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Buying a Ring for Valentine’s Day?

Proposing this Valentine’s Day? Read about the ritual here and things people consider before getting married here. To recap, the main elements of the traditional ritual are:

  • the proposer asking the father or parents of the proposee for his/their permission or blessing to marry the proposee
  • the proposal is a surprise
  • the proposer getting down on one knee
  • the proposer presenting a ring
  • the proposer asking, “Will you marry me?” 1,2

If any of the elements are missing, especially if there is no ring, then outsiders might think the engagement is not legitimate or the relationship itself is weak.1,3 Although people who are less traditional are fine with not having a ring, many think that the lack of a ring indicates a lack of sincerity on the part of the proposer. 1 Where did the notion that there needs to be a diamond ring start?

According to research on the topic, around the 1930s jewelry companies were experiencing a drop in diamond sales but had an overwhelming supply, so the De Beers jewelry company started ad campaigns that promoted buying a diamond engagement ring (see more here).4,5 The ad campaigns and inclusion of diamond rings in movies, combined with changing laws about whether or not a woman could sue her fiancé if he broke off the engagement, helped propel sales.4 Social reinforcement in the form of scoffs and confusion if the engagement ring doesn’t include a diamond and admiration and flattery if it does, as well as the bombardment of ad campaigns this time of year, help perpetuate the (now) norm of buying a diamond ring.

Despite the reinforcement that there needs to be a ring and the ring should include a diamond, opinions on engagement rings vary. Even though buying a mined diamond is still popular, people will also buy rings that contain stones made from the ashes of loved ones, or contain other stones like rubies, or they won’t buy a ring at all. Alternatively, people may pass a ring down from generation to generation to keep it in the family.2 Notably, not everyone is emotionally tied to the first engagement ring they receive. Some view the ring as just a gift and not a symbol, and are open to trading it for a different ring — one that better meets their ideals.2 Thus, it could be a good idea for proposers to get their partner’s opinion on engagement rings before purchasing a ring.

Some proposers express anxiety about the idea of choosing a ring for their partner, because they worry that they might get something that their partner won’t like.1,2 These proposers tend to get others (e.g., family, friends, or their partner) involved in helping choose the ring.2 Schweingruber and colleagues suggest that the partner’s involvement in choosing the ring varies along a continuum.1 On one end, the proposer buys the ring without any input from their partner. This adds extra secrecy to the proposal (and for some, romance2) because the partner may not know that a ring has been bought. On the other end of the partner involvement spectrum, both members of the couple go to the store together and the partner chooses a ring. Often, however, the partner isn’t there for the actual purchase of the ring.1,2 Therefore, the proposal can still be a surprise because the partner doesn’t know when the proposer has purchased the ring or when the proposal will be. The majority of participants fell in the middle of the continuum. For these couples, the partner would give the proposer hints about what style of ring he/she liked, but the couple members wouldn’t actually choose a ring together. Thus, the extent of the partner’s involvement in this aspect of the engagement process varies from couple to couple, and is something you can think about if you’re unsure about style.

Proposers may also be anxious about buying an engagement ring when they think that others might judge them based on what they buy. The engagement ring serves as a signal to others of what the proposer is willing to invest in the relationship.1,6,7 Although jewelry companies encourage people to spend about 2 months salary on an engagement ring,5 the price people pay, naturally, varies. For example, men in one study spent an average of $3,500 on a ring (the range was 0 - $20,000).7 Unfortunately, spending too much on a ring can cause stress, which can potentially lead to relationship problems.5 However, research finds that individuals’ concerns about how much to spend may be misplaced: outsiders don’t tend to judge the couple’s relationship strength based on the size of the diamond3 and marriage duration is unrelated to the amount spent on a ring.5

In brief, if you’re buying a ring for Valentine’s Day, the ring won’t be a predictor of how long you’ll be married. Even though some people may think that proposals are more concrete and legitimate if there is a ring, others do not. Go with what works for you and your partner. If you’re worried about what your partner might want and don’t know your partner’s opinion about diamond engagement rings, then talk to your partner. If you know your partner’s opinion but are unsure about the ring, and don’t want your partner involved, take note of their style and get a close family member or friend involved. Happy Valentine’s Day! 

TL;DR: If you’re buying a ring for Valentine’s Day, talk to your partner about their opinion, and remember that the ring won’t be a reflection of how long you’ll be married.

Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed. Learn more about our book and download it here.

1Schweingruber, D., Anahita, S., & Berns, N. (2004). “Popping the question” when the answer is known: The engagement proposal as performance. Sociological Focus, 37, 143-161.

2Hunter, E. (2012). Creating meaning in engagement: Gender, heterosexuality, and commitment to marriage. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University at Albany, State University of New York, USA.

3Schweingruber, D., Cast, A. D., & Anahita, S. (2008). 'A story and a ring': Audience judgments about engagement proposals. Sex Roles, 58(3-4), 165-178.

4Brinig, M. F. (1990). Rings and promises. Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, 6, 203-215.

5Francis, A. M., & Mialon, H. M. (2014). ‘A diamond is forever’ and other fairy tales: The relationship between wedding expenses and marriage duration. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2501480 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2501480.

6Camerer, C. (1988). Gifts as economic signals and social symbols. American Journal of Sociology, 94, 180-214.

7Cronk, L., & Dunham, B. (2007). Amount spent on engagement rings reflect aspects of male and female mate quality. Human Nature, 18, 329-333.

Dr. Lisa Hoplock - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Lisa's research examines how personality traits like self-esteem and attachment influence interpersonal processes in ambiguous social situations -- situations affording both rewards and costs -- such as social support contexts, relationship initiation, and marriage proposals. 

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Reader Comments (1)

FYI I researched the whole diamond angle in depth last year http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2014/01/28/comment-diamonds-arent-forever

February 9, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterneerav bhatt
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