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What Happened When My Fiancé Proposed—Without a Ring

I didn't realize how much I had bought into the hype around the 'perfect' engagement ring.

Engagement rings. I thought of myself as beyond the whole hoopla of unreal expectations of sparkly diamonds—I know the whole story of the 1938 DeBeers marketing campaign. I am above this!

I was wrong.

I got engaged a month ago, on a perfect Sunday afternoon, at 3:33 p.m. to be exact. I remember waking up that morning without an alarm clock, maybe feminine intuition and adrenaline was coursing through my veins; I just felt he was going to ask me that day.

As we contentedly meandered throughout a lazy afternoon, he led me to one of our favorite spots; a chapel. As we got up to leave, he nervously took my hand, knelt down, and asked me to marry him, all in one quick and joyful movement. I was a bundle of emotions and nervously rolled my eyes as if to say "Of course!” I laughed and said yes.

Still holding my hand he bounded up and wrapped me in a big hug. It was at that moment I was confused. . . . Aren't we missing something—a ring, perhaps?

After some time, he then pulled a wool string from his pocket (the string had significant meaning in his life) and tied it around my ring finger saying, somewhat apologetically, “Well, sweetheart, this is the first of a series of rings.”

What? My mind raced. Did something happen to the real one? Did it not come in on time? What’s wrong? Why is this happening? I love this man, but I didn't want a "series"—I just wanted the one.

My curiosity soon became an obsession. I wanted to know what was going on and where the real ring was. Then came an ocean of guilt. How could I let myself feel even the slightest bit down when the man of my dreams proclaimed his love and desire to spend the rest of his life with me?

All this time I had thought I was above it, even having a romantic sense about engagements free of the material trappings of today. I grew up hearing the love story of my parents—my dad didn’t even have a ring for my mother—and how they just stayed up late one night, talking on a picnic bench until the wee hours of the morning and decided to get married.

And  yet, it’s hard to escape the swarm of projected engagement bliss and expectation with Facebook feeds flooded with selfless and Instagram shots of—forgive me for using the phrase—“the rock” and Pinterest boards populated with two-plus carat designs as "wish list" baubles. More and more I hear of men taking out loans, setting up two-year payment plans to pay off  the object of their beloved’s desires.

Not to mention what seems like every movie or darn Bachelor series ever produced sets the canon that every time a man bends down on one knee, the setting sun should softly glow with a trio of strings playing nearby.

How in the world has this become the norm? If anything, I have grown in sympathy for the men who feel the pressure to live up to arbitrary standards set by a moneymaking industry.

It seems I’m not alone in the struggle against engagement expectations. Even being madly in love and willing the good of my fiancé, I wasn’t exempt from the effect of being constantly bombarded by subliminal messages of perfection. In the days following my engagement, everyone asked to see the ring (which, I found, tends to be the first or second question following the announcement) and I’d flash the brown string tied around my finger, later a plain silver band, and it was a sight to see their faces slightly fall in confusion.

I think part of my struggle was that, months prior, my now fiancé suggested to “look around for settings you like.” That’s dangerous for any woman to hear. Knowing THE question will be popped in the near future makes it seem like eternity until it happens; it would take a stronger woman than I to avoidincessantly thinking, “Maybe it’s this weekend, maybe it’s tomorrow,” and so on.

The engagement phenomenon is a funny balancing act; wanting the spontaneous, romantic element of a surprise proposal, while simultaneously hoping the ring you’re going to wear everyday for the rest of your life reflects your personality and taste, hence the shopping around for what you like. There's nothing wrong with wanting something beautiful (and sparkly!) but this idea of having a "right" to our dream ring, especially if it's a financial strain for your love, has gotten out of hand.

Whether you go shopping for rings together, share what styles you like, or simply hope he’s telepathic, there’s always some expectation that comes along with the proposal. A good rule of thumb is to openly communicate—really just plan ol' relationship 101.

But, regarding the unrealistic and overwhelming expectations of an engagement ring, it’s a good opportunity to check your priorities. Take a step back and honest look at yourself; what’s really important to you in a committed, lifelong relationship. Sure, you’re going to wear this symbol of committed love the rest of your life. But, you’re not marrying the ring. You’re marrying him.

Photo by Taylor McCutchan