Will you marry me (even if I don't spend 2 months of my salary on a ring)?
November 19, 2007 2:07 PM   Subscribe

How common is it for couples to get married without an expensive engagement ring?

Basically, because of my background and general worldview, I think the idea of an expensive diamond engagement ring is... absurd. Kind of like going to church on Sunday: traditional and pointless. Using the money for a down payment on a house or investing it for retirement seems so obviously more sensible that I'm wondering why everybody but the rich doesn't do it.

I know I'm not alone in thinking this, but I'm wondering how common it is for couples to forgo an expensive engagement ring. Sources, anecdotes, and opinions are welcome.

posted by mpls2 to Society & Culture (117 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
My daughter didn't have an engagement ring-her wedding band has small diamonds in it.

I once had a modest engagement ring myself but lost the diamond years ago and felt no great burning need to replace it.
posted by konolia at 2:09 PM on November 19, 2007

My husband and I dated for 6 years before tying the knot, and all I wanted for an engagement ring was a simple white-gold band. When we actually did get married (a simple courthouse "ceremony" that consisted of a thirty-second form signing), I didn't want another ring - I simply kept the band and put a similar band on his finger.

I love it - it's not flashy, it was inexpensive, and it's simple, and it's very pragmatic; I'm constantly sticking my hands into server racks and beneath floor tiles to pull cabling, so I don't want to risk catching it on anything.

YMMV, and for the purpose of full disclosure, I'm not a very girly kind of gal.
posted by pixelbaby at 2:10 PM on November 19, 2007

Not married here but I've seen a boat-load of my friends married (and even performed the ceremonies a couple times) and with only a single exception, none of them ever went all out on an engagement ring. I think that tradition is fading out or perhaps reserved for well-heeled couples.
posted by elendil71 at 2:13 PM on November 19, 2007

My dad didn't give my mom an expensive engagement ring - he couldn't afford it.

Over fifty years later, they're still happily married.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:13 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well if you're looking for a lot of responses here to help you come to a conclusion, I'll throw my hat in the ring and say "Yes." I base that only on my experience. The wife and I were poor and we were on a deadline so we picked out a couple of $13 rings and ran down to Chicago City Hall. It took a total of 20 minutes.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:14 PM on November 19, 2007

We didn't get actual real wedding rings until like a year or two after the wedding. We have wedding rings now, but we never had engagement rings.

I'm with you, mpls2. Helluva lot better things to spend your money on than blood money rocks from DeBeers.
posted by the dief at 2:14 PM on November 19, 2007

It's not very common and, unfortunately, the girl will need to be prepared to put up with some shit during the engagement - mostly from other girls. Thanks a lot, DeBeers.

I didn't have one, although growing up I always imagined I would. My husband-to-be was making hardly anything and it seemed a little cruel to expect him to take on massive debt for something so fundamentally impractical. I had a few girlfriends who could.not.let.it.go., but I would make the same decision today.

Do what you want and feels right for the two of you. Filtering out what the rest of the world expects you to do is good practice.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:18 PM on November 19, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'm the only married woman I know who doesn't have an engagement ring. At least, not as part of a wedding set. When my husband and I first moved in together, he got me a simple ring that was not meant to be an engagement ring. When he proposed a couple of years later, I just kept using it. I didn't really see the need. When we got married I picked out a simple ring for myself, and it's just by itself, no band or anything like that. So while I am not sure if it's common or not, I can at least attest to one person (me!) who didn't really have an engagement ring.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:19 PM on November 19, 2007

Ah, I see that you're male. I think what's most important here is what your prospective fiancee thinks. For many women (but not all), having an engagement ring is somewhat important. It's something you show your friends and your family to announce that you're getting married. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a status thing. I recently got engaged and my husband-to-be gave me a beautiful vintage ring. I don't know what it cost but I don't think it was very expensive but I really don't care. Well, I guess it would be kind of fun to have a huge diamond to flash around, but in the end, the symbolic gesture of a ring is actually quite significant to me, even if it's not a very expensive one. It's something I'll wear for the rest of my life and every time I look at my hand, I get all gooshy and happy. That's kind of cool. Maybe I'll think differently once I'm wearing a wedding band but I really love my engagement ring. I was also at a party over the weekend where another of my friends was sporting her new engagement ring. Everyone wanted to see it. It's just a socio-cultural thing.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:19 PM on November 19, 2007

I haven't actually purchased my fiancee an engagement ring yet. We agreed to spend the cash on some plane tickets instead. It'll be a nice gift in the future, perhaps.

Still, it depends on the couple. We're very pragmatic, so it was okay. But there are still some "traditional" wedding issues she won't budge on and that's fine.
posted by GilloD at 2:19 PM on November 19, 2007

Who cares what people "commonly" do?

What matters is what you and your betrothed want, believe in, care about.

Even if X% of American couples spend $Y on an engagement ring -- if you're not into it, you don't have to do it.

And even if every single person in this thread tells you it's totally optional -- if it's important to your beloved, you should buy them a ring.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:20 PM on November 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

Seconding the person who found out you were a guy and said, please ask your sig other, of whichever sex. Its up to them.
I would describe myself as arty, different and unusual yet I couldnt see myself not having some kind of engagement token.
posted by Neonshock at 2:24 PM on November 19, 2007

A fancy diamond engagement ring isn't traditional--it hardly goes back sixty years, and it's almost entirely due to clever advertising from De Beers. If it really were a tradition, and not a half-century old marketing campaign, I'd be inclined to adhere to it, but the soon couples start bucking the trend of laying down 1/6 of a year's salary on a pretty rock, the better IMHO. (I learned all this at a Sunday morning church service about living simply.)

the real blingfest didn't get going until the 1930s,
when—dim the lights, strike up the violins, and cue entrance—the De Beers diamond company decided it was time to take action against the American public.

In 1919, De Beers experienced a drop in diamond sales that lasted for two decades. So in the 1930s it turned to the firm N.W. Ayer to devise a national advertising campaign—still relatively rare at the time—to promote its diamonds. Ayer convinced Hollywood actresses to wear diamond rings in public, and, according to Edward Jay Epstein in The Rise and Fall of the Diamond, encouraged fashion designers to discuss the new "trend" toward diamond rings. Between 1938 and 1941, diamond sales went up 55 percent. By 1945 an average bride, one source reported, wore "a brilliant diamond engagement ring and a wedding ring to match in design." The capstone to it all came in 1947, when Frances Gerety—a female copywriter, who, as it happened, never married—wrote the line "A Diamond Is Forever." The company blazoned it over the image of happy young newlyweds on their honeymoon. The sale of diamond engagement rings continued to rise in the 1950s, and the marriage between romance and commerce that would characterize the American wedding for the next half-century was cemented.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:24 PM on November 19, 2007 [12 favorites]

I had to work hard to convince my husband that I didn't want a diamond engagement ring, or a similarly expensive one.

He surprised me with a beautiful ring with a "semi-precious" stone in it (I assure you, it's precious to me) and said I could pick out another ring that was whatever I wanted. They're wonderful, and remind me of how happy it made me when he proposed.
posted by zebra3 at 2:24 PM on November 19, 2007

Engagement rings seem more trendy than "forever" to me. Most of the engaged/married people I know did the whole diamond ring thing, usually not with big expensive honking diamonds, but probably representing a good chunk of change anyway. The three months' salary "tradition" is just a DeBeers marketing campaign from the 40s anyway.

I've had friends who simply had antique diamonds re-set, or just got plain rings or rings with stones that they liked better or had greater personal experience. Alternatives like that seem to be gaining popularity. It's your love, and you can celebrate it however you want!
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:27 PM on November 19, 2007

When my wife and I got engaged, we got each other nice watches.
posted by winston at 2:28 PM on November 19, 2007

In my jewellery-crazed native country (Bosnia), it's normal for a woman to have an engagement ring, but often it's a family heirloom with little real worth, and a diamond engagement ring is sort of a nouveau-riche thing, which many regard as classless and overly commercialistic.

Love is the main thing!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:29 PM on November 19, 2007

"personal experience"?? I think I meant "personal significance."
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:29 PM on November 19, 2007

I remember hearing that this tradition of diamond rings for engagement/wedding is a relatively recent fabrication. Sounds reasonable too, because I find it hard to imagine diamond rings being that widespread, say, 100 years ago amongst the masses.

Moreover, diamonds are horrible investments (unless you are a jeweler, I suppose), unlike gold or platinum. And yeah, there is also the ethics of buying a diamond.

Just saving for the retirement is not all that romantic, however sensible. You don't have to throw money away on a diamond ring, but I am sure you can think of something else that will be symbolic, romantic, and sensible.

Dude, the effort is bound to pay off.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 2:30 PM on November 19, 2007

AFAICT, it's becoming more and more common not to break the bank on a ring-- usually to do something more practical like put a down payment on a house.

That's what we did, and we've never regretted it.
posted by Rykey at 2:31 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

TheyCallItPiece-- Yes, I believe the invention of diamonds as symbol of love was discussed in Captains of Consciousness or some such book about the advertising industry.

posted by Rykey at 2:33 PM on November 19, 2007

I don’t have an engagement ring. I had lots of reasons for not getting one, but the most important was that I didn’t want one. Only one or two people were rude enough to make comments, and they were people I didn’t respect much anyway. I think women with small rings get much more crap from strangers than someone without one at all, because really, there is nothing to comment on if they don’t know you’re engaged. Not that there is anything wrong with a small diamond, some people are just rude bitches.

I did get an engagement present and he got one, too. I wore a green USB drive from my honey on my wrist as a personal symbol of my engagement. It’s a hell of a lot more useful than a diamond.
posted by Alison at 2:37 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

My now-wife didn't get me a diamond ring when she proposed.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:37 PM on November 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

Agreed that you should just ask your fiancee how she feels. Ultimately, that's what matters. Not that she gets to tell you that you need to spend 2 month's salary on a ring, or whatever the guideline is, but the dialogue has to be between you two.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:37 PM on November 19, 2007

I can't stand the diamond thing and explicitly told my fiance that I didn't want a diamond engagement ring. He got me a ring, but it's blue topaz. I absolutely love it, and he didn't break the bank or finance the diamond industry. We have had a few friends say something negative about it, but they are kind of douchebags anyway so we just let it slide. I don't like diamonds, so that's why I don't have a diamond ring.

Really though, I would have been just as happy with no ring at all. The relationship is what matters, not shiny rocks.
posted by bedhead at 2:40 PM on November 19, 2007

Seconding otherworldlyglow- the person you need to talk to about this is your SO. I can tell you when people heard I got engaged a number of people just immediately reached out to grab my left hand and inspect the ring. I found that more than a little off-putting, even though I have what I feel is a beautiful ring. Some people are just really crass that way.

I know couples who have chosen to forego the expensive engagement ring and put the savings on a down payment for a house, and are happy with that decision. I know couples who were not on the same page on the question and were left with some lingering bitterness- either she felt he had tried to take a cheap shortcut, or he felt she was too concerned with fripperies, and so forth. It's one of those questions that can be useful to suss out a life partner's general view about money, which is hugely important in the long run.
posted by ambrosia at 2:42 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Quick survey of seven married people in the office I'm in (none married to each other, sets fans): two balls-out traditional engagement rings (with a 'matching' or coupling wedding ring later), two rings-of-personal-significance but not textbook engagement rings, and three nones.

Of the three nones, two of those three do not wear wedding rings either, though both have ones that they used in their ceremonies.

Following up the above, six of the seven, including one who had the set, agreed with the OP's suggestion that the modern use of the extravagant engagement ring was indeed "absurd." (I offered the word for consideration.)

YMMV, of course.
posted by rokusan at 2:42 PM on November 19, 2007

My husband is the non-romantic type, and he didn't want to get me a ring at all. I convinced him to spend around $100 on one so I would have something to show when people asked to see "the ring." It sufficed.

Instead of dropping $5000 on a ring, we put that money on our first house instead (at 23). We then used the equity from that house to buy an investment property, which netted us several hundred dollars a month in income. Getting that monthly check was much, much nicer than having something sparkly on my finger.

It really depends on the girl, though. If she is into the whole fairytale, on-bended-knee thing, she's going to want the ring and it's probably best to make her happy.
posted by Ostara at 2:44 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've been married for several years and neither of us have rings. But I've always thought lavish weddings and rings were a waste of money.
posted by Sufi at 2:45 PM on November 19, 2007

My fiancée told me that if I held up a ring and asked her to marry me the answer would be an automatic 'no' solely on the basis of how ridiculous it is to spend a shitload of money on a piece of jewelry that signifies little more than possession. Of course this is a small and rather nasty way of looking at a Big Romantic Gesture, but then I was happy not to spend the money. (And anyhow we have a shared checking account, so what's the point?)

If what you want is not to feel alone: you're not alone.

This has nothing to do with going to church, which is a devotional and community-oriented act that's only 'old-fashioned' in the sense that thousand-year-old trees are old-fashioned; the humility and respect for antiquated tradition are part of the damned point, i.e. the point you're missing. Narrowmindedness in an echo chamber might be easy to pass off as 'progressive' but that makes it no less, um, narrow.
posted by waxbanks at 2:49 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

You may want to consider getting simple "ring" tattoos on your ring fingers. It's cheaper than most rings, has none of the associated ethical issues, and carries the same symbolism just as well, if not better because it's more permanent.
posted by scottreynen at 2:53 PM on November 19, 2007

I did not want an engagement ring and I know a lot of couples that do not have an engagement ring either. I haven't recieved any flack for it but I think expensive engagement rings are more entrenched in American culture. For some people it IS a big deal though and their opinion is no more "wrong" than mine is right. Usually it is an emotional decision and one in which logic is not effective (ie: you say: "a ring is a waste of money", she or he hears "I don't think you are worth spending the money on").
posted by saucysault at 2:54 PM on November 19, 2007

Can't speak to how common it is, but as somebody who was quite opposed to even getting a ring when I got married, I have to say that I am surprisingly happy for the simple $50 silver rings we ended up getting.
posted by AwkwardPause at 2:57 PM on November 19, 2007

The only person whose opinion matters is your wife to be. This is a 100% personal issue.

(That said, I can't think of anybody I know who didn't do the engagement ring, but they didn't all do diamonds. I myself require diamonds, but luckily I already own heirloom jewelry that has all I need when/if the time comes.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:57 PM on November 19, 2007

Obviously you have a lot of answers already, but here's my two cents.

I'm a 26-year-old, non-religious, progressive man living in a big city. Most of my friends are similar to me in demographic. All but one of my friends who have tied the knot have forgone the expensive engagement ring. We actually all found it odd when the one friend DID buy his friend a giant rock. So, that is to say it's all a matter of perspective.
posted by jk252b at 2:58 PM on November 19, 2007

My wife and I have simple silver rings that cost less than $50 (for both). Our wedding cost $30, and that was the tip to the judge. None of our close friends have fancy rings or had fancy weddings.

Big rocks, and quite often the people who wear them, generally make me gag.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:59 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Forgo the ring, or just forgo the "expensive" ring.
posted by caddis at 2:59 PM on November 19, 2007

How common is it for couples to get married without an expensive engagement ring?

What's your definition of "expensive"? What's expensive to you might not be expensive to someone who makes 10x your annual salary. And even if you're talking about a fixed amount of money, people have different values. A friend was telling me about buying a new HDTV for Christmas, spending somewhere in the 800-1000 range, and I said, but that's so expensive! Just for a dumb old TV? And he said, hi, look at the new jewelry you just showed me, didn't it cost exactly that much? Touche! Maybe the person who wants a diamond ring is planning on renting forever and dying young; maybe they think your planning for the future when today is already here is "pointless". OR maybe the person buying a ring today knows they'll make enough money tomorrow to buy a house and retire in the future. People use their money in different ways. And why is that your business, exactly?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:00 PM on November 19, 2007 [4 favorites]

These days, the usual practice is for each individual couple to decide what works for the two of them, without being hidebound to tradition.

If you are planning a wedding, you will find many instances where that applies.
posted by yohko at 3:03 PM on November 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

Getting some good results huh? Now you just have to convince your girlfriend. I recommend "But baby, a bunch of people on the internet said that they thought buying an expensive engagement ring was a waste of money too!" That should work like a charm.
posted by ND¢ at 3:04 PM on November 19, 2007 [5 favorites]

We were together for many years before getting married, and wouldn't have had an engagement ring at all, except that there was (a lovely) one in the family which his family really wanted us to use. It comes out for special visits to their house and otherwise sits in the jewelry box. Nobody ever said anything negative about me not having one.

Factors affecting this: I'm not super-feminine, so nobody was very "oh sweetie, let's see your ring!" with me. (FWIW: I do wear a wedding band and -- surprisingly to me -- love it, it's very plain but very sentimentally important to me.) None of my family or friends are the type to comment on who has what jewelry etc, so that's another variable that may affect how your significant other feels. If she has people close who really care a lot, it may grate on her more not to have one and constantly have to defend that choice. Among my friends, a few of the women really wanted a ring, and most didn't care about it at all -- these ended up with a nice and inexpensive token of some kind (cheap ring with sentimental value), or just didn't get anything at all.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:06 PM on November 19, 2007

One of my classmates got married over the summer and told the story of how instead of an engagement ring, he proposed to his now wife by buying her a canoe. They also have matching wood wedding bands.
posted by carabiner at 3:07 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm a girl of WASPish descent. I'm pretty girly and traditional.

I think engagement rings and the American obsession with them are at best a little nouveau-riche and at worst exceedingly tacky.

When I get married, I want a plain wedding band. I have no interest in engagement rings. Or, in fact, in the wedding cult.

But I don't think my attitude is particularly common. I think many young ladies do want a diamond engagement ring, and do place some importance on it as a symbol of romantic love.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:12 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

You are getting a lot of commands to go and talk to your SO about this. Assuming you already have, and you still really want to know how common it is to forgo the engagement ring: In the U.S. the jewelry industry will tell you it is not very common. Anecdotally, I think this varies with socio-economic class. Virtually all professional women I know who are married wear engagement rings. Neither the jewelry industry's figures nor mine are statistically robust.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 3:12 PM on November 19, 2007

Talk to your partner. (S)he probably has a preference.

For another data point, I offer myself: I have a beautiful diamond engagement ring which means a lot to me. I don't know exactly what my now-husband spent on it, but it was not even in the neighbourhood of a down-payment on a house. In fact if that's your definition of "expensive" then I don't know anybody who has a ring worth that much.

The ring means a lot to me not because of the money spent on it (although saving up that money involved some sacrifice on his part which I find touching) but because (a) it symbolizes our love, (b) it makes me remember the night he proposed and (c) he designed it himself, after taking me ring shopping to see what sorts of things I liked, and him taking so much trouble with the design makes the symbolism of it so much more meaningful.
posted by joannemerriam at 3:13 PM on November 19, 2007

Oh and I forgot, I'm actually quite shy about showing my engagement ring off, even though it's not at all flashy. My fiance, on the other hand, is always grabbing my wrist to show off the ring to people. Clearly, he's as much into the ring as anyone else is, so maybe that's why it works for us.

Also, as for the argument that it's just not a practical use of money: Well, duh. Of course it's not. No one who has an engagement ring believe it's practical. When I graduated from high school, my parents wanted to buy me a pearl necklace. I protested thinking it was a stupid waste of money and I'd rather have something useful. They bought me the necklace anyway and even though I wear it maybe once a year, I'm glad they persisted. Sometime, practicality is not the first concern.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:23 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was just recently engaged, the ring ended up amounting to around 1.5 months salary. I saved in regular increments over a period of 8 months, and paid cash. It was not a large hardship overall, and I don't expect it to set me back with respect to a house down-payment.

I guess I'm out of the mefi mainstream on this one, but I'm glad I did it. She loves it, I enjoyed learning about diamonds, what makes one worth more than another, and how to get a great deal. start here

And FWIW, most of our other friends have also gone for the nice engagement ring route.
posted by WetherMan at 3:27 PM on November 19, 2007

Yes, the only opinion that matters is your SO (if you have one) BUT would you want to marry someone whose 'yes' was dependant on the ring?
For me, yes the ring is important - its a symbol and a romantic gesture - and as such shouldn't bankrupt you - its just a symbol. The very idea of spending 2 months wages on a piece of jewellery is ridiculous!

That said, the point of an 'expensive' ring, is not completely illogical. Its supposed to survive being worn every day for 50-60 years. How battered it will get in that time depends on how delicate your wife-to-be is ;) You want a stone that's hard (hence diamonds) but there are plenty of hard stones that don't have the extra 0 attached to the price tag.
posted by missmagenta at 3:29 PM on November 19, 2007

A friend was telling me about buying a new HDTV for Christmas, spending somewhere in the 800-1000 range, and I said, but that's so expensive! Just for a dumb old TV? And he said, hi, look at the new jewelry you just showed me, didn't it cost exactly that much? Touche!

?That doesn't change the definition of "expensive". It just means your friend is willing to buy expensive technology and you are willing to buy expensive jewelry.

Sure, there is a range dependent on your salary and other sources of income, of what will count as "expensive", but if you're spending a possible paycheck on an item, that's significant money. If you're spending "2 months salary" on a ring, there's no denying it absolutely could have been spent on something more practical if you had wanted to.

There's nothing wrong with spendng money on symbolism instead of something of practical value if that's what makes you happy... in this case it's just important that both members of the couple feel satisfied with this. It seems to me that most people who are "alternative" about this express it to some extent though, so if she is traditional in most ways, you may have to find a way to interpret this as an act of pure generosity motivated by love and not pragmatism or something. On the other hand she may have been uncomfortable to bring it up if she thought you were too traditional, so maybe try talking to friends or family or talk about it in the abstract to try to get her to express an opinion...

The responses in this thread may end up being a little biased towards those who want to agree, as those who disagree might just not want to get into it... This thread was a previous discussion on the same topic but from a somewhat different angle.
posted by mdn at 3:36 PM on November 19, 2007

That doesn't change the definition of "expensive". It just means your friend is willing to buy expensive technology and you are willing to buy expensive jewelry.

First off, I asked for the poster's definition of expensive, not mine (for all we know, the OP makes $5,000 a year and considers anything over $100 "expensive"), and secondly, that's what I said: And even if you're talking about a fixed amount of money, people have different values.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:39 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

My experience: my husband spent about about $1000 on my engagement ring, and it's now my wedding ring. I didn't get a second ring, or a gaudy-ass band to go with it.

And I regret sticking with the ring he bought; I kind of thought that's just what you did - I got it sized and that's it. I would have preferred a colored stone and a less traditional band.
posted by peep at 3:39 PM on November 19, 2007

Really, the answer as everyone says depends on what your fiancée thinks.

More data which may or may not be useful:
By most definitions I am a girly-girl. I have been known to wear pink. I have more pairs of shoes than days of the week. I have a dressing table. I like cupcakes.

Engagement ring? No way.

Take that with a grain of salt, because also:
White dress? Hell no.
Wedding ring? Probably not.
Wedding? Very unlikely.
posted by typewriter at 3:48 PM on November 19, 2007

Cheap engagement rings here: a claddagh ring for me, a cool titanium ring for him. Wedding bands came from a department store sale and ebay.

None of the above fit at the moment anyway; I'm wearing a lovely and slightly blingy $20 cubic zirconia bridal set from Overstock, or a $5 stainless band I got somewhere when the overstock gives me a rash. I think my husband goes without, or with a numb ring finger.

And that's how I like it. I wouldn't have married someone for whom the big expensive gesture was so important. I expect we will have a number of interesting but not investment rings throughout our lives.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:51 PM on November 19, 2007

Today's my third wedding anniversary. No engagement ring. No *wedding* rings, in fact. We got married in Vegas with Elvis, so we spent the money having fun instead. We talk about getting wedding rings someday, but there always seems to be something more important or interesting that takes priority.
posted by web-goddess at 3:54 PM on November 19, 2007

Best answer: First off, I asked for the poster's definition of expensive, not mine (for all we know, the OP makes $5,000 a year and considers anything over $100 "expensive"), and secondly, that's what I said: And even if you're talking about a fixed amount of money, people have different values.

If we're talking "2 months salary" it doesn't so much matter precisely what the salary is; the point of the ring in a traditional sense is partly to convey without blatant gossip that the girl has snagged a rich guy and/or that the guy is willing to put down this massive chunk of change to get the girl. So it has to be normatively "expensive" whatever the particular culture / details of this poster's life are if it is going to succeed in the traditional sense (if it is to be shown off so other people can admire it and be impressed by it). If it is not normatively expensive, then traditionally that conveys either that the girl has not landed a "good" one (a guy who can sustain a good job, save money, etc) or that he doesn't love her enough to make the investment (he'd rather spend the money on something more important, implying her marrying him is taken for granted, or just not really vital to him, ie, if she says no he'll find someone else).

This is when the partnership is not about two individuals communicating and making a connection, but within the context of a traditional dance of two cultural roles, the suitor and the desired. Which is not to say a romance can't be both - what matters is how much the resonance of those cultural roles means to you, how much a sense of meaning is felt when you or she see traditions other people follow through on.

Weddings especially are full of the rituals of culture, but which ones are outdated and offensive and which ones are lovely and meaningful is hugely dependent on your own opinions. If an expensive engagement ring is a tradition that she likes, a cheap one will be insulting, whereas if the expensive engagement ring is offensive or just unnecessary, a cheap ring or no ring will be perfect.
posted by mdn at 4:08 PM on November 19, 2007 [9 favorites]

In my boyfriend's circle of friends, four couples have recently been engaged/married. All of them have diamond engagement rings that I would guess to be 0.75-1.0 carats. The average price they've paid for these rings is around $5000CAD, comprising 0.5-1 month's salary, gross. These are young professional couples, age 25-28, living in larger cities in Canada, no children, first houses, etc. A number of my classmates, around the same age, also have modestly large diamond engagement rings.

If you were to judge by the company I keep, you might think that'd I'd also like a 1 carat princess cut diamond set in platinum. I'd like no such thing, and would be upset if my boyfriend spent that much money on a stone I don't particularly like instead of a down payment on a house. If I were to get a ring, which I don't consider a prerequisite to engagement, I'd want it to be something that I find a bit more interesting, and that definitely cost less.

I think a lot of people might get diamond rings because it's "the thing to do", and really, the easiest and most in-your-face option when you walk into many jewellry stores. Some of the people I know have also justified it by projecting the cost of the ring over however long they plan to be married ("It cost $6000, but really, if I live to 85, that's just $100 a year..."). In the end, I'd say that if you don't know if your girlfriend is dead-set for or against a ring, or ambivalent about it, you really should ask.
posted by flying kumquat at 4:09 PM on November 19, 2007

When I got engaged to my wife she didn't get an engagement ring--we landed in the "that's absurd" camp and were grad students so we had the advantage of being both poor and self-righteous.

When we got married we traded bites of zuccini bread (which we'd baked that AM from our garden harvest) rather than exchange rings. A few years later we bought funky wedding bands we liked on a trip to Vancouver. She wears hers, mine never took.

So as others said: Do what you two want.
posted by donovan at 4:13 PM on November 19, 2007

No engagement ring or wedding rings here.
posted by scruss at 4:14 PM on November 19, 2007

i don't think it's the big deal it used to be. my grandparents didn't have engagement rings at all. my friends got engaged with cheap silver rings from chinatown. my cousin got engaged with an emerald ring.

on the other hand, it can mean a lot to a girl, even one who doesn't usually go in for stuff like that. i don't understand it myself--i have never felt compelled to settle down or get married, but i can tell you exactly what i'll wear and what music will be playing if i do. i think it's something on the x chromosome.

a nice compromise is a small solitaire diamond in the color of metal that she usually wears. then, something flashier five or ten years down the line if she wants it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:14 PM on November 19, 2007

Ring, no ring or expensive ring, rest assure someone will judge you according to some ring-based value system they cooked up in their head.
posted by mullacc at 4:15 PM on November 19, 2007

My wife didn't wear a ring until the day we married, she doesn't have diamonds. We picked up my ring at a consignment store, we bought her stones at a gem fair and had a friend set them. All in all they are better looking (in our humble and biased opinion) than 99% of the other rings we've seen that are traditional.

Do what makes you and yours happy!
posted by iamabot at 4:15 PM on November 19, 2007

Best answer: I did not get an engagement ring, nor did I want one. Instead, my now-husband bought me a piano.
posted by mothershock at 4:25 PM on November 19, 2007 [4 favorites]

Out of a set of six of my good friends (all just shy of 30 years old), two of us have a non-traditional variation on the normal expensive diamond engagement ring/wedding band set up. So: 66% traditional/33% not-so traditional.

Details: My one friend wears only an engagement ring (and a very modest one at that) and no band. I have worn one ring as both an engagement band and a wedding ring--although it looks like neither to most people, since it is a band set with a (lab-created) sapphire.

It is really up to you and your partner. I love my ring and it is exactly what I wanted--it suits my style and is has a practical setting for doing bench science and wearing nitrile gloves.
posted by divka at 4:29 PM on November 19, 2007

No engagement ring at all - Mrs. Deadmessenger would have positively crucified me if I had spent money on a ring, since we were living together with almost completely common finances for over a decade before we were married.

For that matter, we also didn't bother with wedding rings or a wedding party. We did stop off at Home Depot and bought a couple of boxes of linoleum tile on the way home from the courthouse, and spent the evening redoing our kitchen floor. I guess we had to make SOME kind of concession, right?
posted by deadmessenger at 4:48 PM on November 19, 2007

Almost none of my straight friends wear diamonds. Many got married young and decided they'd rather spend the money on a honeymoon or rent. A couple of them could affort them but think the diamond industry is cruel, which it definitely is. One sister-in-law absolutely refused a family diamond for this reason, and we love her for it.

The sweetest thing a friend did was get a pouch of gold dust from which to make a wedding band. He had just met the woman of his dream, and she was in an abusive marriage. He wanted to make a commitment not a contract, so he gave her the gold as a gift. She left her rotten husband, and after a few years living together, she felt like she was ready to marry again, so they had the ring made, and lived happily ever after.

Personally, my partner of ten years and I enjoy living in sin, but things like that still make dab my eyes.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:59 PM on November 19, 2007

My engagement ring is a big, beautiful sapphire. I love the fact that it's unique and I've gotten lots of complements on it. Plus it was a hell of a lot cheaper than a diamond.

Even if your girlfriend wants a flashy ring, maybe you could encourage her to think outside the box a little and get something unique. I'm glad I did.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:31 PM on November 19, 2007

Best answer: The overwhelming majority of weddings in all of human history have taken place without an expensive engagement ring. The countries and cultures that have most aggressively adopted the idea of engagement rings (the diamond engagement ring is only an invention of the last fifty years) have the highest rates of divorce in the world.
posted by anildash at 5:47 PM on November 19, 2007 [9 favorites]

My dad got my mom an engagement guitar amp. But they were hippies, so take that as you will.
posted by internet!Hannah at 5:58 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Metafilter has a high proportion of dirty hippies and poor academics, and you need to consider that when weighing responses.
posted by smackfu at 6:03 PM on November 19, 2007 [5 favorites]

No engagement ring. Married 25 years (30 if you count the co-habitting). I have more friends who have had to get their 2 carat diamonds reset after the divorce. Stick to your guns.
posted by nax at 6:05 PM on November 19, 2007

Bought my fiance a cheap silver ring from a street vendor as the proposal was a whim. She lost it in a couple of months. We have never bought wedding ring and have been married 11yrs now.

smackfu may be partly correct. We could definitely afford one now but since she is a chef, she would have to take the ring off fairly regularly and we are both quite sure she would promptly lose it. Me, I am just to lazy and cheap to get one for myself.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 6:13 PM on November 19, 2007

I doubt I can say anything that hasn't been already said in this thread, but yeah, I'll nth the idea that if the relationship depends on the up-front production of a superbly expensive bauble, then the relationship might not be The Relationship. That's not to say that engagement rings are bad, per se (although some will argue that), just that I can't imagine a healthy relationship that requires them. (Note that if you're counting votes, though, I did give my beloved an engagement ring.)

And way to ruin my hopes for this whole marriage thing working out, anildash. ;)
posted by delfuego at 6:16 PM on November 19, 2007

I'm a woman who doesn't have an engagement ring, just a cheap wedding band, and contrary to advice that "someone" would be judging this choice, no-one in my family, among my friends or in my professional circle really gives a damn about my Jewelry Choices. I have friends with big expensive rings, and friends who didn't even bother with a wedding band, and there has (shock! horror!) been no judgement either way. I recently was at my brother's wedding, big event, and I couldn't tell you what sort of wedding or engagement rings either he or his wife wear. Your decision about such a thing is just not very important to other people, so just make sure you discuss this with the significant other. If you're worried about the opinions of others, most people are adults about this sort of thing.

(I'm neither a dirty hippie nor a poor academic. I'm a six-figure earning professional, and so are a lot of my friends).
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:22 PM on November 19, 2007

For your stats, my married/engaged friends:
-big fancy diamond (~10,000): |||||||||||| (mainly law school and fancy undergrad friends)
-medium diamond (~3,000) || (fancy undergrad friend who got married young & fancy undergrad friend who is very prudent)
-no diamond but other stones || (mainly peace corps friends)
-simple band |||| (mainly peace corps friends, but 1 law school couple)
-no ring | (artist marries yoga teacher)

A few other incoherent comments (because I have mixed feelings on the subject):
- Show me the precious stone and I will show you the death and dismemberment suffered on account of it. I toyed with the idea of getting an emerald or a sapphire ring instead of a diamond ring, but have since learned about all kinds of mistreatment associated with those stones. And if they were ever to replace diamonds as the special stone, it would only get worse. There's nothing special about a diamond that makes people kill for it other than the value we place on it.

-I'd rather have no diamond ring than a tiny diamond ring. No diamond ring fits well with my anti-diamond feelings. But a tiny diamond ring just makes him look cheap.

-There are so many opportunities to do the pragmatic thing and not the sentimental thing. You need to find the right balance for you and your fiancee (in the diamond ring matter and everything else). While I don't buy gorgeous flowers all the time, sometimes the perfect bouquet of peonies brightens my day immeasurably. Those people who only have fake flowers - or no flowers at all - are missing out on the joy that an impractical bouquet of flowers can provide, even if it does start to rot a few days later. I tend toward the pragmatic myself, and the idea of spending much money at all on an engagement ring does disturb me. But on the other hand, it is a symbol - our symbol - of love and lifelong commitment. And that just might be "worth" it to you and your fiancee, even if it obviously isn't worthwhile financially.

- I happen to think a big (not huge) rock is very pretty. I love looking at those Tiffany rings. Right now I'm leaning toward a "grown" diamond - not so expensive, no limbs hacked off for it, still as pretty as a natural diamond. But one friend reminds me that I don't want to go around telling everyone "it's not a conflict diamond!"

- I am quite sure that whatever ring I get, friends will have feelings about it. If I get a diamond, the Peace Corps friends will be horrified (bc of the blood diamond issue) and will think I'm too materialistic, and possibly too flashy. If I don't get a diamond ring, my mom will be disappointed that I don't have a pretty, romantic ring to cherish, and my friends with the big rocks will think - on some level - that I disapprove of their rings. (They know about my anti-diamond feelings.) They are good friends and good people, but people are human and this is a hot and personal topic.
posted by Amizu at 6:35 PM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

I gave my wife the engagement ring that belonged to my great-great-great aunt. That was pretty cool.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:43 PM on November 19, 2007

Response by poster: As a coda, I'll add that I'm actually a romantic guy. It's not the symbolism part that I don't understand, it's the $5000 part.

Thanks for all your replies. Very interesting.
posted by mpls2 at 6:48 PM on November 19, 2007

I proposed, so I bought "engagement rings" for both Mr. Robocop is Bleeding and myself. They are titanium and cost $100 each, but we liked them so much we kept them as our wedding rings. No ring with a bunch of flashy business is ever going to have as much significance as the ones we put on each others' fingers at Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 7:05 PM on November 19, 2007

Married 14 years, no rings at all for either of us.
posted by Quietgal at 7:34 PM on November 19, 2007

I didn't really want a ring, but my now-husband insisted.

It was the weekend when the aussie dollar crashed - diamonds were selling for significantly less than half their usual price. So, we got a ring made, which cost us about ... oh, 1kAUD? Admittedly, we spent more on that than on the dress or the honeymoon, but I expect the ring to last a bit longer.

And, well, it wasn't really enough money for a downpayment on a house, and only about enough for half of a decent computer.

I think it was money spent well. Although, in retrospect, it would have been nice to have an australian gemstone.
posted by ysabet at 7:53 PM on November 19, 2007

My wife appreciated the creativity that was put into the ring I gave her, not the expense. Hell, I'd already given it to her; on our engagement, I just asked her to wear it on her left ring finger.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:12 PM on November 19, 2007

If your fiance does want the big, pretty rock, why not consider some of the laboratory-grown diamonds available now? They're supposed to be cheaper than the natural ones but have very similar optical properties. FWIW, I'm looking forward to having some kind of ring someday, but not necessarily a 2-month salary deal.
posted by gecko12 at 8:26 PM on November 19, 2007

Three rings were exchanged recently in my life, two engagements that are now married, and my sisters engagement.

Wedding one: 99 cent ring he picked up in a thrift store, and carried on him for the 3 months they were backpacking in india together, until he found the right location to propose. They decided to keep it as their wedding band.

Wedding two: friend bought a traditional 2 month salaried tiffanies ring. I've seen many since, and they all look the same, the difference is how ostentatious the diamond looks.

Sisters engagement: her fiance picked up the ring at an antique store, had it roughly estimated to her size, and proposed. She accepted. My mother promptly had said fiance sell / return the diamond, and took one of the diamonds from our grandparents set in the identical ring, but with a larger fitting for the diamond. It was more of a family tradition to pass down the stones, than to use a ring. Apparently my parents saved a diamond from my paternal grandmother for when / if i ever need one, along with a few bracelets with plenty of 'setting stones, like sapphires and small diamonds' (this is what happens when both your upper class new england paternal grandparents are single children in their families, they get everyones jewelry).

In short, of the three, I think 1 and 3 were more personal and sincere (also, of the weddings, probably most likely to last, not because of the ring, but the people.), since they weren't just picking up something off the shelf, and the objects were imbued with a meaning greater than X$'s were spent on this ring.

In short, buying a 2 months salary engagement ring is cheap. not dollars, but mentally. Get something with her birtstone, it is in fact a symbol of your love for her, so find what fits her and communicates what you want, not something that costs $10k.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:51 PM on November 19, 2007

Wow, I'm outvoted. I love my (small) diamond engagement ring. I would also have liked a larger one. Is it crazy to think so? ABSOLUTELY. I guess I'm a victim of de Beers.
posted by ms.v. at 9:00 PM on November 19, 2007

If you want to understand the $5,000 part:

early twentieth century, courts were no longer settling money on brides jilted before the altar. Since being engaged, but not married basically meant they were "damaged goods", that represented a huge loss to the woman. The rings were basically to replace the amount of money that previously she would have been able to win in court. That's why the price tag seems so high. And also why it seems ridiculous in this day and age, where most of us either don't care about virginity.

I think you could romantically ask if she would like a ring. I asked my fiance if he wanted a ring when I proposed, and when he said yes (to both questions), I found a neat rolling ring at the farmer's market. If your girlfriend wants a ring, she can probably hint to you whether she wants a cheap, funky, or expensive one.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:03 PM on November 19, 2007

The money spent on an engagement ring would be better spent on just about anything else when you are a newlywed.

All value associated with the metal, the jewel and the act is arbitrary and - to me - silly.

When I proposed, there was no ring, and we've never cared.

If she MUST have an engagement ring it says a lot about her character.
posted by Lownotes at 9:05 PM on November 19, 2007

I didn't have an engagement ring. We bought matching plain gold bands with comfort fit. I lost mine running in a rain storm, then a few years later my husband bought me the most perfect, simple band with tiny embedded diamonds. That he knew the most perfect ring for me suprised me and pleased me much more than recieving a silly ring in the first place.
posted by sadie01221975 at 9:52 PM on November 19, 2007

When my marriage ended badly and I walked away broke, with mutually incurred credit-card debt, I really wished I'd had an expensive engagement ring. I turned it down because I thought it was impractical and I fully intended that we'd be together forever. I wanted that money to go towards something like a house, or retirement, something we'd share. I have since changed my mind, and kept my change of opinion over the last twelve years.

I would encourage all women to hold out for one, unless they make more money than the groom. Men still make more money than women in general, and until that changes, an expensive engagement ring is a practicality for a woman.
posted by tejolote at 10:00 PM on November 19, 2007

For the record I had no engagement ring, only a wedding band. I was happy with that at the time (although I later deeply regretted it). Not a single person gave me shit for it or thought it was weird. Many of my friends gave each other extraordinarily cheap, simple rings, or "joke" rings as engagement rings. Most of these people are highly privileged: their education was paid for (either by scholarship or relatives), and they had no major disasters like illness or domestic abuse, and they had a supportive network their entire lives. I don't think cheap or no-ring choices are uncommon, given a self-selected set of people.

I don't know your circumstances, or your fiance's. But I do know that it's all too easy to justify a self-serving decision.

Good luck with your marriage.
posted by tejolote at 10:09 PM on November 19, 2007

I think the idea of an expensive diamond engagement ring is... absurd. .....Using the money for a down payment on a house or investing it for retirement seems so obviously more sensible that I'm wondering why everybody but the rich doesn't do it.

If you already think it's an absurd concept, then check with your SO and see if you both agree. But still, a lot of things that we do are absurd. A lot of the things that we do for fun or pleasure are absurd, and it still doesn't mean we never spend money on them and save it for more sensible expenses. People would never go on vacation or get expensive clothes... Sometimes we just want a little guilty pleasure and we spend money on stuff just because it looks pretty or tastes good.

I just got engaged this weekend. My boyfriend bought me a beautiful engagement ring. I had told him the ring wasn't so important, but like he said "it's part of the fun".

posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:24 PM on November 19, 2007

I got engaged with a £125 ($250), pearl engagement ring that my girlfriend picked for herself.

The price isn't relevant for, as long as you love each other, it's the love, intent and thought that's more important. If you give in to other peoples expectations then you're selling both yourself and your partner short.
posted by Nugget at 12:53 AM on November 20, 2007

There is no good reason to buy diamonds for a ring if you don't want to, and there is no good reason to buy an expensive ring. There are plenty of options to get a quality ring, or other token that has much more meaning to you and your partner then following the herd.

Some people will look down on a choice not to go with a huge diamond ring, but they are more then likely the same people who judge you for not wearing the label clothes and such, so you have to ask yourself if people who think like that are worth weighing into the equation.

After all, the crazy cost of diamond rings is just the result of a hugely successful marketing campaign, kind of like McDonald's going into the wedding catering business, and telling everyone there are very few burgers in the world, so you if you really love someone, you'll be eating big macs on your wedding day.
posted by paulfreeman at 2:55 AM on November 20, 2007

I'm female, getting married in January and don't have a ring, and neither does my (male) partner - the asymmetry of the thing was part of my objection to a ring. Why do I need a visible symbol of my impending marriage if he doesn't?

Without exception all of my friends and family who are married had engagement rings, but I have had absolutely no crap about my choice at all. If anyone asks, and I usually bring it up myself, I just say that I've never worn a ring before and it would seem strange to start now. Plus the cost issue. Not that we're broke, but we are jointly responsible for running a house and have other priorities for our money. I've tried very hard not to be judgemental of my friends about this, and it seems to have worked as they're still speaking to me...

We're both going to wear simple yellow gold bands when we're married. We went ring shopping last week and I was surprised to find that he really wanted to buy me some kind of jewellery (the provider-of-ornamental-loveliness instinct runs deep, I guess), so now I have a lovely opal necklace (which I'm far more likely to wear than a ring). Now I'm trying to think of a really good present for him in return.
posted by altolinguistic at 3:28 AM on November 20, 2007

I need to chime in again in favor of the expensive ring. I am NOT trying to change any of your opinions. But all this talk about "the money would be better spent elsewhere" to me is silly. Diamond ring vs house down payment? These things are not mutually exclusive. Newlyweds needing that money badly in other places? The median age for newlyweds is heading upwards from mid-20s, and that doesn't count second, third marriages. Lots of people who are getting married have disposable income. So if the lady thinks a 2 carat diamond solitaire ring would just be the most absofrigginglutely beautiful thing she could put on every day for the rest of her life (ahem, future fiancé take note), then if you love her maybe you should consider it.

(As an aside: to me it's expensive *weddings* that are the stupidest things known to man. There are a few things I require at my wedding that will cost money, but people routinely spend $5000-$10000 on flowers alone. Now that right there represents a carat or two! Sheesh. But to each is own; some people will cherish the memories of the expensive party more than they will cherish a piece of jewelry. And to others, well, it's just not a mutually exclusive choice; they can have both. And contribute a matching dollar amount to charity.)

I think until the end of time, expensive-ring-lovers will think the haters are the types who like to ride moral high horses, and the haters will think the expensive-ring-lovers are shallow, materialistic and stupid. *I* just want a pretty ring, and diamonds are the only stones I like. I think colored stones look gaudy. My colored-stone-wearing friends think diamonds look plain. Differing ideas and opinions are what help make the world go 'round, yes?

So I restate: *our* opinion on what ring you get or how much you spend is utterly useless, unless what matters most to you is what other people think. And if that's the case, I think you need to extend your sampling beyond askme.
posted by iguanapolitico at 6:09 AM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would encourage all women to hold out for one, unless they make more money than the groom. Men still make more money than women in general, and until that changes, an expensive engagement ring is a practicality for a woman.

Except didn't others point out that they have terrible re-sale value these days? Better to get a CD if you're not sure.

To my wife, who isn't a big jewelry person, an engagement ring wasn't worth it, so we skipped it. We bought our wedding rings together and they were just what we wanted.

Nthing the advice that our opinions don't matter - what your fiance wants is the key.
posted by canine epigram at 6:11 AM on November 20, 2007

But all this talk about "the money would be better spent elsewhere" to me is silly.

That's totally fine if you're talking about your money, or the money of someone who really wants a ring and is wondering if she should sacrifice her wishes. But if you're talking about my money, I will have to disagree with you.

As so many others have mentioned, it's your choice and that of your future spouse. Talk to her.
posted by altolinguistic at 6:31 AM on November 20, 2007

My fiancée just pointed out that we're commissioning our wedding rings, and they'll be about £1000 ($2000), each.

A wedding ring, for us, shows much more of a commitment than an engagement ring and we have very specific ideas in mind. So we think it's more appropriate to spend our hard earned money on that instead.

But as most of the sensible posters here have noted, what we think is pretty irrelevant and only your SO's views count. You need to decide together what you want for the ring.
posted by Nugget at 6:32 AM on November 20, 2007

As a female, I don’t want an engagement ring. Nor do I want a wedding ring- to me it’s generic and I don’t like diamonds anyway especially since you can't even tell the real ones apart from the fake. Plus if anything happens in the relationship, diamonds have horrible resale values anyway so it's not like you're making off with a big wad of cash by selling the ring to a pawn shop.

Heck I don’t even want a wedding ceremony, as I’d rather funnel all the money towards something practical like the down payment of a house or a nice vacation experience rather than frivolous material items such as a rock or initialed napkins at a wedding.

However, if anything, a simple little silver band would be just fine for symbolism to wear on the left hand ring finger. =)
posted by Jimmie at 6:46 AM on November 20, 2007

Find out what the bride wants and do that.

I skipped the engagement and just got married, so, no engagement ring. My mom didn't have one either, and even though she's the biggest feminist I know, and she and my dad are now divorced, she told me she regrets not getting a diamond ring and that I should get one. Maybe in a year or two, but the simple fact is that for now, we need that money available in case we need it. If we didn't, sure, I'd get one. I do have an expensive TV, a couple of gaming systems, subscriptions to netflix, gamefly, and a magazine, a bigger apartment than I probably need, regular dinners out, etc. Those are just the luxuries I choose for myself with the money I can spare. Everyone makes different choices in that sense, and that's as it should be. I say, figure out how much you can spare for the whole wedding/engagement shebang, then decide together how exactly to spend it.
posted by lampoil at 7:24 AM on November 20, 2007

The explanation by Margalo Epps pretty much matches what I know about the origin of expensive engagement presents.

In terms of the culture today, I think that if your fiancée would like a ring, and plenty of people have given completely legitimate, touching reasons for that, the important thing is to give her/him a ring that they can have a positive story about. Ie - not 'it's so small because it was so much more practical to put money on a house,' but something that shows that you've chosen this particular ring for a particular reason - family heirloom, meaningful symbol, etc.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:30 AM on November 20, 2007

My father wore a gold earring for years. When he asked my stepmother to marry him, she said she only wanted the earring for the engagement, as she would rather have a single ring (e.g. wedding band) if he was going to spend money. Note that he did not then nor ever have a ton of money to spend on a flashy ring. So she got the earring and then got a very simple/elegant ring at the wedding.
posted by sarahkeebs at 7:42 AM on November 20, 2007

Two recently married friends of mine went out and both got diamond engagement rings after he proposed (with an origami ring). The idea was to show that they both belonged to the other, and that he had just as much right as she did to wear a symbol of commitment before the actual wedding. As I recall, doing things this way also got them a pretty good deal on the diamonds.
posted by casarkos at 8:13 AM on November 20, 2007

Part of the reason I knew that my wife was "the one" was that we communicated about this long before I got down on one knee, and that she thought diamond rings were absurd (and worse).

I bought a $10 faux thing for the symbolic value, and that did the job just fine.

Communication with the one you desire to affiance is the key.
posted by cleetus at 8:58 AM on November 20, 2007

Not knowing anything about engagement rings, I accidentally bought my wife a gold wedding band from Target for $50. She went out an bought her own really nice engagement ring, but she kept the band.
posted by drezdn at 9:49 AM on November 20, 2007

I don't have an engagement ring, and the reason for it is one my most treasured memories. It was about 11 years ago, Valentine's day, my boo & I had a fantastic day together. That night he seemed fidgety and distracted and acted like there was something he wanted to say but was held back. We had talked (casually) in the past about "someday" marriage ..... so having a suspicion what was on his mind I said, "Is there something you want to ask me?" He looked at me, grimaced, and said, "Yes, but I can't afford a ring!" I said, "I don't care!" So he bucked up, looked me in the eyes, and popped the question. And here we are after those 11 years, happy as any couple could be, and I still don't have an engagement ring. For that matter, we each paid for our own wedding bands (he was a poor student, I had an entry level job); we each wear the same very Celtic knotwork band, like these. I'm very proud of the fact that I don't have an engagement ring or a fancy wedding band because to me it says our relationship is above material objects & status symbols. So pop that question! And congrats in advance!
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 9:55 AM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I meant to say "very simple Celtic". :-) Interestingly we wear the same size too.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 10:00 AM on November 20, 2007

I know I'm late to the party, but my husband and I didn't go for the expense. We got a $40 fake diamond ring that I wore up until the wedding. Now it's on a necklace. Why spend all the money if you don't have it or don't want to spend it?
posted by agregoli at 10:06 AM on November 20, 2007

I didn't have an engagement ring and I have a white gold wedding band, which I bought myself. I probably wouldn't even wear that as I don't wear much jewellery (plus I really rebel against the idea that the love and commitment I feel for him, or him for me, is somehow supposed to be determined by a ring), but my husband like me to wear it so I do.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:50 AM on November 20, 2007

When my parents got engaged, he didn't get her a ring. They had wedding rings though, just nice plain gold bands. Don't think it was an issue.

Speaking as an 18-year-old girl, I wouldn't necessarily want an engagement ring, but I wouldn't be averse to getting one either- as long as it wasn't super expensive. (But any man who was marrying me would probably know, if he was going to get me a ring, that I wouldn't want a diamond one. They're expensive and boring!)
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:51 AM on November 20, 2007

We skipped the engagement ring (my partner isn't a fan of rings, so that was at least partly her decision) and got silver wedding bands custom designed for us. The cost for both was about $500. Although some people are surprised by the metal choice, nobody has turned up their noses at them (at least not to our faces) and they're far more precious to us because of the meaning behind the design.
posted by me3dia at 12:07 PM on November 20, 2007

Recently got married in July and proposed a little more than a year before that and I have to n'th the suggestions to talk to your significant other.

My now wife, then girlfriend, told me she didn't want a ring, but that if I got her one, she didn't want an expensive one. I know that she sincerely meant this in the sense that she didn't want me to spend what meager earnings I had on what she kept calling "a piece of metal with a stone in it." However I also recognized that there was part of her that had dreamed of the day she would get engaged and that even though she actively claimed a ring was not important, I knew that part of her still wanted the "down on one knee with one a ring" part of getting engaged. Not even so much to show off, but to symbolize commitment.

I don't claim to know all the psychological implications of this nor do I offer any commentary of how this reflects on society as a whole. All I know is that I wanted to give her the day she had dreamed of so I bought her a diamond ring.

Having said that, let me warn you that if you do decide to go down that road, don't go overboard. Far too often I've seen guys who buy ridiculously large rings purely as means to show off the size of their wallet. Often times the meaning of "I want to spend the rest of my life with you" gets lost in the "Wow, look at the size of that rock!" I think if you do decide to go the diamond route that the "quality over quantity" rule has never applied more.

Good luck!
posted by Smarson at 12:35 PM on November 20, 2007

I've been married twice and didn't receive an engagement ring either time. Didn't think twice about it, but I'm not into expensive symbolism and neither were either of my husbands. Actually, I proposed to my first husband, so that kind of sidestepped the kneeling-with-ring ritual.

For my second marriage, we didn't even exchange wedding bands. The only drawback to that was that some guys thought I was single and asked me out.

But now I'm older and that doesn't happen anymore.

As others have said, you need to make sure your beloved is OK with no ring. Otherwise, it could be a dealbreaker.
posted by SallyHitMeOntheHead at 12:53 PM on November 20, 2007

Having just gone ring shopping with my boyfriend for the first time last weekend, I guess I can share my experience even if no one is reading this thread anymore.

1. We're both paying for it. It will not cost anywhere near $5000, but will likely be more than $500.

2. I'm getting a blue topaz center stone, not a diamond. I can think of at least four friends/coworkers just off the top of my head that have non-diamond center stones. (Technically one is a yellow diamond, but it's lab created, not natural.) It's not all that unusual in my circle, I guess.

3. I'm not a big jewelry girl, and that's part of why I *have* always wanted an engagement ring. It's a great reason to splurge on something pretty and sparkly that is also meaningful. Also, I love sparkly.
posted by misskaz at 2:19 PM on November 20, 2007

My parents have been married for 29 years this year, and have neither engagements, nor wedding rings.
posted by !Jim at 5:14 PM on November 20, 2007

I've told just about everyone that if anyone wants to marry me and wants to get me a ring, they'll have to get me a mood ring. That way I know for sure that they've got me figured out and understand me completely.

Expensive jewelry makes me nervous - I'll always worry that I'd lose it. I'm silly and quirky, so a mood ring suits me perfectly.
posted by divabat at 6:13 PM on November 21, 2007

My wife and I were dirt poor when we got married. We went to Montgomery Wards and bought the cheapest bands they had. Neither of us cared. Mine cracked one day when I got it stuck in the closet door (think Ed Harris in The Abyss) and then broke clean in half when I jammed it on a table edge. Wards is out of business, so I have to get a new ring from somewhere else. I'll probably pay more than I did for the first one just so I get a sturdier band, but neither my wife nor I were ever concerned with our stature in life as presented by our rings.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 5:21 AM on November 22, 2007

My ex-husband bought me an engagement ring with a small diamond, pretty traditional. My favorite high school teacher, however, got a parrot for her engagement, and was much happier with him than she'd have been with a ring.
posted by notashroom at 7:50 PM on November 23, 2007

Coming from a girl who was engaged for 3 years without a ring, it is unnecessary. And I am a girly girl! I am also just not materialistic. We have a child and I knew that spending money on some shiny blood rocks was stupid when compared to saving money to get a house, car payments, and diapers. Ignore the stupid jewelry commercials. They want you to feel as if you have to buy that ring in order to show your love. Which is ridiculous. I always told my husband, I would rather have a roof over my head and our baby well fed over a piece of metal any day.

I hope your girl has similar views in life. I never needed a ring and while many people were idiots and wouldn't believe that I was engaged just cause I couldn't show them the bling, well, we all know those people didn't get invited to the wedding! Lol. The origin of the ring is conservative, traditional and somewhat sexist. Show her you love and appreciate her every day and if she is a good girl and loves you the same, some rock won't matter.
posted by dnthomps at 7:13 PM on December 7, 2007

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