Why I Gave My Male Fiance An Engagement Ring
Let the record show: I am firmly pro-engagement rings for anyone who wants ‘em —and that includes men as well as women. As a straight woman who got engaged recently, I’ve got some skin in the game: I gave my newly-minted fiancé a ring, too. Spoiler—it’s been awesome.
How many men in the U.S. wear engagement rings? It's not totally clear. A 2014 survey put the rate at about five percent, and the media reaction to actor Skylar Astin wearing one showed that people still find the idea of a heterosexual man with an engagement ring surprising. Based on my own recent experience, I think it’s high time more men consider it as an option.
American tradition dictates that only the woman in an engaged couple wears a ring, preferably a diamond, preferably presented to her as a surprise. (Tradition also dictates that there be one man and one woman per engaged couple, though thankfully that one’s on its way out.) This has never made sense to me. In fact, it has seemed profoundly unfair and more than a little sexist.
Why does the woman get marked as "off the market" while the man doesn’t? It puts all the control in the hands of the man, and all of the attention and judgment on the ring finger of the woman. It also assumes that all women want to wear engagement rings, and all men don’t.
In this day and age, an engagement is not just something a man initiates and a woman gratefully seizes. It’s two people, both full participants in their relationship, publicly committing to each other for the long haul. What better way to show that than by having both partners wear rings?
That’s the theory. Now my fiancé and I are putting it into practice. It’s been even better than we expected, and here’s why:
1. It’s Great Practice For The Real Thing
I’ve been wearing rings on a daily basis for years. My fiancé hasn’t—and he was pretty nervous about wearing a ring for the rest of his life! He peppered me with questions: Am I really supposed to wear it 24/7? What happens when you wash your hands? What about typing? Showering? Swimming? Dancing? Sleeping? Having an engagement ring lets him answer those questions for himself, without the pressure of it being The Wedding Ring He Must Wear Forever. He calls it his “practice ring,” which I actually love.
2. We Both Got To Go Ring Shopping
With two rings to shop for, neither of us had to miss out. There’s a nasty cultural message around opposite-sex weddings: it’s the woman’s show, and the man is passively—even unwillingly—along for the ride. Initially I bought into it, assuming my fiancé was just humoring me as I dragged him around to jewelry stores. But it turns out he was having a great time! He got to figure out his taste and style in jewelry while I indulged my love of sparkly things. It was also interesting to see how salespeople reacted when we said we were shopping for two engagement rings. (My favorite reaction: “Awesome!”)
3. We Could Have Some Fun With The Design
We intend our wedding rings to last a lifetime. They’ll be sturdy, simple, lightweight, and easy to resize. In other words, kinda boring! It’d be a bit of a bummer if that was the only ring my fiancé ever got to design or wear. By contrast, we felt no need to make our engagement rings lasting or permanent. That meant he could get creative and consider “impractical” design elements, like fancy finishes or less-hard stones—both of which ended up in his ring!
4. It Reminds Us We’re On Equal Footing
We’re equal partners in our relationship, and having two engagement rings is absolutely in keeping with that. Our dynamic has felt natural and right from the moment we met. But being in a committed relationship also means navigating issues of money, careers, health, housework, family, sex, and more. We do a lot of work to keep the balance of power in our relationship…well, balanced. Whenever we steal a glance at each other’s rings—which we do a lot—it’s a reminder that we’re truly in this together.
5. We Got A Little Bit Of Tradition Without Being Boxed In
If this experience has taught me anything, it’s that engagement traditions endure for a reason. This is a big hairy life step, and it’s comforting to have a road map for how things are supposed to go. We could have thrown the map out the window and skipped engagement rings altogether, but that didn’t feel right for us. So we chose the elements that we liked, and adapted them: we bought each other’s rings, and we each proposed on bended knee. It was a little traditional, a little not, and it worked beautifully for us.
You might not see a man wearing an engagement ring in jewelry ads, but it’s an idea worth exploring. And for me and my guy, it’s working out great so far.
Images: Zoe Fenson