To propose or not to propose... that is (sort of) the question.
August 19, 2006 9:45 PM   Subscribe

My grandmother's ring, a long-distance relationship that's about to become a co-habitation, and a boyfriend who just graduated college and doesn't have any money yet.... Help!

Hi, everyone. :)

My boyfriend and I have been involved in a long-distance relationship for nearly four years, with me in Boston and him in Seattle. What began as a working relationship (I needed an artist for a project, and he is one), turned into a close friendship and, ultimately, an incredible romantic relationship. (I should mention that he pursued me for a long time before I "gave in" and agreed to try things romantically. There were personal reasons for my hesitation [read: baggage], but I worked through them because I already adored him as a friend and knew that if I let something develop, it could end up being great -- and it is.)

Anyway, most of the time that we've been together, he's been a broke student, and I've been working temp jobs so that I could take off whenever I needed to see him (whether it was me going out West or him coming here) -- and also because I'm planning to go back to school next year to change careers and wanted to test the waters of various work environments.

During that time, we've gone back and forth in the debate about who would be the one to eventually make the cross-country move -- him to Boston, or me to Seattle. We've known for a long time that marriage is in our future, but with him being in school and the whole relocation issue being up in the air, there was never a formal proposal. I always say that we're "unofficially engaged," because we're absolutely planning marriage, but the traditional question hasn't been popped and no ring has been proffered. However, and in spite of the distance, we've each become totally integrated in the other's life (for example, he's gotten very close with my family, as I have with his).

Well, he recently finished school and is looking to begin his career. Because of this, we recently made plans to begin the process of starting a life together. I've decided it would be best if I moved out to the Seattle area to be with him, and the plan is for me to head out in February to find work and so that we can look for a place. In the meantime, I'm also planning to fly out for a week in October to celebrate his birthday with him.

Now, here's why I'm writing: My boyfriend knows that I very much want to be engaged before uprooting my life and moving 3,000 miles. The problem is, he's not making a lot of money yet, and everything we each make in the next six to eight months has to go toward moving and a "nest egg." I don't want him to spend a lot of money on a ring, and would be happy with an inexpensive one -- but he says he would rather buy something more substantial. The problem is that he can't afford "substantial" right now, and I'm not moving cross-country without the extra security of an official engagement. (Four years is long enough; the distance is killing us both.)

Well, my grandparents arrived from New York today for a visit, and my grandmother began handing me jewelry that she wanted me to have. The last item was her own engagement ring: a gorgeous solitaire, set in platinum, with two smaller diamonds on either side! She explained that she would rather see me enjoy the ring, than have it passed to me after her death. (For the record, she and my grandpa have been married 58 years, and she now wears a fake engagement ring because she wanted to keep the real one safe for me.)

Of course I was completely touched and cried. She said that I could do one of several things with the ring: Let it represent my engagement to my boyfriend, but allow him to reset the diamonds or add to the existing setting so that he will feel as though he's contributed; or wear it until he can afford to replace it with one of his own. (She also said I could turn it down, but I'm not insane!)

So, my question is: How do I broach this subject with my boyfriend? I'm planning to bring it up in person when I see him in October. The thing is, I don't want to offend him, but using this ring would save us a lot of money, we could get engaged before I move, and it's special because it's the ring my grandpa gave my grandma back in the 40s.

So, I figure that, in October, I'll get him a birthday/engagement gift, like an I.D. bracelet or something, and then book a night in a hotel, bring some candles, etc. Then I'll show him the ring and tell him the story behind it and move from there to... well, something.

I don't want to actually be the one to officially propose -- but it seems like a trend in my family that all the women and their respective spouses just sort of decide to get engaged. My mom and my father, my grandma and grandpa... in either case, there was no actual proposal because both couples had been together so long that it was just the natural and obvious next step. Same here: we've been together a long time and already KNOW we're getting married. The actual proposal, while nice, is just for show at this point. At least, I think.

So... does this sound OK? Any ideas of what to say that night? Or should I tell him beforehand, over the phone, about the ring? So far, the friends whom I've told (including a guy) think this is a great idea and that there's nothing wrong with using this ring. And ALL understand -- even the guy -- why it's so important for me to finally make this engagement official before moving all the way to Seattle.

Anyway, please hit me with suggestions, advice, etc. Has anyone been in this situation before?
posted by Teevee's Bella to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds fantastic to me!

I don't know if he's they type to have his ego bruised or not, but if so, be sure to offer him the option of buying you another ring at a later date, or having it re-set. I'm less picky - I'd be estatic with that kind of good fortune.

Best of luck, you crazy lovebirds!
posted by chrisamiller at 9:53 PM on August 19, 2006

Have you thought about letting grandma give your soon to be fiance the ring? She could explain the whole sentimental story about how she's been saving the ring for you all these years, and how much it would mean to her if you could wear it as part of your engagement. She could tell him he may reset the diamond, etc. That way, you can keep the whole "he's doing the ring and presenting it to you" idea intact.

If that's not going to fly, I would tell him the story yourself. Tell him it's sentimental. Don't present it as a money problem. Present it as "as long as I can remember, my grandma has been saving this ring for me on my engagement. You don't have to use the ring, but it would mean a lot to me to have it incorporated. She gave her blessing to reset the stone as we wish, etc etc." That way, it's not "i'm so broke i can't even get my fiance an engagement ring." It's a family tradition! I would definitely have him reset the ring unless you really really can't bear to see it change. I think it would be nice for him to have something of his own to add to the engagement ring. Congratulations!
posted by theantikitty at 10:03 PM on August 19, 2006

somewhat unhelpfully i'll add that my wife and i used the rings my grandparents used (56 years this september), and we both found it to be an amazing addition to our wedding. not only was it practical cause we saved the money, but more than that it was really emotional to make that connection.

about your general plan, i think you're making the right move and if hes the one like you say he is, then i can't see him not being into it. its touching and practical.
posted by teishu at 10:36 PM on August 19, 2006

I would tell him the part about what the ring means to you and your grandmother's role in giving it to you. I wear a wedding ring given to me by my wife that was in her family.

If he doesn't see the value of the ring (as opposed to buying something himself), that, for me, would be an issue. Marriage is about compromise and doing what is right for both parties. Sounds like you have the perfect solution. Pride should not be an issue in marriage.

Good luck.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 10:39 PM on August 19, 2006

What all the others said: I think this is a good idea. He has options on what to do with the ring, but I like the idea of the creation of a family tradition. If it was me, I wouldn't be offended at all.
My wife and I did the long distance relationship for 5 years (UK:Canada) before we got married, so you're to be congratulated on making it work.
posted by arcticseal at 12:40 AM on August 20, 2006

As a guy in a long-distance relationship myself, I'd be doing double-backflips to avoid paying for a ring - knowing that you want it AND knowing that I didn't have to pay for it would be, well, awesome x 2. The hotel room is a nice touch, but I'd pretty much be stoked in any setting.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:13 AM on August 20, 2006

I really enjoyed reading your post. I was in a very similar situation with my fiancee quite recently (so similar it's bizarre). We didn't have a grandparent offering us a ring, but my fiancee was firm that it wasn't fair that the guy pays when he doesn't get anything, and that she'd rather have something we could both agree was nice, rather than wait to get engaged or settle for something that was almost satisfactory. We were a couple in a non-traditional, long-distance arrangement. Thinking of the engagement ring as a one way gift from the guy to the girl didn't fit our situation, or about how we saw our relationship.

So maybe you could start by asking what meaning an engagement ring would have for him? That might give you a place to start talking about it, without actually proposing to him.

I really wish both of you the best.
posted by mariokrat at 1:45 AM on August 20, 2006

When I got married I used my grandmother's wedding ring, partly because we were broke and partly because it had great sentimental value ot me. She got married in 1910 and she and my grandfather were married for over 60 years, so there was some good history to it.

My marriage didn't last, but I have no 'bad' associations with my wedding ring because of what it represented to my grandmother.

I think using a grandparent's ring has a special meaning to it that is both yours (as in you personally) and yours (as in you and your partner).
posted by essexjan at 3:05 AM on August 20, 2006

I inherited an engagement ring from a great-grandmother. When we started talking marriage, I told my (now) husband not to buy anything as I had a ring. He proposed formally without a ring and then we got it out of the box together and I started wearing it. He's always taken great joy in saying I "came with the ring"-- kinda like a free prize with purchase. I find is fairly amusing too.

Anyway point being I think no matter how you work it should be fine, and it will be a nice story for your family. Congratulations in advance!
posted by miss tea at 5:29 AM on August 20, 2006

Here's an idea. Delay the move until he is established, then marry him and begin the cohabitation.
posted by JamesMessick at 5:44 AM on August 20, 2006

a. ...and I'm not moving cross-country without the extra security of an official engagement. Uh, please don't take offense, but after everything that you have described, this doesn't make any sense. You ARE engaged. You HAVE all the "security" that you can possibly expect in such a relationship. Please don't confuse a formal "will you marry me?" formality as anything that will confer added security.

b. I think it's a great idea -- but yes, wait until you are together in October to surprise him. If he's smart enough to be in love with you and sustain the relationship lo these many years, then I'd wager that he will understand and accept your unique proposal.

c. Good luck!
posted by davidmsc at 6:02 AM on August 20, 2006

I don't think there's anything wrong with you presenting him with a ring that belonged to your grandmother. Lots of families pass down rings or diamonds. Just emphasize that it's not because he's poor, it's because of your grandmother's generosity and the sentimental value of the ring. He can always buy your wedding band if he feels the need to spend money on some aspect of your wedding jewelry.

For what it's worth, my fiance was a student and I was working when he proposed. He presented me with a simple gold band, and the next day we went shopping for the engagement ring I now wear, which I paid for. Every arrangement is different.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:23 AM on August 20, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your replies!

I got to thinking last night that it's true that we can do this however we want, without regard to what tradition stipulates -- not realizing that, apparently, so many people have dome much the same. (Perhaps a new, alternative tradition? ;))

Anyway, I feel good about the decision now. It really helped to see all of your experiences and opinions. Thanks, also, for all the well-wishes!
posted by Teevee's Bella at 11:09 AM on August 20, 2006

If it's the security of the promise that you want, for what it's worth, why bother with a ring?
posted by canine epigram at 7:04 AM on August 21, 2006

Because she already has one?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:12 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, Pink Superhero.

Yes, because -- if you read my whole post -- you would see that I've been presented with a family ring. I, personally, told my boyfriend he could put a Cheerio on my hand and I'd be happy. But since there's a ring in the picture, I wanted advice on how to handle what could be a touchy situation.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 8:22 AM on August 21, 2006

I don't want him to spend a lot of money on a ring, and would be happy with an inexpensive one -- but he says he would rather buy something more substantial. The problem is that he can't afford "substantial" right now, and I'm not moving cross-country without the extra security of an official engagement.

You told him you wanted to be engaged and the ring doesn't matter. He told you it does matter to him.

Are you giving real consideration to the idea that he doesn't want to be engaged yet?

I'm not saying he doesn't love you and want to be with you and marry you someday, but perhaps he has the opposite position you do: he wants to actually live with/near you before he takes this big step.

Something is going on here.

Maybe it's just the ring, maybe I'm wrong. You say he knows you don't want to move without being engaged. Does he have room to tell you that perhaps that isn't okay with him? If he doesn't feel like you're going to be receptive to that - are you? - then this may be his way of putting up an obstacle you won't declare unacceptable. In which case dropping this on his lap is going to cause a problem.

So I think the most important thing you need to address is 100% internal: what's your reaction if he were to flat-out tell you he's unwilling to get engaged at this point? Decide if you're willing to move if you don't get the engagement at this stage, because really, that's your issue. You told him the ring wasn't an issue. Now tell him that the engagement IS.

Don't bring up grandma's ring. Tell him what you want, which is to be engaged, which means that he expresses an indication to you that he wants to be married to you and that you accept. Tell him that you can have some separate future ring ceremony thing if that's an important part of the ritual to him but for you, right now, you need to be engaged or you're not moving, period.

If he tells you that's a deal-breaker and he'd rather you not move there if it means no ring... then it has nothing to do with a ring.
posted by phearlez at 11:44 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, no, that's definitely not the issue. In fact, since I made this first post, he told me that he has some ideas about how he wants to propose when I'm there in October.

I ended up telling him about the ring after that, because I wanted to let him know that he didn't need to worry about rushing out and getting a ring. He was a bit put off because he wants to get me a ring on his own -- but that reaction had no bearing on his desire to become engaged. In fact, I told him that we could be engaged without a ring for now until he can afford one down the line, or that we could use this one simply as a placeholder. Like someone pointed out above, we're already engaged in every way that matters -- and he's totally comfortable with that. This really is a question of rings, and whether or not we should use my grandmother's.

But thanks for your take on it. :)
posted by Teevee's Bella at 2:18 PM on August 21, 2006

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