Love the Guy but Hate the Ring?

First things first. I have neither a ring, nor a guy. Thus the caveat here is that I actually have no idea what I’m talking about. But yesterday I ran into my upstairs neighbour at the coffee shop. I had broken up a rollicking party he and his flatmate had thrown on the previous Friday, so I wasn’t expecting him to offer me an idea for The Handbook. But he proposed that I do a piece on unwanted engagement rings. And so, here I am, attempting to dispense advice on something I know very little about.

This is not a new topic. Ever since men began proposing to their womenfolk with rings, there have been instances when the bejewelled offering just didn’t pass muster. Sometimes it’s too little and cheap looking; more rarely, the complaints are about it being too big and flashy. Then there’s the matter of the guy just having no idea about his lady’s preferences: he opted for the wrong setting or the wrong shape or the wrong stone.

And you better believe that women have very crystallised notions about what that ring should look like. They will have admired or disdained countless other rings on friends, family members, and strangers. They will have strolled past jewellers’ windows and lingered to eye the engagement rings hungrily. They will have formulated ideas about the ethical implications of turning a blind eye to a blood diamond versus the acceptability of a synthetic diamond. They may opt to be mavericks and shun tradition, entertaining thoughts about emeralds, sapphires, rubies, or those coveted yellow diamonds. They will think about settings — do they want their main stone flanked by little friends, or will it stand alone, a “solitaire” as my mom calls it.

It’s a tricky business, since the assumption is that this item, which will have cost your man at least a month’s salary, if not morea, is for life. Do you want to be stuck wearing a ring you hate, till death (or divorce) do you part?

Most definitely the answer to this will probably be no, which is why 90% of couples go ring shopping together nowadays.b It’s a preemptive tactic to avoid risking disappointment, and it’s a good way to go.c

But ladies, what if your man just went ahead and ignored every hint you dropped and your explicit suggestion that he go ring shopping with your sister (who certainly knows the exact ring you want)? He thought he’d surprise you with something really special. Something informed by his own tastes. Tastes which you have now confirmed to be godawful.

On the Internet, the tips on how to deal with the situation fall into two main camps: 1) come clean, or 2) suck it up.

On the Huffington Post, Mara Opperman, relationship etiquette expert and a “come clean” proponent, suggested that you break the news to your guy, and gently. An act to be accomplished in three easy steps: 1) Assess what you like and dislike about the ring — the problem could easily be fixed by using the same stone in a more understated or elaborate setting; 2) Crack open a bottle of wine and wear something sexy that he likes; and 3) “Be warm, kind and gentle when you tell him. Make sure he knows you cherish and love him. Let him know you appreciate him giving you this ring and you are excited to spend the rest of your lives together, but this is not the ring you want to wear for the rest of your life.” Then take advantage of the 30-day return policy on the ring, if there is one, which there should be.


And in the “suck-it-up” camp, the comments on Ms. Opperman’s post expressed disbelief at the selfishness of a woman who would hurt her husband-to-be’s feelings over a piece of jewellery. Dogluvr65 wrote, “[m]arriage is about the man…..not the ring. Suck it up ladies and feel blessed to have met the man that wants to spend the rest of his life with you! If you make it to the 10 year anniversary, “update” your ring together. No reason to hurt the man’s feelings.” While user vtmv wrote, “[w]hen we got married, 22 years ago, my husband and I chose a fairly good but modest diamond, set in a plain gold setting. It’s not what I would have chosen in a perfect world, but marrying him was more important to me than the ring. On a business trip to Hong Kong a few years ago, I had that diamond reset in platinum, with baguettes on the sides. Now I have both: the husband I wanted and the ring I wanted. Sometimes you just have to be patient.”

I occupy the middle ground. I do believe, in the end, it’s just a ring, and it won’t kill you. But if it completely clashes with your aesthetic sensibilities, you shouldn’t have to wear it all the time. So if your man unwisely decided to take the initiative on ring choice, here are some tips on handling the matter with some semblance of tact.

Lose the ring. Yes, you read that correctly. Women lose their jewellery all the time. Especially rings. Conscientious women often remove rings with settings in them when they wash their hands because otherwise the ring gets crusted over with soap scum. You can just neglect to put it back on one day. Plus, plenty of men have lost their wedding rings. There shouldn’t be a double standard. However, I must caution that this is a course of action you should only consider taking if your ring is insured and you absolutely despise it.

Keep it safe. A more sensible course of action than the one enumerated above, and much less asshole-y thing to do. Works particularly well with extravagant rings. Wear it occasionally if you must, but tell the poor guy that it is so precious and fancy that you’re afraid of something happening to it. Then keep it in a safe at home, your parents’ house, or a safety deposit box. For day-to-day purposes, opt to wear your eternity ring if you’ve got one, or your simple wedding band.

imagesSymbolic of “unending love,” an eternity ring is usually a circlet of uninterrupted stones, although you can get one with larger diamonds across the face only. A marketing ploy crafted by De Beers, eternity rings caught on quickly. I know plenty of women who prefer their eternity ring to their engagement ring.

Wear it on a chain. Personally, I’m used to wearing rings on my right hand, and my watch and bracelets on my left. It feels like a good balance. So if wearing a(n ugly) ring on the left hand feels a bit odd, you can opt to wear it on a chain. Pendants and lockets have come back in a big way, and lots of people are layering them over one another to make some sort of fashion statement. Plus, a ring on a chain (“near your heart,” you can say) can be a lot less conspicuous than being in full view on your hand. So this is an option if you’re into necklaces.

Develop a mysterious metal allergy. This may sound like a bogus ploy, but wedding-ring dermatitis is a legitimate affliction. More and more people are allergic to nickel these days, and there can be traces of nickel in even the most expensive gold and platinum rings. You can fake this condition if you like, but that would probably mean wearing accessories would be out, which is a bummer.

Unknown-2A bad case of dermatitis. But if you lie about this, kiss most of your jewellery goodbye.

Amputate your left hand. Not recommended.

Dump him and his ugly ring. Also not recommended.

To wrap up, I always thing that a communicative couple is a happy couple, so rather than dropping subtle hints and making coy suggestions (like leaving a De Beers catalog open on the coffee table on a particular page), you should be upfront with your preferences. Either tell him exactly what you want, or go ring shopping together. If it’s too late for that, keep that engagement ring locked away nice and safe, and rock the wedding band once you two get hitched.

  1. Traditionally it’s anywhere from between 1-3 months’ salary, although Askmen claims that this is changing.  (back)
  2. I’m a little skeptical about these figures, but I’m going to go with it.  (back)
  3. I can also suggest the more innovative move of going to a jeweller’s studio and working on all of your rings together as a couple. A friend from law school did this with his fiancé, now wife, and since they had a physical hand in making them, I think those rings are more meaningful. It’s an aggressive hip move to make, I know, but it was apparently not as expensive as you’d imagine it to be.  (back)