Dear Wendy: “Is it Shallow To Want A Unique Engagement Ring?”

I have been dating my boyfriend for three years and we have lived together for two. Recently, we have been talking seriously about getting married, and I’m 99 percent sure he’s planning to propose soon. I decided that what I really want is an antique engagement ring, preferably something one-of-a-kind. I know my boyfriend is the type of man who will more than likely pick out something from the mall jewelry store the day before he plans to propose so I have been dropping hints (maybe too many) that I don’t want a mass manufactured ring that everyone else could get. As a result he recently got angry with me and told me that he was sick of me trying to “pick out my own ring” and now he feels like whatever he gets will not be “good enough for me” because I have so many “dream rings” picked out. I really was just trying to help but now he apparently thinks that I’m shallow. I just feel like if I’m going to be wearing the ring for the rest of my life I want it to be really special. Am I shallow? How do I fix this? — One-of-a-Kind

Let me first say that there is no “right way” to go about selecting an engagement ring. Sometimes the man picks it out on his own, sometimes the couple picks it out together, and sometimes, as was the case with me, the woman may have a family heirloom ring she wants to use. (And sometimes there isn’t even a ring at all, which is also totally fine.) There are different thoughts of opinion on whether an engagement ring constitutes a “gift” (if it’s a gift, do you have to give it back if you break up before the wedding?), and if some people believe it’s a gift, it makes sense that the person giving it would want some control in picking it out.

But like you said, an engagement ring isn’t a typical gift — it’s something you’ll wear everyday for the rest of your life, so it’s not “shallow” at all to want something that will reflect your personal taste and style. It is a little shallow, however, when you become so fixated on what the ring will look like that you lose sight of its meaning. Perhaps that’s the frustration your boyfriend is feeling right now (in addition to the stress and pressure to pick out something you’ll love). And also, let’s be honest, inasmuch as you might be trying to “help” your boyfriend, you really want to make sure you don’t end up with the sort of “mass manufactured” piece of jewelry you’re so afraid of getting stuck with. (There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t pretend you’re being completely altruistic here).

I’m wondering if, like me, you might have a ring in your — or your boyfriend’s — family that fits the “unique and antique” bill while also being sentimental to you too? If there is, either of you could ask permission from your family to use it. You can explain to your boyfriend how meaningful it would be to you to have something that’s not only unique, but also a family heirloom (how can he argue with that?) and then give it to him to size and “give back to you when he’s ready” (those were the words I used with my now-husband and he proposed a week later).

If, however, there isn’t a ring in your family that you’d like to use, you should tell your boyfriend you’re sorry he thinks you’re being shallow, but it’s important to you to have a ring — something you’re going to wear everyday for the rest of your life — that not only symbolizes the love and bond you share, but also your unique personal style. Tell him that since marriage is something you’re going to do together as a team, you think it would be meaningful to pick out your ring together too. This takes the pressure off him to find your “dream ring,” but he may resent not getting to pick out what he may consider a gift to you. Lots of couples pick out engagement rings together, though. But if it’s something that your boyfriend feels terribly uncomfortable with, you’re going to have to decide which is worse: a pouty boyfriend who may resent you for taking away something he’s been looking forward to for a long time, or getting a ring you aren’t in love with. And remember: marriage is all about compromise. If you two have a hard time reaching a peaceful decision on this issue, you need to really think about whether you’re ready to sign on for a lifetime of (much more difficult) decisions together in the future.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]