to. What would make him happy? Is he shy by nature, in which case he might not want a large audience at the proposal? You might propose over a quiet dinner rather than asking the band to sing it for you. On the other hand, perhaps she appreciates drama and would love you to go to lots of trouble to set up something larger than life. In such a case you can rent out a digital billboard in Times Square with the words “Marry Me!” blinking in big lights as you turn the most populous corner in the world at 42nd Street and Broadway.

In the Talmud (Kiddushin 12b), a marriage proposal is known as shid-duchin and is seen as a step in forming the legal bond that will become a full-fledged marriage. To marry without first proposing formally was considered immoral.

The Ring

In many instances the groom gives the bride a diamond engagement ring, but this is by no means always the case, nor is it required. You might decide together to get a simpler ring and save the money for a down payment on a future home or for the wedding or honeymoon. If the groom does decide to buy a ring, there are many ways he can do so. The couple can go together to choose one the bride likes and the groom can afford, or they can ask their families about heirloom diamonds and use one in its current setting or have the diamond reset to fit the bride's finger and personality.

The custom of a groom giving the bride a gift of jewelry goes back thousands of years in Jewish tradition. This piece of jewelry sometimes had a stone in it to set it apart from a wedding ring, which has no stone. Of course, the stone in an engagement ring need not necessarily be a diamond.

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