The XX Factor

If a Woman Buys Her Own Engagement Ring, Is It Really an Engagement Ring?

Your giant rock promises nothing if you bought it yourself.

Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The attempts of Americans to reconcile their infatuation with traditional wedding rituals and the realities of their daily lives are an endlessly amusing exercise in cognitive dissonance. Sure, let your dad give you away, even though you haven’t answered to his paternal authority for more than a decade. Why not have a bachelorette party decorated with penises, as if we’re teasing a virginal bride who has never seen one in real life? And, yes, the man should be responsible for buying that engagement ring, even though his wife-to-be makes more money.

Oh wait, what’s that? Women are buying their own engagement rings, or at least splitting the costs?

Yes, according to the Cut and the Knot, there is an increasing willingness on the part of engaged couples to split the costs of the engagement ring, which comports generally with our 21st-century approach to family finances, in which both parties have jobs and therefore both contribute to the pot. Nearly half the respondents to a Today poll said they would share the costs of an engagement ring—a number I suspect would rise if they were told by their groom-to-be that it’s either share the costs or go without a diamond to wave triumphantly under every nose you encounter. 

Of course, the entire thing brings up an uncomfortable existential dilemma: Is it really an engagement ring if you bought it yourself? The whole point of the engagement ring is that it’s a gift, meant to demonstrate the level of a man’s commitment. When you shake your hand meaningfully at people with your ring, you’re showing off how invested he is, moneywise, in claiming you for his bride-to-be. (He doesn’t need to demonstrate how committed you are to him. It’s just assumed women’s commitment is assured, and they are indeed slobberingly grateful to be selected for the high honor of being someone’s personal sandwich-maker.) Paying for it yourself, even just half of it, renders the entire gesture meaningless. It’s not a demonstration of his fealty anymore. Does the engagement ring that isn’t a down payment on a future commitment even shine as brightly? 

What all this demonstrates is that it’s high time to end the tradition of the engagement ring, along with other wedding rituals that are built on the assumption that a bride is dependent and virginal. The entire discourse about women having to “snag” a husband and obtain expensive totems of his commitment to hold him in place before the actual wedding is offensive to both genders. Women provide for themselves now. Instead of hanging onto these sexist, retrograde wedding traditions, why not make up some new ones that reflect our modern era? The new tradition of announcing your engagement through a photo shoot that emphasizes your already-enjoyable life together is a lot more cost-effective and reflects what people’s actual romantic lives are like better than an old-fashioned engagement ring. More of that, please.