My Boyfriend Wants to Marry Me But Doesn’t Want to Buy an Engagement Ring.

My Boyfriend Wants to Marry Me But Doesn’t Want to Buy an Engagement Ring

I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost 2 years. We were both married and divorced in our 20’s and are now in our mid-30s. We’ve lived together for the last 6 months and it’s been great. We’ve been talking about our future and wanting to start a family before it’s too late. We’re both reasonably frugal and have no desire to spend a fortune on a second wedding. He mentioned getting ring tattoos (not something I would do) and seemed surprised that I would want an engagement ring since I’m not that into jewelry or flash. I feel like an engagement ring is an important symbol and I’m hurt that he seems like he doesn’t want to get me one. He agreed to go looking, but I felt his reluctance and I’m dreading going now or bringing it up again.

I know his ex-wife was demanding and required a big rock and then she cheated on him less than a year into the marriage…I get that making another investment like that must bring up bad memories, but I also want to feel excited and secure knowing that he wants to marry me. He makes close to 100K, so is my wanting a less than $5k ring unreasonable? Can a guy really want to marry a woman and not want to buy a ring? I’m worried that I may be confusing his not wanting to spend money on a ring with him not thinking I’m worth it. And I’m left wondering: should the man have to buy an engagement ring if his girlfriend wants it, or should he tell her his budget and if she wants something beyond his means she can pay half?


The last blog question was about empathy. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Seeing how it feels. Gaining a sense of perspective outside yourself.

I’ll be the first to tell you that women, in general, are more empathetic than men. They are sensitive to subtlety and nuance. They don’t want to hurt each others’ feelings. They are supportive (often blindly supportive) of friends, loved ones and boyfriends. Except when it comes to money. When it comes to money, there’s this huge honking blind spot that I honestly can’t explain.

I’ve written extensively about money but I’m still left with this odd double-standard:

Women and men are equal. They should have equal opportunity and equal pay. They should do equal amounts of housework and child rearing. Except men should make more money, pay for all the dates, and want to spend a disproportionate amount of his money compared to what she spends.

Chivalry is a nice concept that descends from a time before women made their own money, but still. It’s nice to have a guy take care of you.

Emotionally, that may make sense to you. Chivalry is a nice concept that descends from a time before women made their own money, but still. It’s nice to have a guy take care of you. And hell, I tell men that it’s in their best interests to be chivalrous and to pick up the check during the early phases of dating.

But what we’re talking about is past that. We’re talking about a man spending a percentage of his yearly salary on a shiny trinket — a token that you are equating with how much he loves you. You’re both frugal divorcees in your mid-30’s — he, in particular, has a checkered history with golddiggers — and here you are, actually wondering out loud if his reticence to buy a ring is somehow emblematic of whether you’re “worth it”? Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

So let’s flip it around and turn this into the gender-blind exercise it should be:

Man tells you after two great years together that you have to buy him a $5000 flatscreen TV.

You balk. It seems a bit superfluous. He already has a TV. It works perfectly fine. Why does he need a new one? “Because of what it symbolizes,” he replies. “To whom,” you ask. After all, you’ve had a perfectly good relationship for all this time and you’re openly planning to get married and start a family. Why in God’s name would this guy need a TV from you? He explains:

“Because it shows me that you love me.”
“Because it shows the world how much you value me.”
“Because it lets me know that you’re excited about me.”
“Because it makes me feel secure knowing that you’re not leaving me.”

You’re taken aback. You slowly explain to him that you DO love him, you DO value him, you ARE excited about him, you’re NOT leaving him — that’s why you want to get married. You just don’t see why he needs a big fancy television. Your boyfriend just shrugs and tells you that it’s just how he feels.

Ultimately, it’s about having this conversation with your boyfriend, and instead of trying to negotiate for a ring, attempting to understand and validate HIS feelings about why he’s not feeling it.

Listen, Kelly, despite the role reversal, believe it or not, I’m sympathetic to your dilemma. It is commonplace for men to buy diamond rings. There is a whole wedding industrial complex around convincing men to spring for jewelry and women to spring for dresses they’ll only wear once.

So while it’s not “wrong” for you to want a diamond to wear that symbolizes your relationship, you have to look internally to figure out why you want it. It’s certainly not because you need proof that your boyfriend loves you; I’d guess it’s because you need external validation. You know he’s not going anywhere, but you want everyone else to know it, too. And just as it’s not wrong” for you to desire a ring in a society that places a premium on such commodities, it’s not “wrong” for a frugal divorcee to want to minimize his costs for this largely symbolic gesture when there are far better things one can invest $5000 in — like an index fund for your retirement or a 529 plan for your future baby.

Ultimately, it’s about having this conversation with your boyfriend, and instead of trying to negotiate for a ring, attempting to understand and validate HIS feelings about why he’s not feeling it. From there, you can come to a mutually agreeable compromise. But it doesn’t start until you’ve owned why you want a ring so bad and accepted he isn’t inherently wrong or selfish for not seeing eye to eye with you.

By the way if he were writing me this letter — he tells me he’s worried that he has another golddigging wife on his hands – I would offer similar advice in reverse. I’d tell him not to judge you for wanting a ring and attempt to understand the meaning behind your insecurity, before arriving at a fair point where you feel he’s invested in your marriage and he doesn’t have to break the bank to “prove” it to you.

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  1. 61

    It’s not an easy topic. I’m also quite frugal and I do not see the point in spending $5,000 on a piece of bling. Even $1,000 is too much, even if the makes plenty of money. Maybe if he made millions a year, my attitude would be a bit different… but it seems unnecessary to me. However, I can completely relate with the feeling of him thinking I’m not enough if he’s unwilling to spend the money… I would rather be the one saying “please don’t spend too much on a ring” than be hearing “I don’t want to spend much.” – I’d honestly be happy with $100 ring. I see no value in diamonds… we’re conditioned to want diamonds, and they haven’t even been the official symbol of engagement for that long. AND I can still relate to the feeling of fear that he doesn’t think I’m “worth” it. That’s something to talk with him about… sharing your feelings and your fears opens up the conversation and will help him validate your concerns… to the point where you might also come to agree that $5,000 on a shiny piece of coal is not going to do much for your life… instead, spend that $5,o00 on a couple’s retreat, a course or some other valuable experience that will bond the two of you and create valuable personal growth and memories.

  2. 62

    A ring on the finger is something people look for when trying to determine if an individual is single or not. This guy doesn’t want to get her a ring at all, since it sounds like the ring tattoos were in place of a wedding band. She said less than 5k, not I want a 5k ring  (“so is my wanting a less than $5k ring unreasonable”).  A guy can’t spring for a $100 (or cheaper) ring from etsy?  This guy either thinks she’s undesirable enough that guys won’t hit on her  or plain doesn’t care. I don’t care about engagement rings, but if a guy didn’t even want wedding bands, I’d have an issue with that.

  3. 63

    Why not get cubic zirconia?   Most people can’t tell the difference, it wouldn’t cost much and she would have her ring.

  4. 64

    The post was interesting and I sincerely hope that LW & her man were able to come to an amicable solution. The comment section took me a while to wade through and I feel it was worth it. I got an eyeful of viewpoints I hadn’t thought much about before. It was illuminating.

    I’ve never been married and I’m not a huge fan of engagement rings, wedding bands or ceremonies. Nothing against them (I’ve been to some lovely ones), they’re just not my thing in general. If my future partner is dead keen on those sorts of things then I guess we’ll talk about it when it comes to that, but I’d just be happy registering a marriage with someone who loves me, is faithful to me, respects me, has a kind and respectful nature and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.

  5. 65

    My boyfriend didn’t buy me an engagement ring too. I have been actually waiting too for five years! Although we do talk about settling down. Everytime we have extra money, we invest it to something else we think are more important. We were able to buy a house and a second hand car on our 4th year in the relationship. Whenever I feel sad about not getting an engagement ring, i just remind myself of the other more important things we’ve purchased. Just last month, he asked me to go out and buy wedding rings. He didn’t know my size that’s why he asked me to join. And he wanted me to choose the style of our ring. We are planning to get married next month 🙂

    Maybe for your guy, engagement ring is not that important if you know for sure you will settle down. Just trust him and appreciate the other things the two of you share together and don’t focus too much on what’s missing.


  6. 66

    First time reader.

    I sympathize with her boyfriend and understand the analogy of the TV. However, TV is not the same as a ring. Rings have history and have been around longer.

    Making $100,000 per year is a lot of money. Expecting $5,000 is very reasonable. A ring has a deeper symbol for a woman. It carries a lot of weight.

    Perhaps your reader approached it incorrectly by placing a number of it which is a trigger for the boyfriend based on past relationships. It sounds like he has unresolved relationships + money issues. I would not want to proceed to have a future unless it was dealt with PRIOR to a marriage commitment, never mind the ring. Why? Because I’d feel like he’d be suspicious and/or paranoid about financial investments for the fear of another divorce and taking “his” money.

    Men who have not been scarred normally don’t have any qualms about getting rings. I’ve heard of men who made half as much as yet proceeded to save a modest amount because it made their wife to-be happy.

    Furthermore, women tend to spend more money on themselves as an investment for men.

    Women are expected to be educated, have good jobs, good bodies, good clothes, good hair, good makeup…etc. and this doesn’t come cheap.

    I don’t see many men at salons getting a manicure/pedicure, dying their hair, or waxing. I also don’t see a lot of men buying much clothes.

    Women also like jewelry. So if this woman is frugal and doesn’t expect a lavish wedding like a lot of women dream about, he should be so lucky. Asking for a $5,000 is not a big deal.

    Also, women still earn about 75 cents to a dollar.


  7. 67

    I also wanted to add to my previous post, how about this analogy:

    Let’s say she had a child with a previous partner. Her current one really wants to be a father and have a family. Should she say: sorry, but I don’t think I can give you another child because my previous partner divorced me and now we have to share custody of the kid?


  8. 68

    Maybe you’re just ungrateful? You know some people can’t even buy food right? Typical I deserve everything and can’t live with out an iphone person.

  9. 69

    I’m a wedding photographer, and I can assure you that the days of parents paying for weddings are long gone.. I’ve photographed over 250 weddings over the last 10 years and helped other photographers with probably another 100 or so and I can tell you that I can name less than 20 (10 %) of couples have parents help them out..


    In fact these days people don’t even give wedding gifts anymore. If the bride and groom are lucky they get an envelope with money inside their wishing well, but many people don’t contribute to that..


    I can also tell you as a photographer photographs of the rings are given a HUGE importance..

    I have been in the situation more than once where I was engaged and did not have a ring, and was constantly the subject of other peoples ‘oh well you aren’t really engaged if you don’t have a ring’ comments.. it’s very hurtful and difficult to deal with.


    Equality? Sorry I disagree. A baby comes out of the womans body, and I doubt science will ever change that.. That means the man has to be able to support her and the baby in the event that she is unable to work during pregnancy, and perhaps they don’t want to leave their new baby in the hands of strangers while she goes to work.


    I disagree with people who say that the engagement ring is a newer tradition. It goes back to the biblical days where the man had to pay a dowry for the bride to show that he was serious.

  10. 70

    I see both sides.   But, wow.   Is this what we’re coming too? Lol.   A man can’t even spend $5-10k on a diamond ring for his future wife to wear as a symbol of their commitment for the rest of her life? And even pass it down to either one of their children? I think in the long run, it’s a very small price to pay.

    If my man wanted a $5,000.00 tv and it’s been in society’s tradition to do so, to show my love and commitment, well hell, baby, are you sure you don’t want the $10,000.00 one instead? It has all the bells and whistles and you deserve it, and… so do I!

    There’s nothing wrong with a woman wanting an engagement ring.   It’s not that big of a financial hit.   Finance it, put half down, the rest on a low interest payment plan for goodness sakes! women do and sacrifice a lot for our men and children, it’s a romantic, generous, loving gesture and she’ll feel appreciated, valued and secure.

    My boyfriend was telling me for two years he’s been wanting to get engaged, and it’s now 2.5 years.   We’re both in our 40’s with older kids.   We both have expenses.   He has the $$ to buy a ring but is now saying he has more important things he should spend his money on.   In some ways, I agree.   However, as a woman it upset me when he said that.   Because he spends money on other stuff but, not on a ring.   It’s a disappointing situation.   Women see the excitement and value in a ring, and I guess some men just don’t get it.   When we look around and see other women with decent rings on their finger, and we don’t have one on ours, we feel a little crushed inside.   ‘Why don’t I deserve to have one?.’ It may sound silly, but it’s the equivalent of men and their ‘toys’.


    1. 70.1

      Hm, while I don’t (and probably don’t have the ability to?) get sucked into the social status games a lot of women engage in, and don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about marriage aside from “sometimes it makes sense, sometimes not”:

      When my ex-husband and I decided to get married in 1997, he had just gotten his first programming job after his postdoc and I was still in grad school with a few fellowships but had also begun moonlighting writing music and at an entertainment company.   (Neither of us was getting much sleep at the time but it didn’t matter, it was exciting and we were both happy 🙂 )   We were at a point where we both wanted to buy a house, but thanks to the (admittedly well-funded) years we’d spent in academia, each of us had only between $15K and 20K in savings.   His parents wanted to help by putting $10K toward a down payment since there was no way in hell we wanted an expensive wedding (we ended up announcing the exact wedding date 18 days in advance, inviting 12 people, and paying <$500 for exactly the wedding we wanted, which included music from Star Wars).   The kind of house we felt would work well for us required about a $50K down payment, something we could do if we completely depleted our resources and lived frugally for the next year or so (it took us a year to feel comfortable buying living room furniture and a W/D, for instance).   I told him, bluntly and proactively, that I thought the symbolism of an engagement ring for me was pretty stupid compared to the prospect of us owning our first home… TOGETHER.   So we went ahead with the house and never regretted it.   2 years later when we moved to another city, the house was on the market for ONE DAY, we got three offers, and the top bid (which we took) was for nearly double the price we’d originally paid.   Once our buyer’s agent departed and we sat there recovering from the shock, my ex thanked me profusely for having taken the initiative to think about our long-term success as a team rather than being focused on a status symbol.


      (It’s sad that we didn’t make it as a couple in the long term but both of us are still good friends and thrilled we spent the years together that we did because most of them were pretty awesome.)


      Obviously each person is in a slightly different place in their life and has different values, personal symbolism, and sensitivity to status symbols and social competition games… and the conclusion I came to is not necessarily right for every woman/couple.   However, I agree, it’s good idea to take a long, hard look at why it is you want a ring and whether you’re putting your own self-interest too far ahead of the happiness and well-being of you AND your spouse-to-be as a team.   (As should he.)

  11. 71

    My husband and I got engaged in the 80s, and we made decent money. We bought me a $5K engagement ring, because that felt like the right thing to do, and the stone was beautiful, just over a carat. But we put it on a joint credit card, and since we pooled our income into one joint checking account, I guess I paid for some of it!

    I don’t regret it. It was my first (and only) marriage. I might have felt differently if it weren’t. It’s the only jewelry I wear.

  12. 72
    Susan Davis

    My husband refused to buy me a ring.   He wanted a fabulous honeymoon.   So that is what he did and it was a total surprise. So I bought a CZ and hated it.   Why?   Because when you get married both of you should listen to each other and try to help each other achieve mutual happiness when you reach a decision.    Forty six years later and we have done so many fun exciting things.   But yes I regret not fighting for that ring.   It has been the fly in the ointment so to speak.   I just wanted him to want what I wanted more than what he wanted.   It isn’t the money because you always can make more!   It is the love and consideration for the person you will be with for the rest of your lives, and in the scope of things, is a tiny but important consideration for how you will make all the decisions with   your special someone more than love for your self.   That is what this discussion should be about.   Anyway that is how I see it.

  13. 73

    Save the money for the divorce attorneys. Any woman that wants an engagement ring is a gold-digger. Wedding rings are a different story.

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