Outlook's Third Annual Spring Cleaning List

Let's get rid of engagement rings

As Slate's Dear Prudence advice columnist, I receive a surprising number of questions about "the ring." The diamond industry, in its infinite marketing savvy, seems to have convinced young couples that the only way to declare a lifetime commitment is for a man to ruinously spend two or three months' salary on the proper rock. Men write to me to say that they're ready to get married, but given school debt and the depressed economy, they simply can't afford a good enough ring, and they despair whether they'll ever be able to pop the question. Here's a secret that the folks at De Beers don't want young people to know: All you need to do to become officially engaged is tell everyone, "We're getting married!" (As my Slate colleague and fellow ring unenthusiast Meghan O'Rourke wrote, the "blingfest" is a modern invention.)

So, to encourage more marriages, reduce materialism and further the equality of the sexes, I say let's chuck the engagement ring.

There is another major problem with the ring. It turns young women — otherwise independent, successful strivers — into passive recipients, waiting for their prince to rescue them from their single state. In what other aspect of their lives do young women so totally turn over their future to the decisions of others? I get letters from women who regularly scour their beloved's sock drawer, hoping to see a ring box, evidence that marriage is in their future. The ritual of the engagement ring means he decides, he buys, he proposes. Throwing the ring out of the equation encourages the progression toward marriage to be more of a continuing discussion, a joint decision.

The desire for a substantial ring also encourages an unsightly side of one's character. I hear from young men distressed at the broad hints from their girlfriends about the number of carats required to impress her friends. I also hear from women who have happily said yes to a proposal but are now stuck with a ring they think is hideous. Yet how to trade in a piece of jewelry so freighted with meaning?

Compare the engagement ring with the wedding band. Basically, everyone's looks alike. There's no envy, no angst, no credit card debt. It's simply a handy way of signaling, "I'm taken."


Emily Yoffe is a Slate columnist and the author of "What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner."

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