Getting engaged this Christmas? A ring does not a marriage make
SAN DIEGO, December 21, 2012 ― According to the United States Census, 2.6 million Americans get married every year. One in four marriage proposals take place during the Christmas holidays.
Recently I ran across a magazine article gushing about the biggest celebrity engagement rings. It’s utterly ridiculous stuff to me. But articles like this and marketing messages about what you are “supposed” to spend on an engagement ring do real damage to relationships by setting up unrealistic expectations.
In an attempt to bring some common sense into the discussion, let a divorce attorney who know more than a little about what makes a marriage work offer some advice to those couples who might find themselves newly engaged by the time 2013 rolls around.
Brides to be, you may be dreaming of a marriage proposal under the mistletoe. You think it will be the best moment of your life. Maybe it will… but only if you have your head on straight about what makes a marriage successful.
It’s not The Ring.
More than 80% of American brides-to-be receive a diamond engagement ring. The average cost is $3,200. It is thought that the surge in sales of engagement rings is due to advertising campaigns by the De Beers company starting in the 1930s after the discovery of large diamond mines in South Africa which brought prices of diamonds down.
The truth is actually rooted in legal history. According to legal scholar Margaret Brinig, ring sales started rising before the De Beers campaign. Until the 1930s, a woman jilted by her fiancé could sue in court for financial compensation for “damage” to her reputation under what was known as the “Breach of Promise to Marry” action. But courts started rejecting such lawsuits as archaic.
So women started looking for some substitute way to guarantee the groom’s financial commitment to actually going through with the wedding. Brinig points out that many women lost their virginity after they became engaged, but before getting married. So to protect themselves from becoming “damaged goods” and assure their fiancé wasn’t proposing just to get them to sleep with him, a pricey engagement ring became the price a man paid for a woman’s virginity. This way, in the event she got jilted, she had something worth about the same as a legal judgment. Call it a marriage insurance policy.
This still holds over in modern law today. If a groom abandons a bride, she is entitled to keep the ring. But if the bride leaves the groom, she has to return the ring.
Knowing this, what modern bride would demand a big engagement ring as “payment” for getting married? Virginity no longer defines your reputation or your worth as a human being these days. Most women hope their marriage will be a partnership of equals, based on trust and mutual respect. Demanding that a partner put out a quarter of a year’s income as “proof” of true love seems a little silly in this light, doesn’t it?
I personally detest it when a woman says she is waiting for the engagement ring to consider herself “engaged.” You are either in a committed relationship, or you’re not. A piece of metal with a stone on it of a certain size is no guarantee of anything. If a ring is going to cause a financial hardship, interest payments, delay repayment of student loans or cause a couple to put off buying a home together or investment in retirement accounts, it’s absolutely not worth it. Getting off on a sound financial footing together in your marriage is a far better predictor of long term marriage success.
Back to that magazine article I was reading. Look at how “successful” some of these marriages turned out to be after the exchange of an eye-popping engagement ring. Exhibit number one: Kim Kardashian, whose marriage lasted all of 72 days last year after receiving a 20.5 carat diamond engagement ring from basketball player Kris Humphries. Paris Latsis gave Paris Hilton a 24-carat engagement ring in 2005. They broke up four months later. At least she had the decency to return the ring. Singer Christina Aguilera showed off a 20-carat engagement ring from Jordan Bratman in 2005, but five years later, the pair called it quits.
In my experience as a divorce attorney, an expensive engagement ring becomes one more thing to argue over in your divorce. If you are in a relationship that is going to last, you don’t need a ring. What isn’t negotiable and what can’t be bought at any price is trust and communication.
It’s unwise to begin a lifetime together this way without a discussion. If you aren’t talking openly about these issues, you’ve got problems brewing. Marriage is difficult enough and this puts any couple at a disadvantage.
It should seem obvious: a big Kim Kardashian sized ring is no guarantee your marriage will last. If superficial consumerism is central to your personal values, you’re in big trouble from the start.
So to the gals, please let your poor guy off the hook. The size of the rock on your finger in no way relates to his lasting affection for you. When he shows you he cares about you and plans to stick around in all the little ways that count, you’ll have something worth more than any so-called priceless stone and even more unbreakable.