There are things in life that we grow up learning as expected pre-requisites toward the next stage. These expectations are formed from previous generations’ own experiences and life journeys, wherein older folks have already traversed the path towards a certain life goal. As a child, I have always been one who challenged these expectations. I was stubborn, curious, and a down-right resister of things that I was told I “had” to do. I would have likely formed my own resistance, and I sure did try to create movements with my sister, much to the frustration of my parents, no doubt. A lot of these life expectations are societal norms that are entirely, all too bogus in my opinion, engagement rings being one of them.
I had a normal childhood. My parents are not divorced. I did not have any hateful relationships. I watched Disney (in fact, that was ALL I watched), and grew up with the Princes and the Princesses. Even though television was limited at our house, I still saw advertisements for jewelry stores and movies with proposals in them. All of this to say, I did not live under a rock and I was not traumatized, which I consider is a necessary statement considering the looks some people gave me when I told them that there was no engagement ring.
When we started telling our family and friends that we were getting married back in 2016, the first question was either “Where is your engagement ring?” and “How did he propose?” To which we replied that there was neither a ring nor a proposal. The first thing my family did was look at me with a quizzical look. But I think they knew me well enough to immediately deduce that I was the mastermind behind this decision-making and did not question us further. Those who didn’t know me, however, ganged up on poor Mike, who was only following my wishes. They questioned why he didn’t just get one anyways, despite my request (demand?) not to have an engagement. They were upset that he did not come to them first for advice, as if they knew better what was best for us. They told him it was a mistake and it was going to haunt him for the rest of his life. The poor soul. And then they came to me and said that I definitely wanted to get a ring from him, to secure the deal, as if a rock on a gold band can keep a man from leaving or changing his mind. As if I would want to keep the man who would prefer to leave. The whole traditional thinking behind the matter is quite laughable to me.
So why was I so against engagement rings? I find engagement rings to be ridiculously expensive, utterly useless, and an honest offense to, dare I say it, REAL displays of affection? I am mortified at the idea of someone needing to give me a highly expensive item to convince me to stay with them for the rest of their life. I am not so useless that I need someone to buy me an expensive ring, either. If I wanted a ring, I can buy it myself, thank you very much. I never looked forward to the feigned surprise of those being proposed to, as if they actually did not know, or never gave it a thought. Firstly, if they never gave it a thought, then maybe there shouldn’t be a proposal in the first place. Secondly, if they actually did not know that he was interested in spending the rest of his life with them, then I suspect there is a lack of communication, somewhere.
I think, too, I was shocked to hear of people our age taking out loans in order to buy engagement rings? I mean, talk about starting marriages with financial hardship. Trust me, I would know, what with my massive student debt, that this is not where anyone would want to be. And I was absolutely not okay with accepting whispered words of requiring a ring equivalent to three months worth of pay. I remember thinking to myself that the world has gone mad. Do we no longer rationalize things for ourselves? I think it is very important to discuss with younger generations why we are so brainwashed to think that an engagement ring is necessary, or even a coveted thing. The simple answer is that a company (DeBeers) in the late 1800s decided that they were going to take this rock and make it shiny and create this idea of scarcity around it so that it could be equated with a high social status and then sell this rock to the wealthy people of the world. Eventually, he figured out that to make this mainstream will earn him even more income, and thus, this excessive social status that was once only available to very very rich people, started to be advertised to the middle class as something covetable, and worse, attainable and necessary.
The sad thing is that while women covet the darn thing, the men are the ones who are entirely afraid of not buying it. When I told Mike that I did not want the ring, he must have asked me “Are you sure?” over the course of a half a year. Because if he did not get it, what would people think of him? Would I turn around in the future and use it against him? Would we regret this decision? Do I want to be surprised? This assumption that ALL women want an engagement ring is part of what fuels ALL women feeling like they need an engagement ring. Therefore, equally as important as having a discussion with younger generations is having a discussion among partners. I hear guys all the time say they want to propose to their girlfriend but have no idea what to buy for the engagement ring. So then obviously, my immediate question to them is, “Do they even want an engagement ring?” To which they say, “I don’t know. What girl doesn’t want one?” Obviously, we need to communicate better. Ask them. “What of the element of surprise?”, they would say. Well, then maybe girls should be equally accountable for bringing this subject up, as well. I can’t have been the only one bothered sick with the notion of receiving one, can I?
How did it get brought up for us? I’m sure you’ve already guessed it, but it was entirely my doing. I straight out asked Mike in a very matter-of-fact way, the following questions: “Do you think we will ever get married? When would you expect to get married? Where do you see us in __ years? What are your thoughts to no engagement ring?”, most probably in that particular order. The answers weren’t immediate or hurried, as all answers to big decisions ought to be. In fact, it took us a few months to rationalize whether it was optimal to even get married. And after we finally talked it through and made our decision, as two equals weighing in on something that affects both of us, without the pressures of answering a question at one particular moment while one suffers on bended knee and the other suffers from feigned surprise, I started to list out all the things I would rather have than a rock.
I couldn’t list a single reason to want an engagement ring, but I could list hundreds of things I would have rather spent that money on. Upon the realization that I would hate to see money go to waste, we decided to allocate some money towards a vacation, prior to announcing to everyone that we were going to get hitched. When I say some money, I still mean way less than three months pay, and I entirely mean splitting the trip evenly between two equal partners. It’s 2016 (or it was at the time) and I do believe in equal contributions to any relationship. The vacation was a four day get-away to the Bahamas, and it was our second international trip as a pair. We knew from the get-go that travel was very important to us. It has been an underlying theme in our relationship, and this was another commitment to each other that travel will continue to be a way in which we grow together as a couple. So yeah, I chose to travel instead of strap a band on my finger.
That’s just it. Just because engagement rings worked for your parents, it does not mean it works for you. My advice? Talk about it honestly and openly. How do we ever expect to break the chains that keep us on a hamster wheel if we are too afraid to ask people questions that could hurt, or more frequently, questions that require even an ounce of thought or soul searching?
And if for some reason it’s difficult for one person to break free from the thought of engagement rings, look, I get it. Advertising is strong, drug-like almost. But then, DO talk about the finances of it. More specifically, what are you willing to sacrifice in order to have it. Prioritize your future goals as a couple. If you want a house or a lifetime of travel or financial independence or the freedom to do whatever you want, try to calculate how many years you would be willing to take off from your other priorities in order to have that ring. Maybe, then, you’d come to a different conclusion.
A fantastic read about engagement rings, and the history of, here.