Saying No To An Engagement Ring Didn't Make Me Less Engaged

Illustrated by Tristan Offit
“Look, Roman got engaged,” said Peach, my then boyfriend, now husband, while showing me a photo of a woman’s left hand displaying a diamond engagement ring as she held her fiancé’s hand. I looked closer at the photo and saw that Roman was wearing a ring, too.
“Is Roman wearing an engagement ring?!” I asked, excitedly.
“No, that’s the family ring he wears. It’s his right hand,” Peach said.
“Oh, but would you ever consider wearing an engagement ring?” I asked.
“No way, that’s weird,” he answered quickly, before realizing such a response would certainly elicit a feminist lecture from his future wife.
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And indeed it did. I’d already made it clear I didn’t want to wear an engagement ring myself, and this decision had caused a bit of friction in our typically copacetic relationship. I had a multitude of reasons why I wanted to opt out: The tradition is based largely on a marketing scheme; a diamond engagement ring is not a piece of jewelry I would normally wear; and frankly, I’d just prefer to put that money toward other financial goals. But if I were being really honest, the biggest reason is that it felt sexist. The fact that I, the woman, was expected to wear a ring that symbolized that I was no longer available while Peach, the man, was free to flaunt a naked finger until our wedding day just didn’t sit right with me. This is by no means an indictment of women who do not share my feelings and want a diamond engagement ring. It’s simply my personal beliefs.

The fact that I, the woman, was expected to wear a ring that symbolized that I was no longer available while Peach, the man, was free to flaunt a naked finger until our wedding day just didn’t sit right with me.

One simple solution would have been for my betrothed to also wear an engagement ring. We had already agreed on gold bands as our wedding rings, so we could have worn them as engagement rings, too. But Peach never felt comfortable with the idea. It’s not something he’d seen modelled by other men in his life, and for some reason, he started digging in as though I’d finally pushed too hard against his masculinity and this ring was his breaking point.
Peach was completely okay with breaking plenty of other gender norms. His generous heart and openness are part of what I admire and love about him most. I write about money professionally, and he didn’t even have a problem with me sharing publicly that I out-earned him. He was proud of my success and loved his job as a public-school teacher. He didn’t see a need for it to bother him. So frankly, I couldn’t figure out why my engagement-ring refusal was the one thing that seemed to actually get to him.
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After many rounds of me pressing the issue, his visceral reaction finally morphed into a rational sentiment. “I understand that you have many reasons for not wanting to wear an engagement ring, and that’s okay," he said. "But other people aren’t going to think that’s why you aren’t wearing one. They’re going to think I can’t afford to buy you one.”
I sat in this unfortunate truth for a while before I could formulate an answer beyond “So, who cares?!” Because it mattered. This man was going to be my husband, and I couldn’t dismiss his feelings, even if I felt that they were stemming from a type of socialization and societal pressure that really pissed me off. He still had a right to feel them.
Eventually, I pointed out that the people who knew us best and loved us would know affordability wasn’t the reason I wasn’t wearing an engagement ring. Besides, it would only matter for about a year while we were engaged. Afterward, we’d both be wearing wedding bands.
If he wanted me to wear an engagement ring, then he would have to wear one, too. If that made him too uncomfortable, he needed to be okay with my decision. He finally gave up on the engagement-ring fight, but he did insist on being the one to propose. I relented, even though I was slightly disappointed — I love crafting a high-stakes surprise.
While people didn’t really care that I didn’t have an engagement ring, I got a lot of questions about how Peach could propose without one. I won’t go into the full proposal story, but it was perfect and thoughtful and tailored to our relationship. It happened at home with just the two of us, and I didn’t miss the ring, as some people told me I would. The whole experience was filled with love and happiness.
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As for how we announced it without the stock photo of me displaying my freshly manicured hand for the camera, well, we did what any millennial would: We used our dog.
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Early on in our engagement, only a few people grabbed at my left hand, thinking they would see a blinged-out finger. Because I’ve always been outspoken about not wanting an engagement ring, I rarely had to explain myself. I was also blowing up wedding traditions left and right — no engagement party, no bridal shower, and my dress wasn’t all white. And then there was the matter of having a straight guy in my bridal party (no, he wasn’t my brother or cousin). Apparently, that’s very scandalous, so people had much more important gossip to discuss than my ringless left hand.
The few times when I was asked why I ditched the tradition, I sometimes got called (gasp) “too feminist,” or people would ask if I planned to have a diamond wedding ring. Sometimes people would ask how Peach felt about it. I only ever got really annoyed when men would say, “Your fiancé is lucky to be saving all that money. I wish more women did that.” I’d often resist the urge to roll my eyes. My choice should not be used to shame other women for wanting what they want.

The few times when I was asked why I ditched the tradition, I sometimes got called (gasp) “too feminist.”

One unfortunate ramification was making other women feel uncomfortable. It was never my intention to do so, just as my keeping my name isn’t a judgment against women who elect to take their spouse's. Some would justify their rings to me by saying it was a family heirloom or that it wasn’t a budget buster. There never is any need to defend an engagement ring, as long as you elected to wear it because you want to and not because it’s tied up in someone else’s ego. Just like you don’t have to justify changing your name. It just needs to be your decision.
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But for all the initial stress, after we got married, it didn’t matter. The best piece of wedding-planning advice came from one of my closest friends. “You’re going to get into fights about things that do not matter at all outside the context of wedding planning,” she said. “This is all happening in a vacuum.” She’s so right, and her advice also applied to the engagement ring. I never get asked anymore about ditching it.
Of course, now I’m facing a new line of rude questioning. These days everyone wants to know the last names of our hypothetical children.
Erin Lowry is the author of Broke Millennial and Broke Millennial Takes On Investing. She lives in New York City with her husband.
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