No One Wants Your Comments About Their Engagement Ring

wedding-ring

As I walked into the elevator that would take me up to the fifth floor for an ~important~ afternoon meeting Chelsea and I were headed to, I glanced down to my left hand. I slipped my engagement ring over my finger, gingerly placed it in the zipped portion of my wallet, and tucked in safely inside my purse. There it would remain for the next hour and a half — discreetly and out-of-sight. When we left the building, I ducked into the bathroom, slowly fished the ring out of my wallet, and put it back on my finger. It wasn’t the first time I’d taken it off for a specific work-related event, and it surely wouldn’t be the last. Does that sound insane? Maybe. But, to me, it’s a small way I ensure that when I’m talking to people in a professional setting (where there’s a lot at stake), that the focus is on me and my words — not my ~bling~.

I got engaged in December of 2014, and, though I am biased, I think my ring is beautiful. It is however, very “diamondy” as someone once described it — a rather-large center diamond surrounded by a halo of smaller diamonds. At the time I got engaged, I didn’t give much thought to what the ring would represent to other people except the love and commitment that my soon-to-be husband and I made to one another. It was a symbol. Simple as that, right? Wrong. Over the next few years, as I moved from a small town and into a big city, met scores of new people, transitioned into an entirely different work/office setting, I came to learn just how much is tied up — emotionally and socially — with putting an engagement ring on display. If you do, chances are you’re going to be on the receiving end of comments about it that you may or may not want to hear.

For example, my own ring has solicited a few comments that have made me feel uncomfortable and insecure — especially the ones I’ve received while at work events where I perceive that the TFD brand is on the line. I mean, I co-run a website about personal finance, and hearing someone call my ring “bling bling” feels shameful because I feel like the ethos of what I do for work could be potentially undermined. (I’ve had everything from waitresses to friends make comments about how they, too, love “bling” — an implicit assumption about me and my tastes that I’m not even sure I identify with.) I fear that people will think the worst and assume, “how budget-conscious could she possibly be?!” I fear people will not take me seriously. I ask myself, “Do people think I’m high maintenance and that I don’t need to work because I have a rich husband at home?” YIKES. I’ve had people pointedly ask me “how big is it?!” which makes me feel confused as to how I should answer. I know who I am in my own head! I know I work hard! It feels frustrating to imagine that people are making unfair assumptions about me and the work I do. As I mentioned above, there have been several occasions when I’m at a work meeting — where we’re asking people to give us money — and I’ve taken my ring off; I want to avoid someone’s subconscious bias toward me. I wonder, “what if they imagine I don’t really ‘need’ the money?”

Engagement rings all look different: big, small, diamond, ruby, sapphire, wedding band, or no wedding hand, gold, platinum, silver, custom-made, or straight from the case — I could go on and on. However, whichever way you slice it (and whether you like it or not) an engagement ring is a marker, not only of love, but of wealth. Or at least the wealth you’re willing to spend on one piece of jewelry, which draws laser-focused attention like no other piece will. I know women who wanted the biggest possible diamond money could buy — regardless of quality — and I know women who wear vintage rings that have been passed down through generations in their family. (And when we know that the prices and “value” for diamonds are intentionally inflated through market manipulation and advertising, it can be hard to even know what even makes a diamond ring “valuable”.) Each person should have the freedom to decide what’s right for them. But, there’s simply no getting around the fact that when you put an engagement ring on your finger, it’s an invitation for people to judge you in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise.

“It”s so big and tacky!” “Sapphire? SO unfashionable!” “It’s so tiny, it’s like a chip of a diamond.” “No engagement ring at all — does she think she’s better than me??” These are just a few of the pointed comments I’ve heard over the years. Personally, I think it’s uncool that people feel as if they get a free pass to say whatever unsavory thing they want (and I admit that I, too, have made assumptions about women based on what their engagement rings looks like, but I’ve REALLY tried not to give them any weight). That said, comments said in private amongst friends in social settings are just one part of the equation, but what happens when those comments take place in a work setting?

What happens when it’s your boss, supervisor, co-workers, and/or clients taking notice of your engagement ring and dolling out comments about it? What happens if they see an engagement ring and start filling in backstory whatever way they want? That kind of thinking has the potential to be dangerous if it affects one’s career and how they’re treated at work. For example. the same way I feared people across the conference table would judge me and determine I didn’t really “need” the money I was asking for, could be the same way a supervisor feels about a raise at the office. Just a few articles I’ve read suggest that there are consequences to wearing engagements ring at work, regardless of size. For example, this Levo article talks about some assumptions, saying:

Diamond engagement ring.
“Will probably need time off for the wedding and honeymoon.”

Diamond ring with wedding band.
“Wonder if there’s a maternity leave in her future or little kids at home?”

Gigantic diamond ring with wedding band.
“Hubby must earn a good living so she doesn’t need this job. Probably high maintenance who will whine or quit if she can’t have her way.”

Assumptions like that, which aren’t necessarily based in truth, but rather born out of an emotional response and/or subjective judgement, means I have to push myself to work harder to gain the respect of colleagues.

It’s shitty for sure, but some of the comments that I mentioned above make it clear that women need to really consider the signals their ring might be sending out. Another article that appeared on Vogue.com quotes male recruiter Bruce Hurwitz, who bluntly describes how wearing a big engagement ring might hurt your chances of getting a job. It reads, “Hurwitz says he’s seen that when women come to job interviews wearing big engagement rings, they tend not to get the job. But when they leave their rings at home, they are more likely to be hired.” Of course, people certainly disagree with him and call his advice “sexist.” It’s unfortunate that women have to think about it and men don’t — it’s a much less complicated decision for a man in an office. They wear a simple band that’s usually not an indicator of how much money he has or his personal taste.

It should go without saying, but everyone feels differently about this issue — it’s a touchy topic, which makes it tough to navigate. A completely innocent compliment or observation can be taken the wrong way or offend someone. Without us realizing it, our comments about engagement rings can reveal an insecurity or confirm a stereotype. It’s not as if anything anyone says with regard to an engagement ring is loaded and judgey and terrible — it just means we have to be more conscious of the how and where we make remarks.

I really believe that no one should feel ashamed for wearing whatever kind of engagement ring they choose to, and it shouldn’t define who you are in the workplace. For myself, I try to be discreet with it in professional settings, I remove it when I think it’s appropriate, and I don’t flash it around. It’s something I’m able to fully enjoy without having to be the type of person who mentions it frequently, and I do my best not to make comments about other women’s rings. I think the most important thing we can all do is try and see people for who they are first and foremost, focus on their work, and keep our comments to ourselves. This will reduce the focus we put on material things, and put less pressure on women in general to have the kind of rings that elicit “oohs” and “ahhs” from people. I love my ring, and I’m glad I’ve been forced to think about these issues more deeply and consider how it comes off in a professional setting — I’m wiser and more lucid about it, which I’m grateful for.

Image via Unsplash

  • As someone constantly exhausted by Facebook brides & the ~wedding industrial complex~ I’m tempted to say “no one other than you cares about your engagement ring” (and I mean the general you, not you specifically Lauren), but that’s a cop out. Just because I don’t have a ring & don’t experience this myself, doesn’t mean it’s not happening all around me. It’s super shitty that the symbol of someone’s relationship can be ignorantly wielded against them, and I sympathize with your anxiety about wearing it in a business setting. While I don’t know how else to approach things as a business owner, I hope you tell commenters in your every day life to stfu 😉

    • Lauren Ver Hage

      I totally agree Jenn — it certainly DOES get exhausting to talk about IRL and online! Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and I feel confident that next time I will certainly tell someone more bluntly about how I’m feeling…even if it means saying stfu 😉 Thanks for reading!

  • Christian Gonzales

    This is an awesome article Lauren, thanks for sharing something that we may not normally think about! A big part of me feels like, “ugh ANOTHER thing women have to be cognizant of how they’re portraying themselves in public? Let us be!”, because at the end of the day people can make the same judgement about our hair, our clothes, our shoes, our purses…and they will. This sounds like one more thing on top of those that are out there for people to judge, and just as unfair (if not more unfair given that it was a gift). But I can absolutely see how it’s not quite the same thing, and how an engagement ring can open up a whole new can of worms of perceptions. Thanks for giving us something to think about!

    • Lauren Ver Hage

      I agree, re: another thing to be cognizant of. And, to be completely honest, part of me even felt reluctant to link out to too many articles that talked about some of the points in the post because I didn’t want to reinforce the things that I, myself, don’t believe. (Like the idea that a nice ring somehow means a women is high maintenance and will complain/whine more…like, LOL.) Anyway, thanks for reading =)

  • jdub

    It’s this exact attitude that I’m worried I project when I say “can I see the ring?” I never mean it to judge the recipient on what style of ring/size of diamond/type of stone/colour metal etc., but I worry that’s what comes across. I always mean it as “can I see the symbol you as a couple have opted for, and can you tell me what it means to you?” which obviously isn’t the default reaction from most people.
    It sucks that it’s something that instead of being a source of pride and joy in your relationship, you have to be cognizant of the ~hidden meanings~ with regard to how people perceive you as a businesswoman. Ugh.

  • JL

    Thanks for this thoughtful post on what can be such a fraught topic. As someone who recognizes the many problems of the industrial wedding complex, but also takes an inordinate amount of joy my sparkly rings, it was a great and informative read. For me, my wedding/engagement bands have actually improved how I have been treated in the professional arena. As a woman who is very young-looking/petite and consults with new clients/colleagues on a fairly regular basis, I’ve struggled to be taken seriously, even as I accumulated experience and responsibility. I’ve noticed that with the addition of my engagement and wedding rings, people tend to treat me as more of a professional peer instead of automatically assuming that I am entry-level or even an intern. Just one more example of how unfortunately much of society still views marriage as one of the important signifiers of “real adulthood.”

  • Violaine

    I’ve never been through that and I don’t plan to get married – it feels annoying actually not to be engaged/married while most of my coworkers are and I feel they do perceive me as “young”, “inexperienced”, etc, because of that – while I have an average experience for my age. I mean, not everyone of course, but I’ve had the few comments like “Well you can, since you’re not married” when I offer to go for a drink and the other person tells me they can’t because their husband is waiting. It annoys me because even though I’m not married, I also have somebody who could be waiting for me and my relationship isn’t less serious because I’m not married…

    Anyway, I’m going off-topic. It was an interesting article and I enjoyed reading it!

  • nycnative

    “It’s unfortunate that women have to think about it and men don’t — it’s a much less complicated decision for a man in an office. They wear a simple band that’s usually not an indicator of how much money he has or his personal taste.” This is exactly why we should move away from engagement rings entirely!! I’m surprised I’m the only one saying this here given all the feminists around the comments section, but isn’t it time we moved away from traditions that create unequal burdens for men and women?

    I tried to keep an open mind while reading this, and I admit was hard for me since I’m not personally that sympathetic to this “dilemma.” If wearing your ring is this fraught, why not opt out and not wear one? You agree multiple times that engagement rings are symbols, but it’s not fair to ask people around you to interpret the potent symbol you’re wearing ONLY the way you want it to be interpreted. In the past, engagement rings often marked women (who didn’t work and weren’t expected to have any income) as “taken,” “claimed,” and “paid for” by the male breadwinners who could promise to support them their entire lives. You’ve seen Mad Men, right? The sexist, archaic symbolism is still there.

    Of course, if you want to wear an engagement ring, you should wear one, and other people shouldn’t be snarky jerks about it. But it’s disingenuous to ask that the people around you not notice or read into a large, flashy, complicated symbol that you carry around with you all day.

    • Lauren

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. While it’s horrible that women are judged unfairly based on their engagement rings in interviews, the whole concept of an engagement ring does reinforce those unequal expectations, and that should make us really uncomfortable.

  • HK4

    Unfortunately I think this is a ~damned if you do, damned if you don’t~ deal for women. I am “engaged” but I don’t have a ring, and I have had to explain countless times why I don’t have one, even to close friends who know me and my opinions well; and that, no, it was MY decision and my fiancé did not talk me out of a ring. I am sometimes tempted to go buy a fake one to just shut people up.

    It’s infuriating how obsessed people can be with someone else’s piece of jewelry. I have an aquaintance, the mother of a childhood friend, who I cross paths with occassionally, and EVERY SINGLE TIME she sees me she asks if I am married and GLARES at my left hand. It’s so unsettling. Her head may explode the next time I see her and I tell her I’m engaged but don’t have a ring on.

    Anyway, this was a nice article. Engagement rings are unfortunately nuanced and controversial and it’s really sad that people’s jobs, and not to mention a man’s masculinity or a woman’s legitimacy are dependent on something as silly (not derogatory) as a ring.

  • Lexie

    This could really be two separate articles! I have a small, minimalist engagement ring that is frequently described as “cute,” which I try not to take personally. My mom also told me stories growing up about taking off her wedding band for job interviews so people would not be biased!

  • Lucienne

    I agree that judgment based on superficial markers is bad as a rule, and I agree that off-base comments are never wanted. But on some level I have a hard time not believing that the big, flashy diamond engagement ring doesn’t say *something.* I feel so bewildered by the whole “big rock” phenomenon. Like I do get the idea of wanting a nice ring as an engagement gift (though I don’t think a woman always needs to be the recipient in hetero pairings — why can’t both parties have an engagement ring?), but I truly don’t understand who would want one of those big, run-of-the-mill diamondy engagement rings.

    If you have an heirloom, okay, or if you design something artistic and original, sure. Even if a ring isn’t howevermanymonths’ salary, if it’s done with artistry and uniqueness that seems way more valuable to me. But this obsession with “the cushion-cut blah blah carats blah blah setting blah blah halo” is so odd — we know diamonds aren’t truly valuable, we know that any Tom Dick or Harry can go to a jeweler and get one of the basic diamond rings. Truly, at the end of the day, what is the appeal in that? And what does that say about one’s priorities — his or hers?

  • Judith

    I’m reminded of the countless instances I put on a fake wedding band just so I would be taken seriously / wouldn’t be flirted with. Ironically, it works like a charm.

  • SR

    An interesting post. While I don’t care what people do/don’t do with their rings/no rings, I do have a problem with the entire trade system of precious stones, and those who choose to ignore evidence and research because they want a pretty thing. Even “conflict-free” labelled diamonds aren’t really conflict free. Most precious minerals (including gold, and silver) that aren’t handed down over time, or recycled, are literally the product of forced labor all over the world. Just a fun PSA for the day! (Extra fun fact- the entire engagement ring tradition was developed by diamond companies).

  • sharon

    When we were on a trip and met another newly engaged couple, my fiancé said to me, show her your ring. I looked over at her hand and she was wearing massive bling compared to my more humble ring. She was classy enough to not compare rings or show off her ring to us. After we were married, we saw my
    husband’s ex-wife socially. She had spontaneously married her long time boyfriend 3 months after our wedding. She came across the room with her arm stretched out to show off her large, flashy ring to me. Again, it seemed like some sort of competition, and yes they have more money than us, but I am more than happy with the ring I have, it was exactly what I wanted, and I feel its a personal choice to each couple.

    • Lauren Ver Hage

      I’m sure your ring is lovely =) You’re right – it is a personal choice that the couple *alone* should feel is right for them. Thank you for sharing your experience here!

  • What an interesting, insightful post! Thank you for sharing, Lauren. My boyfriend and I have been discussing marriage & engagement rings recently. We are a pretty egalitarian couple. I showed him exactly what I wanted (design-wise) and make sure to say, “a center diamond/clear stone vs. “a 2 carat center diamond.” We live together and I know his means and wanted him to know that it’s the design of the ring that matters, not the size of diamond. We also spoke together about the budget for the cost of the ring. We also agreed that the honeymoon would be “my responsibility” since he is paying for the ring. (Which works out great because I’ve gotten very into the credit card points game.) Overall, I feel that we have been very equitable and transparent about the whole thing.

    Of course, I would be lying to say that I don’t want the prettiest/largest stone that he can afford. I do! But given our other goals (home ownership, financial independence, etc) we decided on a sum that was reasonable and I know my ring will be lovely. I do want to like it, since I have to wear it every day.

    I never thought about the stigma that large or small rings can have. My married friend says she thinks being married gains her more respect at her job. She says she feels like older people think she’s on the same level as them.

    At the end of the day, the whole thing is very personal & individual. I appreciate you sharing your experience.

    • Lauren Ver Hage

      Cynthia! I think it’s great how open and honest you and your boyfriend are being about the process of a) deciding to get engaged and selecting a ring b) choosing one that allows you two to accommodate other financial goals and investments. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading this! =)

  • Susan

    I freelance, and as soon as people notice my wedding ring, they often treat me differently. It’s frustrating that a single piece of jewelery can make people think they can ask and comment whatever they want. “Wow, you got married young” always leads to “How many kids do you have?” (Zero by the way). I totally understand not wearing your ring, or feeling self conscious; and it sucks that we have to think of this and deal with what it may or may not say about us, rather than it just saying we’re in love.