I talked a bit about engagement rings back here, and the topic continues to intrigue me. Within the past few weeks, advice columnists Carolyn Hax and Judith “Miss Manners” Martin have both discussed engagement ring etiquette. (I don’t read MM, but Hax mentioned it, and so I tracked it down.) The MM question was from a woman who didn’t like the ring she got, and wondered about if and how to ask about exchanging it. I thought the response was pretty lame: “In a happy moment, far from the proposal time, preferably after the wedding, she says musingly, ‘I always want to wear my engagement ring, but it’s not comfortable for every day. Do you mind if I have it reset?’”
First, it’s probably a lie that it’s not “comfortable,” except on her eyes, and second, MM suggests that the man “prefers not to be troubled” with the matter once the deal is sealed. So apparently he wouldn’t notice or care if she comes home with a brand new ring. I think that’s wrong on several levels.
I usually like Hax a lot, but I thought she missed on her take, too. In her chat last week, someone wrote in with this:
What is the proper way to let your SO know what kind of engagement ring you’d like? I’ve told him on the sly that I prefer silver over gold, and even told him specifically that I’d like a sapphire stone set in white gold or silver, but my boyfriend, sweet and thoughtful as he is, can be forgetful sometimes. Should I send him an e-mail and put “just in case” in the subject line, or leave a catalog cutout near the sports and men’s health magazines?
Hax said she wouldn’t bite on this, apparently because it made her so mad. A couple of other people wrote in with jokey replies about Bridezillas (there was another question about a woman who was “making” the mother of the groom wear a hideous dress at the wedding), and so the woman wrote back with this:
I’m really not sure why everyone feels the need to be so nasty over a simple question. If I’m the one who has to wear the ring, then it should be something that is wearable. I’m not going to play the part of the mousy miss and cower away from getting what I want because it might be rude. So, I will send an e-mail and slip the catalog cutout next to the sports pictures.
Hax just replied “Still…not…biting….” Fine, it’s clear this woman is a little nutty and showing some warning signs. Why is her definition of a “wearable” ring the only one that counts? And why is she perfectly comfortable with being “rude” (her word) if it means “getting what I want,” regardless of her boyfriend’s feelings or finances?
It would have been nice if either or both of these “advice” columnists had given some actual advice, though. For example, in MM’s scenario, what if the new husband got pissy about having the ring re-set, despite her plea that it’s “not comfortable for every day”? Then what? That’s especially true if her real problem is that the diamond is small, or the band gold instead of silver, which makes the “comfortable” dodge less believable.
MM’s answer and Hax’s non-answer completely evade the real heart of all these questions: Whose ring is it? And is an engagement ring an unexchangeable gift? I think they both suggest that women have no right to make demands (suggestions?) pre-engagement, and after delivery, they pretty much have to like it or lump it, unless they’re lucky enough to have a guy who can’t be bothered with china patterns and ring styles and such piffle. In that case, they can lie and do whatever they want anyway.
I’m not saying where I come down on all this. But it would have been interesting to hear if they had any reasonable advice for how a woman should go about expressing her desires, whether the man should seek her input, and if/how the dynamic changes after the engagement. Maybe the answers are so obvious that MM and Hax didn’t feel a need to repeat them. But having no experience in this arena, it would be news to me. So, please, dear readers, inform me: How does this process work in the real world, outside of newspaper columns?