Engagement rings are bullshit

Engagement rings are bullshit.

My latest for the Guardian was a lighter piece – that actually ties into more deeper elements of my hatred for most things romance – on this.

The comment section is a pleasant (/sarcasm) space of people questioning the usual, irrelevant details of me:

  • Do I really get paid to write this? (Yes)
  • Have I got nothing better to focus on? (I can do many things at the same time and do)
  • Is this a letter/gripe because I’ve been dumped (No, if it was and the relationship hinged on jewellery then that’s a relationship I’d be glad to be out of)
  • I must be obviously single (Not that it’s anyone’s business but I’m in a happy, long-term relationship with an amazing woman who laughed at the comments)
  • I’m a cheapskate (Well done for proving my thesis that marketers for diamond companies can get their customers to shame men/others into purchases of a tradition the marketers started and for measuring love according to shiny rocks).


Some people seem fascinated with my ugly mug staring at them. I found that sweet.


  1. chigau (違う) says

    This gave me an ad for “Ethical Wedding Rings”.
    I’m almost tempted to click it.

    • Ysanne says

      I clicked it a while ago. Rings (claimed to be) made from ethically sourced materials, i.e. recycled metals and child-labour-free stones. Not that I wanted one, but if I did, that’s probably what I’d buy. Jewellery is just not worth the environmental cost of digging up new gold.

  2. poolboy says

    Engagement rings are a good indicator that you’re literally invested in someone. Words are cheap, but money… money really talks. Other than that, and other than being a nice present to some people, there’s not really a good reason for it.

    • Tauriq Moosa says

      >> “Engagement rings are a good indicator that you’re literally invested in someone.”

      Indicator to whom? Why do you need to indicate at all?

      Second, I thought just, you know, being with someone was itself testament to the relationship?

    • otranreg says

      If money is important, then give money, or something really valuable, not an overpriced useless waste of a trinket.

  3. A. Noyd says

    poolboy (#2)

    Engagement rings are a good indicator that you’re literally invested in someone.

    No they’re not, they’re a terrible fucking indicator. And offering someone a ring is not being literally invested in them. If your intended had a business or something, you could literally invest in them by, you know, investing in them. Or you could metaphorically invest in them by setting up a fund in both your names for you to use towards some particular, shared goal.

    All that wasting several thousand bucks on a useless rock with jack all in the way of resale value indicates is that you’re too stupid to be trusted with money and that you don’t care about the lives of the people who suffer at the hands of the diamond industry.

    • machintelligence says

      But that is just the point. It “proves” that you have enough money to be able to make a costly “signal” and are willing to do so. (It also proves that you are a conventional person — if that is not what she is interested in, she can refuse the gift.) It is the cost of an obvious display (and the less practical, the better) that proves its sincerity.
      There is a significant body of biological theory on honest signaling.
      The fact that it is being exploited by the diamond and jewelry industries does not make it less true.

      • A. Noyd says

        if that is not what she is interested in, she can refuse the gift

        Why would anyone buy a hugely expensive (and rather self-serving) gift they’re not sure would interest the recipient? That’s just stupid. (And yes, people do stupid things all the time, but we shouldn’t try to justify them.)

        It is the cost of an obvious display (and the less practical, the better) that proves its sincerity.

        How the fuck is sincerity demonstrated in impracticality, though? Logically, it should work the opposite way. The more practical you are towards someone, the more you assure them of your sincerity because the more you supply them with useful things relevant to their wants and needs, the more you signal you’re invested in them as an individual and not in fulfilling generic cultural ideas of how romance works. Or even if they truly desire an impractical gift, it’s likely to be something with deeper significance for them than whatever shows up on a cloyingly normative checklist of “How to Woo.”

        • machintelligence says

          How practical is a peacock’s tail? And why should peahens prefer males with absurdly large tails?
          It is a signal: look at how healthy and genetically fit I am, I can afford this impractical tail!
          Cheap signals are too easily faked, hence the theory of costly signaling. I am not saying that it is rational behavior, but it does have a rational basis from an evolutionary perspective.

          • A. Noyd says

            Uh, no. The explanation for why male peacocks have massive tails does not transfer to why humans behave the way we do. That’s just evo-psych bullshit. Especially since we can and do alter our behavior all the time based on other things than evolution-endowed imperatives.

          • Tauriq Moosa says

            >> “a rational basis from an evolutionary perspective.”

            Can evolution be “rational”? Can those perspectives. Seems the wrong term to use since it’s descriptive of a natural phenomena rather than indicating a moral framework.

      • says

        ´Personally, I’d be pretty mad at any guy who wasted funds we could use very well for our future on a stupid piece of jewelery. Not that the question will ever arise again, but a “how to woo” proposal by the book together with some ring he can’t afford might be grounds for refusal. But I’m also hopelessly practical.

  4. PatrickG says

    I must register my disappointment!

    The best (worst) comments you reference have all been removed for violating community standards. The remnant is nothing but a collection of milquetoast, predictable whines about how their rings mattered. MATTERED!

    I expected more. 😀

  5. says

    My engagement ring cost $15. Well, actually, it was a ring I happened to admire and he bought for me and then happened to remember he hadn’t given me yet at the point we discussed getting married.
    My husband went all out for our wedding bands. $3 for the lot, with a coupon for free shipping.
    Got married with a cheesy wedding package in Vegas.

    Together for 7 years, and we’ve already survived 3 moves, one of which was cross-country, major family drama that ended in us being homeless for a period, job losses, a child, deaths of close family members, and a major illness. And we are still both passionately in love and totally comfortable with each other.

    A set of friends got their engagement/wedding bands tattooed on. They got married by a justice of the peace. They have a much healthier relationship than the couple who obsessed over the rings and are currently obsessing over the wedding plans.

  6. M can help you with that. says

    I can understand the appeal of an easily-readable sign of a long-term committed relationship, but the social expectation that this sign must be a particular sort of ring, that it must be expensive, and that the giving, receiving and styling of these rings must follow certain bullshit heterosexist patterns…well, it’s just that, bullshit.

    (Of course, with my long-term career plans I can’t expect to continuously wear anything ferromagnetic or conductive, so wear-at-work jewelry would have to be stone, wood, or titanium. Also, I’m a feminist who refuses to date non-feminists, so my partner in a long-term relationship will most likely concur with my distaste for heteronormative patriarchal garbage. Also also, since I’m gay the obligatory gendered wedding/engagement-ring traditions really don’t make any sense.)

  7. Menyambal --- inesteemable says

    I wanted to ask her with a ring, so I found one that I thought looked pretty, and it was cheap, even by my standards. It was certainly not a diamond, but it is a testament to the marketing people in that it is an engagement ring and it has sparkly rocks on it, and that I asked her with a ring.

    I remember the ads that used to explain that it was “traditional” to spend two to three month’s salary on an engagement ring. That always struck me as stupid. I mean such an unrealistic thing to do that it was bad marketing to suggest it. But there were a few goobers who tried, and the rest of us thought we were clever to buy cheaper rings.

    The tradition around here seems to be to keep wearing the engagement ring, always, and to put a plain wedding band with it.

  8. opposablethumbs says

    Always thought the symbolism of engagement/wedding rings was utterly abhorrent; never worn either kind (never bought my spouse a ring, either. People aren’t property). But back in a more traditional time, at least my maternal grandparents had a ring each (my gran always used to tell the story of how difficult it was back then to get a wedding ring in a man’s size, as it was pretty much unheard of for men to wear one in this country at that time).

    Couldn’t agree more; spending inflated sums on a symbol of commitment is not commitment. For a meaningful gesture … how about the gift of training/education in something a person wants to learn? That would be a loving gift, and something actually worth having!

  9. says

    Well, we got engagement rings after we decided to get married. They were something like 15-20 bucks apiece.
    Our wedding rings were really expensive. 98 bucks for the two of them together, but that’s Euro so they were really expensive, like 130$.
    I think I may have paid for them.
    My point is, if you like they symbols and traditions like I kind of do, you still don’t need to spend a hell lot of money on it.
    You can put it like this way, too:
    If you really love the other person then it shouldn’t matter how much the ring cost.

  10. haitied says

    This goes along with the “Traditional Wedding” firmly in the bullshit canister. I did purchase an engagement ring but our relationship was in no way dependent on it. I thought it was something she would enjoy and it wasn’t very extravagant. She is someone who likes jewelry and I was well aware of her tastes so there it was, I found an antique filigree ring for basically material cost.

    • AnotherAnonymouse says

      Oh, yeah, the “traditional wedding”. At least in the USA, it means the bride spends 1 – 2 years working very hard on completely pointless and stupid things like the exact perfect shade of the tissue paper (the stuff everyone throws out immediately) in the wedding invitation, making sure the flowers match the bride’s garter and the flower-girl’s dress, etc. etc. etc. Women who attempt to keep all the silly rules often end up melting down in stress-tantrums.

  11. says

    We went with a synthetic gem. About $15 in cost and much more pure. People are swindled into thinking that a “natural” gem somehow is better. To me, it’s either people who are feel they need an expensive ring just because that’s what everyone else has and expects you to have, or it’s because people think that spending more means you love the person more. Both are total bullshit. My parents decided that I was being too cheap with the synthetic gem, so when they found out, they got her a real diamond ring. She never wears the diamond ring.

  12. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    As a voluntary and enthusiastic bachelor, I don’t give much of a toss about what people want to give each other for engagements, although I really don’t see the draw in over-priced shiny rocks. What gets my goat, is how much damage DeBeers has done to the creation of artificial diamonds.

    For years, they sued and lobbied and threatened to stifle or stop the creation of artificial diamonds, which could replace silicon in computers. Silicon has a relatively low heat tolerance, which means a big need for cooling systems. Diamonds don’t have that problem. The technology to manufacture large high-quality artificial diamond has been around for ages, but DeBeers has fought against wide-spread adoption because it can make virtually flawless commercial, as well as lower quality industrial diamonds for dirt cheap.

    More recently, DeBeers has been forced to move towards industrial production, but there is almost no mention of competition any more. They have created another monopoly and will no doubt inflate the price of artificials to line their pockets.

    End rant, sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  13. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    Well, that and the whole blood diamonds, warlords, slave labour and child soldiers thing. That’s bad too.

  14. says

    Yep. They are like made-up holidays for the greeting card etc. industries. They are portrayed as traditional, while they are hardly so, and intended as a method to sell diamonds – something controlled by the most obvious oligopoly cartel ever, and kept at artificially (and insanely) high prices.

  15. DrVanNostrand says

    I scrolled through some of the comments and was kind of annoyed (at first I wrote “surprised”, but then decided it wasn’t surprising) by some of the racist assumptions. In particular, one commenter suggested that you would prefer covering your woman’s face to show that she was taken rather than giving her a ring. Your reply was restrained, but I thought the comment was utterly outrageous. I suppose you get that sort of thing a lot.