One Ring to Rule Them All

Joel and my sister, Emily, are on the far right.

What, you think this post is going to be about Lord of the Rings? Get your mind out of the gutter. This is about engagement rings.

My sister got engaged on Monday. I could not be happier for her and her fiance, Joel. I’m incredibly proud that my sister held out to say “yes” to the man that she knows with all her heart is the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with. And although it’s not my place to judge the man she chose, I’ve met Joel a few times, and I can tell that he is a very, very good man.

My sister knew that Joel was going to propose to her. They had talked about getting married, and they had even gone to pick out the ring two weeks ago. So she knew it was coming, she just didn’t know exactly when.

Now, everyone has their ideal proposal (or at least some guidelines) in their head about how they’d like to propose or be proposed to. I’d love to hear your thoughts (retroactively if you’ve already taken that leap) in the comments. Given this monumental occasion, I thought I’d share some of mine.

  • When I think about proposing, I think about this line from When Harry Met Sally: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible.” Unless the woman is adamant about a certain type of proposal, I would like to propose when I want the rest of my life with her to begin as soon as possible. It could be any place or any time. I may not have a ring picked out or on hand. In my mind, the ring is just a symbol. That can be figured out later.
  • I like the idea that the ring–or part of the ring–is passed on from generation to generation. I think it should have the weight of history on it. So I’d love to incorporate part of my mother’s engagement ring in the ring I someday give to a woman. I mentioned this to my mother a few years ago, and she didn’t quite know what to think of the idea.
  • I’m not going to propose to someone unless I know they’ll say yes. Although I want the proposal to be spontaneous, that doesn’t mean that I want it to be a surprise or create an awkward situation. I don’t think this necessarily entails a specific discussion about engagement, but moreso an ongoing conversation about marriage and commitment with the woman I’m dating. Also, I would want to ask her parents’ permission to marry her. I’m not quite sure what I’d do if they said no–I think guys ask the parents out of respect more than anything–but I like that tradition.
  • I’m a bit disillusioned with the one-sided nature of the engagement and the wedding. So much fuss is made about the bride that the idea that weddings are about the unity of two people is lost in the shuffle. Don’t get me wrong–I want to propose to a woman someday. But I think it would be nicely progressive if she extended a token of her love to me as well. Not necessarily a gift, as gifts don’t do much for me. Just some gesture that says, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you too.”
  • Oh, and one final thing: The type of woman I want to be with is not the type of woman who obsesses about the size of ring to the point where she won’t even accept a ring under X amount of dollars. That’s a sign of status and materialism that does not appeal to me at all.
Some fun facts about close encounters with engagement:
  • Why, Amy Adams, why?!

    I came startling close to getting engaged to two women (not at the same time). One of them asked for it frequently. The other probably doesn’t know how close I came. However, not getting engaged to those women was the right choice for me, and based on the men they’re with now, also the right choice for them.

  • One of those women did not care about the ring at all and claimed repeatedly that she’d rather have an “engagement sandwich.” I thought that was awesome.
  • A running joke between me and the other woman was that I would pretend to propose to her so many times that when the real thing happened, she wouldn’t see it coming. So I took to one knee in front of her many a time before proceeding to tie my shoelaces.
  • One of the women I dated was ready to get engaged after dating for only a couple of months. I was far from ready and saw no need to rush in, but to show her my commitment towards buying a ring, I started an automatic savings account with ING that pulls a certain amount of money from my bank account every month. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t work out (women, please don’t pressure your men to get engaged), but I kept the automatic savings plan. That way when I finally need to buy a ring someday, it won’t cause a dent in what I perceive to be my living expenses.
What do you think about engagement rings, and engagements in general? Do you have any good stories or close calls to share?

19 thoughts on “One Ring to Rule Them All”

  1. You include a lot of really great points here. I, too, would have liked to receive some kind of engagement food–perhaps an engagement pizza.

    My one additional thought is about bullet point #4–women who obsess about the ring. I’d like to ask for a point of clarification. Are you bothered by any woman who is obsessed about getting an engagement ring (because I’d argue that this may include every single woman once they’ve received it) or women who are incredibly focused on what type they want/size of it/etc beforehand (e.g., more focused on what the ring looks like than what it represents)? I only ask because every woman I’ve seen seems to show the ring off, stare at it, etc. when they first get it. Does that longwinded question/explanation make sense?

    • Trev–Oh, I’m fine with my future fiance showing off the ring. I’m moreso talking about before she gets the ring. Like you said, if she’s focused on the type/size to the point that doesn’t want to get engaged without the perfect ring that she’s always envisioned…I don’t know, that’s just not appealing to me. The whole tradition of diamond rings was invented by a diamond retailer–the very essence of that tradition is materialistic.

  2. You asked your mother to use part of her ring in your engagement ring to your future fiance? That reminds me of your other blog post, about intending one thing and getting another.

    Its not uncommon for people to use their GRANDmother’s ring, and that’s quite classy. Girls often like that. But anytime you tell a woman you want to take part of her engagement ring away from her, expect a confused look. Especially if its your mother.

    Also, I echo T-Mac’s point… most American women seem to obsess about the ring, and that cultural phenomenon isn’t going away any time soon. Perhaps its best to give up that battle? That’s different from wanting to avoid a girl who insists on a big or expensive ring. Many guys would agree with you there.

    • Joe–I really like the idea of using part of my grandmother’s ring–that makes more sense. Ha ha…now I know why my mother was confused. 🙂

      Yeah, as I clarified above, it’s the women who insist upon a big or expensive ring. The type of woman who says, “I won’t accept any ring under $10,000.” Why? If you love the guy and want to spend the rest of your life with him, wouldn’t you prefer that money be spend on something you two can use to build a life together?

  3. Ahhh, thank you Joe S for sharing this blog post with me, as you know, I love the topic of rings, engagements and weddings.

    Regarding passing down a ring – it might be more traditional to have a ring passed down via the girl’s family, which requires you, the suitor to be close enough to your future mother-in-law / grandmother-in-law for them to offer it to you. A bit of logistical reasoning: if, for whatever reason, the engagement/marriage comes to an end, the ring will stay with the girl’s family. Whereas if the man gives his mom’s/grandma’s ring, the ring could potentially leave with the girl as a result of the broken relationship.

    I like when couples talk about marriage/engagement before the question is popped. Who wants to ever put their guy in a situation where he asks and she says, “uhhhhh….” When the question is asked, there should be a sure answer – known by both parties in advance.

    But, back to the superficialness vs symbolism of the ring, the true topic of this discussion. Girls should see the purchase of the ring as a joint purchase. Afterall, finances will be merged soon enough. Thus, she should take equal responsibility for the financial burden on the once-in-a-lifetime (until the anniversary upgrade) purchase.

    • Ines–That’s a really good point, and something I should have included in the post. I would want to talk about marriage in advance of the proposal–I wouldn’t want it to come out of the blue, and honestly, I’d want to know that the answer is going to be “yes” (for my sake and for hers). Although I haven’t been in a serious relationship where the topic doesn’t come up–I think it organically comes up in a healthy, long-term relationship.

      I love the idea of the ring as a joint purchase. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a woman suggest that before!

      • Marriage with joint finances also means joint debt.
        If he goes in debt buying her ring, it’s now her problem too. 🙂

        Makes her accountable for managing her own expectations.

          • Jamey –
            When you find your one and only for the rest of your life, I’d be happy to talk with her and share my views on marital financial bliss.

            For as hard as marriage already is, avoidable financial burdens should be …. well, avoided.

            It just makes logistical sense. Duh.

            Don’t even get me started on couples that go into debt to have their “dream wedding.” I mean, there’s nothing dreamy about credit card interest payments!

            This was fun. I’m glad Joe knows when to get me involved. 🙂

            • Well I have Joe to thank, then. 🙂 And I totally agree that it’s crazy that some couples go in debt to pay for a wedding. Not this guy. A wedding is one day. A marriage is a lifetime.

  4. I’ve never really understood the engagement ring obsession. In Judaism, the wedding ring is a simple, plain band. I’m sure someone in my family has/had an engagement ring at some point, but I have no memory of these rings. My parents got married one afternoon in Baltimore when a terrible snow storm shut down the city. They just decided to get married right then – in the blizzard – and invite only people who could make it to the Baltimore Museum of Art within the next hour. So, no engagement ring. You must have a pretty penny stored away by this point – in the event that no fabulous lady comes along I suggest you use that money to travel around the world! Heck – maybe if the right lady comes along she’ll prefer to go with you around the world rather than have a ring.

    • ALW–That’s quite the wedding story! I like it.

      And I’d love it if the woman I want to marry wants me to use that engagement money for something we can do together than for a giant ring, but I won’t hold it against her if she wants some symbol of commitment.

  5. First off, congratulations to Emily and Joel! That’s fantastic news!

    I spent the last week in Barbados with my friends who got married on a beach in front of their friends and family. Their engagement story is one of my favorites.

    Last year, also in Barbados, they arrived at their hotel for their 1-week beach vacation and while the bride was laying on the bed reading a magazine, the groom dropped the box on top of her magazine and just looked at her with a ridiculously goofy puppy dog grin and didn’t say a thing.

    Her response was “Shut the $*^! up!”. To which he replied, “Uhhh, is that a yes?”

    For them, it was a great engagement story and one that fit the two of them as a couple perfectly. I agree, Jamey, that traditional engagement and wedding stories are too focused on the bride. That being said, I do think engagements should be about both people, not just about how the bride would want it or the groom would want it.

    As someone who hasn’t taken the leap yet, I’ll admit that I’ve written out my thoughts on a few types of rings that I think are pretty. But I started that document with a long letter to my partner that tells him exactly why I’d like to spend my life with him, and that ultimately my first choice of ring is no ring at all.

    I hate that the tradition is that the boy is supposed to buy a ring. Because the thing is, I do think engagement rings can be really beautiful and I would love to have a pretty ring, but I’ll admit, what I don’t want is to have to wear a ring I don’t particularly like for the rest of my life. I would prefer to buy my own ring, within my own budget and to my own preference. That’s much more palatable to me than to have someone else drop money, large sum or small, on something that I don’t love wearing every single day. Maybe that’s shallow, but it is the truth.

    • Neeraja–Lots of good thoughts here. Thanks for your comment. I really like that engagement smile. It seems so pure and real.

      So you’ve already written that letter to your partner? What is he waiting for?! 🙂

      Interesting that you would prefer to buy the exact ring you want yourself instead of have someone else buy a ring that is less than ideal. Perhaps you could use Ines’ method and go in 50/50 on the ring with your partner.

  6. This is SUCH an interesting topic to me! Having gotten engaged last August and married this past May, it’s been a frequent topic in my mind, sorry in advance for the long comment. In response (using gendered answers because that’s how it was presented, as Jamie’s situation):

    * If you want to keep generational jewelry, you can always do it via your or her wedding bands, in case it’s not a good match for engagement ring!

    * I’m not going to propose to someone unless I know they’ll say yes. AGREED.

    *Ask the parents only if you think/know they want that. My two cents is that it’s a pretty antiquated tradition, but if they have a traditional family that would demand it, to each their own. My ex-hippy mother said she would’ve been upset ONLY if my husband HAD asked permission, as this would be a sexist and offensive idea to her (that parents have anything to do with my choice of whom to marry and I wasn’t totally competent to do it on my own).

    * As for the one-sidedness, as much as any rational couple will share the experience of planning and creating a wedding and marriage, believe me that the 400 people you’re about to talk to and coordinate with will only ask the bride questions, as they assume all males are uninterested in this life-changing event and consequently, are clueless. So her fielding all of those, gently reminding them that it’s “us” and “we” making decisions, can be the gift back to you 🙂

    * In my opinion, if the guy wants to be the one to propose, the gal doesn’t get to obsess about the ring. We had a few conversations about it (because I despise gold and diamonds), but I knew I would love whatever he picked because he picked it out for me. Period. (He went with

    * Engagement sandwich should be copyrighted immediately.

    * People: save your money for the giant party you’re about to throw or the giant vacation you’re about to go on afterward. The ring price tag is not that important. For me, I didn’t want to own something expensive so as to make me paranoid about losing it, and/or devastated if it was lost or damaged. Plus, a diamond ring wouldn’t go with anything I wear. And it gets in the way of doing things if it sticks up off of your finger. It’s a good thing mine wasn’t pricey, too, since our dog ate it about 3 weeks in.

    • Emma–Thanks for your comment! I kind of really like the idea of a wooden ring–it seems to tap into something rustic and primal. Apparently your dog agrees.

      Maybe asking the parents’ “permission” is the wrong word. I see it more as a heads up. After all, you’re basically inviting yourself into the family. 🙂

      Ha ha…her fielding all those questions will be a gift indeed. Probably. Although knowing myself, I’ll end up organizing a good chunk of the wedding.

      • Haha yes, you will help plan! And yet, the public will not think to direct their inquiries at you 🙂 It was surprising to me that the stigma was still so alive.

        The asking permission or getting a blessing thing is totally to each their own, I was just pointing out that not everyone’s family would want it, as I was surprised to learn that from my mom!


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