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Despite the fact that marriage rates are falling faster than you can say "I do", it seems quite the opposite when it comes to engagements

Date: 2008-04-04

Everywhere around me there seems to be a bevy of blokes bending down on one knee, uttering those four magic words, women shrilling the requisite "yes!" and elated mums prancing with glee at the fact their daughter is no longer resigned to the life of an old maid.

Which is quite disheartening really considering the very next question to come out of the gag-worthy bling-ring discussion is, "So when are you going to get engaged?"

The truth is I'm not quite sure why some engagements (not all, but definitely enough of them to warrant discussion), seem to materialise out of thin air without so much as a brief thought going into the whole ordeal.

The familiar tale I hear all too often is this: couple dating for a few months (even weeks). Female desperately wants a ring. Man desperately wants to make her happy. Man wants to keep her happy and continue to get a little hanky-panky, so he takes three months of his salary (or so tradition dictates), hops over to a jewellery store without so much as a clue as what to do once he's arrived, flashes his cash, then finds the most cheesy moment he can conjure up to get down on one knee and make the proposal. Female spots jewellery, shrieks with an inaudible yes, gushes over the ring, and everyone is blissful - for now ...

Instead of focusing on the whole lifetime commitment thing (which marriage supposedly symbolises), modern-day engagements are more like expensive circuses that come with pomp and ceremony to connubial town. There's the multitude of engagement parties, celebrations, drinks, lunches and dinners. Not to mention the poor guests who suddenly find themselves forking out a whole lot of dough for everything from the engagement party gifts to kitchen-tea appliances, pricey buck's evenings (which get more costly by the wedding), and of course the big wedding-day gift, which is enough to send any guest running for their savings account.

But enough about the guests, let's get back to the ring. (And after all the discussion of Michael Clarke's whopper to Lara Bingle, it definitely warrants an entire section to itself.)

I've often wondered if the ring is simply there to entice the female to say yes to a life resigned to cooking, cleaning and washing up after her man. Because as history would dictate, the first engagement ring ever to be recorded was presented by Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477 to Mary of Burgundy. (They were married within 24 hours.) And after Marilyn Monroe crooned that "diamonds are a girl's best friend" in the 50s smash-hit film Gentlemen prefer blondes, it became obvious why so many women simply want the ring, regardless of the man.

But sadly that's why, according to H. Norman Wright, author of 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged, a staggering half of all couples who become engaged this year will never make it to the altar. Why? Because these days couples aren't getting to know their potential mate well enough before bending down on one knee.

By Wright's reckoning, there are a number of things you need to ask before say yes. Can you solve conflict together? Have you dealt with your baggage? Do you have the support of your friends and family? Do you bring out the best in each other? Are you truly passionate about each other? And, above all, is there ultimate trust?

Commitment is a huge decision - but then again so is calling off a wedding. (I've seen quite a number of friends go through the pain, the humiliation and the loneliness the sudden break-up brings about.) And when you're faced with the unfortunate situation, it's back to the issue of the ring; should she give it back?

According to the law, the answer is a booming yes. In fact, the NSW Supreme Court recently decided after bride-to-be Vicky Papathanasopoulos threw her fiance Andrew Vacopoulos's $15,250 engagement ring in the bin, and was ordered to compensate him for the value.

According to the court's decision, when a woman turns down the marriage proposal, she rejects the "conditional gift" of the ring, therefore has to return it.

(The twist, however, is even if the man breaks off the engagement, most of the time, he is still entitled to take back the ring.)


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