Q:I have been dating my girlfriend for almost two years, and lately we've been talking about marriage. Not in a "do you want to do it?" way, but more as an abstract concept. Anyway, I'm pretty sure that she is expecting me to propose on Valentine's Day because I overheard her talking to her friend about "an engagement ring." I don't have a ring, and I haven't even bought her a present yet. My question is: Should I tell her beforehand that I won't be proposing or just take her out to dinner and avoid the topic? And what do I buy a woman who's expecting a diamond ring?
-- A.H., Silver Lake
In your case, hell hath no fury like a woman not adorned. If you "avoid the topic" and squire her to dinner on Feb. 14, expect to witness a cabaret of hopeful gestures -- and a crestfallen finale. First, your girlfriend will hold her flute of Champagne close to the candlelight to be sure that she doesn't quaff a diamond solitaire. Undeterred, she might covertly root around in the bread basket or slyly peek beneath every slab of bruschetta.
By the time the entrees are whisked away, she will be doubting your intentions and ordering a Jeroboam of bubbly. She may have even cornered the waiter by the restroom to slur, "Is this bum going to propose or what? You're cute."
Does that sound romantic to you?
In other words, tell her right away that you don't plan to pop the question on Valentine's Day. "Be honest and clue her into your timing on a proposal," says Christa Vagnozzi, senior editor of wedding website the Knot. "If you don't tell her your future plans, she'll be expecting a ring at every holiday."
As for the gift, celebrity jeweler Neil Lane understandably cautions against any ring substitute unless it's that diamond set in platinum. "Don't even think about a friendship ring or a cocktail ring," he advises vehemently. "She'll be furious. Plus, you don't want to give her anything that comes in a little box." Lane also suggests that you present someone with a heart-shaped locket or pendant only if you're serious, because it's so symbolic. (That rule does not apply to 5-pound boxes of chocolates, FYI.)
Personally, I think that any gift of jewelry would be an affront. A pair of sexy Christian Louboutin sling-backs -- with their erotic crimson underbelly -- make for a nice salve. That way, she can exit with dignity if she storms out on you that night.
Oh, and if you're not planning to marry this woman ever, this is no time to strangle her prospects. You'll forever be known as the brute who dropped a bomb on V-Day, and the Farrelly brothers will make a movie about you, starring Ben Stiller. Instead, wait a couple of weeks and then let her know that you won't ever commit. Hopefully, she can console herself with some half-priced Valentine's Day candy from Rite Aid.
Do you have a social woe or an etiquette issue? Send questions to the Mannerist at monica.corcoran @latimes.com