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An engagement ring’s many meanings


Dear Carolyn:

What is the deal with women thinking we get to dictate the size/kind/monetary value of the engagement ring we receive? It’s like any other gift — you get the one your fiance(e) picks out. Or not, since the engagement isn’t even about ring-giving and -getting. It’s about love and commitment. Bleh.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive


So which is it — “like any other gift” or “about love and commitment”? If it’s the former, then there are no commitment strings attached; if it’s the later, then it’s not like any other gift.

Plus, unless your Control Freaks Anonymous meeting does a Secret Santa, most gifts arrive free of the expectation that you’ll wear them every day for the rest of your life.

As with so many aspects of intimate life, an engagement ring has no one meaning that applies to all. Some see a gift of love, some see an icky assertion of ownership. Social climbers will see one thing, the courts will see another, and a crusader against blood diamonds will see another.

If one bride sees romance and devotion in wearing her fiance’s choice of ring, and another wants the same say she’d have in any other investment, and another is concerned that she can’t wear Tiffany-set stones because she wears gloves at work, and another wants no part of diamonds and would rather put the money toward something both bride and groom can enjoy, then I’m not going to scold any of them for failing to toe some imaginary line.

This is about all I’m willing to say: Don’t be greedy, and don’t dismiss disagreements over engagement-ring ethics. As with so many things, again, there’s a chance to weigh character here. Never knowingly skip one of those.

Dear Carolyn:

I have a friend who manages to work the word “rape” into a large number of conversations. This is incredibly triggering for me, and I don’t appreciate her making light of such a difficult thing. I’ve asked her not to say it a few times, but I don’t want to make it obvious how much distress it causes me.

In her defense, she knows nothing of my past. Even so, I feel like it’s an inappropriate word to throw around, regardless of whom you’re around. How do I let her know this makes me uncomfortable without telling her things about myself that I’m not ready to reveal? (Especially to someone who treats it as a joke.)


Interesting friend you have.

You can tell the truth without noting that it’s your truth. “Please be more careful with your choice of words. Throwing the word ‘rape’ around lightly is offensive, particularly to victims of sexual assault.”

She: “Oh, it’s just an expression.”

You: “With all due respect — no, it’s not. And is it really a word you can’t live without?”

If she comes back at you with a pry-O-gram about whether you’re speaking from experience, point out — again, truthfully, if not whole-truthfully — that that’s not what you said, you’re merely making a general statement.

Also, please use any further resistance on her part as a cue to read her nutritional label; friends with a low decency content need to be treated as junk food, not as the stuff that sustains you.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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