Remember The Lesbians: Engagement Rings

Put a ring on it!

Back when our marriage was just a dream, just pillow talk that we whispered to one another, the subject of getting engaged came up. As two women, we had the advantage of living without the normative script of who would propose to whom and how. But that’s a post for another day. Today, I want to share how we decided on and procured engagement rings.

1. Discuss what an engagement ring means to you. I was of the firm opinion that an engagement ring was a rather silly social custom that had some problematic undertones. Don’t get me wrong, I love jewelry, but as someone who winces whenever she spends a glob of money, I theorized that I could be content with something very simple or perhaps nothing at all. And I was troubled by how often I saw someone greet an engagement announcement with, “Oooh! Let me see the ring!” On the other hand, my wife-to-be was firm: She wanted the symbol of commitment, she wanted it to be a ring, and she wanted us both to have one. As it turned out, I was okay with this.

Lesson learned: It is okay to want what you want.

2. Discuss what your low and high ends of spending are. We agreed to both get rings, but more importantly, we agreed that each ring would be a gift from one of us to the other. Although we had shared a joint credit card ever since we’d started living together, this was not to be a joint purchase. That meant that the person buying the ring got final say over how much the ring cost. That said, we discussed what we were comfortable spending. We had disparate incomes at the time, so this was important. I did not want to get her a ring that was worth a fraction of whatever she got me. (Even though price does not correlate with awesomeness.) I also was uncomfortable having a piece of jewelry on my hand that was worth more than a certain amount. We created a ballpark range that we were both comfortable with.

Lesson learned: Agree on cost—and agree who gets to make the final say on cost.

3. Discuss what the ring will be like. This is the perfect conversation fodder for long car rides. We talked about metals, stones, cuts, designs, etc. We talked about how long we wanted to wear the rings (daily, but only through the wedding—thereafter just on special occasions). We talked about our styles (clumsy, so not conducive to delicate or high-set rings). We listed adjectives that we would want to describe our rings—was it, “modern, sleek, and unobtrusive,” or “classic, shiny, and colorful”? These were fun discussions, but they were also thrillingly exciting, because although we were discussing the general vision, the ultimate rings were still going to be a total surprise. I wouldn’t see the ring she gave me until the engagement, and vice versa.

Lesson learned: Talk about your vision for the ring—and agree who gets to make the final decision about what it actually looks like.

4. Find a place to buy the ring. I went with word of mouth and found a jeweler who would custom design a ring with me, giving me a large degree of control over materials and costs. My wife-to-be used Yelp and found an area jeweler who was well known and loved. Both of us felt comfortable with our vendors (and made sure they were comfortable with us—we didn’t want someone telling us that we were “doing it wrong” in some way). Frankly, while picking out the rings felt so stressful at the time, it was probably one of the easiest parts, because when we got there, we each had a budget, a vision, and each other’s blessing to make decisions. In other words, even though we hadn’t researched the ins-and-outs of jeweler speak or setting designs, we had enough information to pick out a ring.

Lesson learned: Find a vendor that lets you be the expert on what you want. And then relax.

5. BUT WHAT IF IT IS ALL WRONG AND MY PARTNER HATES IT!? Honestly, this is worth discussing, especially if the ring is being given as a surprise!

Optimist: “Honey, any ring that you get me is going to be beautiful, because it’s given to me in love from you.”

Realist: “Honey, let’s make a deal: I will wear whatever you give me, and love it because you gave it to me. But if, after [a certain amount of time] I decide that it isn’t exactly to my long-term tastes, we’ll go back to the jeweler together and tweak it until it is. Will you be okay with that?”

Miss Manners suggests that this time period be after the wedding, and I’m inclined to agree. Frankly, while I love my ring and wear it more often than I thought I would, the post-wedding outlook is this: The ring is just a symbol. Ultimately, what it looks like is much less important than that for which it stands.

Lesson learned: A ring is just a ring.

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  • Lisa A

    My lovely lady and I had a fantastic time picking our engagement rings! We spent $21 with tax for both. They are beautiful sterling silver thin rounded bands with a small round silver “ball” on the top, where a stone would be. I am so in love with this ring and so is she–a woman who has never worn a ring in her life and owns zero jewelry.

    We decided to get engaged (no asking, no proposing) after hearing on NPR in January that Illinois was on the cusp of legalizing same-sex marriage. So the next evening we decided to walk our lovely Chicago neighborhood and go into all the boutiques until we found something simple that matched that we both loved. I’ve never understood the hype of a big engagement ring. We have the money to buy something bigger, more traditional, but it just felt right to pick something simple and understated, together.

    And it has been tons of fun telling people how much the rings cost! No one has said a negative word, but I’m betting that’s partly because no one knows what to really expect from an enGAYgement.

  • Laura

    Great advice. Before my future hubby proposed, we had lots of conversations about rings, including an agreement that if for some reason I didn’t like the ring, I would wait 24 hours (so we could just enjoy being engaged), then tell him how I felt and we would return it.

    He actually ended up proposing with a ring that we both knew was my absolute favorite, so the “oh no I hate the ring” clause was completely unnecessary, but before we’d found that ring, it really put both of us at ease.

  • Helen S

    Me and my girl are pre-engaged. We’ve got our life set out, I’m excited for it, but it’s taken me a wee while to get used to the idea of having another wedding (I was married before). I had zero qualms about being married to her – it was just the wedding itself. I felt likeI’d had my turn, and felt sort of embarrassed making more fuss and asking people to come back to wedding number two. I understood that this wasn’t a feeling I wanted to have forever and just needed a bit of time to get over myself. The upshot of all this is that I need the time, so would be setting the timeframes, so I’m doing the proposing. As a heterosexual in a past life, this again took some time to get used to – it’s not the script I grew up. Do I get down on one knee? Do I need to plan a big thing? (I’ve started cornering my male friends, poor things, trying to engage them in feelings-sharing and advice-giving. They always looks so cutely wary.) Anyway. I’m there. I’m ready. I’ve gotten over myself. I’ve got a ring picked out and I’m just waiting for the final reading of the marriage amendment bill here in NZ. We talked about all this too – don’t all gaydies? (It’s too fun to plan your giant hypothetical wedding to not). I’m weird about spending heaps of money on myself too, but we’ve agreed that I need a symbol. We’ve decided that once it all happens, the girl will go and buy me something – a ring, a necklace whatever. Something that means something, and that I can wear always. I love that we get to forge our own traditions (don’t even get me started on how we’ll work the hen’s parties). Our relationship started out of the blue, contrary to all traditions and expectations – it makes sense that our wedding would too.

    • Kat

      I’m from NZ too and I have all my fingers crossed that the marriage amendment bill goes through!

    • Katy

      Had no idea New Zealand had a gay marriage bill in the works. That’s awesome!! Love to hear about other places slowly changing their tune, and opting for marriage equality!! I’m from Washington State, where Referendum 74 passed in November, legalizing gay marriage. I myself am straight, but it feels so good to know that I am getting married this summer in a place that doesn’t discriminate, or tell me that my love is better, more worthy, or more valid than anyone else’s.

      You made me chuckle with: “I’ve started cornering my male friends, poor things, trying to engage them in feelings-sharing and advice-giving. They always looks so cutely wary.”

      Good luck with the engagement/proposal! Just speak from the heart and do what feels right :)

      • Helen S

        Haha, yes, it’s been a weird shift from being in a hetero relationship which are played out, analysed and discussed ad naseum in mainstream media to being with a girl and being HUNGRY for stories that reflected mine. Not just in novels and books (although, more please), but also everyday ones about how other people enjoy living with women or how other lady couples got together. I’m still a woman! I still want to SHARE!

        Pretty excited about the bill – we’ve had a bit of outpouring from more conservative citizens, but I think it’s been a done deal since it was drawn from the ballet. Each reading has gone through with a significant majority. We already have civil unions available to same-sex (and man/lady) couples, so the country is at least used to the ideas that families can be made up lots of different ways. I’m just looking forward to the time when we can all choose either ceremony.

        • Katy

          “I’m just looking forward to the time when we can all choose either ceremony.”

          Agree 100%! I also agree that there are not enough stories about lady/lady couples (loved your “man/lady couples” term, so I’m stealing it!) out there!

  • Katelyn

    I love RTL posts…so direct and rational, yet still filled with the warm and fuzzies.

    After ring shopping a few times, I became a little bossy and broke it down for my then preyoncé…I sent him a link with the exact ring I wanted from a big box jeweler that he could go to in the mall. Did I have visions of us carefully selecting a center stone together, or dreaming up a beautiful bespoke ring that was made by the dwarfs in Lord of the Rings? Sure….but in the end, a practical and somewhat bossy approach worked for us best. It was still a romantic and surprise proposal, and we both love the look and meaning behind it.

    • Katy

      This is almost exactly how “we” (I) ended up doing it, too! Loved this: “beautiful bespoke ring that was made by the dwarfs in Lord of the Rings.” Ah, if only!

    • we kind of split the difference between bossy and “magical romantical surprise”.

      we both got each other cheap, simple rings with which we got engaged – then we went shopping together to get our engagement rings that we wore throughout (also relatively cheap and simple…).

      it was perfect for us – we got our surprise *and* the perfect ring.

      also, it was a complete accident that we both did it that way – she just knows how picky i am and gave up shopping, and i wasn’t sure if she even wanted/would wear a ring. plus, the one i got her didn’t fit at all…so picking our own stuff it was =)

  • You know how, in moments of weakness, one might take one of those horrible De Beers “Know Your Ring Style” quizzes, because you have to do that before they let you look at pictures of the shiny that you know you’ll never actually own cause, like, expensive and shizz (and potentially bloody, pre-2000)? Your post just made me realize that there should be a real quiz that starts out with questions like “How likely are you, on a daily basis, to whack your hand against a door frame or wall while navigating the relatively simple task of walking? Are your fingers sort of squat and weirdly shaped for your hand, thus making any large stone cover all the way to your knuckle?” and etc. Then we could really know our ring style.

    • Rowany

      Seriously. My ‘dream ring’ had an enormous pearl cradled by several wood-like branches of brushed gold–I have a size 3.75 finger, put on and take off gloves all day and am extremely clumsy and absent-minded. It would have dwarfed my hand and then been damaged/lost within a few months. As much fun as looking online at rings is, trying them on in person on my tiny finger gave me a reality check.

    • Rebecca

      I love this idea! Do you snag sweaters on anything within a 3 foot radius of your current position? Do you know where your keys are, right now? Can you actually be trusted with the care and keeping of something that costs more than $10? Are you so easily distracted by shiny objects that if you wore a sparkly ring you wouldn’t be able to do any typing at work because you’d look at your finger all day?

  • Talking about the ring was so key. We had a lot of discussions leading up to both the engagement and the wedding to decide what was important about the rings. And we both had a lot of opinions on the rings that if we hadn’t talked about the emotional baggage of rings leading up to it we would have been on what seemed like similar pages but in a lot of ways were very different.

  • Remy

    My beloved surprised me by wanting a ring. She said her finger got itchy after she proposed to me with my ring (which she picked out after a lot of guidance — it totally fit the bill). So I got her one… and then another of the same one when she took hers off for Thanksgiving-dinner-making and it disappeared. We recovered it after the wedding when moving furniture!

    Both of ours were inexpensive, by intention and necessity. REALLY inexpensive. Like it wasn’t a big deal to buy a new one after we’d looked for a week for the lost one. That’s okay, because we are clumsy and lose things, and it feels much better not to have the pressure of an expensive piece of jewelry. Although we settled on matching wedding band designs and made those a line item on the budget, the engagement rings were purchased privately. If she wanted to know how much hers cost, I would tell her, but she doesn’t — and vice versa. But I have a silver-set moonstone and she has a black ceramic band with a teensy inset brilliant, and neither of us will accidentally scratch each other/ourselves/kiddos/pets/strangers/friends/furniture/walls…

  • Parsley

    Thank you for this post. I love this series! These are some great lessons learned.

    My wife and I had similar kinds of discussions about what we wanted, and decided that since engagement is a temporary state, we wanted temporary engagement rings. We bought a do-it-yourself henna kit, and gave each other henna rings. We each designed the ring for our own finger, and it was drawn in henna by the other. They were both really simple – just circlets around our ring fingers. Mine was sort of a vine pattern, and hers was sort of ribbon-like. Without really intending it, the designs became the design of everything else in our wedding – the invites, the save the dates, etc., etc. It was cool and very us.

  • Emily

    So not the point, but I love the way the rings coordinate. :)

    • Stalking Sarah

      Thanks! Totally unintentional but a fun outcome!

  • Ericka

    I’m still conflicted about my engagement ring. I showed my fiance some rings I liked back when we were still just talking about getting engaged. They were simple things, with no stones or low-value stones. They had infinity signs in the design somewhere. I didn’t want a diamond, because no matter how it’s mined it’s still creating the unnecessary, artifically inflated demand that fuels conflict.

    He bought me a really lovely diamond ring. Everyone loves it. I wish we had that money back to spend elsewhere. It doesn’t have an infinity sign. It’s really lovely. It’s practical because diamonds won’t break or bend. My mom says I have to keep it because he picked it. I haven’t said anything because he really likes it, and I think it matters to him that he was able to buy me something expensive and adult.

    I still wish I had a different engagement ring. But I don’t know if it’s worth saying anything about. :(

    • Denzi

      I think “I wish I had a different engagement ring” is maybe not worth the fighting that it engenders. But. I do think that there’s a lot to unpack in there that is worth the discussion.

      What I’m hearing is that you had certain values about your ring that reflect your values in general (aesthetically, morally, etc.), and the ring your fiancé gave you doesn’t reflect those values. Okay, fair, maybe they reflect your fiancé’s values or cultural mores that he’s unconsciously come to believe. In my opinion, the Big Issue there is “Whose values win? How do we make compromises between our different value sets? How do we make sure each other feels validated and valued?”

      I don’t want to presume to know what you’re feeling, but in your place I would feel like I was trying to be someone else every time I wore the ring and, more importantly, like my fiancé either didn’t listen or just didn’t care about my values and ethics, or even my opinions. That, I think, is a big relationship issue that is very worth saying something about.

      And not because of the ring! Continuing to wear the ring may end up being the choice you agree on together, or you may decide that “ring that supports my values” is less important to you than what the ring means to him, etc.

      But the way you negotiate ethical issues and conflicts in your partnership is rearing its head here*, and engagement is a great time to practice how you’re going to deal with these kinds of conflicts together.

      *in my non-professional opinion from the part of my personality that wishes I were an advice columnist :-P

    • Stalking Sarah

      I had a friend who got a diamond engagement ring and she hated it. It was entirely “un-her,” and so she made her fiance a deal: She would wear it while they were engaged and for one year afterwards, and then she would pick out something that she felt more comfortable in. So feel validated! This happens to people! #it’snotjustyou

      But I echo Denzi — being able to talk about these things is important. Don’t shy away from the frank discussions — the beauty of a strong marriage is being able to HAVE those discussions.

      You can use the classic “sandwich” technique for giving negative feedback:
      GOOD: This ring is really beautiful, I get so many compliments on it. I love that it’s practical and that I can’t break it.
      BUT: I’m uncomfortable wearing a diamond. Even though it’s beautiful, it doesn’t quite feel like me. I didn’t tell you at first because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, and I thought the ring might grow on me, but unfortunately it hasn’t.
      GOOD: I know that you put so much effort into buying this, and this isn’t about you — I still totally want to get married! I love you, and I love how much thought you put into the engagement/proposal. I just don’t love this ring.

      Then hopefully that can start a conversation about what to do, which is 100% guaranteed to be a compromise of some sort. Maybe you’ll wear it longer. Maybe he’ll take it back and get something sparkly but not a diamond. Maybe you’ll wear it as a necklace and get something else as a ring. Whatever. The outcome is less important than the conversation.

  • Katie

    I have a stegosaurus engagement ring. It is totally awesome and he got it for me a while after out engagement announcement because he wasn’t really planning out the proposal for that long and knows I am picky. We talked about what I wanted and he didn’t like the cheap look of the ones I sent him online so this one is all sterling silver. It was $20.

    I had a great laugh the other day when trying on my dress, the saleslady asked what shape my engagement ring was to match the jewelry. Haha.

    We are spending a little bit more for a wedding ring (not a diamond) eventually that looks the same as the one I wanted when I was 8. And we are getting his for free yay. So if he doesn’t want to wear it forever ehhh. I am going to be sad about not being able to wear the stegosaurus anymore (I have been wearing the same turquoise ring on my right hand for 8 years) after the wedding but it gets stuck on EVERYTHING.

  • Achernar

    I don’t have a ring, and don’t know if I will want one when (if) I ever get engaged. But listening to my friends stories about them, has just made me realise how totally personal a choice this is. One friend who isn’t into diamonds and found them kind of cold and impersonal? Her husband sourced an orange diamond, had it set, looked amazing, then the setting failed, she lost it, then found the diamond (how, we will never know, it was on the street under the bench where she ate lunch), had it reset, the setting failed AGAIN, she knocked it and now it’s gone. They were both so. over. it. after all that drama, she just said meh, let’s claim the insurance, go on holiday and I’ll wear my wedding ring forever.
    Another friend went on holiday to Vegas and her and her fiance bought her ring together ‘cos it was so much cheaper (compared to Australia). She kind of just went “do you want to buy me a ring” he said ‘yes’, she said ‘I like that one’ = done deal.
    So it really hits home to me all the posts about how the ring is just a symbol and may not be forever, but it isn’t the end of the world if you do or don’t get one..

  • Fantastic website, Ill pop back regularly to see what new articles you have about engagement rings

  • T.

    We decided that we wanted to get married but not necessarily engaged (it made sense to us) just over a year ago. We thought that we would buy our wedding bands and start wearing them so that we could easily elope and no one would be the wiser (so much family drama). We bought our rings for less than $200 at a small gallery in Montreal. We chose rings that were similar but not identical. We wanted something unique, inexpensive and handmade and that is exactly what we got. I gave my partner her ring as a gift and bought my own ring. So as we count down the days (30!) until we actually get married in our back yard with two of our closest friends we decided that we would each like a new ring. There won’t be any surprises or grand romantic gestures but we kind of like it that way.

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