Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Wedding Crap: The Engagement Ring

(See introduction and disclaimer to this series here, and other posts in the series here.)

What is the tradition? 

When a man proposes, he does so by presenting a diamond ring - usually picked out (and definitely purchased) by him, perhaps based on hints from the woman as to her preferences. The woman wears the ring until the wedding, and then adds on a (plain, or with smaller diamonds) wedding band. The man doesn't wear a ring until the wedding. 

If the engagement is broken off before the wedding, the ring is generally supposed to be kept by the party who didn't initiate it (i.e., if the man breaks it off, the woman keeps the ring; if she breaks it off, she gives the ring back to him).

What is the origin of the tradition?

I think this video describes it better than I ever could. (Caution: contains some NSFW language.)

Ok, the general concept of exchanging a ring of some sort as part of the engagement goes back a long time. But the diamond ring - and particular an expensive diamond ring - totally modern, totally all an advertising campaign. 

It also may have been connected with the ending of "breach of promise to marry" laws. Because, of course, a woman's value as a potential wife lies in her virginity, and she might lose her virginity in between the engagement and wedding, so she needed a form of recourse if the man broke it off and left her "damaged". At one point, laws gave her the right to sue him; as those laws were removed from the books, being given a valuable ring at least gave her some monetary compensation for the injury to her character.

Why do people still follow it?

Because we readily buy into advertising and like shiny things? Honestly, that's the only reason that makes sense. 

Some might say it shows commitment from the man (personally, if I'm to expect financial commitment, I'd rather get it in the form of a more practical asset, like a car or down payment on a house). And to the general public, it's a display of (your fiance's) wealth and financial stability. 

Why is that crap? 

We no longer need monetary recourse for losing our virginity and being jilted (in America's mainstream culture, at least), so that justification is out. It also isn't a good investment and thus isn't a commitment to the couple's financial future. That leaves buying into advertising as the only justification, which I'd hope you don't believe is a good reason!

Unlike many other wedding-related traditions, which at least had some basis in practical (albeit patriarchal) needs (such as political alliances), this one is truly pure crap.

What am I doing with this tradition?

When we decided to get engaged, we - together - picked out engagement rings (plural - he's engaged too!) from an etsy seller (Metal Monkey Jewellery), which are custom-engraved with each other's fingerprints. Much more meaningful than a ubiquitous diamond, in my opinion! There was no exchange of rings, on bended knee or otherwise, but we simply both started wearing the rings the day we made the engagement official.

We bought separate rings to exchange at the wedding, also from etsy (artifactum). Mine does have a diamond - but the seller guarantees that it is conflict free, and it is an uncut diamond. I really enjoy that it's subtly undercutting (in my mind, at least), the tradition of a diamond, even while seemingly going along with it (albeit backwards, with a plainer band for the engagement and a stone for the wedding, instead of vice versa). I.e., see, this is what a diamond really is - it's just a rock, nothing sparkly.

I do get the occasional "oh... how... unique" comment from people who I suspect don't quite understand the choice, but I've yet to get overtly negative feedback on it.

How did/will you handle this tradition?

I would love to have a lively debate and conversation in the comments! Please join in!

Dissenting opinions (from the post itself or other commenters) are welcome, but I reserve the right to delete any comments that personally attack me or any other commenter.


  1. I want to play! (Just catching up from the weekend, haha)
    We totally played into the tradition. My husband proposed to me, down on one knee and everything, and I wore an engagement ring while he did not. He did actually care a lot more about his wedding ring than I expected him to, though. He had a very specific look in mind (still very basic, but he knew what he wanted) and my ring fingerprint is imprinted on the inside of the band.
    So do I think engagement rings are crap? Well, when I think about it, yes. But, on the other hand, I really, really love my engagement ring and loved wearing it and it is just so special to me. My husband kept it for over a year before he proposed to me (it's a long, long story for another day, but I got really wasted one day and told him about the ring, which is antique and was about to be sold to someone else - that person didn't put down their deposit in time and my husband swooped in. Imagine my surprise when he proposed with that very ring over a year later). So it's a really special token of a time that he knew without a doubt that he wanted to marry me, but I still needed some convincing.
    Whew. I'm long winded today!

    1. Aww, that's sweet! That's a nice way of owning the tradition, I think - it wasn't just about owning a diamond ring, but about that particular ring and him going out of his way to get something special for you.

  2. My husband proposed to me and he had already purchased me an uncut, conflict-free diamond ring from Etsy (similar to yours!). I purchased him a ring from Etsy shortly after the proposal, and he wore it throughout our engagement. We both thought it was silly that only women are "supposed" to wear the ring. We gave each other gifts, so we were going to put them to use!

    I really love this series! I would love to hear your thoughts on surname change.

    1. Thanks for reading! That's awesome how you did it, right, it only makes some sense if at least both partners have rings! (And etsy is awesome, too!)

      I talked a bit about name changes in a post unrelated to this series (http://balancingmeanderings.blogspot.com/2014/08/my-husband-doesnt-get-asked-this.html) but plan to do a post specifically about it, in this format for the wedding crap series, in the future.

    2. Awesome - great post! My husband and I both kept our last names. We currently live in the SE, and we both face criticism for this from colleagues. People are so bewildered as to why I didn't take my husband's name, and people don't understand why my husband doesn't have a problem with me not taking his name (what I love is when people say, "He let you keep your name?!?!" Uh, didn't need his permission...I'm not his property). It can be really frustrating, especially since where we live is still so patriarchal. We don't know if we want kids, but we have discussed creating our own "family" name if we do decide to have children.

    3. We are getting to close to having kids, so have to decide what to do about that - we have used a combined last name (not hyphenated, but a mashed up, using parts of both our last names) occasionally for a few unofficial things (e.g., our bank account log-in, a facebook event - taking place at the [ ] residence). I need to look into what Oregon law allows you to do for giving kids last names (they're kind of strict on what you can change names in marriage, so I kind of doubt they let you pick any random last name for your kid), and if they don't require you to give one or a combination of the parents' names, I think we might seriously use that mash up last name.

      I can't believe how often I still hear about a guy being upset if his wife wouldn't change her name - and it's usually told as if it's funny, from the woman, who is changing her name, like "I told him as a joke that I was going to keep my name, he was so upset! ha ha!". Really, do they not comprehend the meaning of what they're saying?!


Please join in the conversation!

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