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Heavy Meddle: We’re Engaged, But He Won’t Buy Me A Ring

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Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to advice@wbur.org. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you'll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

Dear Steve,

How long is too long to have to wait to go engagement ring shopping after the question has been asked and I was told that he wanted me to shop for the ring with him?

Some background: We’ve been dating for five years. Both of us had bad first marriages. His was a shotgun wedding that lasted 18 months. He’s been divorced for more than 25 years. Mine lasted 25 years until I found out my ex was cheating on me.

He proposed in early August and whenever ring shopping has come up he always says that we are too busy...

We were away for a weekend getaway and he told me that he thought it was time we settled down and made things official. He then said he hadn't bought a ring because he wanted us to shop together since he wasn't sure what I would like. He proposed in early August and whenever ring shopping has come up he always says that we are too busy to go right now, or asks if we will have enough time to really look around.

We are planning the wedding and have a couple of tentative dates depending on hall availability, but still no ring. I also want you to know that we are both planning the wedding; he seems more into some of it than I am. I know I have to have a conversation with him about his hesitancy to go shopping, but I keep hoping that he will surprise me with a shopping outing.

PHOTO

Signed,
Molly Ringless

Dear Molly,

Let me tell you a little ring story of my own. I’d been seeing my wife for a couple of years, though she was in California in grad school and I was back in Somerville. We’d talked about getting more seriously involved, but not explicitly about marriage. I went to visit her for the winter vacation of her final year and brought along a ring, intending to pop the question.

That ring remained in my backpack for more than a week as I tried to work up the nerve to ask her. Finally, one day, she started talking about her plans for the next year. She said she hoped to stay in California. The following exchange (or something like it) took place:

Me: I thought you were coming back to Somerville.

Her: Yeah, I’m not going to uproot my life again unless we’re more firmly committed.

Me: Like what? Married? In order for us to get married, you’d have to propose to me.

Her: I’m not going to propose to you if you don’t have a ring.

Is this entirely fair and modern and feminist-approved? No. But then again, life is not fair and modern and feminist-approved.

Me: What makes you think I don’t have a ring?

Her: Alright then: will you marry me?

Me: I don’t know. I need to think about it.

I then hurried into the next room and fetched the ring that had been sitting in my backpack for a week and wrote “yes” on a tiny slip of paper and put it in the box with the ring, which I presented to my betrothed.

What point am I hoping to make here?

That I am an inconsiderate clod? Yes, certainly. But more generally that men are often inconsiderate clods when it comes to the protocols surrounding courtship/marriage/basic emotional functioning. God knows how long I would have dilly dallied around before proposing to my wife … if she hadn’t brought it up directly.

Of course your situation sounds more perplexing. You guys have agreed to get married. You’re into the planning phase. But he keeps avoiding buying you that ring. And that hurts, because the engagement ring is an important symbolic step in the process, especially to women. It’s a public affirmation of your intention to wed, the essential signifier of this commitment. As much as you no doubt appreciate his behind-the-scenes planning efforts, there is something vital in the tradition of a man going out and laying down his cash for that rock. To quote the sage Beyoncé: ’Cause if you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it. What’s more, deep down most women want their men to go out and pick that ring themselves. And then to get on their knees and make a formal request for marriage.

Is this entirely fair and modern and feminist-approved? No. But then again, life is not fair and modern and feminist-approved. It’s still inherently skewed in men’s favor, as is marriage. A little begging on our parts upfront seems to me the least we can do.

So I totally get your desire for him to surprise you. My wife felt the same way. Asking you to go along with him to pick out the ring may be considerate on one level. But on another level — let’s be honest — it’s a cop-out. What’s more, even if his first marriage was a shotgun affair, a man of his age should understand that promising to take a woman ring shopping isn’t something she’s going to take lightly. And the idea that you guys haven’t had time to shop for rings in the past two and a half months sounds a little sketchy to me.

The big lesson here is this: Your fiancé can’t read your mind. Don’t make him.

For what it’s worth, my guess is that your guy doesn’t see ring shopping as that big a deal, given his enthusiastic involvement in the planning of the wedding itself. He may also feel afraid of getting the wrong sort of ring, or conflicted about how much he’s supposed to pay.

So you need to set him straight. The sooner the better. Don’t let this thing fester. Avoid being accusatory. Just tell him how you’re feeling: a little disappointed, a little confused. It may be that the ring shopping thing raises other issues for him, consciously or unconsciously. But better to find out about these and work through them now.

The big lesson here is this: Your fiancé can’t read your mind. Don’t make him. You guys have both been through a failed marriage. If this one is going to succeed, it has to be built on a foundation of direct, honest communication.

Good luck and mazel tov,

Steve

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

This program aired on November 11, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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