<p>Unless she's flat-out said, “I don’t want an engagement ring”… <a href="http://www.mensfitness.com/giveaways/planning-to-propose-win-a-5000-jame... wants an engagement ring</a>. So first step: “Browse traditional and online jewelry stores to get a feel for what’s out there,” suggests Sarah Rose, Jewelry Specialist for <a href="http://www.jamesallen.com/">James Allen</a>, an online luxury jeweler. Then, think about what suits her personality and what kind of other jewelry she likes. “Is she more old-fashioned or does she love modern styles? That’ll help you figure out if she’d prefer a classic round diamond solitaire or an antique cushion cut with pavé-set diamonds.” (Don't panic: you can get a translation for those terms at the store.) Even easier: “Ask her best friend or a relative about her engagement ring preference,” says Rose.</p>
2. Maximize Your Budget
Forget two months’ salary. “There’s no right amount to spend on an engagement ring,” insists Rose. So pick a comfortable cost and shop around—including online. “There’s minimal overhead and no middleman, so e-tailers can offer the same jewelry for less than brick-and-mortar stores,” says Rose. More money-saving advice: Don’t rule out included (aka flawed) rings. “Inclusions determine price, but many flaws are visible only under 10X magnification,” she explains. "At James Allen, we use a new proprietary technology to make it easier for buyers to easily spot the diamonds that are more affordable, yet still clean and beautiful to the naked eye." Compromising on this particular "c" — clarity — can help you to save significant money (and no one will be the wiser). You might also want to avoid preset (aka ready-made) rings, recommends Rose. Design your own and you decide how much cash goes toward the setting (the part that holds the stone) and how much goes to the diamond.
3. Figure Out Her Ring Size
There are a few options for determining this, some sneakier than others. Take a ring she wears on her ring finger to the jewelry store, advises Rose. Once there, the jeweler can use a ring sizer—that's what you see to the left—to find her size. If there’s a chance she’ll notice the missing jewelry, request a ring sizer from a jeweler (many will send it to you for free) and measure one of the ring-finger rings on her dresser when she’s not looking. Or ask a trusted mutual friend to find out for you. Worse comes to worst, take a guess, erring on the bigger side, and get it resized after you pop the question.
4. Buy the Ring—and Hide Your Tracks
Too many women know a proposal’s coming because their boyfriends neglected to do some cover-up work. So if you buy a ring online, clear your web history! And don’t leave bank statements lying around—a $5,000 debit is going to look mighty suspicious. If you already share a bank account, open a new one for yourself several months in advance so you can secretly save up there and withdraw from it without her realizing. And above all, store the ring someplace safe where she’d never go looking, not in the coat closet she opens daily.
5. Clue In Her Parents
While you don’t <em>have</em> to ask for Pop’s permission to marry his daughter (that age-old idea is quickly becoming obsolete), most parents would appreciate a heads-up. Live nearby? See if you can drop by their house or take them to lunch (or dinner, if spending a night with your future in-laws isn’t too much torture). Live far away? A phone call will do. After exchanging the prerequisite pleasantries, cut to the chase: You love their daughter and you’ll be asking her to marry you. They should be thrilled. If not, they suck, and that’s not your problem. If your girlfriend isn’t close with her parents or you can’t trust them to keep your gigantic secret, rest assured it's okay if they find out after the fact.
6. Pick a Proposal Spot
A place that’s meaningful to you—whether it’s where you met, the site of your first date or your go-to Saturday night spot—is not only a great location because of its sentimental value, but more importantly you'll also know what to expect there. And when you want a moment to be perfect, minimizing variables is key. If you’d prefer someplace new, just scope it out beforehand in person or online and do some research to avoid disaster. For instance, the top of the Eiffel Tower sounds amazing in theory, but it looks like a freaking factory up there. Plus, it’s where Tom Cruise allegedly asked Katie Holmes to be his beard, er, wife, so you won't score points for originality. Oh, and whatever you do, avoid the stadium Jumbotron proposal...repeat, no stadium Jumbotron proposals. Trust us on this one.
7. Dress the Part
Although getting engaged in your PJs is adorable, if you’re asking for her hand outside of the house, look presentable, please. Eager onlookers may snap a photo, and if that doesn’t happen, you can count on your girlfriend wanting a shot of you two following the proposal. It’s safe to say she’d rather you not look like a disheveled druggie in that defining image. And while you don’t want to act so weird she’ll know something’s up, do what you can to get her to look nice too.
8. Decide What You’ll Say
As with wedding toasts, winging it isn’t advisable. You don’t need to write a novel—or anything, for that matter—but choose a few basic things to share beforehand. Some ideas: why you love her, why you want to spend the rest of your life with her and how you’ll feel if she accepts the proposal (a cliché like “the happiest man in the world” is fine if you truly mean it). No matter what, don’t forget to ask her to marry you—multiple times if necessary. The shock of the situation may not immediately elicit that “yes” you’re hoping to hear.
9. Get Down on One Knee
It’s tough to do in certain circumstances, like in a crowded restaurant, but if you can swing it, take a knee. It adds to the humility of the proposition—could I, some jackass on the floor, possibly deserve you as my wife?—and it’s a romantic gesture to which women are entitled only once(-ish) in a lifetime. If getting down and dirty means, well, getting dirty, at least take her hand while you ask your question.
10. Have a Plan A, B, and C
The grander your scheme, the more help you’ll need from others. But the more people involved, the more likely things are to go awry. So make sure you have backup plans for as many reasonable scenarios as you can think of—even if you two are the only folks concerned. For example, what’ll need to change if your girlfriend’s running late? What if she doesn’t feel like going where you suggested? What if she or you get sick? As anxious as you may be to get engaged, postponing your proposal can sometimes be your best option.