Do We Really Need an Engagement Ring?

Image of a diamond engagement ring from Tiffany's with text overlay: a diamond ring is forever?

I think the engagement ring is hugely overrated and totally unnecessary. No, I’m not anti-romantic. And by the way, I’m a woman. 

On Valentine’s Day this year, Mr Wow sent me a link of an article with the message, ‘Lucky me!’ Hmm… 

I clicked on the link and read the headline incredulously: ‘Dump him’: social media turns on Taiwan man who proposed to long-term girlfriend then asked her to pay half the cost of US$4,900 engagement ring.

WTF! Interesting story… 

Apparently, the man had proposed to his girlfriend with a diamond ring in front of their friends. Needless to say, she was very touched by his gesture. However, he later revealed that the ring cost NT$150,000 (approximately S$6,600 or US$4,900) and asked her to transfer half the amount to him. 

When she questioned the need to do so, he said that marriage is for two people and therefore everything should be split equally.

Image of a monkey face looking shocked with text overlay: seriously?!

Unable to accept his reasoning, the woman took to online forum Dcard to air her grievances.

According to her, they had been dating for four years and had always shared expenses, including small purchases like bottled water. She said she respected how her boyfriend managed money but was stunned by his suggestion to split the cost of the engagement ring. 

Unsurprisingly, many who commented on her post condemned the man’s behaviour and advised her to dump him. What do you think?

Here are my thoughts on this curious case and the beguiling engagement ring.

  1. Marriage and Money
  2. The History of the Engagement Ring 
  3. The Engagement Ring Messes with Our Psychology and Emotions
  4. The Engagement Ring I Didn’t Receive

1. Marriage and Money

To say that the man’s behaviour was unbecoming would be an understatement. I think most people (including men) would agree that an engagement ring should be a gift, not a shared expense. The thing is, the couple actually has a bigger problem that goes beyond the ring. The man’s behaviour provides a revealing glimpse of his notion of marriage and money. 

But let’s not be too quick to write him off. There must be a reason why the woman stuck with him for four years. He probably has many good qualities that we don’t know about and it’s unfair to judge him on the basis of a one-sided account. 

Many factors such as our upbringing influence our money values and habits. As everyone has a different relationship with money, it should come as no surprise that money is one of the top reasons for marital conflicts and breakdowns. Mr Wow and I were not always financially compatible; we had to work on our differences and find common ground. To do so, we communicate. A lot. 

I wonder how often the Taiwanese couple talked about finances throughout their four-year courtship. It’s hard to imagine that there were no tell-tale signs that the man is exceedingly ‘practical’ when it comes to money. Surely there were other minor episodes prior to the engagement ring incident, no? When one party does not agree with the other’s handling of money, does he/she express his/her opinion or keep quiet about it? 

When one party does not agree with the other’s handling of money, does he/she express his/her opinion or keep quiet about it?

In life, there may be times when we stay silent and tell ourselves to accept certain unpleasant situations so as to maintain harmony with our loved ones. It works in some cases, but for the most part, it’s a short-term, palliative measure that gives the appearance that the problem no longer exists. Sooner or later, it’s bound to resurface. 

I don’t know if the two of them are still together. Obviously the man has some serious issues, and I don’t expect him to be too happy if he learnt about his girlfriend’s online post. Would that make it harder for them to work towards a reconciliation, if that’s what they both want?

I wish them well, together or apart.

2. The History of the Engagement Ring

A memorable quote goes, ‘Marriage involves three rings: the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering.’ 

The suffering is a given. There will be good times and bad times, and we are reminded of that when we take our marriage vows:

Image of bride and groom walking hand in hand into the horizon with the text overlay: To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

As for the wedding ring, well, it’s part of the ceremony and a symbol of our love and devotion: 

Image of groom slipping the wedding band onto the ring finger of the bride with the text overlay: With this ring, I thee wed...

What about the engagement ring? Erm, I’m afraid that’s just masterful advertising:

Image of a diamond ring with text overlay: The masterful advertising: A diamond is forever.

In 1947, De Beers ran a highly successful advertising campaign that completely transformed the diamond industry and our perception of diamond rings. The slogan was simple: A diamond is forever. There was no direct sale, no mention of brand name, but it created an enduring emotional value out of something that has no intrinsic value. 

De Beers’ ad campaign created an enduring emotional value out of something that has no intrinsic value.

The subtle message resonated. A diamond is the most romantic thing a man could buy for the love of his life and every woman wanted a diamond engagement ring. Own a diamond and your love will last an eternity. No diamond, no forever… sorry! By the early 1950s, the vast majority of American brides wore a diamond engagement ring.

A diamond is the most romantic thing a man could buy for his lover and every girl wanted a diamond engagement ring.

Then came the 1980s. The clever folks at De Beers set out to shape our minds again. This time, they decided to put a minimum price on sincerity with a ‘two months’ salary’ campaign. Of course, the campaign turned out to be another home run, so it ran and ran for years, drumming the same powerful message into our thick skulls. 

Here’s its 1997 commercial: ‘The diamond engagement ring. How else could two months’ salary last forever. A diamond is forever.’

Today, many believe that two months’ salary is no longer the rule. The new rule is at least three months’ worth!

3. The Engagement Ring Messes with Our Psychology and Emotions

From a marketing standpoint, De Beers’ ad campaigns are pure genius. From a consumer standpoint, they are pure manipulation. They appeal to our psychology and emotions by creating a link between a diamond and love, and imprinting the mental image that the diamond engagement ring is a must-have. 

The Expectations of Women

Let’s start with the women. Proposal videos are such a big hit on social media these days. They are sweet, emotional and oh-so over the top! There are flowers, balloons, champagne, cake, confetti, string quartet and all sorts of wonderful surprises. The only predictable thing is this: the man would take a knee, proffer a diamond ring, make a tear-jerking speech and ask his girl to marry him. Aww… bless their hearts! 

Then there’s the endless stream of photos of diamond engagement rings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They could be your friends’ or celebrities’. Who can forget the 15-carat cushion-cut diamond engagement ring that Kanye West gifted Kim Kardashian? The massive rock reportedly cost US$8 million! Topping it all off, West gave Kardashian a second engagement ring three years later — a 20-carat emerald-cut diamond. Aww… how awesome! 

To many women, the diamond engagement ring is tied to romance. It’s a symbol of love and commitment, a promise to be together for eternity. That’s why they gush when they see their friends’ engagement rings and talk incessantly about them to their men. Although some may say that an engagement ring is not a must-have, they know they would be disappointed if they didn’t receive one. 

To many women, the diamond engagement ring is tied to romance. It’s a symbol of love and commitment, a promise to be together for eternity.

The Pressure on Men

The men get it, all right. The diamond engagement ring is important to women. It has become somewhat a compulsory gift and they know how it must appear if they propose marriage without one — they are not sincere enough and are unwilling to ‘invest’ in their one true love. And no man wants to let his future wife down! Buy a diamond ring he must! 

To show their utmost sincerity, the men also have to buy a ‘decent’ ring that’s equivalent of two to three months’ salary. Otherwise, they may come across as a cheapskate (especially if photos of the ring appear on social media later).  

And that’s not all. They have to fret over the design of the ring as well. Better do some research online…

Alas! People also ask on Google: 

  • What do I do if I hate my engagement ring?
  • Is it rude to change your engagement ring? 
  • Is it ok to ask for a different engagement ring? 

A tsunami of questions begin to flood the men’s minds. What if I pick the wrong ring? Should I just bring her to the shop and let her choose her own ring? What if she tries to save me money by choosing a cheap, ‘embarrassing’ ring? Would I look like a cheapskate then? What if she gets all excited and chooses a very expensive ring? Would she think I’m insincere if I give her a budget? Wait, how am I supposed to give her a surprise proposal without a ring? Would she be angry if I don’t surprise her? 

Image of monkey looking as if it is in deep thought with text overlay: Why do I have to prove my love with a diamond engagement ring?

Ladies, let’s put ourselves in the men’s shoes. Imagine if we were the ones proposing and buying the engagement rings. The pressure is real, especially for those who make a modest living. 

4. The Engagement Ring I Didn’t Receive

Mr Wow’s marriage proposal to me was rather impromptu, so there was no ring on deck, thank God!

We were at his place, cuddling in bed when I said to him, ‘I can’t imagine being apart from you even for a day.’ 

‘Let’s get married then,’ came the response I didn’t expect.  

There was no reason to hesitate, so I said ok almost immediately. And that was it! 

Later that night, Mr Wow suggested that we go buy an engagement ring the following day. 

Ever so practical, I said no as we would need money for the wedding, our new home and so on. Furthermore, we would be getting wedding rings eventually, so why waste money on two different types of rings? I simply didn’t see the need.

We would be getting wedding rings eventually, so why waste money on two different types of rings?

Here’s what happened next: 

When I told my friends (women) that I preferred a sofa to an engagement ring, they were stupefied. 

One said, ‘It’s not about the money! It’s about what the ring represents!’ 

Another added, ‘If he doesn’t buy you the ring now, he may never get you one even when he has money in the future!’ 

Ok… maybe I’m an idiot… whatever…

But when Mr Wow told his friends (men) that I didn’t want an engagement ring, everyone called him a lucky bastard and rejoiced in his good fortune! 

What a contrast! 

I’ve been married for almost 22 years and I’ve never once wished for an engagement ring. It’s just not important to me. Since reading the article on the Taiwanese couple, I’ll have given it more thought. Please note that these are my personal views and it is not my intent to offend anyone: 

► A diamond is NOT forever. It’s a commercialised notion of love and romance.  

► We attach far too much importance to the engagement ring. We convinced ourselves that it’s not just a piece of jewellery, but the ultimate symbol of true love. In reality, it has become a prestige symbol for public display.

► If the engagement ring represents love, commitment and eternity, what about the wedding ring? Exactly how many symbols of love do we need? Can someone please explain to me why we need two different rings because I still don’t get the rationale. 

► Men feel compelled to shell out two to three months of their salary because women think forever love is embedded in a precious stone. The social pressure is immense. After buying a ring, they still have to pull off the ‘perfect’ proposal to declare their undying ardour. 

► If forever love can only be measured by material possessions, please give me a house instead. 

► FYI, I’m actually a romantic at heart. That’s why I think it’s super unromantic to put a price on sincerity. Worst of all, it makes women seem materialistic.

► The same shit happens every Valentine’s Day. Many seem to think that romantic expressions must be grand or expensive. Sad. 

So my answer is NO. We don’t need an engagement ring to prove to the world that we’re madly in love and about to get married. 

Image of square cut diamond ring with text overlay: It's super unromantic to put a price on sincerity. Worst of all, it makes women seem materialistic.

To keep it lighthearted, I shall end this article with a joke I heard: 

If I worked in a restaurant, I would put a fake engagement ring in every girl’s drink on Valentine’s Day. 

LOL…

Sources

  1. ‘Dump him’: social media turns on Taiwan man who proposed to long-term girlfriend then asked her to pay half the cost of US$4,900 engagement ring: https://www.scmp.com/news/people-culture/article/3204916/dump-him-social-media-rounds-taiwan-man-who-proposed-long-term-girlfriend-then-asked-her-pay-half
  2. How an Ad Campaign Invented the Diamond Engagement Ring: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/02/how-an-ad-campaign-invented-the-diamond-engagement-ring/385376/
  3. A look back to when De Beers changed the rules of engagement: https://www.campaignasia.com/article/a-look-back-to-when-de-beers-changed-the-rules-of-engagement/481261

For more practical tips on how you and your significant can align yourselves financially, do read: 6 Money Management Tips for a Healthy Relationship

Mrs Wow

Mrs Wow (aka Lynn) achieved Financial Independence with Mr Wow in 2019. She believes in staying invested even if there’s a level-5 shit storm. A homebody, she spends her free time reading, blogging and listening to music. Follow her on 𝕏 (@wowpursuits).

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