Does this ring a bell for anyone?
March 25, 2008 6:37 PM   Subscribe

How can you tell if someone is single or taken just by looking at them?

Of course the easy answer would be just to ask them but I was really just thinking of this as a filtering process.

I remember having a discussion about how one of my friends never had guys flirt with her. I told her that it was because she wore a ring on her right ring finger so guys probably figured that she was wearing was a promise ring and was already taken. The ring she was wearing was also a pretty nice heirloom diamond ring she got from her grandmother. Anyways, she didn't believe me even though my roommate at the time confirmed that he thought that most girls that wore rings on their right ring fingers were already committed and not really worth flirting with. I guess I can see if the ring was more casual then they might be single but as far as I'm concerned if that ring has any type of stone in it then they're probably in a relationship. We are all in our early twenties if that matters at all.

Have I been too picky about the girls that I flirt with since I immediately discount any girls that are wearing rings? I want to know if other mefites have that same preconception that people with rings on their right ring fingers are already in a serious relationship. And more generally, are there any signs that you consider tell tales for being in a relationship (besides having your sweetheart on the end of your arm of course).
posted by woolylambkin to Human Relations (44 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:41 PM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


The answer to your question, according to your own statements and a query of a few of my friends, is that you can't tell from one encounter.
posted by DMan at 6:42 PM on March 25, 2008


I've started wearing a ring on my left hand even though I'm not married just because I feel like it. And I've been wondering if I am ahead of a trend.

People in some countries wear their wedding ring on their right hand.

So I guess I'm saying don't count out women just for wearing rings.

Besides, asking "are you married?" is a great ice-breaker.
posted by cda at 6:48 PM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I was younger I used to wear rings on my ring fingers just because that's where they fit. I'm a little ashamed to admit that these days (in my 30s) I make sure not to do that because I don't want it to be misinterpreted. However, I am not someone who takes particular notice of other people's ring-wearing habits.

Generally speaking I would not be inclined to think much of it if a woman was wearing rings there, but if a dude is wearing a ring at all it seems to usually be that kind of ring. But as with anything you don't know unless you ask.
posted by loiseau at 6:50 PM on March 25, 2008


wait, I thought it was your left hand? Right hand is fair game. Left freaks me out, even if it's some weird ass costume ring.
posted by sully75 at 6:50 PM on March 25, 2008


Oh, and a side point: I don't know which side is the "married" side and which isn't. I can't be the only one.
posted by loiseau at 6:51 PM on March 25, 2008


Guys don't look at rings. Only girls.
posted by unSane at 6:51 PM on March 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


Women sometimes put "he's taken!" signals on their men, without the man knowing (eg many women will pick up on whether a man is wearing certain colors or clothes that men in that area/culture would pretty much never pick if left to their own devices, and this can be either an intentional signal from his girlfriend, or just an accident of having a women in his life), but I can't think of any ways in which men do anything similar.

However, this example demonstrates that even when there are intentional signals and clues, you're still talking about a sliding scale of certainty - the more certainty you want, the more likely it is that the available clues are insufficient to meet the threshold, and you'll need to be more direct. The clues mean you are slightly more likely to guess correctly, but if you want to know, you'll probably have to be more direct.

(Unless it's a Friend Of A Friend, in which case you can look them up on facebook/myspace/etc and chances are their profile will give their relationship status)

Lastly, it might not matter as much as you think, because I am (repeatedly) told that flirting is never wasted, because flirting with unavailable people just means you get better at flirting. Wish I could follow this wisdom myself, maybe you'll have more luck with it :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:56 PM on March 25, 2008


-harlequin-: (Unless it's a Friend Of A Friend, in which case you can look them up on facebook/myspace/etc and chances are their profile will give their relationship status)

Use caution. This proved a bad move on my part once.
posted by loiseau at 6:58 PM on March 25, 2008


Promise rings, engagement rings, wedding rings all go on the left hand. The right hand is just for lookin pretty. :)
posted by CwgrlUp at 7:00 PM on March 25, 2008


I wouldn't assume that a girl was taken because she was wearing a ring, but I would definitely assume that a girl wearing a *diamond* ring was engaged. Because, in our culture, that's what that means. As for you, unless you notice the diamond / wedding band combo and you're sure, maybe don't worry about it... worst case scenario you flirt with an unavailable girl, and as a general rule, everyone likes to be flirted with now and again.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:06 PM on March 25, 2008


Consciously, no.

Unconsciously, I think we can all tell. Someone who's 'taken' will typically have an extra bit of confidence to them, and confidence is sexy.

At least, *I* always get hit on more when I'm taken. :-p
posted by SpecialK at 7:12 PM on March 25, 2008


When I see women wearing those Tiffany diamond heart necklaces, or any fancy, non-hipsterish/ironic use of hearts in jewelry, I tend to assume it's a gift from a S.O. They're pretty ubiquitous, though I've never met a female friend of mine who has bought one for herself.

(Just to talk about visual clues other than engagement rings.)
posted by np312 at 7:22 PM on March 25, 2008


Women sometimes put "he's taken!" signals on their men, without the man knowing...

Holy crap! *check's clothes for tampering* Thank goodness. I barely even match.

I'd just assume that a stone of any kind is a signal. Even if she's single, if she's sporting a rock on a ring I'd take that as a hint that she's either attempting to scare off potential suitors, or setting a precedent where you'd better be able to afford something better before she'll even consider dating you.

But hell, if she looks to be worth a flirt, just acknowledge it right away. "Nice ring! Some dude give you that?" If so, "Good eye on him! Later!" and slink away.
posted by krippledkonscious at 7:26 PM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some cultures may have other signals. There are a lot of pacific islander people around where I live and young women like to wear a flower in their hair (hibiscus for choice). Wearing it on one side means "I'm taken" and the other means "I'm available".

Of course, now I can't remember which.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:31 PM on March 25, 2008


Note: I'm not suggesting that any woman wearing a nice ring with a stone in it is obviously a shallow gold-digger, but as a guy I would probably be insecure if I thought I couldn't provide that same level of service. Pardon the interruption.
posted by krippledkonscious at 7:33 PM on March 25, 2008


I don't think you can automatically assume much at all from rings, other than perhaps a diamond ring or plain gold band on the ring finger of the left hand.

Plenty of people just wear them for decoration, on whatever finger works best with the ring in question, which might have been a gift or an heirloom or a funky market or travel purchase or anything else besides.

Then again, I've spent too much time around Goths, and we / they tend to cover everything possible with jewellery, so rings kinda lose significance. Others might treat them very differently - eg whoever came up with this concept of a "friendship ring" on the right ring finger, which I swear I've never even heard of - so yeh, you really can't tell. Different strokes, and all that.

tangentially, a good sign that somebody's *not* in a relationship: "oooh! that's a nice ring; can i try it on?"
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:33 PM on March 25, 2008


If you see the girl on a fairly regular basis (like in class), you might be able to get a better guess. Does she tend to wear other jewelry, or is it just the ring? If she wears other jewelry, I wouldn't think a ring is inherently a token from a significant other. If it's just the one ring, every day, odds are higher that she's taken.

But it's still odds. Sure, odds are higher that she's taken, but it's also possible the ring's from family (my grandmother gives me all kinds of her old jewelry), a knockoff she bought from Wal-Mart, or from a friend.
posted by lilac girl at 7:54 PM on March 25, 2008


I sympathize, because it really can be hard to tell. Some girls/women will wear a ring just to keep the guys away, others wear them because they like the look, and the rest really are taken, and how are you to know?

I agree there is no real harm in flirting. But the harm comes later if she is not up-front with the smiling, "Sorry, I'm taken," somewhere in the first meeting, or if you don't ask right then. Because after the first meeting, it is really awkward to bring the subject up, and things get complicated.

So, don't assume from the ring, I guess, but ask her if you're interested?
posted by misha at 7:58 PM on March 25, 2008


I wore the same ring on my right ring finger throughout high school, college, and the last 4.5 years of my life. It was just metal, no stones, and I thought it was pretty casual. A few months ago a (male) friend of a friend asked me if it was an engagement ring. Surprised that he would even consider that possibility, I did a non-scientific survey of my male acquaintances. I found that the unmarried ones could never remember which hand was for a wedding ring, and they certainly weren't looking closely enough to see if there was a stone involved. Their internal logic seemed to run as "any metal around a finger - must be taken."

I've stopped wearing the ring since then. I'm kind of ashamed to admit that. But I'm having enough trouble finding a good guy to hang out with, without scaring them off with a cheap piece of silver that I happened to think was cute.

My lesson to you? Don't assume she's married/engaged unless the ring is on the left ring finger. Girls know that's where the wedding ring goes, so if they're trying to send "unavailable" signals they'll wear it there.
posted by vytae at 8:09 PM on March 25, 2008


she wore a ring on her right ring finger so guys probably figured that she was wearing was a promise ring and was already taken

#1, wow do you ever overestimate how men think.
#2, when I wear a ring on my 'wedding' finger, I get hit on much more than without. Many theories have been offered on this, I really have no idea.
posted by rokusan at 8:09 PM on March 25, 2008


Guys don't look at rings. Only girls.

Interestingly enough, I had an epiphany a few years back that I had grown up because I started looking at ring fingers. It's basically the first thing I look at now. Hilariously, I have no idea on any given day which hand the dang things are supposed to be on.

I've also found that in cases where there is no ring, 98% of attached girls will mention their boyfriend within the first 15 minutes of conversation, according to a double-blind study I made up for this response. According to the same study, roughly 45% will mention him to get you to back off, while the 54% mention him because, well, it's hard not to tell stories without mentioning your SO. Margin of error, +/- 3%.
posted by General Malaise at 8:15 PM on March 25, 2008 [7 favorites]


vytae: Don't assume she's married/engaged unless the ring is on the left ring finger. Girls know that's where the wedding ring goes, so if they're trying to send "unavailable" signals they'll wear it there.

Not true. I don't. I'm sure I've heard at some point but I'd have to flip a coin to guess.
posted by loiseau at 8:42 PM on March 25, 2008


Some guys do look for rings - I finally learned to after being interested in someone who later turned out to be married. I'm now engaged myself, so it doesn't matter, but I still sometimes check out of curiosity. I remember which hand to check based on commercials I have seen pushing "right-hand rings" - the idea seemed to be that strong, independent women (who apparently didn't have anyone buying them jewelry) could and should buy themselves a nice diamond ring, and wear it on the right hand because that was a powerful statement (or somesuch, more likely just to avoid confusion - wearing it on the left it might get mistaken for an engagement or wedding ring). (So, "taken" rings go on the left.)
posted by attercoppe at 9:05 PM on March 25, 2008


Girls know that's where the wedding ring goes, so if they're trying to send "unavailable" signals they'll wear it there.

loiseau: Not true. I don't. I'm sure I've heard at some point but I'd have to flip a coin to guess.


But if you were married, or you were intentionally trying to give off the impression of being married to avoid men hitting on you, you'd probably take the time to get the right finger - yes? So it's probably fair for a guy to ignore a ring on any other finger, because it's so much less likely to be meant as a symbol of "I'm taken."

On the other hand, I guess the difficulty is with available women who don't know/care and therefore wear a ring on their left ring finger... I stand by my moral that rings on any other finger don't matter, but you're right that a ring on the left ring finger doesn't necessarily mean she's unavailable.
posted by vytae at 9:17 PM on March 25, 2008


And by "right finger" I meant "correct finger" - which is actually the left. Yikes.
posted by vytae at 9:17 PM on March 25, 2008


I've stopped wearing the ring since then. I'm kind of ashamed to admit that. But I'm having enough trouble finding a good guy to hang out with, without scaring them off with a cheap piece of silver that I happened to think was cute.

Much to my shame, I did the same thing. As stated earlier, most goths or ex-goths simply wear rings all over the place, often a few on the one finger. Having gotten used to this, it took quite a while for me to realise that a ring on my left ring finger - one of up to four or five rings I'd wear daily - could've been interpreted as married-or-engaged, for people who pay attention to such things. I'd expect them to come up with a much more logical (to me) interpretation: "oh, there's somebody who obviously likes wearing jewellery"

Hm, that might be a slight hint:

one ring - a bit more likely to be significant.

a bunch of rings - a bit more likely to be just fashion.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:34 PM on March 25, 2008


When I meet people who have either a plain band (male or female) or diamond ring on their left ring finger, my default assumption is that they're probably either married or engaged. When the same type of ring is on the right hand, I don't make any assumptions, but I am a bit more uncertain than if the person didn't have a ring at all. I have met a couple of married people who wear their wedding bands on their right ring fingers, but I've also met plenty of people who wear rings on that finger just because they feel like it.

This question did remind me of a similar conversation that I had with a friend not too long ago, only we were discussing wearing college rings on the right ring finger as opposed to other kinds of rings. At the time, I told her I was pretty sure most people wouldn't assume a college ring = relationship. (I was thinking specifically of signet rings, but I'd make the same argument for school rings with stones.) I still think a college ring alone isn't a barrier to flirtation, but perhaps others would disagree.
posted by I Said, I've Got A Big Stick at 10:00 PM on March 25, 2008


Join the look at left hand crowd. Plain ring, or sparkly ring... No go there. Goofy ring, OK.
Sorry, you wear a band or something nice on your left ring finger... you're off limits. Second thing I check after the "is she cute" question.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:32 AM on March 26, 2008


I remember having a discussion about how one of my friends never had guys flirt with her. I told her that it was because she wore a ring on her right ring finger so guys probably figured that she was wearing was a promise ring and was already taken.

Wearing a ring doesn't matter as you get older, as people come to value flirting just for flirting and not as foreplay.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:41 AM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


When I see a ring on the left ring finger, I assume she's married, or engaged, or wants to appear married or engaged, or is trying to make some sort of inane statement about how archaic the custom is, or is just clueless.

In any case, I won't hit on her. Those of you who say 'there's no harm in flirting'...well, you must meet far fewer people, and have much more time on your hands, and have different goals, then some of us. It's all a bit of a game until you're in your mid 30s and you're not meeting people in classes or parties so much anymore. Percentage-wise, the amount of new people in your life who turn out to be already married is very high. You start learning to assume married unless otherwise indicated. The ring, or lack of ring, helps in this regard.

Not wearing a ring on that finger, in order to indicate your availability, is nothing to be "ashamed" of. It is a clear signal in a world of static. Embrace it.
posted by bingo at 1:55 AM on March 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Guys don't look at rings. Only girls.

Many of my male friends contradict this statement. Some say it's the first thing they look at.

I wear a diamond ring on my right hand and I'm single. People ask about it, it's actually an interesting conversation starter. If I want to be left alone, I sometimes switch it to my left hand (this doesn't always work).

I also sometimes wear various other rings on my left ring finger (a pink sapphire ring from my grandmother, a blue stone ring). I don't know what effect that has on my perceived availability, but men still approach me.
posted by Pax at 6:50 AM on March 26, 2008


"Guys don't look at rings. Only girls." - unSane

Every guy I've ever known (including myself) definitely looks for rings, most of them using the following logic:
1.) if its on the left-hand ring finger, and its the prominent piece of jewelry on her body (meaning = she's wearing little other jewelry except maybe a necklace/ear rings), then there is a very high chance its because shes engaged or married. She's drawing attention to it for a reason.

2.) If there is an over-abundance of jewelry (multiple rings on both hands) ..OR .. no jewelry at all, then we'll usually stay back and take our time looking for other indications until we see a pattern that might tell us whether she's available or not. (is she out 'with the girls'?.. is she checking out other guys?, is she buying TV dinners in the freezer section at 3am? ;P

Bingo's comment about flirting in your 30's is very close to my experience.
posted by jmnugent at 7:02 AM on March 26, 2008


I say don't worry about it. If you want to flirt with someone, flirt with them. You won't need any subtle clues if they don't want to be flirted with-- they'll skip subtle and bring up the SO, or smack your face, or some other "subtle" thing to stop you. Every now and then you'll think you're flirting, and she or he will think you're friends and there will be an awkward moment when the flirter asks you out, and you have to say "um, gosh, I don't think that would go over really well with my husband" (this happened to me). Just remember there's a difference between "hitting on" and "flirting." I don't know anyone who likes being hit on, especially by new acquaintances, but flirting is fun, and sometimes even rewarding.
posted by nax at 7:45 AM on March 26, 2008


nax: Not having to deal with those awkward moments is the entire point of paying attention to ring fingers. Also, the question is 'How can you tell if someone is single or taken just by looking at them?'

Also, where I'm from (and where I went to college, which is full of people from Chicago (where you live), and many other places I've lived), 'hitting on' does not have negative connotations in and of itself, and women are often heard saying things like 'I wish he would work up the nerve to hit on me,' or 'My friend would like you; you should go hit on her.' It is indeed different from flirting, but then, sometimes flirting is not the goal for either party.
posted by bingo at 8:19 AM on March 26, 2008


I used to have this argument all the time with one of my (younger) sisters - that she was foolish to wear rings because single guys like me (at the time) didn't know if a wedding ring was worn on the left or right hand anyway, so why be confusing about it. Her counter-argument was that she wouldn't want to attract any guy so stupid that he didn't know that wedding rings were worn on the left hand. A few years after this I married one of her best friends (now married 22 years and counting).

By the way, I have noticed over the years, on those rare occasions when I have not worn my wedding ring while it was being resized, that women would be much more interested in talking to me.
posted by thomas144 at 8:21 AM on March 26, 2008


I ditto bingo's and jmnugent's comments.

For guys in my social circle (30-40s), the left hand is one of the first things to check, in my experience. I've also known many women use a diamond on the right ring finger to indicate that they're engaged. An occupied ring finger on either hand is often taken to mean "I'm unavailable". The type of ring doen't matter much either. Women have such varied tastes that just about anything could be a wedding or engagement band.

You may not mean anything by random fourth-digit ring-wearing, but enough women do. To many guys, a ring on the left ring-finger, less so on the right, is a cue. It may not be the message you intend, but it's the one you project.
posted by bonehead at 8:38 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm engaged, I wear a diamond ring on my left hand, and it's still sometimes not enough to communicate that I'm taken. So I say something about my fiancé within the first few minutes of conversation.

Prior to meeting him, I often wore a ring (no stone) on my right hand. Meant nothing.
posted by desjardins at 8:49 AM on March 26, 2008


Small data point: I used to wear a claddagh ring on my left ring finger when I lived in Ireland, as a means of fending off unwanted attention in the pubs. It didn't work worth a damn. :)
posted by LN at 11:20 AM on March 26, 2008


bingo et al: learning to deal with "awkward moments" is very good practice. As far as the difference between getting hit on and flirting, perhaps it's generational language. By "getting hit on" I mean clearly sexual advances that you don't feel you have signaled or solicited. Flirting in my conotation has at the most an extremely suppressed, if any, sexual component. I don't think you'd disagree that unwelcome sexual advances are to be avoided from both sides. Not sure what my living in Chicago has to do with it?
posted by nax at 11:23 AM on March 26, 2008


Yeah, the claddagh on my left ring finger doesn't work for that either.

Really, if it's a plain band or a diamond ring, odds are = avoid.
Anything else = ASK. Even a bare finger doesn't necessarily mean someone's not married these days*, though, so... really you should ask for everyone, I suppose.

* a few married folks I know go ring-free.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:39 PM on March 26, 2008


nax: By "getting hit on" I mean clearly sexual advances that you don't feel you have signaled or solicited. Flirting in my connotation has at the most an extremely suppressed, if any, sexual component.

There is a huge middle ground, wherein there are unsolicited (but welcomed, cautiously or enthusiastically) advances, in which the sexual component is not "extremely suppressed," but neither is it overt and sleazy, and immediate sex is not necessarily the goal, but it's also understood that something is happening beyond just talk. And I think it's clear that this is the context in which the OP is asking the question.

While it is possible to just flirt spontaneously all the time, that's often not the goal. You go to a party, or a bar, or some other situation in which everyone there is not going to wait until you get a chance to talk to them, and you have to decide which people to spend your time talking to. Sometimes you want to hang out and see what happens, and sometimes you have to make an effort to spend time with the people you're interested in. Sure, maybe you'll have fun just flirting at a very superficial level with someone who turns out to be married. But maybe that's not what you want to spend your time doing. Life is short, and people have the right to set their own social priorities.

My reference to Chicago was to suggest that you and I probably learned these terms in the same cultural milieu, but clearly we didn't, or we experienced it in a much different way.
posted by bingo at 5:54 PM on March 26, 2008


Ah. thanks for the explanation. In other words, we agree (I love it when that happens).
posted by nax at 9:41 AM on March 27, 2008


Guys don't look at rings. Only girls.

I think it's more like, college students and early 20s-ish people don't look at rings. Only people with married friends who have to date outside a social circle because they no longer have a campus or a local bar or a band or whatever to be the hub of their world. (Not that this is absolute either, but I think it's closer than the guy/girl split)

As this and the previous thread indicate, guys are at least as likely to look at rings or understand their significance as women. I used to wear all sorts of random cheapo rings on whichever fingers when I was in college and never thought about it, and only stopped because I mostly stopped wearing that kind of gothy jewelry as I got older, not because of any concern over what it might mean. But at least now I've had friends get married, seen male friends with their wedding bands etc, so that what any ring means has shifted at least slightly in my consciousness, whereas 10 years ago it was equivalent to a bracelet & it never once occurred to me that I would be sending a "signal".

but I can't think of any ways in which men do anything similar.

expensive jewelry? It could be from mom but then so could the guy's nice sweater or whatever. (And occasionally, a guy will have good taste on his own or a woman will buy herself diamond earrings.)
posted by mdn at 1:27 PM on March 28, 2008


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