My Tiny Engagement Ring

“My mother is urging me to have my ring “upgraded” because a respectable American middle-class woman needs a bigger diamond. Other people have made comments along the lines of “That looks like a promise ring that a high schooler would give to his girlfriend” and “You should have held out for something nicer.” To many American women, the size of the diamond engagement ring seems to be a symbol of their success and worth as women, and the message that I have failed at this goal comes across loud and clear. It stings a bit when they wave their giant rings in my face while making their little comments. What can I do to get them to stop?”

– a letter to Dear Prudence

I got engaged when I was 19, with what some people later took the liberty to inform me, was a small ring. I liked the ring on first sight – its a square diamond in a white gold setting that doesn’t stand up stupidly high as did the rings that were popular at the time. I was proud that Thom picked out a ring that I liked, and not something that the shop lady or some friend would have recommended. I was proud that he picked one that would not prevent me from getting things out of my pocket or fully utilizing my hand for the rest of my life. I was absolutely caught off guard when I opened my eyes on the cliffs of Southern IL and there was a ring there, but I was always sure, sure, sure about Thom. When I told my sister, she said, “I thought you already were engaged..?”

The kind of ring I did NOT want.
The kind of ring I did NOT want.

Around the time when we actually got married, there was a rash of engagements. This was likely due to the fact that the local National Guard unit was getting deployed. For a time I was inadvertently involved in a parade of ring flashing parties. Most of the rings were blingy stones cut in a way that looked like they had glitter in them, surrounded by other diamonds, sitting up arrogantly in the setting equivalent of stilts. In other words, exactly the kind of ring I didn’t want. Now I believe in “to each their own”, but I’m allowing myself to be a bit snarky about flashy rings to illustrate the lack of perspective possessed by anyone who expected me to be jealous of a big ass ring. Some of them clearly felt sorry for me. Some of them directly asked if I wanted something bigger. Some of them tentatively asked what kind of wedding band we were going to get.

My wedding/engagement ring, and my promise ring from before that.
My wedding/engagement ring, and my promise ring from before that.

While Thom was deployed, I waited tables late night. As the bars closed, college students who fancied themselves smooth talkers filed in to eat eggs and boldly hit on me. When I put down their plates, their eyes caught my ring.

“What’s that a promise ring or something?” some of them slurred.

“Oh you got a boyfriend or something?” the more eloquent ones would ask.

“Wedding ring.” I would reply in an unimpressed tone. “Husband.”

“Well if your married, why didn’t he buy you a bigger ring. I’d buy you a bigger ring than that,” they’d say with the swagger of someone who falsely believes that I’ve never had this conversation before.

I would look at them in the way that one looks at a particularly confident cockroach who is still about to be flushed down the toilet. I’d raise my eyebrow, and then crack a grin on one side of my face.

“I don’t want him to buy me a ring,” I would say, “I want him to build me an empire.”


  Eight years later I am sure that any girl along the way who believed in a ring to prove the value of her relationship has seen the value of her relationship, for good or ill. We never bought that wedding band.

  I do, in a way, concede to the argument that a ring is a symbol of caring enough to put in effort. After all, I do have a ring. I just don’t think that he needed to put in effort paying for a ring for the next five or ten years to prove that he cared. I’d rather Thom and I put in effort every day. When we are faced with choices where we can make the other’s life a little better or a little worse, I want us to put that effort into making life a little better.  We are building that empire.

  I know that he has loved me, among other things, because he has only ever bought me jewelry when he found something particularly interesting. No generic heart jewelry from Valentine’s Day ads sits on my dresser. But I do have a slightly alien looking Swaroski necklace, a big blue pirate jewel ring that he bought me (without the obligation of every day, til forever) to wear to the islands instead of my real ring, and a bracelet he made me with ceramic beads layered over metal tube beads.

  I like nice things. But more than that I like things that fit.

The big blue not wedding ring, back when everyone wanted to shoot me smoking.  (photo by Anthony Chiang)
The big blue not wedding ring, back when everyone wanted to shoot me smoking. (photo by Anthony Chiang )


I decided to write a series of post on love, etc., somewhat in honor of Valentine’s Day. I’m not doing this because I’m a Valentine’s Day super fan or anything, but rather because its easy to write about what I see around me and what it reminds me of.  These posts will have varying degrees of seriousness. This is post #1. 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Kelley says:

    Like you, I’ve never been a fan of those big, arrogant diamond rings. I never even really wanted a diamond. That’s why I was thrilled when I found, and Chris bought me, this awesome Herkimer “diamond” engagement ring ( It’s a quartz crystal (I adore quartz), and it’s kinda big, but in a way that mocks all those ridiculously expensive ones (did I mention it only cost $100). I love it so, so much. 🙂

    1. rika9 says:

      I like those. I like the cloudy natural look of quartz too, and I like that its unique.. and also kind of a troll to people who can’t fathom that not everyone wants to wear the value of half a house.

      I don’t have a problem with big jewelry, and if its “right” for the girl that’s its for, who can argue with that? But when I see so many that are so alike, and even on girls who have never worn big jewelry in their lives, I feel like people are buying into a concept that doesn’t hold water instead of following their own tastes. And I don’t think that a ring (or a wedding) is something you should be burdened with paying for for years. Being able to afford the life you live is sexy. “I just went into debt to give you this thing I don’t technically own outright yet, now marry me!” Is not.

  2. Louise says:

    I would like any ring from my boyfriend. We have been together 3 year’s, but he still has not asked me to marry him, tho he has asked me to do pretty much everything else. I have been very accomodeating to him, both in his job as well as in our personal lives. He works as a park ranger, so is not around most of the time, but when he is, we spend most days at my place having sex. He does not like to be with my friends.

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