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Dear Shoestring: The Ring?

June 28, 2010

What does the engagement ring symbolize? What is your opinion on sharing the cost of it?


In all cases of symbolism, I think it is only fair to discuss the history of the engagement ring first. Engagement rings are actually a pretty recent tradition. The first engagement ring ever recorded is the betrothal rings in Roman’s early 13th century. The first recorded man to impress a woman with a ring was Archduke Maximillian for Mary of Burgandy in 1477.

The Victorians exchanged REGARD rings. These were rings set with semiprecious stones: Rubies for the R, Emeralds for E, Garnets for the G … and so on. The 19th century discovery of mines in Africa drove the prices of diamonds down and when American couples regularly began to give and receive diamonds. It was not till the 1930s when DeBeers decided to promote their diamonds. More of this ad campaign by DeBeers can be read in “The Rise and Fall of Diamonds” by Edward Epstein. The “diamond is forever” ad campaign ranks in the first 10 best ad campaigns in the history of advertising. By the 1960s, 80% of women had engagement rings. Today, m0re than 80% of American women have engagement rings at an average cost of $3200. I blame DeBeers and their (unfortunately) extremely successful advertising campaign. They got me hook, line and sucker.

The engagement ring started as a financial commitment from the groom. This is the part that most people know. Pretty cut and dry I think. So really, to think of it, the engagement ring is not just a symbolism of a man’s ability to provide for her and her family but also a symbolism of the bride’s worth (and what the man can afford). So apparently, women are averagely worth $3200. About the price of an old Ford Focus. Jeez, not even a Toyota? Sad. However, that was in the 1930s. What does the engagement ring symbolize today? That really depends on the bride. Culturally, I would say it symbolizes a man’s claim on a woman. Or its a symbolism of a man’s social standing. I think this is especially true say in cities like New York where it is not uncommon to see women walking around with 6-carat Harry Winston’s.

These days, a couple makes their own definition of the engagement ring. Just like a couple make their own rules for marriage. At this point I would like to remind you that Cory and I by all intents and purposes are pretty traditional especially for a young educated couple. I changed my name, Cory asked my father for his blessing, etc. I am a third wave feminist, therefore I believe in personal empowerment. What does this mean? This means, if you want to change your last name to your husband’s, great! If you do not, that is great too. You want to be CEO of Corporate America? Awesome. Remember me when you reach the top. You want to be a stay-at-home mom? Good luck to you. Mom need it in bulk except they cannot buy it Costco. I celebrate choice and that women have the chance to make this choice.

When Cory and I first met, he was as poor as a church mouse. Actually, church mice might be better off. His life became gradually steadier after we met. For us, my engagement ring is a symbolism of how far he has come and how hard he has had to work to get here. We are nowhere near where we want to be but nevertheless, its a good start. So my engagement ring is a celebration of how far he has come and a promise for the future and all we have to accomplish. Also probably a “thank-you-Jesselyn-because-you-are-an-awesome-woman-and-I-would-never-be-here-without-you” ring. Just sayin’

As far as sharing the cost of the engagement ring, that depends on one of two things: what the symbolism of the engagement ring means to you and whether the two of you have a joint account. If you have a joint account, it is a nice thought to say “he bought the engagement ring” but really, you both bought the engagement ring. What if you don’t have joint accounts? What if, say,  you want a 3-carat canary diamond and lover boy only has money for a 1-carat regular diamond? This opens up a whole other can of worms. Why can he not afford your 3-carat stunner? Do you have too high expectations? Does he just have horrible personal finances? Are you just superficial? Do you have to reevaluate your expectations? What are your opportunity cost for this ring? This has nothing to do with “sharing cost” but rather for practical purposes. If you think it should be included in your lover’s job description: “must buy ring” then unfortunately he gets the final say. His money after all.

Cory refuse to let me “help” him pick out my ring. The whole time I am going “oh dear Lord Jesus, I am so SCREWED!”. I mean, this is the guy that got me a Border’s gift card one Christmas. My reaction? “Oh, um, thanks honey. You know I love books!”. The funny part about that episode is that all the women in my life went “a GIFT CARD?” and all the men said, “What’s the problem? You like books. He gave you money for books. Didn’t you get what you wanted?”. Um. Yes. Not a whole lot of imagination my beloved. Thank God, he knocked it out of the park because, “Oh honey, a 1/4-carat solitaire… how sweet” when really my face says “A 1/4-carat solitaire? How pathetic. I hope you have a gift receipt” probably not the best reaction. Or I am afraid I might burst out with a “Nice try honey, let’s do this again”. But I am superficial like that. We knew that.

Cory and I did not have a joint bank account before we were married. So the question of sharing the ring was not really an issue. Would have I contributed to the cost of my ring? Probably not. I am pretty old-school. I like the guy to “court” me. I want him to open all my doors. I like the guy to ask my father’s blessing. I like the guy to buy the dang ring. That was part of the “Guy in Jesselyn’s Life” job description, “3-carat ring optional”. However, none of this is socially expected anymore. Not the name changing, not the father’s blessing, so why should the guy buying the ring be socially expected too? Ridiculous.

What does the engagement ring matter then? In reality, it doesn’t matter at all.

Ladies, what do you believe? Did you share the cost of your engagement ring? Would you share the cost of the engagement ring?


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Jade RI permalink
    June 28, 2010 7:21 pm

    I did want an engagement ring – and we looked at diamonds for a while before I finally got up the guts to tell him that I didn’t want one. I wanted a sapphire engagement ring, and I wanted him to pick it out on his own. I told him I didn’t care how big or expensive it was. I only wanted to know that he knew me well enough to pick out something I would like (I helped him a little and my roommate helped him a little more).

    We are different. We are both older than many college kids, and we both have good jobs. For a different couple, cost-sharing might make a lot of sense… if that’s what they really want.

    One thing though – an ‘engagement’ ring doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. I have a friend who just wanted a (wedding) band. Very simple, but just as meaningful. I have another friend who has an “alternative” / synthetic diamond. She told her fiance that she didn’t want him to spend all his money (for the record, I would never known if she didn’t tell me it was synthetic). Who actually pays for it is a very personal decision, but there’s no reason to go into debt to afford it.

  2. Jesselyn Girl permalink*
    June 28, 2010 7:44 pm

    I forgot that little detail. No debt. Check.

    And I love sapphires. It’s the gem of European royalties and it represents true love. True blue.

  3. June 28, 2010 9:29 pm

    I think you’re right in saying that what the engagement ring means is dependent upon the couple.

    I would not pay towards my own ring. Having said that, after we got engaged I bought a plane ticket to South Africa so that the Groomie could achieve one of his dreams. I called that his engagement ring.

    I have a 1/4 carat solitaire, which I chose myself. I fell in love with it instantly, and after that no other fancy sparkler could compare 🙂 The Groomie proposed with a pink sapphire “pretend ring”.

  4. Melodious permalink
    June 29, 2010 10:15 pm

    I’ve waffled back and forth on the engagement ring issue. I’ve been married before. He hasn’t. He was engaged, and still has her 1/2 carat princess cut stone. It’s beautiful, but there is ugly history between she and I, so I won’t wear it in any form.

    I know I’d be happy with a simple band, but he wants to buy me a ring. I’d rather have an engagement bike or kayak, personally. We talk about it and he says, “We’ll get you a new bike, too.” I mention synthetic diamonds and he says, “Maybe for now, but I’d eventually have to replace it with the real thing.” Arrrrrgggghhhh!

    So I went ring-shopping with him, and promptly fell in love with a vintage ring, to the tune of nearly $5000. I tried to play it off, but he saw my face (and likely my knees buckle) when the ring slid perfectly onto my finger.

    I’m not sure what will happen. I’d rather not carry $5000 around on my finger but I know it might happen. Maybe if he can sell the previous ring I wouldn’t feel so bad about it, but that’s still a lot of money…

  5. July 3, 2010 10:37 pm

    We never had any question of me sharing the cost 🙂 Then again, he spend a lot more on my ring than I was initially comfortable with. I would feel a bit uneasy to be wearing it.

    No debt for my ring either, it was cash all the way. At the end of the day he bought something that he could afford and spent what he was comfortable spending.

    We had discussed what I liked and had a bit of a look at rings in shop windows together but when it was time to make a decision he took his sister shopping to pick out a diamond and choose a setting.

    I did not see my engagement ring until *after* I had said “yes”!

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