Is this one of those times when I should stop critiquing?
April 3, 2012 12:57 PM   Subscribe

The ring is holding me back from getting engaged. Please help me find a way to be creative within the bounds of social expectation, or else help me get over my hangups.

I have been living with my partner for six years, and I realized recently that I want to get married to her. This is somewhat of a surprise, since I swore off the whole enterprise after the first one failed, but she's worth it, and she deserves a proper proposal. (I'm posting anonymously because she reads the site. Hopefully she misses this one!)

The big snag now is that I'm not sure what to do about the ring. Engagement rings bother me for a couple of reasons:

A) They seem like a branding symbol, akin to marking her as my property

B) They scream 'status signal'. She and I are both relatively well off, but I really don't like that I'm expected to advertise that fact. (She rolls in pretty fancy circles though, and I don't want to shame her either)

C) The diamond market is so rigged, I feel like I would be funding a crooked regime. (I'm mostly committed to choosing another gem as the centerpiece)

D) Lastly (and most shallowly), I really don't like the look of the "leveled-up" ring pair (that is, the wedding band worn next to the engagement ring) that seems to be the fashion these days. It looks awkward, and it completely overshadows the subtle "shared bond" symbolism of the wedding bands. OTOH, you can't *not* where an engagement ring that cost thousands of dollars.

I should point out here that as far as I know she does not share any of these hangups. I haven't broached the subject because I don't want to ruin the surprise. (We *have* talked about marriage itself. She's willing.) My read is that she will be happy with whatever I choose, but I don't want my moralizing to taint her (first) experience.

I've come up with the following options:

1) suck it up and buy something nice.

2) use a surrogate (A neclace? Broach? Temporary ring? Hallmark card?) and pick out nice wedding bands together instead

3) fire up Maya and try to design my own, custom ring & setting (which could either be awesome or disastrous)

I know this is a matter of taste, and the most important vote hasn't been cast. That said, I'd like to get a poll of the Mefi opinion on the matter, and I would be very happy for other suggestions I haven't thought about. I've read previous related threads, and there are some good suggestions, but I'm having a hard time gauging whether it's a good idea to stray from the script at all.

Our future relationship depends on you! (not really)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (82 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
OTOH, you can't *not* where an engagement ring that cost thousands of dollars.

Sure you can. People do this all the time.
posted by Jahaza at 1:00 PM on April 3, 2012 [12 favorites]

Depending on her sense of humor, pop the question with a joke ring and then go shop for one together.

I think that if she loves you, she will love what you do and treasure it always.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:00 PM on April 3, 2012 [15 favorites]

Does she have a sister or close friend that you trust? Ask her to poke around your beloved for an idea of what she would want (without being obvious, which is sort of hard!). Barring that, do you know any people getting married? Any big engagements in the news these days? Bring it up as innocently as you can and see where she takes it.

Gem-wise, maybe her birthstone or a stone perhaps naturally found in a region of the country/world special to her?
posted by troika at 1:02 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, many other colored gems and precious metals have ethical/political/environmental problems. If that's something you worry about with diamonds, choosing a different gem doesn't necessarily mean the problem goes away. Do your research and look for ethical options if it's important to you.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:04 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd recommend discussing it with her and seeing what she would prefer.

One thing you could consider is getting engagement rings for both of you. This way, when you get married, you both have complementary double rings.

My wife's engagement ring, rather than being a big "ideal cut" diamond, is a band of rectangular emerald cut diamonds (like this, but nicer without so much heavy hardware and, yanno, not from Sam's Club -- but that's the general idea). Emerald cut diamonds are, I think, a better value because they are valued mostly based on clarity rather than brilliance. So you can get more carat weight for your dollar. Also, we felt that it matched very well with the simple wedding band.
posted by slkinsey at 1:05 PM on April 3, 2012

It cost me $85 to have a beloved candy-machine ring turned into a real precious-metal ring. She wears it as her wedding band now, but the original idea was sort of half jokey/half serious. Pretty damned creative, and, wow, did I get off cheap.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:05 PM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you considered moissanite?
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:06 PM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

If a diamond (or the stacked ring set) is problematic for you, estate jewelry might give you some different visual looks and might work better ethically, as you're not supporting the current new diamond market.
My husband proposed without a ring and we found a lovely estate piece that is more beautiful and unique to me than a new piece. For us, it made sense to shop for rings together, the way we do most major life decisions. Having the ring the proposal night didn't matter.
posted by ceramicblue at 1:06 PM on April 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seems a lot of this is about you, when the whole thing of being engaged and the engagement ring is a lot about *her*. She might like the wedding ring/engagement ring coupling - or she may wear the engagement ring on the other hand when the deed is done.

She may want to flaunt a little about her excellent fiance-to-be in her circles.

Figure out what she would like and suck it up.
posted by rich at 1:07 PM on April 3, 2012 [31 favorites]

I vote that you give her a Lifesaver, a la the commercial. Or propose to her with something pretty that's, like, 25 bucks at a hippie store. Then you can go pick out whatever works for her -- together.

With my first marriage, we picked it out together and THEN he proposed. (After his great-grandma's funeral.)

With my second marriage, I did a little poking around sort of in front of him (I swear I wasn't trying to hint, but we'd talked about it a little), and he got me a setting. It arrived with a CZ stone in it, and he proposed that way, and then we sent it back to get it sized and have his mother's diamond put in it. I was actually looking at rubies because of the ethical/political connotations of diamonds, but I knew his mom's diamond meant a lot to him -- and, actually, she loved costume bling, so having a ginormous CZ stone even temporarily kind of meant something to me too :)
posted by Madamina at 1:07 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you considered buying an antique ring? They're often way cheaper than brand new ones and quite cool looking.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:07 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

A) They seem like a branding symbol, akin to marking her as my property

It's a symbol, and you can make it mean whatever you both want it to mean.

B) They scream 'status signal'. She and I are both relatively well off, but I really don't like that I'm expected to advertise that fact. (She rolls in pretty fancy circles though, and I don't want to shame her either)

So play against type. Get something small and classy.

C) The diamond market is so rigged, I feel like I would be funding a crooked regime. (I'm mostly committed to choosing another gem as the centerpiece)

Buying a ring from a consignment or vintage shop is often more economical and keeps your money from going to the diamond cartels except in the most indirect ways. Or get something other than a diamond. It's totally your choice. Like I said above, it means what you decide it means.

D) Lastly (and most shallowly), I really don't like the look of the "leveled-up" ring pair (that is, the wedding band worn next to the engagement ring) that seems to be the fashion these days. It looks awkward, and it completely overshadows the subtle "shared bond" symbolism of the wedding bands. OTOH, you can't *not* where an engagement ring that cost thousands of dollars.

Again, you can wear or not wear whatever you want. Talk about this with her.
posted by gauche at 1:08 PM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Asking someone to marry you and giving them an engagement ring can be two completely different things. The idea that they're supposed to be simultaneous was completely made up by the person who was doing PR for DeBeers in the US in the early 20th century--I can't remember if it was Edward Bernays or A. Toxen Worm, but it was one of the two.

Why not ask her to marry you, and then talk with her about what she would like for an engagement ring, given the issues you've outlined here?

I am constantly mystified by other people's apparent joy in being surprised by an engagement ring. If my husband had given me something I was going to wear every goddamned day of my life as a surprise without my involvement, that would have bugged me beyond words. I know that I am not like everyone else, but maybe your partner isn't either?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:08 PM on April 3, 2012 [42 favorites]

Not option three. This might work if you were an artist with an impeccable sense of design. More likely it will be hideous and unreturnable and she will feel too awful to tell you.
posted by decathexis at 1:09 PM on April 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

If she doesn't feel comfortable announcing her engagement until she has an engagement ring, that's still a different question from your feeling like you can't ask her to marry you until you've selected and purchased an engagement ring.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:09 PM on April 3, 2012

Seconding decathexis--you're still proposing giving her something she had no role in selecting that she's going to wear every day of her life. Except this one was designed by an amateur. I am sure she loves you, but it's probably not for your skill in jewelry design. Let the professionals handle it, with her input.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:10 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My engagement ring cost like $120. My then-fiance got it off ebay. It's not a big flashy status symbol, which is what I wanted. Of course, we had already decided to get married (we had even picked a month, although not a firm date) by the time he gave me a ring.

I really do think that in this case, you need to figure out what your fiance wants. Maybe she wants a big flashy marker that She Is Yours, and doesn't care about the ethics of diamonds. Maybe she wouldn't be caught dead in a diamond that costs 3 month's salary. I agree with Sidhedevil that the surprise of the proposal doesn't have to align with the surprise of the ring.

But if you really want to keep the ring a surprise, I would start by asking sisters or close friends (believe me, they will gladly keep the secret). If she doesn't have any sisters or close female friends (I didn't), then you'll have to try the subtle tack of commenting on the engagement rings of others and seeing what she says (actually, this isn't subtle at all, but it's a polite fiction).
posted by muddgirl at 1:11 PM on April 3, 2012

Option 4: Propose without a ring OR a surrogate. Choose a ring together after the fact that you both like. I mean, why do you need to have something in your hand when you get engaged? It's an act of will, not an exchange of property. Getting asked, not getting a ring, is the core of the proposal "experience." If you feel that you should have a surrogate, though, go for it. I think it's the best of your three options.

Regarding diamonds, the market is a lot less rigged than it used to be. You still pay crazy prices for new gems, but (1) consider buying estate jewlery - you might find something together that you really like, and (2) keep in mind that the diamond industry employs a lot of people in places where they really need jobs, like Africa and northern Canada.
posted by Dasein at 1:11 PM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think you're making this too difficult for yourself. Ask her what she wants! When I got engaged as a child (or so it seemed -- I was 24) I wanted a modest, modest ring. When I got engaged earlier this year, I wanted a big fucking diamond and I wanted it to be surrounded by other tiny diamonds. I also didn't want my partner to spend/waste $20k on a ring so I asked him to look into Moissanite, or lab-created diamonds. I got an amazing ring, he spent much less than he could have on mined diamonds, and, as a nice bonus, the ring/stones are totally cruelty-free and made in Canada. (We are Canadian, so I cared about that.)

Another woman that I know got a thin eternity band (like this, more or less) for her engagement and another identical band when she got married. Wearing them both together it sort of reads like one band. I thought it was pretty charming.
posted by kate blank at 1:11 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I always think it's a bummer that people in good relationships sometimes suddenly feel like they're supposed to throw out all that they know about their partners and follow a set of rules about engagement rings.

Here's my thing: If you're ready to marry her, you're ready to trust yourself about what will work. You say you don't want to shame her, but lots of women wouldn't give a rip if other people whispered that their rings weren't fancy enough. You probably know whether that's her or not. As far as the ring pair, eh. You don't have to wear 'em. You can give her a modest but beautiful ring (my mom and sister both wear modest diamond solitaires; it's never occurred to me to want anything else), and because it comes from you from the heart, she's going to love it, and you can deal later with whether she wants to wear it with her wedding band or not.

Or, as others have noted, propose without the ring, or with some other pretty bauble, and tell her you want to pick it out together.

Most of all, trust yourself. She's still herself, and whatever you know about how she's likely to feel about things like being branded as property (if neither of you sees it that way, it matters not what other people think) and showing off flashy things (this is no different from a decision about what car to drive or what bag to carry in that regard, really), it still applies.

You'll be fine. Don't panic. I know you're trying to be considerate, but remember: She's still herself.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:12 PM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think you need to talk to her and find out how she feels about diamonds/other stones, what style of ring she likes, etc. You can always bring it up casually by making up a story and seeing her reaction. Something like, "oh geez, today I saw this lady with a HUGE engagement ring that was designed like [this] and the wedding band was like [that]. It looked so awful to me! I guess I don't understand what women like..." and then let it turn into a vague discussion of her preferences.

For what it's worth, my engagement ring and wedding band are not matchy-matchy and don't have that whole stacked-together look either. They are two separate pieces but look nice together or apart. In fact, I specifically picked out my wedding band to look nice on its own for times when I'm traveling someplace that makes me uncomfortable with wearing a big blingy engagement ring. So, you can totally get something with any sort of aesthetic and practicality behind it.

If it turns out your lady likes diamonds and you can't find something you both like at an estate shop, might I recommend Blue Nile? They don't have the crazy markup that you normally see at fancy jewelry shops.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:12 PM on April 3, 2012

Are there any rings and/or stones in either of your families that you could use? My engagement ring has a diamond from my husband's grandmother and two small sapphires. I don't know what the total cost was, but it certainly wasn't thousands of dollars (I don't think it was even $1,000), and it's the *perfect* ring for me.

Talk to your partner (or get someone to talk to her and relay the info to you) and see what she wants. Get something that's meaningful for the two of you, not what the wedding/diamond industries would like you to have.
posted by epj at 1:15 PM on April 3, 2012

We proposed to each other while on a ten-hour drive in a rainstorm. Then we went to the hippie jewelry store and picked out "engagement" rings. We both have wedding bands now and still wear the hippie engagement rings (but not on the same finger as the band).

On behalf of the internet, I hereby grant you permission to do whatever the hell you want that you think she would like.

Think about *her*. When you go shopping together, does she like to drift off and do her own looking? Does she like to stay close by you when you're looking at new wineglasses or something? What jewelry does she wear now - what style, materials, colors - and how did she come by it? Does she have gifts she was given (by you, by Great Aunt Mabel, whoever) that she keeps but never uses/wears - why? What is it about those?

Nthing the advice to have the proposal itself be a surprise if you think she'd be into that, and then going together to pick out the ring.
posted by rtha at 1:16 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it's great that you are really thinking your own feelings on her ring(s) through. However, as a recently-married lady, I would gently note--while rings are absolutely symbolic of the relationship you share, she will be the one wearing one or both, and I think it's worthwhile to think through what SHE feels about them or wants from them.

A few suggestions:

- Ask her, indirectly if you're going for an element of surprise, what she likes. What does she want to wear every day forever? Again, her opinion and comfort will really matter.

- Does she even want something diamond-esque? Does she want an eclectic vintage or handmade setting with a knockout sapphire or emerald or something else instead? My husband and I are also really uncomfortable with the diamond industry. We went to pick my engagement ring out together, and ended up with a beautiful, one-of-a-kind antique setting. Then we set a Moissanite in it. Moissanite is sparkly and sort of diamond-like, but is actually silicon carbide that was initially discovered in a meteor. AWESOME. And it is gorgeous. I tell anyone who's interested that it isn't a diamond, and they pretty much universally love it. Consider diamond alternatives. I did a ton of research into this, so memail me if you want more specific suggestions.

- Does she even want to wear a wedding band AND an engagement ring, or would she prefer just one? I ask this because there is no written law that you need to wear two rings at all. Or you can wear one on each hand, as some of my married friends do. Sometimes I wear both, and do stack them together. But sometimes I only feel like wearing one of my two rings. I figure both are symbols of my relationship with my husband, and he agrees, and anyone else who doesn't like that frankly can jump in the lake because it isn't their business. There are no hard and fast rules about needing to wear two rings at all times--unless she wants to.

- Maybe she doesn't want a ring at all. Maybe she does. I really, really think you need to ask her. Why not do what my guy did? He didn't propose with a ring at all. Long story short: I had one of four commemorative Star Trek III glasses when we met, and in a freakish incidence of serendipity, he had two of the other four. He proposed with the fourth glass (tracked down on eBay) to bring our glasses together as a full set. I said hell yes. It was better and more personal than a stock proposal with a ring in a champagne glass and what have you--for us, anyway. And, like you, he wasn't sure what to do for a ring and wanted us to pick it out together. So we did. I got something we both loved, and the process of planning for it together was special, fun, and memorable. Everyone was happy!

So why not propose with something fun and personal to the both of you, or some kind of placeholder, then sort out the engagement jewelry together as a couple to make sure you're on the same page? After all, what's the more important thing--giving her a thing, or asking her to marry you? First things first. Congratulations!
posted by anonnymoose at 1:16 PM on April 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

Hi! I just got married, but I'm not super traditional or anything. Mr. definietly wanted to pick a ring, but was going through a lot of the thought process you are going through. I personally don't like the stacked look either and I have the same issues with the awfulness of the diamond industry.

So what I did was send him about ten different rings on Etsy that I liked and said what I liked about them. This is the lovely, antique ring I ended up with, less than a hundred. Its perfect for me.
posted by stormygrey at 1:18 PM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Pop the question with a plastic spider ring. I did.

(the only way to get 'em outside Halloween time is from party supply places. By the gross. Four years later, we're still handing out the extras with candy on Oct 31.)
posted by notsnot at 1:20 PM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would ask a close friend/relative if they know if she's the kind of person who wants the big proposal with the engagement ring. If not, I say ask her to marry you with a giant fake ring and buy a ring (or whatever she would like) together later.

There could be a gemstone in her family that someone has been waiting to give her, or you could go with something antique.
posted by inertia at 1:21 PM on April 3, 2012

Dude, this is not your ring, this is her ring. Figure out what she likes and wants and get that. Your opinion, save the budget issue, is largely irrelevant.
posted by schroedinger at 1:22 PM on April 3, 2012 [17 favorites]

Are you my partner, but with a Delorian, going ahead in time to Metafilter? Because this sounds almost exactly like his issues pre-choice. Similar concern about conflict-free, maybe not a diamond, because they're so traditional, something unique and quirky.

I am so thankful that he asked my input; his choice would have left me in tears had I been surprised by it, it was so mind-blowingly not what I wanted.

When it comes to things like conflict-free, and especially no diamond at all, you need to ask her what she wants or have someone else talk to her. This could be a huge deal, and it's a huge deal that is hard for women to talk about, because we know the wedding-industrial complex blah blah blah that we're all so overtly cynical, even if we're inwardly not.

I would have been really offended if my partner wanted to make my engagement ring about his political statement.

Find out what she wants, and get it for her. I may be the lone one willing to admit this, but engagement rings are a Big Deal, even for slick professional women.
posted by corb at 1:24 PM on April 3, 2012 [12 favorites]

My immediate thought:

All the reasons you gave are trivial until you get to the real reason- you don't want her to wear two rings while you only have the one marriage band. The double-standard bothers you; you want both of you to wear matching rings and nothing else.

Ignore your numbered points, especially if you explain it to her. The explanation I outlined above is much more likely to go over better. Emphasize the "matching shared bond" and "equal rings" thing to her. That's a much better and more romantic way to frame this!

I'd just straight out buy two wedding rings and propose with the wedding ring instead of the engagement ring, if I were you, TBH.
posted by quincunx at 1:25 PM on April 3, 2012

I've been married to my husband for over five years, and I still don't have an engagement ring. We used the money toward buying a home - something even more romantic and permanent. Not all women need a ring to feel engaged.

Concentrate on the way you want to ask her, the "story" she'll have to tell - if that is memorable, then no one will ever bat an eyelid that she chose her own ring afterwards (if she even wants one).
posted by Mchelly at 1:27 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

P.S. She can also get you an engagement ring or other token, if you want to make things equal.
posted by anonnymoose at 1:28 PM on April 3, 2012

Seriously, do whatever makes you both happiest. You're not obligated anyone's rules but your own when getting engaged, having a wedding, or being married. My Boy and I got engaged after 8 years together when I asked him if he wanted to start thinking about maybe doing it. Six months later, we told our families and I got my great grandmother's diamond that I chose my own setting for.

He knew I'd never want a surprise proposal or jewelry I didn't pick out myself. For the wedding, I picked a man's wedding band that I can't wear with my engagement ring, so I just wear whichever I prefer that day. Some days, I wear a totally different ring on that finger. Some days I wear nothing at all. I thought about getting him an engagement gift/token, but it's not really his thing so I didn't. That's just what made us happiest.

So just do what makes you both happy. Think about her, what she values and likes, talk to her as much as you can, and let the rules and traditions go screw themselves.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:31 PM on April 3, 2012

So tell her you have a surprise afternoon planned for her. Take her out to a fancy restaurant for lunch. At the end, hand her a lovely envelope wrapped in a ribbon. In the envelope will be a beautiful card asking her to spend the afternoon with you shopping for an engagement ring.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:37 PM on April 3, 2012 [9 favorites]

My husband proposed to me with an adjustable hose clamp. This was the perfect move; I'm ruthlessly practical, actively didn't want a diamond and we're both massive gear-heads (we met at a motorcycle resort.) Don't be afraid to propose to her using the language you share with her.
posted by workerant at 1:38 PM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seems a lot of this is about you, when the whole thing of being engaged and the engagement ring is a lot about *her*.....Figure out what she would like and suck it up.

Agreed. If you don't want to talk to her, or take her on a shopping trip where she gives you some ideas of what she might like, does she have a sister/best friend you could talk to who might be able to give you some insight into what she would like?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:38 PM on April 3, 2012

Or wedding rings, perhaps.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:39 PM on April 3, 2012

I went to a jeweler who hand-made me a ruby set with small diamonds on a platinum ring. It was not that expensive--like less than a grand, because I sure didn't have much money at the time. Don't get hung up on the ring, and don't get too hung up on whether it's the perfect ring for both of you. It's just a ring--what it represents to you both is the important thing.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:40 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is absolutely possible to have an engagement ring that does not cost thousands of dollars. When friends of mine started talking about marriage a couple of years ago, they were out shopping one day and happened past an estate jewelry store. The female half of the couple saw a very small and inexpensive antique ring that she loved -- art deco era, with an incredibly tiny diamond. The male half of the couple went back the next day and bought it, at a whopping $200. They spent more on his wedding band (platinum, custom made) than they did on her engagement ring and her wedding band combined. (Also, her wedding band is just a tiny yellow-gold band that doesn't match the white gold engagement ring at all.)

There are no hard and fast rules. Just TALK to your partner about what she wants, and what you want as a couple. That's the simplest way to avoid problems, isn't it?
posted by palomar at 1:48 PM on April 3, 2012

If you want it to be a surprise, this is where your extensive knowledge of her personality will help. Is she the kind of person who doesn't care about material things? Does she share your values?

For whatever it's worth, I didn't want and didn't receive an engagement ring. I didn't see the point. We're still happily married 9 years later.
posted by sugarbomb at 1:50 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Instead of an engagement ring, some people wear their wedding bands on their right hands when they are engaged and switch them to their left hands when they're married. I've always loved that idea -- I like the fact that it's something that both partners do, instead of just for the woman.

However, I don't know if you would want to propose with a wedding band and then whip out a matching one for yourself, so if you went this way, you would probably want to do it post-proposal.
posted by cider at 1:51 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's appropriate to tell this story today, because it's my anniversary.

Neither my wife nor I had any interest in engagement rings, and especially not in diamonds (she actually had the diamond removed from a piece of estate jewelry she bought and replaced with another stone). However, around the time we got engaged, I was out shopping for something and found a Hello Kitty ring for her, which cost about $6. Not as an engagement ring, just because she likes Hello Kitty.

She decided to wear it as her engagement ring.

She was in her office when the discussion of our engagement came up, and one of the interns (a very proper young woman from a very privileged background) asked to see the ring. My wife-to-be shows her the ring, and the young woman looks at it in puzzlement for a second and asks "How are you going to add diamonds to that?"

You don't need a ring at all, and you definitely don't need a diamond ring. Don't let that hold you back.
posted by adamrice at 1:56 PM on April 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Instead of an engagement ring, some people wear their wedding bands on their right hands when they are engaged and switch them to their left hands when they're married.

This is what my husband and I did, 17 years ago. We did it for the first reason you listed. It is kinda something you have to decide together, though, so it doesn't work all that well with a "popping the question" kind of scenario.
posted by torticat at 1:59 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Me and my wife of 9 years never had an engagement ring. Get your fiance something nice (a painting?) instead.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:02 PM on April 3, 2012

Don't not get her an engagement ring unless you know that she doesn't want an engagement ring. It really needs to be about what SHE wants.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:07 PM on April 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

The diamond market is so rigged, I feel like I would be funding a crooked regime.

Mainly you supported a crooked company De Beers. Don't buy an (expensive) gem, it is money in the drain.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 2:07 PM on April 3, 2012

I pretty much agree with your A-D but definitely not #1 and #3. The ring style should be something she wants. If you don't know that, let her choose.

I would bet she knows the ring she wants.

I like adjustable hose clamp idea!, but maybe that's not what you would or should do. Some basic substitute ring, a washer, a gag ring, or a $9.99 Walmart CZ - and with any of these include a note in the box that the two of you will go out and shop for the ring she wants.

If you do something like this, be aware that she will keep the substitute ring forever too - so make it something that will last, like a hose clamp!

Congratulations in advance (I hope)!
posted by caclwmr4 at 2:14 PM on April 3, 2012

My husband and I got engaged with an awful costume jewelry ring with a Barbie pink "stone" in it. I never wore it past the first day, but I still treasure that ugly thing. I vote for a "gag" ring and shopping together after. I don't actually have an engagement ring, just a plain wedding band, which is my preference.
posted by upatree at 2:23 PM on April 3, 2012

When my man asked me to marry him he did so bearing a totally random ring he'd found for $99. (It's a "rolling ring" with one band of gold and the other of white gold.)

Even as he was handing it to me he was almost apologizing -- he said, "Don't worry, we'll go out together and pick you out an engagement ring you like." My reply? Forget it. This is the ring he used when he asked me to marry him, and the symbolism of that is much, much better than anything DeBeers wants me to have.

I also have a plain gold wedding band. YMMV.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:32 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the one hand, I get the idea that "it's her ring, not yours, so your qualms are petty." On the other hand, your qualms are indeed totally relevant! It's clear that you're not simply being cheap or you don't think your girlfriend is "worth" a ring. Of all the issues you list, what strikes me most is the first one -- the idea of "branding" a woman as your own. I think that is a thoughtful position and should not be so easily dismissed.

Yet merely telling the OP to ask his girlfriend what she wants really does not address the issue. Because if what she wants is a gigantic rock wedged between a split-wedding band, then he is no further ahead. Insisting on a woman's god-given right to an engagement ring strikes me as somewhat .... paternalistic? Regressive? Perhaps that's too strong.

Of course, I say this as an engaged woman who insisted on NOT having a ring for exactly all the reasons OP listed, so I doubt this will be helpful. Still, I think that if I were your fiancee, even if I really wanted a ring, it would be really nice to hear that you love me enough to actually think about what these symbols mean.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 2:35 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't personally get the 'pop the question' thing at all - I don't quite get proposals as a surprise the man launches upon the woman, that has to be sweetened with a big piece of loot. On the other hand, you should do what suits you and your SO :)

Mr Thylacinthine and I decided in conversation that we wanted to get married, and we did what some others have done: bought simple wedding bands and used them as engagement rings, which we then used when we actually got married. We love those rings!

So while you're a little conflicted about where you stand on rings and stones, why not do as has been suggested, and don't propose with a ring. If you both like to do things with a little more ceremony then for eg me, you could take her somewhere beautiful, perhaps at a scenically significant time like sunset over the ocean, or something interesting astronomically at a planetarium, and propose there? And decide together what she'd like to in regards to a ring.

In another thread about rings, someone linked to Todd Reed jewellery - they use conflict and slavery free diamonds, in really unusual and wonderful precious metal settings (so impressive enough for her fancy friends, but not exploitation-rings, is where I'm going with this). I'm not even in the market for a ring, but I'm sorely tempted by some of his things.
posted by thylacinthine at 2:40 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can't really help you with #1, but most of your other issues can be solved by simply not getting a diamond ring. Other gemstones will be less expensive, less flashy and, as a result of both of those points, don't need to be worn all the time.

When I proposed to my fiancee I got her a garnet ring. It was not thousands of dollars and it meant more to both of us than a diamond ring (which we both feel is kind of generic). She wears it daily right now, but doesn't plan to do so after we're married. Obviously, I don't know you or your girlfriend, but something like this might work for the two of you.

If you're buying a gemstone ring rather than a diamond engagement ring, it's also somewhat less likely that it'll necessitate the whole "wear these rings as a set" thing, since it is less likely to be sold with a matching wedding band.

I'd recommend Etsy as a good starting place for rings of the non-diamond variety. I got my fiancee's ring from an Etsy seller and we used the same seller to custom make her wedding band with matching gold (so that the two rings can be worn as a set, but don't have to be. MeMail me if you want the name of the particular store.
posted by asnider at 2:52 PM on April 3, 2012

Well, I'm going to echo everyone who said you need to figure out what she would want; because really, she's the one who has to wear it every day, and while not all women dream about their ideal engagement rings (or their ideal wedding day, for that matter), lots of them do. And even the ones who don't, probably have distinct preferences when it comes down to it. I understand that assuming she "needs" an amazing ring could come off as paternalistic and regressive - but considering that we don't live in a sociocultural vaccum, and it IS kind of a "thing" to a lot of people, I say take the possibility into consideration anyway. This is really not the place for political statements (unless you both agree on it. And I don't mean "you tell her, she agrees because she doesn't want to hurt your feelings." You know the difference I presume.)

As anecdata, my ex bought me a huge, elaborate, gaudy engagement ring that I quite frankly found hideous; and presented it to me casually in front of about 16 of his extended family members. It was one of the more awkward experiences of my life. At the time I was a dirt poor college student whose style was made up of thrift-store jeans and simple tank tops; the ring was completely incongruous with my style and my life, but I had to pretend to love it, because everyone else in the room (a completely different culture and background from me) loved it. I don't know, if we had ever gotten married, if I would have been able to bring myself to wear the thing regularly.
posted by celtalitha at 2:58 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

To add another thought:

Which is more paternalistic-
1) trying to figure out what your girlfriend would actually like, and then doing that,even if it's somewhat "traditional" or
2) Deciding what you think your girlfriend should have or should want, and then doing that?
posted by corb at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

Insisting on a woman's god-given right to an engagement ring strikes me as somewhat .... paternalistic? Regressive? Perhaps that's too strong.

I insist on her right to want whatever it is she wants. Of course it's also his right not to want to present her with an engagement ring, if he wants to opt out of the tradition for the reasons he specified (with most of which I agree).

But if she wants an engagement ring, and he doesn't want to give her one, maybe she'll want to buy herself one. Or buy herself a big right-hand ring that makes her happy and feels festive. Or not.

It's pretty peremptory to say "Here is the watercolor/Vespa/puppy I bought you instead of an engagement ring because engagement rings are gross" without really knowing that that would actually make her happy, in my opinion.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:10 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's for her so if she has none of these hang ups, and really I think you would know, go traditional and get an ethically sourced diamond.

There are plenty of women who are not into the big fancy ring and all that goes with it, but they aren't in the majority and after six years I think you'd know if she were one of them. Don't put her in the position of having to pretend she's ok not having one because diamond rings aren't the most progressive, enlightened choice.

As far as "branding" it's only branding if you insist she wears it at all times, otherwise it's just a ring.

The best way to avoid the whole thing is to use a family ring if one is available.

And upon preview totally agree with corb.
posted by whoaali at 3:12 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

And, speaking only for myself, what I liked about wearing my engagement ring during my (long!) engagement was that fewer random guys hit on me. Which was nice, because I wasn't looking (my husband and I have a monogamous relationship).

Even now that I am an old, I find that when I don't wear my engagement and wedding ring (usually because of hand pain but sometimes just because of lazy) random guys hit on me a lot more. I don't think of that as my husband "branding" me as his possession, but as my advertising that I have chose to commit my affections to him, and in our case only to him.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:14 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

If The Ring is the stumbling block, go around it. Create a romantic engagement setting, which could be a picnic and a walk in the woods, or a candlelit dinner with champagne on the back porch, a canoe ride to a special spot, or a great restaurant. Propose marriage. It's a big deal, and it deserves some fuss, but the fuss doesn't have to be in the form of gold and a diamond.

Then tell her that you were completely flustered and conflicted about rings, and that, as people preparing to embark on the most important partnership of all, you wanted to know what she'd like to do. Talk with her, listen a lot, and come up with a plan.
posted by theora55 at 3:20 PM on April 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

If you are marrying her, by now you must have some idea of her taste. Design your own ring, go to a jeweller that designs for you and you dont have to have it be a diamond, it can be her favorite stone also.
posted by pakora1 at 4:07 PM on April 3, 2012

Propose, then get the ring. You have way too many hang ups about it to choose something she is going to like. Engagement rings are hugely personal and while someone here may be OK with no ring or a fake ring or an inexpensive ring or just a wedding band - that's not necessarily what your partner wants.

Money is clearly not the issue, so let her choose if she wants a big blingy ring or not. (personally I think they are terribly tacky and not classy at all, but some people really like them, and if she is one of those people she will be enormously disappointed with something else.)

As for the ethical issues (of which, I agree, there are many) you can buy a gorgeous estate ring, or go someplace like brilliant earth or Green Karat and purchase a ring that is either supposedly ethically mined or lab created.

And yes, this is one of those times when you should stop critiquing.
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:28 PM on April 3, 2012

My fiance proposed with a very large nut from the hardware store and then we went ring shopping together. I ended up with a unique low-profile "right-hand ring" that has six very small diamonds in it that is way more my style than any big chunky solitaire -- I'm not blingy, and as an engineer I spend a lot of time with my hands in places where I can't afford to have large protruding expensive rocks attached to my finger. This ring is low-profile and fits my personality. I am 110% happy with it and since it only cost a few hundred bucks, that's much more money we can put toward the open bar at the wedding.

When we get married I'll probably wear it on an as-desired basis as a right-hand ring, and just have my wedding band on my left hand. I foresee no apocalypse due to this nontraditional arrangement.
posted by olinerd at 5:25 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that if I didn't have my husband's grandmother's diamond I would want a Claddagh ring Somewhat unusual and no stone (certainly no diamond) necessary. I'm of Irish descent of course but my friend who is of Italian descent wears one so I don't think it's just for the Irish:)
posted by bananafish at 5:31 PM on April 3, 2012

Go shop for a beautiful antique ring together. Better yet, get two - you can choose yours and she can choose hers, and you'll both be happy.
posted by goo at 5:51 PM on April 3, 2012

Agh, pressed post too soon :-

Buy the rings together then go get a beer. If you are really stressing about the rings this much, you need to really think about whether you are able to build a life together. The rings are seriously the smallest decision you will have to make together.
posted by goo at 5:56 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Neither my engagement ring nor my wedding ring have diamonds. They are sterling silver instead of gold. The engagement ring is a small single rectangular aquamarine, and the wedding ring is a round blue sapphire between two smaller square white sapphires. The sapphires are synthetic (made in a lab instead of mined). The whole affair cost less than $300 from a jeweler we found on Etsy whose work I liked. I wear my engagement ring on my right hand because my rings weren't designed to be stacked and I didn't want that anyway. I have no regrets.

Moral of the story: you can really do whatever you and your girlfriend like. No one has said anything about my rings except that they're pretty. No one cares that they're not diamonds. No one cares that they're not huge. Of course, YMMV, but I find the whole swooning over the ring is more Hollywood than reality. Has she discussed rings with you? What kind of other jewelry does she wear? Vintage diamond rings are often quite beautiful, and you can (mostly) get around supporting the diamond cartel.
posted by asciident at 8:27 PM on April 3, 2012

Ebay. Vintage ring. Hundred to two hundred bucks. Doesn't support the current diamond or gold market, doesn't have to be diamond or gold at all, and there are a zillion choices.
posted by Slinga at 9:01 PM on April 3, 2012

Ask her to marry you without a ring. Proposals are wonderful anyways.

and then talk to her about how you feel about rings, and how she feels about them. As it turned out, my SO and I similarly felt that we should have matching rings and we're supertraditional so we both wanted plain gold bands. Also, I don't like to wear rings with stones - they catch - so our engagement rings were plain silver bands ($6 each - it was a good deal).
posted by jb at 11:20 PM on April 3, 2012

My partner and I got married because that was the most practical way for us be together--I'm not an American citizen but he is--though neither of us are particularly into marriage or weddings. Now I love fine jewellery, diamonds especially, but I have grave misgivings about the diamond industry and I dislike the showiness of diamond engagement rings paired with wedding bands, so we opted for matching Cartier trinity rings (mine's a smaller version) that we wear on our respective right hands. In fact, we got them after our civil ceremony, which was performed without rings. Whenever people ask us if they were our wedding rings, we tell them no, they're our "disgusting matchy couple rings". Another friend of mine who moves in rarefied circles chose to dispense with the engagement ring altogether, so after she was proposed to, she and her then-fiance simply went shopping for wedding rings for their ceremony--she ended up with a single (but generous!) pave eternity band while he got a plain platinum band at the same time.

I think you should try to suss out your partner's opinion on formal proposals and bling-y rings. Chances are, you may be just fine proposing without a ring at all. Don't worry too much about the ethics of precious stones just yet--there are many indie jewellers who use recycled or conflict-free diamonds, and there are many vintage stunners that will set your partner apart from the Tiffany six-prongs and whatnots. Don't forget, sapphires and rubies that come from Burma are hardly any better either.
posted by peripathetic at 11:30 PM on April 3, 2012

Don't do 3. If you want to go customized, use a professional designer and really, it really should be with her input.

If you go with 1 try to recruit a friend that you know knows her taste.

If you go with 2 it really does not matter what you use as long as you put some thought into the proposal itself, lots of people have good ideas above.

However I would rethink the assumption that you would jump to "pick out nice wedding bands together instead" What if she DOES want an engagement ring? Don't be judgemental, ask her openly, listen charitably and then decide what to do next together.

My husband proposed with the twist tie at the end of a Christmas cracker placed in his mother's engagement ring box. He knew I had a fairly clear idea of the type of ring I'd like and wanted me to be part of finding it. (btw, it's fairly blingy for me, with diamonds and I wear it stacked with my wedding ring - please don't judge.)

You know your partner best. This is the time to start practicing how to transition from a boyfriend to a husband and really think about what SHE would like. Quite frankly, I think you should re-read your question and be a bit embarrassed about how much you say "I" in your list of objections. That said, GOOD LUCK and I hope she says yes!
posted by like_neon at 1:48 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, much of the OP's concerns raised in the question seem to lie in the broad area of ethics - whether those of diamonds or those of the consumerization of this event - I'd add that perhaps he needs to consider how important is it to him that his partner understand where he's coming from on all his concerns, rather than simply feeling pressured into doing something he may not support (buying diamonds) simply because "she wants them and couldn't care less". I don't know if I'd want that big a difference in attitude between life partners, but that's just imho.

Perhaps see the movie "Blood Diamonds" together and let that be an opportunity to have a conversation around the whole concept. I think that you'd feel a lot better if you knew what she thought about all the things you have obviously given so much consideration.
posted by infini at 2:34 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing I will warn about that I have experienced, if your future fiancee does run in some "fancy circles", is that not everyone gets that there are people who don't want a giant multi-carat rock. My ring does not look anything like a "real" engagement ring short of the presence of some sparkly stones and when I am asked to show it to women (not men, men don't care) I usually get one of two reactions: "Oh, that's ... cute" and "Oh, huh. Um, did you pick that?" Given the tone of voice used in these cases, those seem to be polite ways of saying "Hey, cheap ring with tiny diamonds" and "Is that seriously what you wanted or did he buy you something without asking you and do it wrong?" Screw 'em, but if she's spending a lot of time with people who may expect something more traditional and expensive, it's good to have some polite-but-firm responses at the ready to turn the awkwardness and embarrassment around on them.

And then send her to the best wedding blog ever to hang out with sane people who aren't so judgey.
posted by olinerd at 4:30 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Data point: I've bought her jewellery before, but when I talked to my girlfriend about engagement rings, I was surprised to find she wanted completely different kinds of thing than the jewellery she normally wears (different metals, different stones).

So I'd say either talk to her in advance, or surprise-propose with a "disposable" ring as others say. It's risky to guess because there are different requirements for a wear-every-day ring than jewellery worn on particular occasions.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:59 AM on April 4, 2012

As has been said a billion times above, you can definitely propose with a stunt/placeholder ring. I know lots of couples who have gotten engaged that way (including myself). There are a ton of gorgeous rings out there that don't have diamonds, or perhaps there is a nice ring (or a ring with stones that can be reset) in one of your families that can solve the ethical issues. There are a ton of people out there who agree with you! I know the whole wedding thing is so crazy, but you are not alone in feeling bothered by the whole love=giant diamond thing.

As for your first issue, why don't you get a ring too? I gave my fiance a ring (that he picked out) after we got engaged, because, well, why should I be the only one to wear a ring? That didn't seem fair or equal, and it's important to both of us that our relationship be equal. So I suggested it, he really liked the idea. I am not a particularly jealous/possessive/stuff oriented person (and I didn't want a big blingy diamond) but I've been surprised at how nice it feels to have a ring and to see the ring I gave him on his hand. It makes me smile every time I notice it because hey, it's a symbol we're a team now. It's a little token that we love each other. He's gotten lots of questions about his ring, but most people seem to think it's pretty cool.
posted by min at 6:39 AM on April 4, 2012

If you are really stressing about the rings this much, you need to really think about whether you are able to build a life together. The rings are seriously the smallest decision you will have to make together.

I disagree. If you're not into jewellery then it's a royal pain to pick out engagement and wedding rings, because foremost in your mind is that you're doing it merely for convention.

OP, make it easier on yourself by sharing that burden with her. Propose without a ring.
posted by Dragonness at 7:46 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

My dad and stepmom did very non-traditional rings and move in pretty decent circles.

One important but probably not going to be relevant note- Antique cut diamonds can sometimes be FRAGILE. Odd but true
posted by Jacen at 8:02 AM on April 4, 2012

If quincunx is right in sussing out your unease with her getting two items while you only getting one, then the way that the good doctor and I balanced things out was that I gave him an engagement present as well -- in his case, he got a watch. We were both clear and up front about what we wanted as tokens to mark our commitment, which saved a whole hell of a lot of sturm und drang in the long run.
posted by evoque at 8:54 AM on April 4, 2012

We went to a used antique flea market and picked out some pretty rings that had lived rich lives before coming to us. Engagement was a $20 thing with costume jewels. Marriage were $200 or so?

Rule of thumb: the marriage has nothing to do with the wedding.
posted by ead at 9:45 PM on April 4, 2012

I agree with some of the other comments that you know her, or need to get to know pretty quickly, the things about her necessary to make a good decision here. Does she care what her friends will think of her, you, and your relationship [it is safe to assume some will judge the quality of your relationship based on the ring]? Has she been appreciative of symbolic gestures in the past? Is she more traditional? Do you know if she will want a traditional wedding ceremony with tuxes and dresses and dinners and things?

If so, you gotta go the traditional route if your goal is to not plant seeds of contention, regardless of your personal feelings. You can make it easier on yourself by having a ring made based on a template of a design you like and purchase a diamond wholesale. That will knock off a few thousand and have you feeling like you gave less to the commercial, branding enterprise that this sort of thing can be. Since the ring is a signatory gift of your intent to marry and your affection for her, it has to be about her. Make peace with it in any way you can.

Good luck.
posted by solidus at 1:59 PM on April 5, 2012

Ooh, if you happen to be in NYC, do visit De Vera for unusual vintage jewellery. They have a fascinating collection of antique bric-a-brac, including their own designs.
posted by Dragonness at 7:36 AM on April 9, 2012

In case anyone is still checking this thread:

OP here. I sweated about this decision for too long, but eventually I decided that I would propose during a canoe trip we were to go on in July. At the last minute, I went to a mall jewellery store (with a generous return policy) and picked up a simple little channel-set diamond ring. Hiding the ring was a challenge, given that we were to share a pack, but I came up with a pretty good solution for that part.

Anyway, cut to the chase: She said yes, and also really loved the temporary ring! I must either have a good sense of her style, or she was really imprinted by the proposal. (I think the latter maybe, because she almost wouldn't let me return it, even though it was three sizes too big :). Once we got back, I went to work picking the best replacement I could find. This was far less stressful now that I knew what she wanted. She's now wearing a very classy custom diamond eternity band, and loves it. Better yet, she totally agrees with me about the the look of two rings, and only wants this one. Phew!

I'm not sure if there was one best answer in the thread, but the conversation helped me get off my butt and pick something. Thanks internet!
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:16 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yay! I'm so glad it worked out for the both of you. Congratulations!
posted by goo at 10:15 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Aw congratulations!! I love how you guys are SO EXCITED there isn't a single non blurry picture in the bunch! And nice job with the stealth packing!
posted by like_neon at 10:29 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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