Reconciling reality and desire for a nice engagement ring
Q: I am an independent woman. I have a graduate degree and a career in scientific research. I was raised to be financially independent, and, as such, I have some savings and investments and retirement savings. My boyfriend, however, has some debt (he's on his way to paying it off within the next one or two years), and a substantially lower earning potential than I.
We are talking about getting married. I have always said that I would rather put money down on a house than spend $20,000 on a wedding, and that I can't imagine having something worth $5,000 on my ring finger.
So why do I really want that pretty ring? There are many logical parts of me that think an engagement ring is silly. The financial standing of my S.O. is one concern (I guess I would be better able to justify such a lavish gift if my S.O. were more well-off — but isn't that a double standard, too?). The feminist idea that getting a ring is just a patriarchal invention. The practical idea that spending even $5,000 is exorbitant for a ring. The fact that I would want to marry my S.O. for his innumerable good qualities — even if I never got a ring!
But a part of me still wants one. Does this make me a shallow person?
A: Being sane doesn't require that you banish every last trace of every last mad thought you've ever had. I want a pretty ring, too. You can also want designer shoes that aren't on sale, and the smooth ride of a luxury car, and a taste of nice champagne every evening, and whatever else stood as a symbol of the good life as you were growing up, without being a shallow, materialistic monster. Those images and desires are always hard to shake completely.
What matters is that you keep these yearnings in perspective relative to your own grownup priorities. That way you don't find yourself surrounded by silly things at the expense of what you really value.
Fortunately, that still leaves you room to indulge someday if you find yourself with the means to. No one said your only chance to have a pretty ring is now, and at your beloved's expense.
Don't be overly wowed
by worldly goods
Q: As regards the ring:
There seems to be such a double standard in our society. Advertising talks about nothing but how wonderful our possessions are, thus making them seem kind of icky, while most moral authorities (in designer suits) talk about nothing but how shallow it is to be materialistic.
It would be nice if people could be told that the appreciation of and desire for beautiful things are natural and don't automatically turn you into a beer-ad groupie.
A: The appreciation of and desire for beautiful things are natural and don't automatically turn you into a beer ad groupie. Just as long as you pay money for something, not your soul.
In other words, love people for who they are, not their ability to get you stuff. And, when you marry, by all means celebrate at a $20,000 wedding with loved ones — as long as that's what you can spare after you've paid your debts, saved your down payment, stoked your investments and 401(k), and supported your favorite causes.