Should You Engage

How do you determine if someone’s intentions to engage with you are:

to explore a relationship for your mutual benefit


to exploit what you can do for them?

When you make a new professional or personal contact, how cautious are you before taking each next step?

I learned an invaluable tip from a 20th-century retail jeweler. After helping many customers choose wedding rings, he could detect a lack of true commitment and predict the eventuality of a breakup based on what they communicated while shopping with him.

His logic sheds light on why some connections are not worth an investment.

Should You Engage?

Do you desire a forever diamond?

Consider wedding jewelry. Dating to ancient times, the symbolism seemingly pertained more to possession than romance. The ring, also representing eternal love and commitment, has endured as a universal sign of betrothal. By commissioning the first diamond engagement ring to woo Mary of Burgundy in 1477, Archduke Maximillian of Austria ignited a trend, but only among the royal classes. Alas, the masses could not afford such extravagance!

The tide shifted in 1947, when the De Beers mining company proclaimed, “A diamond is forever.”

While catching the wave of post-WWII prosperity, the brilliantly themed ad campaign generated a mass-market demand for diamond engagement rings. By controlling the supply and instituting a grading-pricing structure based upon color, cut, clarity, and carat weight, the industry further secured the gem’s perceived luxury position—although on a sliding scale.

Regarding the scale, DeBeers also influenced the groom’s sense of duty by suggesting how much he should spend on the ring: the equivalent of one, two, or three months of his salary. Thus, with some sacrifice, even a working-class fellow could afford to buy his fiance a diamond (albeit a relatively small and blemished stone) and make her feel treasured.

Opening his shop in 1946 with his own new bride, the retail jeweler carried a varied inventory—from precious settings to bare bands—to meet the tastes and budgets of his diverse clientele. In some instances, he helped the groom select a ring that his bride would not see until the proposal. In other situations, the store owner served the bride. She might return with the groom or entrust the jeweler to convey her preferences to her beloved when he came by himself to finalize the sale.

Likewise, by longstanding tradition, the bride (and/or her family) would pay for the groom’s band, and the groom (and/or his family) would purchase the bride’s engagement ring and band. The customs, however, were not written in stone.

The jeweler never judged the way a couple shopped or paid for their wedding jewelry. His role was guiding them to choose the ring or rings that were right for them and, he hoped, reflected their promise of a lifelong commitment.

Yes, the ring mattered, but how much?

One bride-to-be refused the most expensive ring her husband-to-be could afford and had lovingly chosen for her. Instead, determined to have her way, she belittled him by asking her parents for the extra cash needed to buy the ring she coveted. Their union did not last. The things he could provide were not good enough for her, so neither was he.

Happily, ever after?

As the jeweler observed, the easiest-to-please couples were the most excited about tying the knot, so to speak; trying on plain, slender wedding bands made them giddy. A showy engagement ring, a tangible thing, was not their focus.

Well-matched couples, too, could end up bickering over their rings. Perhaps if they’d pondered the degree to which a company with a monopoly on diamond mines had impacted their engagement wishes and expectations, they would have made the ring far less of a thing.

One final thing

The ease of igniting conversations today has hastened the pace at which people proceed with the real reasons they’ve engaged. Impatience is especially common among parties who are primarily motivated to secure the thing (e.g., a contract, a referral, etc.) versus nurturing a relationship.

That said, some issues are time sensitive, and the thing matters the most. If that is the case and your goals match up, then get engaged. If not, you’ll know to disengage before letting the proposal use up much of your time.

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

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