Engagement rings. A tradition that is believed to date back as far as ancient Rome, the conventionally diamond pieces of jewellery are now a bit of a bone of contention. How much should you spend? Should both halves of a couple wear one? And more importantly, is what you spend an indicator of how much you love your partner?
Some people have decided to swap engagement rings for something a little less traditional. While some opt to avoid jewellery, others have taken the ring concept to new heights, etching a band on their fingers for eternity. Others still have gone inventive with necklaces, shoes and swords.
Here several young couples tell us how they’re updating the notion of the engagement ring.
"The proposal was quite a funny story. I’d been planning it for a while and had booked an appointment with my tattoo artist friend in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was going to propose in a local beer garden. On the morning of the proposal, my partner Ashley said she was too tired to go out (we had recently adopted a puppy) but I ended up convincing her. The weather took a turn for the worse so in the car, I blurted out: 'Do you want to get married? I made a tattoo appointment and it’s in one hour.'
We decided to get tattoos because neither of us is overly into jewellery and Ashley is a physiotherapist so a ring would interfere with her work. Regardless of whether we’re together forever, we both have reminders of one another permanently etched on our bodies. As much as we were cool with a non-traditional ring, we still wanted to show off our ‘diamond rings’ so the tattoo design was a simple diamond.
Our friends and family loved the idea but Ashley sometimes struggles, working with older people who find the tattoo ‘unprofessional’. We have never been a traditional couple and spending money on a ring neither of us would wear just wasn’t worth it."
Make sure you know why you want a ring. What does a ring really symbolise to you?
"We’d been talking about the concept of marriage for a long time, but had some issues with the way things are traditionally handled. One of those was the engagement ring. We wanted to do something a little different so, lo and behold, in April 2017, I opened the door of our apartment to find my boyfriend surrounded by candles, flowers and wine. He got down on one knee and presented me with a 28-inch tempered steel Japanese sword in a blood-red scabbard.
I’ve always loved fantasy books and often refer to myself as a warrior. The sword makes me feel stronger and more powerful, rather than prettier or owned.
Most of my friends and family know me well enough that it didn’t shock them too much. The reaction outside my close connections was more along the lines of 'but you want a ring too, right?'
It’s worth understanding the foundation of traditions and deciding if you want to participate in that system. Make sure you know why you want a ring. Is it because that’s what everyone else does? What does a ring really symbolise to you?
"He surprised me for my birthday and took me to Panama Beach in Florida. The morning after, we walked on the beach where he wrote 'Will you marry me?' in the sand. I thought he was joking but then he said: 'The second part of your surprise is we’re going to get you an engagement tattoo.' I was so shocked and excited.
Why a tattoo? I’m terrible with keeping up with jewellery. Almost every ring I’ve had, I’ve lost so I told him a while back that I didn’t want to do the traditional thing of getting rings when I got married. We also think it’s a waste of money and not as sentimental. A tattoo is there forever and shows our commitment to one another. I chose to get our engagement date in Roman numerals. A lot of people get a band design similar to a ring but I wanted it to stand out and be a little mystical too.
It’s hard to explain to family and friends that I don’t have a ring because it is something they expect to see to confirm an engagement. My mum and dad were more understanding than my grandparents.
With a tattoo, there’s thought; a rhyme and reason. With a ring, it’s all about what it looks like, how much it cost, if it’s real… If the marriage doesn’t work out, it becomes just another object."
"My husband proposed to me on Christmas morning in 2016. With no ring. I’d already expressed that my ring from my first marriage had made me feel really uncomfortable after a while. It was beautiful and expensive and I was banging it around in my fitness job.
We live in the Canadian Rockies so the next day, he wanted to get me a new pair of ski touring boots costing around £570. He told me since he didn’t have to buy a ring, that would be my gift instead. I was stoked because they were way more of a practical gift than a ring. The two of us would rather spend money on good gear or use it to go on a sweet trip.
My family and close friends weren’t shocked. They knew my feelings about not spending tons of money on things like that. Our wedding took place two weeks later in our living room and we aired it on Facebook live for everybody that couldn’t come.
I know that the ring signifies eternal love. I had been excited to get a ring when I was proposed to by my first husband, but I was also 24 years old then. I’ve seen so many people get carried away with the ‘how much he spends on a ring is equal to how much he loves her’ narrative.
"When Tyler and I met two years ago, we immediately bonded over a love of weed. Together, we faced homelessness and weed got us through the toughest times. He knew I hated rings because I had a huge circulation problem – not to mention I lose things faster than the average human. We were cleaning out my mum’s house when we stopped for a smoke break. He took the bowl of weed and said: 'Leticia, will you marry me?' I was like: 'A proposal with weed – very classy.'
We discussed the option of a ring tattoo and decided we wanted to take it one step further. What’s more commitment than a face tattoo? We couldn’t think of anything cooler and plan on adding smaller hearts for each of our future kids.
My family hate it. They’re very progressive but don’t like tattoos so this is probably one of the worst tattoos I could get. But I’m not a fan of engagement rings at all. I used to be a lot larger so rings would get stuck. It gave me crazy anxiety. And I don’t support the diamond industry so a diamond is out of the question.
People have told us it won’t last but I wouldn’t have gotten a matching face tattoo with someone I didn’t plan on being with forever."
"Tom and I got together when I was 15 and he was 17. In 2012, I had just moved to Melbourne for university. He came to visit me one weekend and on my bed, left a red rose and a note that said: 'Be dressed formal and ready to be picked up at 6pm tonight.' At 6pm, he took me to the most beautiful restaurant then to a suite at the Marriott Hotel, filled with candles and a box with a shiny ring. Over the years, I’d heard him talk about his dream watch. Tom isn’t someone who would spend lots of money on something for himself. When we got engaged, I decided to buy it for him. I knew I didn’t owe him anything but I wanted him to have something special.
I come from a family of strong, educated and assertive women so traditions aren’t concrete. Traditions are only as special as what they mean to you. Having an engagement ring or a watch doesn’t make your marriage work; it’s your intention behind it. I don’t even wear my wedding and engagement rings anymore because of eczema so instead I have a small heart tattoo on the side of my ring finger with Tom’s initials."
I think I cried for about 30 minutes before I said yes
"My partner proposed to me on New Year’s Eve with a necklace. It’s actually a replica of an engagement necklace given to a character in a video game (we’re both gamers). It has a ring on it, but it’s a bit too small to wear on my finger. I am considering getting it resized for the times when I’d be afraid to lose the necklace.
The necklace itself is so sentimental to me and I could tell he put a lot of thought into what would be a good fit for me as an individual, as opposed to just a pretty rock. I think I cried for about 30 minutes before I said yes.
I’m not really into big flashy things for the sake of having them. It could have been a simple silver band and I would have loved it all the same. My mum thinks the necklace is beautiful and so does his sister. I think they were a little confused when they realised I wouldn’t be wearing it on my finger, but they were enchanted by the necklace and its meaning all the same.
I know everyone is different, and there’s nothing wrong with traditional rings, but it’s really hard for me to justify spending hundreds on a rock."
"My partner did propose with a ring; his mum’s wedding set that his dad custom-made for her. It meant a lot because his dad had passed away. We obviously talked about marriage before he proposed and we threw around the idea of getting tattoo rings. So the night he proposed (at 3am), we decided we should go and get tattoos done the next day, and that we just wanted a simple black band.
When it came to wedding rings, I wanted my dream ring. I love the idea of traditional rings. I think it’s all a personal preference; it’s nice to take the rings off but always have something there no matter what. For us, the tattoo signifies what marriage means. Even if you’re mad at each other and strip everything away, the tattoo will always be there. I’m sure some people think it’s a little too much and ‘what if?' but when you know, you know. I don’t ever regret getting the tattoo and my husband can say the same."
"I would never have met Marjorie if it wasn’t for my dream to be in Rio 2016. So Marj chose to propose at the Olympics with a yellow ribbon. It wasn’t so much of a conscious choice, but rather what was on hand at the time. She’d been working like crazy so she hadn’t had time to buy something symbolic.
We’d had a few conversations about our ring preferences (specifically our tight budget and the fact I can’t wear a ring when playing rugby). Moments before the proposal, Marj realised everyone would be expecting a ring, and she had nothing. At that moment, [Australian rugby player] Charlotte Caslick was giving an interview and one of her hair ribbons fell out. Marj was so nervous she had trouble tying it.
Engagement rings are a big part of Brazilian culture. Without one, it doesn’t really seal the deal. But we never got real engagement rings; I ended up using one of Marjorie’s (the only one that fit over my knuckle).
We don’t think of them as such a big deal as it’s the act of getting engaged that means a lot. But we acknowledge that wearing a wedding band as a lesbian couple is a conscious act of LGBT visibility, to show other couples that they can feel included in this tradition, however they choose to celebrate their relationship."