Traditionally, proposals are marked by engagement rings, which symbolise love and commitment. But how exactly do we think and feel about engagement rings? Why does this tradition exist? And how can your understanding of psychology lead you to purchase a better engagement ring for your significant other?
The psychology of engagement rings
We’ll start by looking at some of the most important psychological concepts related to engagement rings. What is the purpose of an engagement ring, and how do people see these items?
- A promise to follow through. Historically, engagement rings have represented a promise to follow through on a relationship. One partner purchases an engagement ring for the other, spending thousands of dollars because they’re serious about spending the rest of their lives together. If they only gave their word, the promise would be cheapened. Obviously, it would help if you trusted your partner enough to take their word at face value, but a ring packs a much more substantial punch.
- Safety and security. Engagement rings also symbolise safety and security. These rings are designed to last forever, with gemstones that can last for thousands of years if cared for properly. An engagement ring made from thin plastic or similarly cheap materials will degrade or fall apart relatively quickly – and as humans, we can’t help but note the symbolism here.
- Unique love embodied. Many people seek unique engagement rings because they want to capture the unique spirit of this relationship. Whether you go the traditional route and look for a diamond engagement ring or you seek an alternative gemstone, you’ll probably gravitate toward rings that somehow embody the unique love you feel for each other.
- Reminders and memory. It’s also important to acknowledge engagement rings as a locus of memory, and a reminder that this love exists. If your partner wears this engagement ring on their finger all day, every day, they’re going to see it constantly and be reminded of your relationship.
Of course, these are generalisations. Different cultures have different views on marriage and partnership; in some cultures, engagement rings aren’t even a thing.
More importantly, the perception of an engagement ring is going to depend heavily on who’s viewing it. Each individual has unique perspectives, values, and memories that lead them to view identical items in different ways. An engagement ring that looks glamorous, powerful, and reliable to one person might look gauche or unnecessarily gaudy to another. One person may think of an engagement ring as a truly powerful symbol of love, while another person thinks of it as a materialistic and frivolous waste of money. Keep this in mind when shopping for your engagement ring.
So how can you use these psychological concepts to shop for a better engagement ring?
- Take psychology and tradition with a grain of salt. Engagement rings became a tradition in part because of a marketing campaign. With a surplus of diamonds and an ambitious desire to sell more of them, diamond companies began marketing engagement rings as the ultimate symbol of love. It’s no coincidence that they became such an entrenched tradition – or that we have come to think of engagement rings in these psychological terms. Accordingly, it’s important to take the psychology and traditions of engagement rings with a grain of salt. Just because an engagement ring is supposed to look a certain way or function a certain way doesn’t mean it has to; this is your love, your relationship, and your values at stake. Don’t let historical habits or projections from other people dictate your decisions.
- Start by understanding your partner. If you’re not sure where to start when shopping for an engagement ring, focus on what you know about your partner and about your relationship. What types of rings or jewellery have they worn in the past? Are there any special gemstones or styles that stand out to them?
- Attempt to symbolise your love. Your engagement ring is going to symbolise your love and your relationship, so keep this in mind when shopping around. How would you characterise your love and your relationship?
- Invest in the ring; one way or another. You should always invest in the ring, one way or another. If you have disposable income, buy the best ring you can afford. If you’re on a thin budget, spend extra time looking for the perfect unique ring. Thought and consideration can be just as valuable as money, if not more so.
For the most part, you shouldn’t overthink the process of shopping for and buying an engagement ring. There are no hard rules for what type of engagement ring you should buy, and what looks beautiful to one person might look ugly to the next. As long as you put in a genuine effort to find an engagement ring your partner will genuinely love, they’ll appreciate whatever you select.
Zuella Montemayor did her degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.