Ask Ladies About Engagement Rings

A reader recently wrote in:

I’m engaged and very much in love with my fiancé, who is in turn very much in love with me. Life is grand. What is not grand is the business of the engagement ring, which is seriously stressing me out — he proposed without one, I’m supposed to choose it, we’re both still in school (read: poor, and carrying a manageable amount of loan debt), and I’m totally torn over whether this is a once-in-a-lifetime, splurge-on-a-symbol-of-your-love-type event, or a first world crock of shit that I should blow to the side.

I mean, to some extent, isn’t the engagement kind of a silly thing to celebrate? Shouldn’t he give me a beautiful ring on our 20th wedding anniversary, instead? And isn’t it kind of insulting that he’s supposed to show his commitment to me with a piece of jewelry?

And then there’s the financials. I would want something unique (no diamonds — not a one!), and kind of simple, and after talking to a couple of jewelers it’s clear that “my kind of ring” would cost somewhere between $900 and $1,000. I almost can’t imagine wearing something that expensive on my hand! But I dropped that cash on a plane ticket to Turkey last year — why does this feel so different? Is it because engagement rings are kind of ridiculous, or is it because I feel horrendously guilty about displaying my wealth so openly, or is it because I feel greedy asking my guy to do this for me? I don’t know!!

So tell me: how much do you love your ring? Would I regret not having one? Is it worth putting our money toward this, instead of toward my student loans or a killer honeymoon? What is the compromise between indulgence and responsibility, in this situation?

In lieu of one answer, we put the question to different Hairpin writers. (Also an obligatory Congratulations. How wonderful. But seriously.)

Lindsay Miller: We were lucky enough to have access to two gorgeous heirloom wedding rings, one from each of our grandmothers, so we spent comparably little money — we had my partner’s grandma’s gold ring re-sized for me, and my grandma’s diamond mounted in a new setting for my partner. Then we took my grandma’s setting and put a sapphire in it (my birthstone), and that was my engagement ring. If we hadn’t had those two rings, I don’t know what we would have done, but I doubt we would have spent much on it — we’re not really expensive-jewelry-wearing ladies. What I love about our rings is that by exchanging them (TOMORROW, holy shit), we’re symbolizing the joining of our two families. For what it’s worth, the ring I’ll be wearing is very plain — just a gold chain — and means a million times more to me than the sparkliest diamond ever could. I can’t imagine I’ll ever regret choosing this over my once-in-a-lifetime chance at a shiny token. Basically, I think you should get a ring if it’s meaningful to you, but not if you just think “well, I’m supposed to want this, right?” That kind of money should only be spent on something you extremely definitely want.

Nicole Cliffe: I wound up not getting a engagement ring, for reasons of, I would say, 40% feminism, 40% self-knowledge, and 20% not caring enough to bother.

On the feminism front, I knew there were a bunch of lady-things I didn’t want to do around getting married: have a real wedding (we got married at City Hall and then threw a fun party a year later), be given away by my dad (I love my dad, but get squicked out by the aisle-walk stuff, plus the first-dance stuff), or change my name.

And it seemed a little weird to me to be so FUCK YOUR PATRIARCHAL TRADITIONS! while still expecting/requesting an engagement ring, particularly since I heard myself subconsciously thinking about how I could get a slightly nicer ring than other women I knew and was supposed to love and support. Shut it down, you’re turning into a massive bitch.

On the self-knowledge front, I buy about thirty pairs of cheap sunglasses a year, because I leave things behind me like a small child lost in the woods, and there is literally a zero-percent chance that I would still be wearing the exact same ring by now, as opposed to an insurance-purchased facsimile. As a matter of fact, I’m on my third identical plain wedding band.

Anyway, all of the feminism and self-awareness disappeared when he offered to buy me an engagement horse instead, which cost the same amount as a nice ring, but also needs new shoes every six weeks, so it shakes out to being the same goddamn thing, minus the blood diamond factor.

Every so often we look into the lab-diamond technology, because I LOVE lab diamonds, since there is NO DIFFERENCE EXCEPT A LACK OF CRUELTY, but they’re still tiny and overpriced, except for those fug yellow ones.

So, anyway, that’s why I don’t have an engagement ring, but also why it doesn’t make me any more enlightened than anyone else, and probably less so.

(Edith Zimmerman: I’m sneaking in here because even though I have no experience with engagement rings, and the letter-writer already says she doesn’t want a diamond, I’ll take any opportunity I can get to point people toward the classic, enlightening article “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?”)

Jane Marie: A little of my engagement rings — plural — backstory before I tell you what I actually think: I’ve had four-and-a-half engagement rings. In chronological order, the first wasn’t actually a ring, but a VHS tape that he handed me. It was an hour-long ad for Hearts on Fire diamonds. He’d just cheated on me with his ex-wife, though, so as I sat next to him for that hour on the couch, I made up my mind to break up with him as soon as the credits rolled.

The second ring was from my long term on-again, off-again love. We’d met when I was 15 and got engaged about, gosh, eight years later I believe? We were very, very poor — I a student/bartender and he a skater — but we were madly in love and wanted everyone to know. After deciding in bed one night (him stoned, me probably drunk) that we wanted to get married, we went that week to … wait for it … Tiffany’s. The only ring we could afford was $200. The stone fell out a few months later so I borrowed a lone diamond earring from my mom — she’d lost it’s mate — and designed a very cool white gold tension setting for it with the help of a jeweler in my Chicago neighborhood. That cost about $300. We broke up 6 months later before invitations were sent but after dress shopping.

The third ring was a very traditional four-prong platinum thingy with a 1-carat brilliant cut solitaire. It was big and it was pretty, but he divorced me. I sold it and the previous ring in order to pay my taxes one year.

My current ring is a 100 year old “toi et moi” ring and I picked it out at a vintage shop one day when we were window shopping about six months before he proposed. It fits well within your budget. I am in love with it, but I love all jewelry, especially the pieces my fiance gives me. He has impeccable taste! It is my goal to be a living shrine to him — just dripping with the jewels he’s bestowed upon me. I’m not even kidding.

So, what is the point? The point is that the ring means absolutely nothing. Nothing! I have two thoughts for you: get a ring you like if you want a symbol, it doesn’t matter how much it costs. There are a million gorgeous vintage rings out there for half your budget. Wouldn’t that feel a lot better? How about this one? (My current ring is from there.)

My second thought: as you go into this marriage and gather more and more of these confusing and fraught experiences, try to remember each time that they are rarely about the superficial thing you think they are about. This is not about whether to get an engagement ring or what kind, I can almost guarantee that. What else is going on in your life that has you feeling uneasy? Cut yourself some slack and don’t worry about this. Worry about the thing that deserves your worry, whatever it really is.

PS — They don’t make my Tiffany ring anymore apparently, but it was a plain silver band with a bezel set small diamond chip. This is the equivalent today.

Do you have any questions for A Lady / Ladies?