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The Tradition of an Engagement Ring

engagement_ring.jpgSo I had this great idea to write about how engagement rings were sexist and all, and I whipped up a draft (albeit a pretty bad one) of an article. Then I met Jamie at work and mentioned it to her, and this got her wheels going, and she beat me to it. So then I mentioned to Daria my thoughts on Jamie's post, and my own, and Daria went home and commented on Jamie's entry!

But hey, far be it from me to let those two ninnies1 steal my thunder. What thunder you ask? I haven't a clue, but if you find it, let me know. Without further ado, and certainly without talking to anyone else about it, I now present to you my take on engagement rings.

Note: Somewhat major edits made today, April 25, to more clearly explain my point of view.

I like to think of myself as a traditional kind of guy. I also like to think of myself as a pretty forward-thinking kind of guy, and often those two are in conflict. For example: I look forward to buying my wife jewelry "just because" and to making her happy in as many ways possible. I'm sure the smile I hope to put on her face will be worth more than a thousand of the world's most brilliant diamonds.

And yet I'd also like to provide real world things that improve the standard of living, day-in/day-out comfort, and so on for my wife, kids, pet dogs, and perhaps myself if there's some time left at the end of the day.

And so I find myself conflicted. An engagement ring (the one you see below is a wedding band, but a gal pal of mine likes it more than most engagement rings) costs a whole lot of money: they say two months' salary is the rule, I think. My conflict? Wouldn't sp $10-12,000 on a house make more sense? And isn't the whole practice of an engagement ring pretty damn sexist to begin with?

Bear in mind one thing: I fully intend to get my future wife (have I even met her yet?) an engagement ring. A nice one, too (my uncle's a jeweler and believe me, that helps). But if I'm supposed to spend $12,000 on a ring, wouldn't spending $2,000 on a ring and $10,000 on a house make more sense? Surely the future wife would get over her ring and realize that smaller mortgage payments or a bigger house might mean a little more and affect her life a little more than a bigger ring might, right?

wedding_band_engagement.gifWhen I spoke to Jamie, I asked her how a feminist might take an engagement ring as a sex symbol, or one of ownership. She covers that topic as well as that of "asking the father" in her entry, and so I won't repeat it here. I agree with much of what she says, nearly all of it, but I did want to comment on one teeny piece of what she's said:

Social norms are a powerful thing.

My original paragraph is as follows:
This is justification for wanting an engagement ring? I'd buy the "symbol of his love and ability to provide for me" argument before I'd buy that one. In other words, "I've gotta have a rock to show my gal pals." Again: I totally expect to and want to get my gal an engagement ring for several reasons, but conforming to social norms is most certainly not one of them. Fuck social norms. They're only norms because the sheep carry them on in the name of "tradition." Tradition is what kept women from voting, owning property, or having jobs in the technical field for so long. Well, that and stupid men, but you get my point.

My (hopefully) better stated paragraph:
Social norms will not be the reason I give my wife an engagement ring. However, they will be the reason I give her a ring. Confused? Good. I will give my wife (I suppose I should say fiancée) an engagement ring as a symbol of the fact that I've realized that I can't live the rest of my life without her and feel complete. As a symbol of my undying love. As a symbol of a time in my life, of taking the next step, of rendering myself completely modest at her feet. I'll give her a ring to symbolize that. However, I'll give her a ring to symbolize that, and not a bracelet, necklace, new kitchen, antique vase, or some other item because of social norms.

As to the value of the ring? Inconsequential to me, and my guess is that it will be inconsequential to my wife. If the value of a ring is that important to my wife, well, sirens should go off, because I might want to rethink my evaluation of my soulmate. I won't go get a $250 ring - I like nice things too, and I certainly want the damn thing to last - but I won't be getting a $90,000 ring either.

As to Daria's comment, well, let's just say I don't agree much at all. She may think she's being a smart woman and all, but spending money on an engagement ring is in no way whatsoever any indication of a man's ability to provide. It could be on a 40-year payment plan, it could indicate that he doesn't know how to manage his finances (if he over-spends), and all sorts of things. I won't even comment on her take on "staying home to raise the kids" and all that jazz. Let's just say that I hope some real feminists don't know where Daria lives…

And so here I sit: I want to make my wife happy, but I'll probably only get engaged to someone who feels similarly to me. I can't see myself sp $12,000 on a ring: a $3,500 ring and a nice set of wedding bands seem the way to go. The speech I deliver when I propose will detail the reasons I'm giving her a ring, and what it symbolizes. It'll be a ring because that's the norm. It just won't be an "I make more than you, neener neener" ring.

What will I really do? Well, we'll see. Not any time soon either, but we'll see. I'm a guy - I'm bound to mess it up one way or the other, right? I'll have to settle for doing my best. Besides, isn't it the thought that counts? "Honey, I thought about getting you a ring, but then I bought a Porsche instead." Hmmm… Nah. 😐

1 Absolutely nothing derogatory meant by calling Jamie or Daria "ninnies" (or "bitches") - they're friends and I trust that they know I'm joking. I adore them each, and "bitch" is just another word for a woman with an opinion anyway - my kinda gal!

35 Responses to "The Tradition of an Engagement Ring"

  1. I only spent $600 on my wife's ring/engagement ring (it's a set). Mainly because she doesn't care about jewelry, never wears it, and it would be money completely wasted if I spent more than I did on her ring. We then bought a $300 wedding band for me to wear. I had never worn a ring before in my life, so it would have been money wasted on me too. It's just a piece of metal to us, so spending any considerable amount of money on it would be silly.

    I guess the only reason we got them at all is "tradition" and so we think about each other whenever we look at the rings, and so other people know we are married.

  2. You should just ask your wife whether or not she wants a big huge ass rock. If you are marrying her, then you should probably trust her judgment. If you know her that well, you should know whether or not she'll flip out if you don't buy her the biggest ring you can. And if she's the kind of girl to flip out because you didn't get a 10,000$ diamond, well, then she probably won't be satisfied with a lot of things about you, and you'll probably have a miserable marriage or a fast track to divorce court.

    I'd hope that the girl I end up with some day would the kind of person that would appreciate a nice ring, something simple but elegant, probably less than 1000$ in cost, probably bought from a local craftsman rather than the mall store mega-lo-jeweler crap factory. The ring would say 'I like giving you nice things, and the uniqueness of the ring is a symbol of the uniqueness of our relationship'. Then, if you have decided that you are going to blow a total of 10,000$ on her, then you have all that left over money to get other more useful things for her, or to put away in savings for your retirement together. Thats a time when the ability to travel and the ability to invite family to stay with you will be worth a lot more to the two of you than some big pointy rock.

    Fuck social norms. If you are going to get her a ring, do it for the reasons that the two of you are happy with. If you don't get her a ring, then do it for the reasons that the two of you are happy about. Imagine yourself in a vacuum. Would you get her a ring? Either way is fine, as long as you get across the message you want her to get, that being you want to share a symbol of your love.

  3. Would you be getting her this ring if the social norm of an engagement ring wasn't in place? Is this your original idea? Hmm...

  4. I will say this: If my mate were to suggest to me that she wanted the biggest rock my money could buy we definitely would not be together. And why would we not? Because I believe that an engagement ring should be a symbol of my love, not a symbol that shows how much money I have spent. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't have had a problem wearing an engagement ring (for males, of course) had she given me one in return. The only thing I would change would be the element my ring is made from; I don't like gold very much. Heck, I don't like jewlery all that much. However, why in the name of Venus would I wear an element I'm not particularly fond of? Easy answer. She gave it to me as a symbol of her love for me and I respect that above all other things.

  5. I wouldn't have gotten my wife the ring if it weren't for the "social norm" or tradition or custom or whatever you want to call it. But I'm perfectly ok with that. I have better things to do/think about than constantly trying to buck trends and deviate from the social norm. Sure when I was a teenager I tried to be "different" about everything for the sake of being different, but now it just seems pretty boring. To me, questioning and purposefully not following every tradition/custom just because it is a tradition is as silly as blindly following every tradition/custom.

    No I'm not a sheep, and I don't follow EVERY tradition just because it is a tradition. But when it's something as silly as a ring, it's just not worth putting much thought into it as far as I'm concerned. Married people wear rings. It's a simple way to remember each other by and let other people know that you are married. And besides, it gives me something to play with when I'm bored and don't have my GBA with me... 🙂

    And I agree with Gabe, if my wife had been all obsessed with pieces of metal and rocks and wanted me to spend even $3000 on a ring, we would probably not be married right now.

  6. Coming from a guy whose about to get married in two weeks, I can say I fell in to the trap. See my gal has always said that those types of things (big diamonds) aren't important to her, but let me tell you guys, upon first sight of a big rock, that inhibition is lost.

    I could have spent more, or a little less, in the end the price just seemed right. Not that I've put a price on my bride to be, she will always be worth more to me then a stupid piece of carbon. I even went so far as to pick out the diamond independent of the mounting; looking at it under a microscope, as if I know what the heck I'm looking at.

    It is good for strokin the ego though, when your lady flashes her ring off to friends (whose rings are usually smaller). Yeah, I did that. 🙂

    Is it nerdy (of “nurby”) that on my wedding band I had the date of our wedding etched in binary? Once a geek, always a geek…

  7. Engagement thoughts

    Thoughts on the traditions surrounding engagement

  8. Well, I'll offer a slightly different perspective, one which doesn't involve diamonds. To me, anyone who says "Oh you just have to buy me a ring that costs the same as a Honda Accord" is buying into a very dangerous rationale and strikes me as a courtisan, not a wife. A ring of symbolic nature doesn't need to outrageously expensive, though perhaps a bit more than a $99.95 special at Wal-Mart. Go for what you think is reasonable to you all, not what's reasonable to society.

    My ex and I wore platinum wedding bands made by a local jewler. They weren't "inexpensive" at about $900/each, but they were understated, and not an outrageous sum of money. Unfortunately, the rings outlasted the relationship after 5 years, and so they can be a reminder. Fortunately, platinum can be melted down. 🙂

    BTW, someone else has pointed out the irrational pricing of diamonds, and the BS behind them. Buying into that is just as bad as throwing money down a drain. If you're going to buy a diamond, deal in used jewlery, where the mark-up is only a few thousand percent.

  9. To contribute another female perspective to this... The whole ring thing is a field loaded with landmines. I personally want a ring, but don't want diamonds, for two reasons. Firstly, because diamonds are an artificially stimulated 'tradition' created by clever marketing, and I just resist being another sheeple as a general rule. Secondly, the large majority of diamonds come from Africa, especially in the Sierra Leone area, where henchmen roam around and attack villages to get villagers to run away so that their interests can then mine the abandoned land for diamonds. I don't support the brutalization of poor African children.

    The thing is, despite this, I look at diamonds and go "oooh, pretty" (well, when they're set in platinum or white gold, anyway). I can't help it. I would like one if it were bought for me without my input, but if I were ever asked I would say no. And I would dislike myself for liking it.

    Social conditioning for girls runs very, very deep and it's hard to fight it sometimes. I have decided that it's good to find something totally repugnant and so therefore never participate in it, but that it's a sign of true virtue to like it deep down and not act on it because you know it's wrong. Maybe I'm just rationalizing to make myself feel better, who knows, but it sounds good to me! Too bad it's too long to fit on a bumper sticker.

  10. "can't see myself spending $12,000 on a ring: a $3,500 ring and a nice set of wedding bands seem the way to go."

    It's funny that you picked that number. Have you been looking, or just guestimating?

    Having just made a purchase myself, with no price in mind at the outset, I ended up within $100 or your price.

  11. No, I haven't been looking. I don't know if I've ever met the person I'll marry, but I imagine I'll have a few months to look when I do.

    $3,500 is a good price, I think. Should get a couple a ring they really like and one that will last.

    I'm happy with the comments posted here so far. Thanks, y'all!

  12. Another female perspective...

    On the cost issue: I would support what others have said -- spending masses on a ring is really not necessary, and if your partner loves you and isn't a feckless, materialistic cow (oops, sorry -- got a bit carried away there), she won't mind at all. It's the same thing with expensive weddings. The whole cabal of materialist culture conspires to make you feel bad if you don't spend hundreds of thousands on staging your wedding. As if it matters! The main thing is for you, your family and friends to have fun. And the marriage is the important thing, not the wedding.

    On the sexism issue: engagement rings aren't sexist if you both get one! Me and my husband got nicely decorated matching gold bands, designing them ourselves and getting a nice jeweler in Birmingham (England) to make them. They weren't at all expensive (I nearly snorted coffee out of my nose when I saw you mention $12,000, or even $2,000), and they are special because we designed them.

    On another related topic, I love my wedding ring because it symbolises that we belong to one another. And the little calluses we each have on our palms just below the ring symbolise the little adaptations and accommodations you have to make in the process of fitting together.

  13. In case you're interested, during my engagement period eight years ago, I made a joke that my betrothed got an engagement ring while I did not. A few days later, she revealed that, in response to my joke, had purchased matching silver engagement rings that were celtic in origin and had a bit of poetry inside: "All I refuse and thee I chuse (sic)". I still wear that ring on my right ring finger while my wedding rings sits on the left.


  14. My wife is a nurse and has been since before we married. For that reason, her conscious choice of rings was somewhat limited, as a ring with a protruding set was not compatible with latex gloves. There aren't a lot of choices in this area, so she decided on a classy, platinum, mildly diamond-encrusted anniversary band. She has gotten more comments on it than I imagine any typical wedding set would have.

    We essentially had no engagement rings, neither of us, opting instead for cheesy, yet extremely sentimental, sterling silver bands with heartfelt inscriptions in them. They sit in a jewelry box now, but mean more to us than any symbol we wear now.

  15. Not that I have a good comment for this, but I did find a post I made months ago on this topic.

    I will ping you with it, as well, because I can.

  16. Engagement rings

    Slashdot is running a very interesting article on engagement rings, alternatives for them and where they originated. I found this comment to be incredibly interesting. The full text is inside......

  17. For people looking to avoid slave labor and the horrible diamond mining policies of Africa - I believe most Canadian diamonds are good to go. Do some research on Google... I only know this because it was brought to my attention by my girlfriend who was interested in such things.

  18. From a woman's point of view.... I want an engagement ring.... it just follows kind of a tradition, but also gives the future bride and groom time to get real about the fact that they're going to spend the rest of their lives together.....I think engagement itself should last awhile. Bask in the glow of love...

  19. Weddings present an almost irresistable opportunity to make money - the engagement ring is like a down-payment on a really solid MLM plan. You get engagement gifts, and then wedding gifts ... you just have to comply with tradition. Be smart about what you spend on the wedding and engagement ring, and you'll come out ahead.

    I don't mean to sound unsentimental, but this is what this post is about, right? Is it smart to spend $12,000 on an engagement ring? Only if you're a (prospective) member of a wealthy family, where gifts received will outweigh the money spent.

    Sexism - blah. Can't see why it's sexist to buy an engagement ring. It's unfair, I suppose, but not sexist.

    Avoid supporting slave labor, and save some dough, by purchasing an estate diamond. My diamond appraises at four times what we paid for it.

    Also, remember to prioritize color over clarity. You can save money this way, too. Who cares what it looks like under a microscope??

  20. Buy her a nice ring - I have a man who can definately afford a damn expensive ring and he bought me the typical 1ct round that makes me feel like the most average woman out there. Being an 'artsy type' myself, I feel spiteful and resentful everytime I look at it - commumicate beforehand. Just my two cents. You don't want her writing something like this on a posting do you?

  21. My fiancee and I just picked out my engagement ring and it was $230. It's absolutely beautiful and I think it's INSANE that you people spend thousands on rings! The ring is only a symbol. Why spend so much on it? LOL!!

  22. I recently purchased a yogo sapphire ring with 2 smaller diamonds on each side for her wedding ring (not the cheapest and definitely not the most expensive ring). I purchased this type because my grandfather used to mine and cut sapphires and ended up giving one to my father for my mothers wedding ring. So I thought it would be neat to kind of keep the tradition even though I didn't have it made personally, and personally I don't like the big bulky diamond. The point I'm trying to make here is that we went with a ring that meant something and not a over priced ring from who knows where. Good Luck!

  23. I just got engaged over Valentine's Day weekend, but we had the ring picked out and sized before he gave it to me. We actually bought it in St. Thomas, because you can get diamonds ALOT cheaper in the Caribbean. It's small, but it's very nice, and I like it very much. To me it doesnt matter what the size is, its the thought that counts. We live on student budgets, so the fact that the spent what he could afford was the best part of it.

    And I have you all beat... we paid $179 (tax free in St Thomas) for my ring. BOO-YAH.

  24. Interesting article, thanks!

    My engagement ring cost £180, was paid for by my in-laws and used a diamond out of a family heirloom they already had. My wedding ring cost the equivalent of £10 from a goldsmith in Cambodia where my sister in law was on holiday.

    I don't much care that they didn't cost much, or that my husband didn't pay for them. I love them both.

    Having said that though, going along the "paying x for a ring shows that hubby is able to provide" line, it's sure been true so far.

  25. guys, if you decide a ring's not important, then for god's sake make sure the girl thinks so too! After proposing to me, my now-ex then decided he didn't have time to go with me to buy a ring, and told me to go on my own. Needless to say, that wasn't the way I had dreamt that one of the biggest days of my life would happen. That was the beginning of the end... most girls are very traditional when it comes to giving your life to a man but may be proud about admitting they are upset that you don't think a ring is important!

  26. A $250 ring will last just as long as a $2,000 ring, the statement about it lasting seems ridicilous and irrelevant.

    As for the last poster, we need less women who are "giving their life to a man", and more women who have their own life, much like the man they love, and togeether they have a union of lives, not giving of lives.

  27. I feel that the tradition of engagement rings is sexist; it dates back to when women were property and men paid for them.

    As a female, I think it's silly that I get two rings while my husband gets one. I bought my husband a wedding ring and he bought me one. Personally, I cringe and am humiliated when women ooh and aah like 13-yr-olds over a big sparkly thing. They lose their minds completely and make the rest of us look like materialistic idiots.

  28. Does anyone out there think it's ok for a women to contribute to her own engagement ring? After we are married there will be no "his" and "her" money anyway...

  29. I think it's fine for a women to contribute to her own engagement ring. My future husband and I are flying to belgium to pick up a diamond. I'm paying for the setting and he's paying for a small diamond (1/2 carat).

  30. My wife was working when we got engaged and I was finishing law school. I was in school-loan debt but had already accepted a job with a big firm, so I planned to buy her a ring once the checks started coming in. In the meantime she fell in love with a (huge) ring and bought it herself... all without me spending a dime. I felt sort of emasculated at first and promised to pay her back. But once we were married, the money mingled, we had mortgage payments, utility bills, and so on. I look at that ring like a token of a time when we changed from dating to being engaged and eventually married--not a symbol of my failure to come up with thousands of dollars on the spot. The only real downer was that even though she knew we were getting engaged soon, I wanted to buy a ring and surprise her to some extent. I missed out on that, but have no real regrets about it at all. And the ring is fantastic.

  31. 😐
    I think everyones circumstances are different. I never wanted a big ring and I got one. I appreciate it ~but we both know it was not necessary. If you have the $ then spending 14000 on a ring is a fun excuse to do something special and crazy together. As far as love, marriage, and making a commitment - we dont need a ring to prove that. I love him regardless of what we have or dont have.

  32. i just want to know if it is appropriate for the female to pick her wedding and engagement set herself, together with the man she will wed? what is the proper ettiquette for picking, purchasing, and giving the ring to the female? when i got married we were dirt poor and got our rings at the west indian shop in plain old sterling silver. i chose one with some designs on it while his was a plain silver band. we divorced in the third year of our marriage so i guess it was good that we did not spend a lot of time and money saving up for that not so special event. what is the scoop? my daughter is planning on getting married and the first ring he got her she refused to take it. she wanted a bigger one. he chose to wait a while before he gave her the second one. i guess she is satisfied because she is telling everyone about it. she even called my mom long distance. something she never does, so i guess this is the thingy she wanted. they plan to get married in a year after they save up for the wedding expenses. help! i need to know if this is the proper way to handle this?

  33. I'm not sure what my boyfriend actually paid for my engagement ring i just no what the thing is worth( $3000) he got it on sale. I didnt care how much he spent on the thing i just wanted him to pick it out on his own and me too like it which i do.

  34. I was asked by my fiance to go and look at rings I may like and I have to say that I was excited about the whole thing. He wanted to buy me an expensive ring with a HUGE rock in the middle, and as much as I thought I would love to show it off, I realized that it would put him in debt. When we became married that would become my debt. I had to tell him what was really important. What is really important to understand is that the "RING" is not the prize. My future husband is the PRIZE! The ring is like a bow. It is pretty, and can be flashy, but the real gift is the person giving it to you. We decided on a smaller less expensive ring that we could buy without making payments. He is my PRIZE!!!