Relationships

An Engagement Story (Not That Kind)

An Engagement Story (Not That Kind)

The other day, while on a walk, my friend asked me something I’d waited my whole life to hear…

“What kind of engagement ring would you want?”

The question was mostly rhetorical, her way of sharing that she and her boyfriend are planning to get engaged. Still, I had no shortage of answers. I have thought a lot about this question — far more than I care to admit.

There are certain personal goalposts we carry within us. Whether it’s going to school or having an apartment with in-unit laundry (something I have yet to experience), they serve as our barometers of adulthood, myths that shape our individual notions of maturity and success. When we get there — wherever there is — we expect that life will look or feel a certain way. That we’ll have “arrived,” perhaps. That things will feel “figured out.” This has never actually been my experience, but it hasn’t stopped me from believing.

For me, no myth has held more weight, or proven more elusive, than the one about getting engaged. Even in the most low-key circumstances, the whole shebang always seemed like nothing short of magic. Romance, promises, optimism, jewelry? Count me very much in. But for years — again, far more than I care to admit — engagement felt like a club everyone was admitted to but me.

All throughout my twenties, while riding the subway to work, I’d gaze subtly-but-longingly at the rings adorning the hands wrapped around the safety pole. Who were their spouses? What were their relationships like? How had it happened? The rings, to me, were glittering symbols that someone had been chosen. I wanted to know how that felt.

All around me, friends and coworkers showed up sporting new, glistening symbols of commitment. My text messages grew overrun with beaming two-headed portraits, one left hand held aloft. I loved how each story matched their personalities, from traditional to unconventional to “let’s-get-a-tattoo-instead.”

In my late twenties, one (overzealous) friend went from store to store, trying on every ring in Manhattan and some in Brooklyn. I accompanied her on these trips, gently explaining over and over to each salesperson that no, I was just a friend, and no, I was not also in the market for a rock that cost many times my rent. She wrote her name, size and preferred styles on the back of each shop’s business card, then left them around her apartment for her now-husband to find.

As the years passed, more and more friends were initiated into the Club of Engagement. I carried a hint of FOMO, a feeling like being the last cheese in the cheese shop. I felt ashamed for feeling this way. My ideal self was independent, aggressively channeling the proverbial fish with a bicycle. I wanted to be completely immune to the siren song of rom-coms and De Beers marketing tactics. But inside, I cared. I cared a lot.

As the years ticked on, my single friends and I banded together, sharing dating stories or life stories or just commiserative company. We texted each other photos of engagement announcements and wedding invitations, not because we were bitter, but because it was our shared myth. Eventually, nearly all of them, too, got engaged.

For one of my dearest friends — a person I would describe, more than anyone I know, as a true romantic — it happened on the same night that I had a terrible breakup. We made plans to meet up the following morning. As we strolled down the street, side-by-side, she kept her left hand firmly planted inside her pocket.

“I want to see it!” I insisted.
“No. I know what this is like,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t want to upset you and I don’t want you to feel left out.”
“I’m happy for you!” I pulled on her arm. “Let me see!”
Then we both stood on the street and cried.

Some months later, someone did offer me a ring. I have chosen those words carefully, since that’s the most accurate description of what happened. An ex-boyfriend showed up at my apartment suddenly, months after we had broken up. “I have a ring!” he said, and nothing more. His eyes held that same shade of panic someone has when they’re about to vomit in a public place and they don’t know where to run. Needless to say, it wasn’t the right decision for either of us.

That was the beginning of the myth’s unraveling, bolstered even more by the years that followed — happy years of living on my own terms. For me, part of what made The Engagement Myth so tantalizing was that it was never a narrative I could control. It assumed that others had cracked some code of human experience, rather than that they were merely facing a different set of challenges. That, of course, is the real story, though it is no less beautiful.

By definition, a myth has two parts. The first: a story that helps explain a social or natural phenomenon. The second: something that is false. A myth is inherently both — something that helps us make sense of our existence yet isn’t the way it seems. At its heart, a myth is a story, written and shared, gaining power over time. This means we have the power to create our own, as well as the power to amend them.

I anticipate that when and if I do get married, it will be a simple, under-the-radar affair, engagement period optional. I anticipate this because I have communicated this preference, out loud. It’s not that I don’t still love a good engagement story — I do! — but more that I found my own narrative, and as it turns out, it looks a bit different.

In the middle of writing this, I took a break and went down the street to the grocery store. On my way out, a woman held the door for me, and I caught a glimpse of her hand. “What a pretty ring!” I thought, reflexively. (Old habits die hard.) But that’s as far as it went.

In recent times, I’ve started wearing whatever the hell I want to on that finger — rings passed down from my family or ones I’ve purchased myself. This is part of a new myth; one I’ve crafted to my own liking. There is a chance someone may notice my hand, holding a door or gripping a subway pole or just going about my day, and assume I’ve got some magical adult existence, infused with love and belonging, the resolve of commitment and the hopeful promise of being a part of something greater than oneself. They would be right.


Have you held onto any personal myths or goalposts in your own life? Did they look or feel the way you expected? Did others work out differently?

P.S. A new way to get engaged and the love story I never thought to tell.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Rue says...

    I am newly engaged in my mid-30s, after a long period of “why won’t anyone be excited enough to marry me?” single-life and dating disasters.

    My engagement has been really different from what I expected, and maybe the best part it is that it is not as “exciting” as I thought it would be. By that I mean that a lot of my earlier dating “disasters” were because I was drawn to uncertainty and instability, so I also imagined that engagement would be a rollercoaster, with big uncertainty and then a big swooshing payoff “TA-DA! He DOES like you!” proposal.

    And like, no WONDER I thought that, because look at any media or cultural expectations for women. People act like there’s something wrong if you don’t have the experience I just described above.

    It has been straight-up liberating to realize, together with a partner, that we don’t need that narrative. It feels scary sometimes because people look at me like I’m crazy when I explain that there wasn’t a big proposal with fireworks and airplane sky writing and our dog wearing goggles sitting in a sidecar (okay so the last part of that list is maybe still a dream of mine?).

    When I told my best friend that my partner and I are engaged, he asked, “oooooo, tell me all about it! did one of you surprise the other or did you decide together while walking the dog?” Obviously we are best friends for a reason. It was primarily a series of conversations together, getting more and more excited about this path together, having to decide at each small step forward how WE are going to do this, not what is expected of us… and then once we were on solid footing together with a shared idea of how we were moving forward, THEN I pandemic-surprised my partner with our favorite delivery dinner, a gift, and a “will you marry me?” My best friend was like, “yes that is perfectly on-point with both your personalities.”

    And that’s the thing. Engagement and decisions to marry shouldn’t be the same or similar for all couples. We should allow this to unfold for each couple in a way that is healthy and supportive for them, not what fits a uniform narrative. I wish more people were open-minded when they ask about our engagement, and it is weird when acquaintances are disappointed that our story doesn’t involve big surprises planned by Dude Partner to Sweep That Lady Off Her Feet! But we both decided very early in our engagement conversations that neither of us LIKES big splashy surprises, and we’d rather cherish this entire process together, and both have a voice in all the decisions along the way between “We’re dating and it’s working” to “we’re married and we’re hoping to be in this for life.” That’s another thing about engagement, is that it’s a series of steps, not one big rollercoaster climb and drop.

    Oh but you’d better believe I am getting THE prettiest ring, according to me. I just didn’t want my partner to select one for me without my input. We got engaged, then did ring shopping together, and we now have THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ring I have ever seen, AND we didn’t feel the pressure and uncertainty of “we need to get this freaking ring so we can be engaged already,” and instead the ring selection was a way to celebrate our engagement, and for us that worked fantastically. 10/10 would recommend if you want the ring selection to happen together AND surprises feel like the bad kind of instability for you rather than a good, sweet, kind, supportive thing in your life.

    Okay that’s my last point, is that for people who genuinely love and feel supported and cared for by surprises, the traditional engagement stories melt my heart. But if that happens to not be you, I recommend not putting yourself through something that doesn’t feel supportive and magical and cozy for you. So for us, it was all about talking, because we both LOVE a good deep conversation, and eating pizza, because we’re both from families where pizza is basically a religion. Find YOUR version of deep emotional talks and pizza dinners! Find the person who has the kind of list that makes you feel at home! Then do that! Together! Now *that’s* engagement!

  2. katie says...

    As always, these comments are a treat to read. We just celebrated 10 married (2010 wedding! easy year for calculating!) and I find myself remembering our engagement. I knew it was coming – we had picked out a ring together, simple, and I figured it’d be low key as my husband is NOT one for showy. And it was – after dinner, as I sat on the couch with my wet hair post-shower, about to watch TV.
    What I remember MOST about the day now is actually what I had accomplished before. I was exhausted since I had just made a solo work trip. Renting a car and driving hours into a big city on my own, leading over 50 people in a large community service event. It was such a day of independent achievement for me. I love that it ended in an engagement, but thinking of that day also reminds me of all I can do by myself.

  3. Mary Wollstonecraft says...

    I have never understood the engagement process. I’m happy to hear others’ stories but I’ve never understood the traditional process or that longing feeling. The concept of waiting to be chosen sits so uncomfortably (for me) and I’m happy to see that so many engagement stories don’t fit this mould anymore – they’re the culmination of communication, two parties in agreement and a chosen shared step. My own engagement experience – we just decided we wanted to get married. I didn’t want to be the only one in the partnership wearing a ring (I find that a bit weird too – I wear a symbol to show the engagement but my partner doesn’t?) but my partner wanted a marker so we both got rings. We got a thin version of our wedding bands and during the ceremony removed these and gave them to our daughter – we both now just wear our wedding bands. This isn’t meant to say that this is the ‘right way,’ the only right way is the way that feels comfortable, shared, equal and right for you both. Those are best and happiest stories in whatever form they take. I also think it’s completely acceptable to just buy yourself a gorgeous engagement ring! Get engaged to & committed to yourself before you get engaged to anyone else ;)

  4. S says...

    I’ve heard so many friends say “I just want the ring!”, in what really sounded like an attempt to brush away the embarrassment that accompanied their utter despair for a proposal . I, on the other hand, just want the commitment. I don’t care for us to spend our savings on a flashy ring or one party.

    I won’t lie, I still get extremely irritated when other couples (who have often been together for less time than we have) pass condescending comments, hinting at their relationship’s superiority for having had a wedding…but I’ve come to realize I’m not irritated because I’m jealous of what they have. I’m irritated because their view of the world is quite antiquated.

    I bought a very simple 30$ ring to use as a fake wedding ring on one of our trips to countries where unwed couples are often prevented from booking hotel rooms together. I like it so sometimes I still wear it. I know that we’re in this together. I don’t need him to buy me a ring to validate it. And I don’t need it to be true in the eyes of the law or a God we don’t even believe in for it to be true for us.

    • Em says...

      I love this, S! My partner and I have been together just shy of a decade. Marriage may be in the cards, but I’ve never dreamed of a big wedding or a ring. Like you, all I care about is the love, commitment and companionship. We may one day have a small backyard ceremony with a handful of attendees, but may not… it doesn’t make any difference. We’ve joked for may years now that we’re already married, we just haven’t told the state yet!

    • C says...

      Couldn’t agree more. My partner and I have a house and a baby, but neither of us felt drawn to the antiquated institution of marriage. Good for other people! Not for us.

  5. Amy says...

    I feel this so much. I’m 40, never engaged or married. I was in a terrible relationship a few years ago and in a time of “happiness” we had a ring made. I never wore it, I left him before the ring was ready for pickup. I resented that ring, a beautiful family diamond wasted on a bad situation. When I turned 40 this year, I decided to have a jeweler create a custom ring to wear on my right hand. I’m in love with the result, it’s the perfect mix of my past and my future. I wear it proudly on my right hand, still maybe holding on to hope that my left hand ring finger will one day have a wedding band, not even necessarily an engagement ring. In what could be seen as fate or a hint to my future, I met my current boyfriend the day I picked up the completed right hand ring. I’m crazy about this man…we’ll see what happens!

  6. Tracie says...

    My husband asked me to marry him when we were 19 and 20 years old, with a ring he had worked so hard to buy. I still wear that ring, sometimes. I mostly just wear my wedding ring because I’m always doing stuff with my hands and it gets in the way! I told him that I loved his efforts in finding a ring that he thought I would love, but I would have said yes without one. I was never that girl who dreamed of or shopped for a ring. It just didn’t matter to me in the long run. I’m more grateful for the 23 years of marriage we’ve had and that we still laugh together every day!

  7. Katheryn says...

    Love this writing and the comments. The power of advertising and society’s expectations on us…

    Why does the man have to ask??

    I proposed to my husband. We’ve been happily married for 11 years. 3 gorgeous kids.

    We chose a simple plain Engagement band together. I don’t like big gem stones and also in my job (Midwife) it would be very impractical!

  8. Jessica says...

    I told my husband to spend no more than $500 on an engagement ring and he came in well under budget. Jewels look best on mature women IMO and give me something to look forward to.

    • Emily says...

      This is so true! I absolutely love seeing huge jewels on older women (they looks like they’ve “earned it” lol) but think the same thing would look perhaps tacky on younger women.

  9. Susan says...

    Before you buy into the wedding industry, read this delightful book about relationships and diamonds: The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan.

  10. Julie says...

    A different perspective: I didn’t ever imagine an engagement story because until five years ago, getting engaged and married wasn’t legal in the U.S. My wife and I eloped, so we skipped the engagement story. We don’t even remember the conversation when we decided to get married. But we did buy rings, we picked them out together. I don’t wear a wedding band, just my “engagement” ring. And when I do, it’s a symbolic reminder that the state and those around me recognize my relationship and when people ask, I get to say my wife. Yes–we chose each other and it’s a reminder of that, but it’s also a reminder that the state and those around me choose and accept me too.

  11. Anne says...

    Although my husband is wonderful and our marriage is happy, I have been feeling weirdly ambiguous lately about my engagement ring itself. It’s frankly a gorgeous ring, kind of Art Deco, but I’m beginning to suspect it’s just a little bit dated…white gold and pave. Now my tastes have changed a bit, and I’m drawn to different styles. This was always my fear around picking out the engagement ring, that I would have to live with it for the rest of my life, even if it went out of style.

    Call me shallow I guess…it was just such an expensive ring that I wish I still loved it 100% instead of only loving it 80%!

    • Anne S says...

      TONS of women get different rings later on! It’s honestly pretty normal, at least in my circles. You might outgrow the band or the stones might get damaged, or your taste could change, plus if the ring is a symbol it’s pretty easy to transfer the symbolism onto something else!

      I’m already anticipating asking my husband for an anniversary ring from Catbird in a few years, once we can afford it. I’ll always love my engagement ring because he picked it out himself, but we both knew when we got married we’d become different people over the years so it makes sense I’d want to wear something else eventually.

  12. Amanda says...

    I just got married to my high school boyfriend (we’re 30 now) and we skipped the engagement and ring process. We basically skipped the wedding too, we only had five friends present and about 20 family members there by Zoom. We both bought simple rose gold 1930s wedding bands from Etsy (hoping they have good, long marriage energy haha). Honestly, for me it was perfect.

  13. maria says...

    Thank you for this essay.

    10 years ago I proposed to my then-boyfriend of 3 months on a hot summer Sunday, over morning coffee. Now, with our divorce pending, I understand that I did it for all the wrong reasons. I needed to ‘seal the deal’ because I was incredibly insecure. He was just the same, so he gladly accepted my proposal and we got married at the soonest date the town hall had to offer. It’s not that we were not in love! It’s the motivation that was immature and based on fear and not conscious will to commit.

    I never got an engagement ring. The ring I wear on my fourth finger is a gift from my mom. It’s perfect – vintage gold, art deco style, with a tourmaline and two diamonds. No man could guess my taste better than mom.

    But what makes me furious with myself is that having been in a new relationship now for 1 year I am getting fidgety. Where is this going? Will he propose? How long am I willing to wait? I am back in the same trap I fell into the last time. No wiser now, at 33 years old.

  14. Jess says...

    Caroline,

    You have such a way with words! This is exactly what I think and feel, but better worded :)

  15. Karen says...

    I love my ring because I picked it out, after dragging my still-boyfriend to a few jewelry stores around the streets of Saint Thomas (an island known for having jewelry at prices less than the States). I had always wanted a shiny ring with three rocks, something antiquey/vintage.

    We went on a trip together to the island, it was our first long-distance trip together and just over a year into our relationship (we were living together by then, both in our early 30s). I remember we sat in the hotel room, having a drink (ok heck, two drinks), and we started talking about having kids. We agreed right then that we should have kids, and ok yeah – we should get married too. It was really about the kids and making a family.

    The next day we hit the jewelry district, it took maybe half the day, I found THE RING and we waited for it to be re-sized. I think we picked it up the next day, went to the top of some viewpoint mountain at sunset, and he proposed. I remember being so excited on the way back down the hill, I showed off my hand to the other couple in the elevator (that’s the classic “I’m engaged!” gesture, right?) and on our return home, I was texting pictures of just the ring to my sis and closet friends.

    After the WORST FLIGHTS HOME EVER (re: nausea galore), we learned on the day after our return that I was pregnant. We were both shocked and excited, as that was what we wanted the most! My mom **insisted** we get married before the baby’s arrival, and I **insisted** that I would have champagne at my wedding…..so our wedding was scheduled for September, when our babe would be 9 months old.

    And the second hilarious part of this story, is that when our late-Sept wedding arrived, I was already three months pregnant with our second baby. LOL, no champagne for me! Oh, and I fainted at the alter in the church during the ceremony…

    Thank goodness life has calmed down a bit now, as our girls are 7 and 8.

    • Maria says...

      What a story! Life is full of surprises :)

  16. Rena says...

    I hate my engagement ring. It was too big, it was silver not gold as I imagined, and also it would have been beautiful if my boyfriend now my husband gave it to me just as a gift. The ring represented to me how much my boyfriend/now my husband didn’t know me, or know what I want, and I was devastated to conclude such a thing after being with him in a relationship for 7 years. But than again, I never talked about marriage, I never wore rings, I never talked about them, but still deep inside I wanted something special when the question pops up. And when the question popped it was in the wrong place, at a wrong time and with the wrong ring, and I said yes trying to be positive about it. But fast forward 7 years, two kids and one dog… now I have a gold ring on my finger and a story to tell my future grandchildren how their grandfather had the worst proposal ever—they have to learn from our mistakes:)

    • Anne S says...

      That’s another part of the over-hyped engagement issue, that your partner’s inability to do the perfect proposal is some indicator of your incompatibility.

      My husband was SO nervous. He surprised me with a visit and then didn’t propose on the beautiful walk we took or by the fire we made in my backyard. It took him until after it was dark and cold outside to work up the courage to ask if I wanted to take a walk, and he proposed on my parent’s driveway, right next to the trash cans. Thankfully for him, fireworks went off in the next neighborhood, making the moment a little more romantic, albeit unintentionally.

      My family finds the story hilarious and a real testament to his personality. He does things in his own timing, when he’s good and ready.

  17. We decided to spend that money on a trip to take together, and the memories are waaaaaay better than jewelry….for us ;)

    • Marijke says...

      Before COVID, my boyfriend and I moved to London for a 2 year adventure that was cut a little short. Moving across the world together and building a new life showed me that we could spend our lives together, and I started thinking about how to show that. I ended up finding a hundred-year-old ring in a jeweller in London, gold and covered in hand engravings of leaves. I had no idea if it would fit, and it would have been tricky to change because of the engravings but I had a good feeling about it and nervously bought it. It was burning a hole in my pocket for weeks, I planned a weekend trip to Bath for his birthday and planned to propose there. We went for a fancy lunch right after we got there, a place with a perfect Google review. Well, he ended up having an allergic reaction in the restaurant and I had to call an ambulance. Luckily it wasn’t severe enough to end up in the hospital, but holding an Epi Pen when the ambulance drivers walked in was quite an ordeal. That could have thrown off my whole plan, but later that night he was feeling better and we went to a dark, cozy wine bar. I told him that life was messy and complicated, plans don’t always turn out, but I knew we would be strong facing all those things together. We left the place tipsy, emotional and engaged. Although the circumstances didn’t seem perfect, I think it was even more romantic. He bought me a ring a couple months later in the same tiny shop by coincidence; I love that our rings have been through so many good and bad times intact.

  18. Scout says...

    Have you written a grown up book yet? A book of essays? Please write all the books!

    This line is AMAZING:
    There is a chance someone may notice my hand, holding a door or gripping a subway pole or just going about my day, and assume I’ve got some magical adult existence, infused with love and belonging, the resolve of commitment and the hopeful promise of being a part of something greater than oneself. They would be right.

    • miranda says...

      I could read Caroline’s writing all through second confinement.

  19. Emily says...

    Caroline nails it again! Your ability to craft personal essays is just amazing.

  20. Simona Morachioli says...

    As usual, Caroline, your piece is pure warmth. thank you.

  21. Rosie says...

    My wife and I found each other a little later. She had already been married to a man and it ended in a big splashy coming out and she lost a lot in the scandal. Even seven years later she blamed the marriage for making it difficult for her to extricate herself quietly. But it was so important to me! A proposal and a ring felt like the ultimate justification that my “lifestyle” was normal. My queer friends will tell you a lot of crap about the patriarchy, but I just wanted it because everyone else got it and why did who I love mean I didn’t get something glitzy? I wanted that traditional ring and white dress and the whole thing, but it was a moot point because it wasn’t legal. I told myself that it was okay and blamed society for my lack of a ring and loved my partner and we planned a life together and had a beautiful baby girl. When gay marriage was legalized I cried like many other people in the queer community, but I cried because I still wanted that and now the reason I couldn’t have it was my partner didn’t want to get married again. She wasn’t even happy about it and I was crushed. She saw it meant a lot to me and we ended up having a large wedding and a big party and she was happy we did it in the end. All this is to say, the myth is so much more than happily ever after for some people. It is an accomplishment that reflects the progress of society in wonderful ways.

    • Emily says...

      That’s beautiful Rosie.

  22. Jolanda says...

    This was a very thougtful essay.

    I feel that a lot of people feel like a half in some way and that ‘finding their other half’ is their goal in life.
    But you are not a half, nobody is a half. We are human and it is natural to seek out love and relationships. But please know you are not a half. You are a whole person, worthy of your own love and friendship to start with. The rest will follow.

  23. annie says...

    a really nice read to start my morning, thank you! i was single all my life until now at 38, i got married in a bubble of happiness when the pandemic hit pause for a few weeks in my city. i got engaged last year, to a friend i’d known all my life.

    until then, i never felt i was missing out on things, and i wore several of my favourite rings on the “engagement ring finger”. over time, people stopped asking if i was, in fact, engaged and got used to it… and now there’s a ring “there”, the first one that i didn’t choose. he knew i didn’t like the huge rocks that are fashionable in other parts of the world – i wanted something practical, something that does not get entangled and rips my favourite clothes. still, the ring is heavier and bigger than the thin jewellery i choose for myself, and it still feels alien somehow, on other days when i’m not wearing it i feel weird without it. it’s an on-off-relationship i would say…

    because of covid, we did not get wedding rings in time before our impromptu ceremony, so we decided to buy them later. they were not important to us at all. now four months into the marriage, we totally forgot about them… i wonder if we will ever buy them. i recently read a piece online by the wonderful writer of “how to fail”, elizabeth day, where she described how to her finacé, a ring is not an option, and his reasoning resonated very well with me. not sure i want a wedding band, i really haven’t seen any i like and i hate wearing jewellery that makes me feel uncomfortable when in fact this piece should be there to remind me of the greatest thing in the world – loving someone!

    thanks again for the article and to whoever reads this – have a lovely day, wherever you are and wear your favourite rings on any finger you want. it’s liberating and fun!

  24. Christine says...

    I was never much of a ring person . When my bf now husband discussed getting married, I said he should purpose with a cat. I would get more satisfaction out of having a pet than what he would spend on a piece of jewelry. We dubbed this idea Engagement Kitty.
    When he did ask me the question, I was eagerly awaiting my cat. I was so surprised when popped out a ring box lol.

    • Emma Gately Reisinger says...

      this is the best.

  25. Hannah says...

    So wonderfully written, Caroline!

    I’ve always loved engagement stories (vids are a surefire way to get me bawling) and have long wondered what my own would look like. I’d pictured different scenarios, wondered and maybe hoped that “this was it” when my boyfriend and I went to a particularly romantic spot. I even thought about proposing to him – and didn’t.

    In the end, our engagement was different than any story I’d heard. We sat on a bench, drinking first coffee, then beer, and discussed our plans for the future. Suddenly, we were in the middle of discussing what our wedding would look like and… that was it. No ring, no kneeling down, and yet we were engaged.

    When I hear my friends’ engagement stories now, I sometimes get a little jealous because I never experienced that rush and excitement I always imagined I’d feel when my boyfriend (now husband) would surprise me and get down on one knee. But then I remember that our engagement – quiet, comfortable, honest – was just right for us and wonderful, too.

  26. Claire says...

    This is a beautiful essay Caroline.

    For some reason, the idea of someone getting down on one knee and proposing to me always made me feel deeply uncomfortable. When the conversations around marriage eventually came up, I told my partner I wanted to be the one to ask when I was ready. So this spring, during lockdown, I asked him and he said yes. There was no fanfare and admittedly, my reasons for wanting to tie the knot are boringly practical (would like to live abroad together, and I want a next of kin should something happen to me) but I did it on my terms.

    Prior to meeting my partner (I loathe the word fiancé), I had been single for the better part of 5 years and I really enjoyed being single, and I am glad I had that time to learn how to foster deep friendships as I feel society will always prioritise romantic relationships above them.

  27. Kate says...

    This reminds me of my new favourite quote: “To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.” – Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage, 1878.

    Saying that, I have a very large sparkly on my left finger and it has brought me security and smiles since 2010. I’ve surrendered myself to it.

  28. Jessica says...

    I didn’t get married until I was 40 – didn’t even meet my now-husband until I was 38 – so I had a lot of time to feel exactly the feelings in this essay, and work past them too.
    What I discovered is that I didn’t want an engagement ring – I wanted a wedding ring. I didn’t want that pretty girl prize of being asked, I wanted the warts-and-all prize of being a loving family.
    I love my ring. And I love that it is NOT an engagement ring.

  29. Georgia says...

    Once again the comments section is pure gold. Kudos to all the brave ladies sharing heartfelt snapshots of the ups and downs of engagements, loves both lost and found, the insights and realities of marriage, and everything in between. Having been on both sides of the fence — single and married —it’s striking how individual yet universal all the experiences shared here feel.

  30. Erin says...

    Caroline, you have captured a feeling I’m sure so many of us women share! I felt like I wanted a shiny thing to show how much I was loved and wondered about the women who sported them. I wanted my boyfriend to wear a ring that showed no matter how annoying he is to his coworkers, someone loves him. Then I got that shiny ring and have had many women compliment me on it.

    But then I truly fell in love with a different man so, in the end, those shiny baubles are simply a snapshot of a time, aren’t they?

  31. K says...

    We never got engaged because it just didn’t make logical sense to us, to discuss something as important as spending the rest of your life together (real estate and family planning and finances and all) and pretending that the man is single-handedly proposing and waiting for the girl to accept.

    But of course, in a dream Pride and Prejudice world, I’d love to have the fairytale of wearing a simple effortless but beautiful dress and having Prince Charming getting down one knee to ask me for my hand in marriage with the perfect sparkly diamond solitaire to stare at all day long. IRL, I’d never wear the ring, and can’t afford it anyways. lol.

    My SO, *did* “propose” though, 3 weeks before our already planned zoom wedding. Which was quite sweet and magical. even though we were both in raggy T-shirts alone at home. It made me “get” proposals, how it’s just kinda nice to declare your love and where you stand before the next phase of your journey together.

  32. Kelsey says...

    Thank you so much, Caroline! I’ve felt the same way for a while and have never really been able to articulate it. I’ll be 30 next month and I’ve been with my boyfriend for 3.5 years. We haven’t concretely discussed getting engaged or married, and he always looks like he’d rather be doing literally anything else when the topic comes up! It sometimes feels like I’m not passing some secret test or meeting some unknown criteria. It can be so hard to admit or acknowledge the weird inadequacy feelings that arise when so many of our friends and peers are getting married and having kids. (I even surprised myself recently when I burst into tears at hearing the news that yet another friend was expecting!) It’s helpful to remember the myth – and the reality that the real, lasting contentment comes from so much more.

    • Maria says...

      Dear Kelsey,
      what you just described are clear signals (both from you and from boyfriend) that you may want different things in life, or that your timing is out of synch.

      If you care about having a family, you should probably consider sitting him down after 3,5 years together and being clear about your hopes and dreams. Otherwise you may feel very disappointed in a couple of years, with rising pressure on meeting someone who you can have kids with. And people don’t make the best decisions when under pressure…

      Good luck, girl! : )

  33. Rachel says...

    Love this.
    My husband and I got engaged without a ring and without any surprise. It was still very romantic.
    We were having a lazy day, reading aloud to each other and he said he wanted me to read to him for the rest of our lives. We talked, decided to get engaged, and went out for champagne. Super romantic moment, sure, but it’s important to dispel myths by noting that this came after many in-depth and honest discussions about marriage and timing. It’s a major life decision that requires conversations about expectations, shared values, and goals.
    While I love fairy tales, they can frame women as passive participants waiting to be chosen and it’s important that we choose actively how our lives will look. Marriage isn’t right for everyone and that’s ok. I thought for many years it might not be right for me. You trade things to be in a partnership that I wasn’t ready to give up until my mid thirties. If I’d succumbed to the pressure all around me earlier, I would have missed experiences and would probably be married to the wrong person.
    We also skipped engagement rings and chose wedding rings together. I feel that if I’d weigh in on a car or apartment, why wouldn’t I weigh in on a piece of jewelry I’m going to wear daily for the rest of my life? Why would I let another person choose for me?
    Culturally, I feel we tend to value the wedding (ring/engagement/party/dress) over the marriage which is backwards and leads to disappointments and bad decisions. I want to reframe that thinking wherever I can. You should be an active participant in your life and any partner who can’t handle that is not one that you will ultimately be very happy with because marriage is a partnership that absolutely requires good communication and a recognition of you as individuals.

  34. Jill says...

    I just have to say, this is FABULOUS writing. This is a topic I don’t even care about (I am on my 2nd marriage, yet I don’t care about the ring). I really don’t even like reading wedding articles, Im a pragmatist not a romantic. But I could not stop reading this.

  35. C says...

    This is such a lovely essay! So beautifully written.

    When my now-husband and I were planning our engagement and wedding, I really struggled with the myth that everything was going to be (and had to be!) fairytale-perfect. Before he proposed, I was a wreck, and he was so stressed about getting everything “right” that in the end it just felt… well, stressful. We designed my engagement ring together, and I put so much pressure on myself to make it “unique” that I ended up with something I didn’t (and still don’t) really like. And don’t get me started on wedding planning! I had so many meltdowns over the tiniest decisions that I’m pretty sure my family was worried I was having second thoughts about the wedding, ha. I am an anxious over-thinker by nature, and I just crumbled under the level of PRESSURE that is assigned to the proposal and wedding day. I felt like everything had to be perfect (and personalized, and unique, and symbolic, and…), otherwise it meant that my relationship was somehow lacking.

    Well, we ended up canceling our big, fancy wedding because of covid, and instead had a tiny civil ceremony. It wasn’t at all what we wanted or had planned, but it took so much of the pressure off. And afterward, I was relieved to realize that I was blissfully happy to be married–what had been causing me so much stress was the idea of having to “perform” my relationship in front of a hundred people.

    I am looking forward to a party when things become safe again, but this time around, I’m relaxed and genuinely excited. I feel so much more freedom to do something low-key that feels celebratory rather than performative.

    I hope that someday, as a society, we will place fewer expectations on exactly how these milestones should look. Sure, you only get married once–but you also get only one first kiss with your partner! (And while that moment was blindingly romantic, I didn’t go out and throw a $30k party to celebrate it :))

  36. Christy says...

    I got the ring and it was shiny and beautiful and I had all the certainty in the world that, with it and the man who gave it to me, I’d have safety and security and all the things you’re supposed to want.

    But it turns out, the relationship didn’t shine the same way the ring did. We got divorced and that ring is now in a small box, stowed inside a bigger box, that won’t be opened for a long time. I felt like I had failed by having the thing that you’re supposed to want and then walking away from it.

    With some space and time I’ve felt clearer that the absence of a ring on my finger is actually more beautiful than any ring ever was. I chose myself and I chose a future that felt bigger than the life I was going to have. I hope, eventually, to get married again. What I do know is that I’d rather have a plain band, a small ceremony, less pomp and circumstance and more partnership.

    Sometimes having it all “work out” is actually the unhappy ending. And having it fall apart is, hopefully, the start of something that will be really beautiful.

    • Amelia says...

      This is so beautifully worded, thank you for sharing this with us. I also believe that the relentless societal pressure for women to get married, and the hype surrounding the excitement of getting engaged aided and abetted by the Wedding Industrial Complex, leads too many to fixate on the ring and the proposal and big wedding, perfect dress, etc instead of what truly matters, namely the relationship with the partner you chose, which is what’s left standing after the pomp and the glamour of the wedding festivities fade away. That being said, it’s easier said than done to fight against this ingrained belief that one simply must have a ring to flaunt in order for the relationship to be certified as acceptable in the eyes of society, family and friends.

  37. Tara Daly says...

    Thank you for writing this. I got divorced a three years ago around this time and it always makes me feel sad. This makes me feel seen and loved. I hope in the future we celebrate all the milestones of life especially for our girlfriends.
    xo

  38. Ginger says...

    My husband and I had been together for quite a few years when he proposed with a ring I loved at first sight. I never had thought much about rings so it was a lovely surprise that I realized it was perfect for me. One of the first people I called, of course, was my best friend. When I said I’d got engaged she said “I know! I helped him pick the ring!” It was the best and biggest shock! I still smile now 12 years later when I look down and see what to me is a beautiful symbol of my marriage but also female friendship that makes marriage livable! Ha ha!

    • Laura says...

      love this, Ginger! (healthy) marriage is a beautiful relationship, but it does not take away the need and importance of friendships!

  39. Kamina says...

    Caroline, you’re a really talented and important writer. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with us.

    I got engaged when I was 20, so I’ve been one of the “ring girls” my entire adult life. I just loved reading this piece told from the other side.

    For me, I feel like an outsider looking in at people with babies. I’ve been married almost 12 years and we’ve never attempted to have children, while I’ve watched all my friends make people. I can’t stop wondering what that’s like! I’m in my early 30s now and I guess this is the next goal post. I’ve had an uneasy relationship with it for a while.

    The ring was a big deal to me at the time of our engagement and funnily enough I still spend minutes at a time staring at it even though I’ve been wearing it for over a decade.

    But I also don’t wear the rings at all most days. Some of my friends have expressed shock at this but honestly I couldn’t care less if people know I’m married or not and I like to go bare-handed. I put them on for date nights and special occasions or like, if I’m dressing up properly for work or something.

  40. Hanna says...

    P.S. Caroline, you need your own book of essays.

  41. Michelle says...

    Caroline is my favourite writer :) She really has a way with words.

  42. Caitlin says...

    It’s so powerful to free ourselves from these stories of “how it’s supposed to go”. I wish my 39 year old, divorced, happily shacked up self could go back and shake my 22 year old engaged self awake. The pretty ring and all the pressure to take the next logical step in a serious relationship were wrong wrong wrong. My partner and I may get married some day, but until then we’ll keep having fun, raising the kids, and steering clear of anyone else’s opinion about our life together.

  43. Julee says...

    Your writing is very vulnerable and sweet, somehow.
    Truly, I hope you get what you dream of- in love and in life.
    PS: To long for something is a gift in itself.

  44. Laura says...

    This is beautiful. Thank you for writing this and sharing it with the world. You are so talented.

  45. Hanna says...

    I’m getting divorced. I got the ring, and I wasn’t even thinking about it. In fact I was thinking about breaking up with him. But it was hard to resist that Tiffany box. Hard to resist the idea that I was getting this thing that only the pretty girls get. Only the girls that everyone likes and loves and just have it like that. Also he was an emotional wreck when I initially said no. I took the ring and it was and is beautiful. But I don’t wear it anymore. Now I wear a plain silver ring that I bought from Etsy which displays the initials of two children, because they were definitely the upside of it all. Now I continue to buy into the myth that only the pretty girls find love. Or only everybody else. I’ve got my kids though. They’re the truest love. And my new puppy dog.

    • Bobby says...

      That line “only the pretty girls get” made me hurt for you.

    • Peg says...

      In that one paragraph you wrote a book.

    • Emily says...

      Hanna, you captured so much in this short paragraph. I hope you’re a writer or become one. I feel I could benefit from your book. :)

  46. M says...

    What a lovely essay.

    After many discussions about marriage, my husband proposed — without a ring. I was thrilled to say yes.

    A few months later I bought myself a gorgeous ring that I designed myself (well, with the help of the brilliant designers at Bario Neal) using my grandmother’s diamond.

    I admit I still felt the pull of shiny, sparkly things… Influenced of course by the Wedding Industrial Complex. But it felt exciting to buy myself exactly the ring I wanted and marry exactly the guy I wanted… One wasn’t really dependent on the other!

  47. Claudia says...

    Reading the comments, I love that so many of us are rethinking the engagement goalpost and engagement story.
    We need a CupofJo article on personnal, alternative proposals (a bicycle bell? A bathroom remodel?… Those are so awesome!!)

    I have always felt deeply, deeply uncomfortable with the diamond ring expectation, in so many ways : it’s a remnant of an era where men and women were very unequal in marriage and work, it’s consumerist and unethical (most diamonds have very high human and climate costs), it is one more way to isolate and judge single women or any women who just don’t want to get married. And the diamond engagement ring only dates back to DeBeers’ advertisements in the early 20th century.

    (for the record : I am married. My engagement ring has a small ruby, and a shiny piece of slate – yes, slate – to refer to our shared love of the mountains.)

    • laurel says...

      Oh I love this and can’t imagine it. How very unique!

  48. Martha Patterson says...

    I’ve been married 28 years…When we got engaged, I was a public school teacher in the Bay Area, my husband was a petty officer in the Navy. He proposed with what many would consider an anniversary band, 5 diamond, tota; 1/2 carat . Nothing flashy…but I never have been one to look at engagement rings before I was even in a relationship, and am not into fine jewelry still to this day. When he was shopping for rings and looking at solitaires, his buddy encouraged him to go with the ring he ending up chossing, saying I was unique….a solitaire was ordinary!At one point he said we’d upgrade the diamonds someday, but I said, “Why?”….It’s the ring he selected for me, and I’m happy with it!

  49. Jessica says...

    Beautifully written words that read like poetry. I agree wholeheartedly, and I bet Caroline will look back at this post some day and feel proud of her younger self for embracing – and sharing – her story like the main character she is!

  50. Hannah says...

    My now-husband practiced proposing to me with several rings – ones made of foil, paper, playdoh, even a burger ring at one stage.

    When the time came to go shopping for the ACTUAL ring, we walked into precisely one jewelry shop, did one lap, and were there for about 2.25 minutes before he pointed to one and said “that’s it. It’s the shiniest.” And pulled out his credit card.

    It perfectly sums up his approach to life and our marriage, when you know, you know. Don’t waste time on decisions that can be easily made. I mean, the guy swiped right on me because he liked my hat.

  51. Beth says...

    I swapped my engagement ring at the store for a smaller engagement ring and our wedding bands. I know that he spent the time to find a ring as more of a symbol for our engagement than as a possession and he also understood that even though he was prepared to purchase a ring that was more money that he knew that I would have wanted to spend he also liked that we all got something to remember the event by.
    Also the jeweler still tells customers about the woman who swapped one ring for three as they had never had anyone do that.

  52. Ashby says...

    Caroline, your writing grows more and more beautiful — I appreciate and admire it. You have such talent!

  53. Wendy says...

    Because I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I have my priorities straight, and because I am still a hopeless romantic, I may or may not have let my boyfriend know that when he is ready to propose to me, I would like it to be with a hanging salami string ring. Preferably a hot Calabrese.

    • Josephine says...

      Ha!

    • Nina says...

      Okokok – I read this comment and my brain replied “YOU’RE A HOT CALABRESE” (definitely meant as a compliment, Wendy!) It’s the type of silly thing my husband would say to me. I have Calabrian heritage!

  54. Morgan Mellinger says...

    so wonderful, as always <3

  55. Sarah says...

    I have a nice engagement ring. I inherited the diamond from my mother in law. I’m kind of torn about it. I’m certainly grateful to be welcomed to the family in such a grand way. In the back my mind though, I worry people create their own story about me because of the ring. I was never that woman dreaming of the perfect engagement ring. It all feels strange. Lately, I wear the ring to special events and when I’m with my in-laws. I don’t love the automatic labels the come with wearing such an emotionally charged piece of jewelry.

  56. a.n. says...

    my husband and i got engaged over a plate of biscuits and gravy in vegas. we were planning a trip to maui, and we looked at each other and he said “should we just….get married while we’re there?” and i said “yeah! yeah! that sounds perfect.” and that was that. i have been told by an acquaintance that my “engagement story” was sad, and to her i said “eff off” except i didn’t use “eff”. my engagement story is perfectly us and 10 years in to a super happy marriage, i’m glad as hell that’s the way it went.

    • Julee says...

      Happy ten years! That’s a milestone.

    • Sara says...

      I love your engagement story! It’s unique, fun, and adventurous.

      I would take true love with biscuits over an awkward spectacle of an engagement any day.

      (And I hope that acquaintance stepped in gum after that comment. They definitely deserve it.)

  57. Yes! Becoming a mother was my goal post I think…something I secretly looked forward to for years before I even admitted to myself how badly I wanted it. When it took over 3 years of trying to have a baby I was just about destroyed. We were incredibly lucky and able to have a baby thanks to IVF. But I think I’ll need to create some exciting new goal posts for the future too. Thank you for your beautiful story

  58. Kimi says...

    I love this! And it’s so beautifully written.

    • AG says...

      I agree! Beautiful! When I saw this –

      His eyes held that same shade of panic someone has when they’re about to vomit in a public place and they don’t know where to run.

      – I laughed out load because I know that face and that feeling!

  59. Lindsay says...

    Caroline, thank you for such a lovely and poignant post! It’s funny how the engagement myth even sneaks into how we perceive our relationships. I always assumed I would know I met “the one” when I could see all of the engagement fanfare on the horizon – the big proposal! the feeling of being chosen! the ring!, the Instagram posts! I thought I’d know because the fantasy would suddenly become real and my own desire for it would finally materialize too. When I met my current boyfriend I thought he was the most amazing person in the world – I could see myself growing old with this guy! But I often think about how incredibly real he seems and how incredibly real I feel in our relationship too – nothing like the life changing magical fantasy I imagined. At first, I felt deeply sad – almost like finding out Santa Claus had been my mom all along. I had been promised a transcendent experience and all I got was this amazing partner. It took me awhile to let go of the fantasy of being chosen and enjoy choosing the person who’s right for me :)

    • Lo says...

      This is an amazing way of describing it! You made me realize that’s exactly how I feel about my relationship too, since we were best friends for a while before we turned it into something more. Just real, natural, with no sweep-me-off-my-feet magic. Maybe that’s why I can’t picture a perfect romantic proposal should it ever come (even though I’ve always daydreamed of one). It wouldn’t match! Now I can graciously let that go.

  60. Marni says...

    I was engaged once then i broke it off….wrong guy.
    My husband and I decided to skip the engagement ( we want to spend the money wisely!) and just went for the wedding. We bought a house shortly after the wedding. He then promised me a renovated bathroom of my choosing ( for the cost of the engagement ring!). Here we are 11 years after…love the guy still and the bathroom.

    • Ellie says...

      My mom didn’t have an engagement ring and I think this influenced my lack of interest in one. I never wanted one and was very clear on that to my now husband. I always felt that engagement rings were a way of a man marking his territory and I couldn’t stand that. In general I find engagements so sexist and old school. A woman waiting for a man to commit to her – blah. It’s just not my thing. It should be a mutual agreement! And mutual display of marking territory!

  61. Moriah says...

    I love your story Jenny! You sound like an amazing person. What a sweet surprise from your sister!

  62. Lisa says...

    I am so glad to read this. I have watched over the past decades as the idea of a “proposal,” rather than fading away, has grown and ballooned into something ridiculous. And, all led by the man. Young women, take back the agency, the power of your choice to get married.

  63. AS says...

    I always thought I would feel this longing for a ring, a relationship, and the promise of a happily ever after once I was in my 30s. It’s been shocking to me how many of my peers and friends have gotten engaged and married while still in our 20s. And now it feels as I’m the last one on the bus and I’m not even 30 yet!

    I’ve got exactly two single friends left, both of whom are as shocked as me about the rate of engagements and marriages we’re invited to celebrate but also not exactly looking for that BIG, serious relationship like I am. In this way, I do feel very alone. I can only imagine how much more intense this feeling of loneliness and longing will get as time passes and I enter my mid-30s.

  64. Nikki says...

    I have been reading Cup of Jo for years and this is the first time I have commented because THIS resonated so much!!! I’m in a happily committed relationship but can’t help but not feel “chosen” when I look at my bare hand compared to the ring-clad hands of others. I’ve fantasized about other women’s relationships on the subway, at barre classes, even recently ON ZOOM. It is just incredible to have this feeling encapsulated and thank you for sharing your story – everyone is on a different path and I have to remember that!

    *All throughout my twenties, while riding the subway to work, I’d gaze subtly-but-longingly at the rings adorning the hands wrapped around the safety pole. Who were their spouses? What were their relationships like? How had it happened? The rings, to me, were glittering symbols that someone had been chosen. I wanted to know how that felt.*

    • Cris F says...

      You choose each other everyday you are together. You were not helpless before getting together with your partner – you are 2 individuals that chose to be together, so both of you were chosen. A ring (or some other symbol) does not make it any different and, truthfully, why do we want to be chosen like a property? You are both equals and you can, together, decide to take the next step or not :)

      I’ve been with my boyfriend for 20 years, we have lived together for the last 10, I just got pregnant (still a secret to everyone! sshh) and have no plans of getting married. We chose each other more than 20 years ago and we keep doing so every single day.

      Please do not consider this a dismissal – it is just me trying to show you are much more than a ring :)

  65. Amy says...

    I loved this SO MUCH! Maybe the wine from a stew dinner that takes 2 hours. Or the perfect honesty. All I can say is I am wearing a $10 dollar ring on that finger because my children lost my actual wedding ring. I couldn’t wear it after my second baby because I had become allergic to metal (very common and nobody mentions it) and they played robber. I told people I was allergic to being married for several years until I found a very dainty, very cheap set that doesn’t make me itch. So it’s always just what it needs to be anyways.

  66. SarahN says...

    I share so much of this with you – I’m not single, but I’m also in a relationship with a man who is still married (she’s moved out) and has kids, So marriage seems far off, if at all, cause he’s had a rough time lately (and makes him question their 15 years together, what marriage means).

    But I see engagement rings and presume similarly – they were picked, they were ‘good enough’. I don’t know if they nagged, hinted, cried, worried, fretted. Or they said yes to a person that will hurt them, hurts them, will leave, they will leave – did they settle so much that it’s not actually happy, it’s just the myth that it might be? But you never know, from the outside, looking in on sparkling rings… you just never know

    • Naomi says...

      Yes, you *really* never know what is going on behind that sparkly ring.

      Like, you don’t know if the guy picked the ring and went into debt for it, and then after the wedding the woman now shares the debt for the rock on her finger? That seems to me like not such a good present!

      So many good comments and stories on this post :)

  67. Kristen says...

    This was so beautifully written and something I have experienced, as well.

    Re: Adulting. My current partner is someone I believed I would move in with, get engaged to, marry, and then have children with in the sequential order that adulthood has prescribed. However, after disregarding everything we learned in health class, we skipped right ahead to the baby. We reached the proverbial pinnacle of adulthood via the express train, and it put us in a weird limbo where we have to explain that yes – we are in a relationship and plan to raise our beautiful son together, but no – we aren’t planning to get married anytime soon. Despite what some family members (and, surprisingly, friends) think, we agree that the marriage route is separate from the parenting one for us. It has made me reassess my previously held romcom beliefs and accept that my journey along these adulthood milestones may be a little windier than others, but that’s ok because it’s what makes it MY journey.

    • Sara says...

      My story is similar to yours. My husband and I knew we wanted to be parents, and knew we wanted to eventually be married, but we were way more excited about having a baby than about having a wedding.

      When I was pregnant I got SO many comments from family, friends and coworkers about WHERE IS YOUR RING? HE BETTER MARRY YOU RIGHT NOW etc . I found it super depressing and unexpected. It was also infuriating because absolutely no one said anything similar to him.

      He ended up “officially” proposing on our first night we had away from our daughter when she was one. After he had given me the ring, I asked “Is this a bad time to mention that I think I’m pregnant?” We got married in a small wedding with our closest family members – including our one year old daughter there, and our younger daughter all round and snug in my belly.

      That was five years ago and we are still a happy family. The windier path was perfect for us.

    • Christina says...

      Come to Sweden:-) ! Me and husband and all of our friends did it that way. Marriage didn’t seem important until after a year or so as parents. Then we were already more bound to each other through the child than a marriage would ever do, and we still loved each other after all those sleepless nights.

    • Josefine says...

      Kristen and Sara, it is so common in Scandinavia to have kids before getting married, even back in the 80s when I was born. I was 7 when my parents got married, and I my sister and I would talk about the wedding day as our family’s wedding, haha. We loved being a part of it. Many people here have kids before getting married, and it often seems like marriage doesn’t really cross peoples minds until they have kids. Commitment isn’t linked to marriage.

  68. Mary says...

    Beautifully written Caroline. We decided to get married after 17 years together but when I say ‘decided’ I sound far more ‘decided’ than our plans were. I wasn’t sure we were actually going to get married until two weeks before we did, when we booked the flights to New York (and got married at city hall). Before we left we bought wedding rings. There was no engagement period. There was no engagement ring. Even if I get a ring with diamonds in it at some point (and I do want to!) it still won’t be an engagement ring. My now husband officially proposed to me on bended knee just as I left for the hairdressers the morning we got married. It was so funny. He did it for a laugh and said now you can tell your friends i proposed to you. It’s all horses for courses these days really. You do you as they say. It’s all cool.

  69. Amelia says...

    Oh Caroline, this hit me in all the feels. I have absolutely felt the Engagement Club was something that I was not pretty enough, fun enough, interesting enough, just plain valuable enough to be “chosen” by another for, and it absolutely sucked. I too suffered from intense FOMO in my 20s and even a sense of being left behind/on the shelf, the last cheese in the shop, as you put it so succinctly. It can and did feel so invalidating of my worth as a person somehow that nobody else saw enough value in me to take me off the market, as it were, which is not something i ever thought I’d have to associate being single with, yet it was definitely true for me. I did eventually find my soulmate, but it wasn’t exactly all smooth sailing either.

    My engagement story is that there *was* no engagement story — no cute vignettes about how he got down on one knee during a fancy dinner in a swanky restaurant/on vacation/at the beach/at home on the couch, no extravagant proposals of sky writers or hot air balloons or the like, or creative treasure hunts, or even cheesy hidden rings in cake/champagne flutes, nada. It was just us having a series of discussions about getting married over our then 3-year long relationship and me getting increasingly frustrated/resentful that it might never happen, when from the very beginning of our relationship my then-bf had made it very clear he saw us spending the rest of our lives together and that he wanted to be the one to take care of me and grow old together. One day he just said let’s go pick out your ring, and that was it. I was also baffled because ordinarily he was a wonderful gift-giver, capable of picking out just that precise thing that the recipient would absolutely love, and that was a trait that I thought would have translated naturally/easily into coming up with a delightful proposal scenario. And when that didn’t happen I have to admit, for the longest time I felt shortchanged, because I really wanted to be able to tell that cute story of how he proposed and be the envy of my assembled listeners — I wanted that *so* much it felt like a physical ache. And yet I also felt secretly ashamed/ungrateful because it seemed so UNfeminist, and here I was getting what I’d wanted, so wasn’t I just nitpicking now? My husband’s very pragmatic view of it was that we’d already agreed to get married, so there was really no need to “perform” the whole “popping the question” act, and didn’t I prefer to be an equal partner in the decision making process instead of just the passive party being “surprised” by the proposal? Logically speaking he was right, as I’d always hated that the traditional role for the woman was to just wait to be proposed to, and that the man was always in charge of the narrative, as you put it. And yet I’d also bought into the whole romcom trope of wanting to be swept off my feet, delighted with the perfect ring that he would produce that he’d have somehow magically read my mind in advance/known I would adore, in a perfectly staged proposal scene with swelling music in the background and onlookers cheering/going misty eyed with approval — I wanted the pure unabashed romanticism of it. Instead what I got was the compromise of being able to pick out exactly what rings I wanted, and plan the whole (understated, I swear) wedding of my dreams. Which was funny in and of itself because growing up I’d never really cared about rings, diamonds, weddings etc — other people’s weddings were events that dragged on too long that I actively tried to avoid, save for my BFF’s — until I was embarking on planning my own.

    It wasn’t until much later that I realized the husband’s pragmatism also hid a secret performance anxiety on his part — I suspect he was afraid I wouldn’t love whatever he might have thought of doing, and that might’ve ruined the whole thing for me. I mean, of course I would’ve married him anyway, he’s very much a keeper, but I guess I can see where he’s coming from — it was just too much pressure. His preferred method of communication while we were courting was texting, where he could let down his guard and be more honest and vulnerable without having to “keep up macho appearances” in person, so any public performance of his feelings was likely anathema for him. Anyway, it took me a little while to get over that initial disappointment and deflect all the questions of “oooh so how did he propose?”, but we’ve been married for nearly 10 years and now it’s far more important to me that he’s consistently shown up in more ways than I can count and demonstrated on a daily basis an unwaveringly loving, honest and respectful commitment to us, to making our lives together better via acts of service both big and small (renovating the creaky plumbing in our house, installing a huge tank so that we’d never run out of water supply even in the face of water cuts, doing his own laundry, making sure all the bills are paid on time, etc). He’s even sacrificed a last-minute money-can’t-buy once-in-a-lifetime behind-the-scenes tour to his lifelong all-time favourite English football club, the first love of his life, to instead accompany me (the other love of his life) to the Harry Potter studio tour AND DIDN’T EVEN BREATHE A WORD TO ME ABOUT IT because he didn’t want me to feel bad about it on our last vacation to the UK a year ago — can you tell I’m still amazed/in disbelief at it? (Internet, I’m not sure I would’ve had the same strength of character/resolve to say no if someone had told me I could go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Supernatural set and maybe meet the cast and crew like Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and/or Misha Collins!!! But I know that if the situation were reversed he would’ve insisted I go do what I wanted, even if it meant I’d be doing it without him — that’s just the kind of person he is.)

    Our relationship/marriage is still an ongoing journey, but with every passing day I’m more and more convinced that I’m making the trip with the right partner and co-navigator, and that has come to mean much more to me than any ring or outward signifier of our relationship.

    • Hannah says...

      Our engagement stories are similar – I, too, felt a bit disappointed by not getting a “real” proposal (story in short: we were talking about the future, then about what our wedding would look like and later I asked “Did we just get enganged?” and he said yes). At first, I actually told him I still wanted a proposal and a ring and a surprise, but the more I thought about it, the worse I felt. Why should he spend all that money and stress out (and he would have been SO anxious), when we’d already agreed? Wasn’t it completely unfair (yes, it was) and unfeminist to want that? So, a few days later I told him to skip the whole shebang. We’re now very happily married – and the wedding looked exactly like we’d imagined it on that “engagement” day.

    • Amelia says...

      Hannah, thank you so much for your comment. I absolutely see/feel/hear you — how insidious is the programming by the Wedding Industrial Complex that we have all bought into this whole big splashy “Engagement Story” myth, right? And yet somehow I still found myself wishing that the momentous life decision that is 2 ppl agreeing to merge their lives together for the rest of their time on this earth could also get a similarly significant or at least slightly less splashy, I donno, event? marker? treatment? to mark the occasion. Which i fully realize is ever so slightly ridiculous because the eventual wedding after the engagement period IS the event meant to celebrate the marriage itself. It took some time and distance but honestly, now the memory of our wedding day — both the church ceremony and the reception afterwards — and how many friends and family showed up to celebrate us and be part of our joyous day are some of the happiest memories of that time of my life. The marriage itself isn’t too shabby, either ;)

  70. Irina says...

    Neither my husband nor I come from a tradition where engagement is a thing, so neither of us ever considered it a necessary pre-requisite to marriage. Also, where we come from, wedding planning is usually not that extensive, so you don’t have this lengthy period between when two people decide to get married, and when they actually tie the knot. Typically, as soon as the couple feels ready to do it, they just do it.

    In our case, we fell in love very quickly but we only had 3 weeks together once we met and after that it had to be a long-distance relationship because we were living in different countries. About 4 months after we first met, I flew to visit him. We spent another 3 weeks together and that was when we decided to get married. I then flew home to the U.S., to start my next semester of college and also to file for a fiance visa for my husband. The paperwork took a few more months and we were finally married about 6 months after we had made that commitment to each other, and about 10 months after we first met.

    When my husband flew to the U.S. to join me and I met him at the airport, he pulled out a delicate gold band with the tiniest diamond. Neither of us was sure if this was supposed to be an engagement ring or a wedding ring! I tried it on and it was way too big for my ring finger and only slightly big for my middle finger. So I put it on my middle finger and that’s where it’s stayed since (I did have it resized to fit a tad more snugly).

    I still don’t know whether to consider it an engagement ring or a wedding ring, and I don’t really care. It’s just a ring that my husband gave me to express his love for me, and that’s all that matters. Needless to say, with our disregard (which often turns into intense dislike) for formalities, we also did not have a traditional wedding… but that’s a story for another time :)

    • Kristin says...

      What a beautiful story!

  71. This essay really touched me, Caroline. I was once engaged to someone, and then 6 months later he ended it. I was devastated, and it has caused a lot of bitterness in me toward my many friends who got engaged AND married in the years that followed. I’ve softened a bit now, but I hate how cynical I have become about it. Its part of the reason I am in therapy now ;) While I still desire a partner, an engagement ring, and marriage, its lost a bit of its luster to me. I’m hoping the right person brings that back, one day.

    In the end, its for the best. I hated that engagement ring.

    • Calla says...

      Ugh I’m sorry Stacy, I feel you. It can be so hard to quell your own cynicism or disappointment, especially when you are trying to be happy for someone else!

  72. Nathalie says...

    My husband proposed in Paris without a ring. Our plan was to find one at a Parisian flea market but we didn’t. Later we each got a plain silver band and replaced that with a plain gold band when we got married. For some reason (not lack of love!) we both stopped wearing our rings. Sometimes I feel a twang of jealousy when I see a sparkly engagement ring but then I have to laugh at myself because I know that if I actually had one it would reside in a drawer and not on my finger.

    • Vanessa says...

      After not feeling any of the rings he saw (to be fair, he did do his research – got my ring size and even went on Etsy), my then-fiance got me an engagement pendant. I picked out my marriage band but realised it got in the way of work and life so it was frequently on and off and that was frankly sort of stressful. Finally one day I took it off while punting in Oxford and now it’s at the bottom of the River Cherwell. It was agonising to admit to my husband but to “match” me, he put his ring away as well. I realise I’m not a jewellery wearing person – that engagement pendant is now a beautiful Christmas tree ornament which I lovingly hang up each year (alongside my dad’s Boy’s Brigade badges and other heirlooms.)

    • Nathalie says...

      “it got in the way of work and life” – Yes! I was often forgetting places but I managed to put it away before it got lost. It took my husband a few years to follow suit but it was a bit strange that we have different last names and him with a ring and me without . . . People are funnily observant about that.
      I love the idea of jewellery and heirlooms on the Christmas tree!

  73. Lex says...

    Thanks, Caroline, for a beautifully written piece as always.

    My husband did the whole big engagement overlooking the Aconcagua Mountain in Argentina. It was beautiful but also made for better pictures than experience (the wind was howling, I was freezing, and I can’t remember a single thing he said). Since we were traveling abroad, he brought the simple gold wedding band instead of the diamond engagement ring he’d purchased. Although I appreciate the engagement ring and wore it until we got married, I much prefer wearing just the gold wedding band which I’ve stacked with my mom’s gold wedding band. I love that the rings aren’t flashy and together they symbolize both my relationship with my husband (loving, equal, and quietly ours) and my parents’ relationship (which I’ve long admired and hope to emulate).

  74. Eileen says...

    i want to reach through the internet and hug you. we have very similar stories, from the serious relationship to the previous serious relationship to the mid-30s point in our lives. my heart hurts as well, and it’s so hard to carry the myth (the myth!!) of “nobody wants to marry me.” i don’t have any real words of encouragement or positivity to offer, just some solidarity that you’re not alone in what you’re going through and how you feel. <3

    • Leah says...

      Nobody wants to marry anybody until they find their person and get engaged (or don’t)! It’s like that phenomenon about lost possessions – “it’s always the last place you look.”

  75. Tara says...

    This is so beautifully written. I think about this a lot. When getting divorced a few years ago I sold my ring to a local pawn shop. My best friend and I went to a spa get away like Gayle and Oprah. We booked the most expensive couple massage and celebrated our 20 years of friendship. I later bought myself a beautiful gem ring and wore on my left finger. People always ask me about my gemstone and it’s ALL mine. I proudly wear my grandmothers rings. I feel naked without them. Thanks for sharing <3

    • Amy says...

      I love your spirit, Tara! Life is full of relationships, not just ones with romantic partners, but with friends, family, and ourselves.

      This essay reminded me of a Anna Quindlen quote: “You can embrace a life that feels like it belongs to you, not one made up of tiny fragments of the expectations of a society that, frankly, in most of its expectations, is not worthy of you.”

  76. Melissa says...

    I was single through my twenties and most of my thirties; I married in my late thirties. I can relate to that feeling of some thing or achievement that means you’ve arrived, that you’re an adult. I thought that way about being married and about living in a single-family home too. I’m almost 50 now and I can confirm that these are myths. I was an adult before I was married; my friends who are newly single due to divorce are also still full-fledged adults. There are many ways to be an adult, and each way has different perks and challenges.
    And about rings: I love my engagement/wedding rings but I love my husband and dog more. :)

  77. Jessie says...

    I wish there was a way to convey how much it touches my heart to read this right now. I just ended a serious relationship that for a long time I thought would be forever and involve marriage. Before this one it was another 6 year long relationship where my then boyfriend never wanted to marry me (he was engaged 18 months after our split to someone new). It’s been a source of such heartache to be in my mid-30s and have never had someone want to marry me. I know it’s not a measure of my worth or lovability or anything like that. It’s just a thing I’ve always hoped for and the repeated disappointments have just hurt my heart. But getting a chance to think about it through the lens of goalposts and, more significantly, myths is helpful. It soothes some of the ache. So thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

    • Jenny says...

      Jessie, my heart goes out to you so much. Those big heartbreak days are so intense, and so sharp. It is brave of you to listen to yourself and say no to people and lives that aren’t for you, but so incredibly hard. Know I’m out here with you on the choppy seas of my 30s, and if our little tugboats cross paths, I’m waving from the bow that good days are ahead (and good days are now).

  78. Marisa says...

    I am not a traditional person and never thought about an engagement ring. In fact, I was terrified for many years of getting married, as I am a child of divorce. My husband proposed to me one night while I was chopping onions!(apparently, he had something more romantic planned but couldn’t wait) Anyway, after many years of seeing literally everyone else I know wearing big shiny engagement rings with their wedding band, I started feeling left out. I was surprised at myself, but couldn’t help feeling that I was missing out. This is despite having the most amazing husband who shows me he loves me in so many ways.
    For our 25 wedding anniversary, we went on a romantic trip to Turkey. At the beginning of dinner, he came around to my side of the table, got down on one knee, and proposed with a beautiful diamond ring! He had gone with our daughter to pick it out, which was super cool! So, now I have two engagement stories. The second one is more obviously romantic, but seriously, none of this really matters. Yes, I am happy to have this beautiful symbolic ring, but even without it, things would still be the same. It is unfortunate that we let all these fairy tales or ideas of romance from TV or movies get in our way.

  79. Anna says...

    Thank you for a really interesting and tender post. I haven’t thought about engagement rings, actually never had one. My spouse and I bought our wedding rings at a pawn shop 35 years ago. We had very little money and just found simple band. He damaged his jumping down from a wheat truck and almost lost his finger, so he stopped wearing it. I lost mine on the banks of the Wisla river in Poland. I had slipped it off onto the band of my watch and then took my watch off…the ring went with it into the sand. Since that time, I have found pretty rings to wear on that finger. Some are heirlooms, some are cute little rings from Pura Vida. I look forward to seeing your rings. Thanks for this post. I’ll be paying attention to rings more now.

  80. Marcie says...

    I love this – I remember looking around at the end of college and wondering where my significant other was (my parents met in college and at the time were, and still are, married) and realizing that it was a myth I had built up in my mind that I would meet and be with the person I might eventually marry in college. Realizing that this was a myth made me let it go which was very freeing and meant I wasn’t setting myself up for disappointment or forcing the wrong relationship into a place where it didn’t make sense. I actually met my now husband at the end of college and we were friends for several years before starting to date, and many years later, get married. But I had busted my myth and it was wonderful!

  81. Tiffani says...

    Growing up I very much wanted NOT to get married and never gave any thought to it because of that. When I was 30, I was dating a man who was nice enough and once our relationship became a committed one, was very pushy about getting married. He joined forces with my parents and basically wore me down until I agreed to get engaged. I was very explicit about the kind of ring I wanted because I worked in restaurants at the time and needed my ring to not be cumbersome and I wanted it to be a piece of jewelry I actually liked. He bought me the kind of ring he wanted me to have (read: huge, so people would see it from a mile away and so he could invite comments about how big it was, but also cheap) and then was militant about me wearing it even though it didn’t fit and I didn’t like it. The way he chose my ring and proposed was a portent of how our marriage would be. We are no longer married and those were possibly the worst years of my life. Now I’m 2 years into a relationship with a wonderful person and for the first time I actually want to get married. But I didn’t want getting engaged to be something that happened to me without my input again, so my boyfriend and I have talked over and over about what the timeline should be and how we want to get married and this time, I will propose to him (which he knows and is comfortable with) and neither of us will wear a ring until we’re both ready to.

  82. E says...

    I needed to read this! Gosh, I’ve been feeling like the engagement myth is thrust upon women lately. Why does it have to be a big event? And why don’t I get a say in when I get engaged? Earlier this year my boyfriend proposed, and I was completely baffled. We’d never talked about it before. He could tell I was surprised, and he immediately said “I’m only proposing because I thought you wanted me to.” We’ve talked it out, and he told me he doesn’t actually want to get married right now. I’m not ready either, but I still feel so wounded by the whole thing. It makes me think he’s never really listened to anything I’ve said about marriage, and that he doesn’t understand who I am (I don’t want a ring either, Caro!). It’s not so much that he proposed prematurely, but the way he took it back that hurt me.

    • Kiersten says...

      I’m so sorry this happened, E. Sending you hugs on the Internet.

  83. J says...

    I so feel this, as a 30 year old, living on my own for 7 years, in a PhD program, lived in many places, financially independent, skilled, interested/ing, good friend as well. You’re far from alone!

    • Dana says...

      Congrats on pursuing the PhD! It’s a beautiful and sometimes painful process of growth and discovery. As stressful and busy as it is, I came to treasure that time of becoming who I always wanted to be.

    • Calla says...

      I don’t know if this was meant as a reply to my comment but if so thank you! So nice to hear from someone in the same boat!

  84. Alison says...

    Caroline, I completely relate. I grew up thinking a wedding or engagement would be magical, but the older I got, the more crazy it all seemed. I already had known for a LONG time that I would not change my name and did not want children… and then at some point an engagement just seemed silly? Inequitable? I mean, my partner and I were seriously talking about our lives together and so why would it be up to one person to propose? And why would I wear a ring for that time period, but he wouldn’t? As you can guess, we simply just decided to get married! When we told people we were engaged, we had a LOT of questions which made me realize how *truly* engrained this whole process is in our society. “How did he propose?!” …he didn’t. “Ooooh, let me see the ring!” …I don’t have one. (I’m over here laughing at how many times I had to answer these questions. Let alone how I still have to correct people on my name due to assumptions.) I did start to wear my great-grandmother’s ring who I was named after as my “engagement ring” since it was an easy out, but do not wear it on a daily basis now that we’re married. I wear a simple band we picked out together that cost less than $100 and is perfect for me. We spent much more on my husband’s ring, as it turns out he really liked finding the right fit/design and honestly, that was so fun to see his personality expressed this way!! I was really glad we did ring shopping together and also that he didn’t have that pressure to spend a ton of (our!!) money on me. I know everyone is different, but I really wish there were less pressure and more room for expression in this part of our lives.

  85. Kate says...

    I like this piece very much. I met my now-husband when I was 30, and had definitely spent some time wondering if marriage would happen for me. (Which sounds silly in retrospect — you’re never too old to find love, I think, much less at 30, but I was still getting that last-cheese feeling.) When we did get engaged — on a weekend getaway, with my grandmother’s ring that we’d gotten resized together — I didn’t feel like making a big splash, having been on the outside looking in many times before. The dramatic proposal story, flashing the ring around (not that it’s especially impressive!), social media post, etc. just felt a little greedy given that I’d found this wonderful person who I thought might never materialize. As wildly happy as I’ve been in my marriage, I’m glad you’re taking the time to unpack some of these myths here — we owe ourselves the freedom to create our own stories.

  86. Jessica says...

    This is so beautifully written, and so very relatable. The myth of “arriving,” the imagining what someone else’s life looks like. And then I got to a place where I felt truly happy on my own path, single and then eventually married. We all create our own narrative. Thank you for sharing!

  87. Ellie says...

    I am pro-boulder sized rings because it is a very astute reminder of how much we have invested in the relationship and also because if it is true that most marriages end in divorce – I feel it balances out the inherent pay-disparity/white male privilege that is the elephant in the room should we separate.

    Not to justify myself but for the sake of perspective, I feel good about this in a practical way even though I, of course, also very much hope for the romantic dream a rock represents. This is kind of practicality around marriage is a very hard-won approach for me and I am proud of it though I realize it may sound harsh to some.

  88. Jenny says...

    I wanted to feel chosen, valuable, rare. I wanted to feel like life celebrations could be for me, too.
    Gals, I’m from rural Montana and I grew up desperately poor, chubby, and odd. For my senior prom, a mom who went to belly dance class with me made her son ask me. I had recently shaved my head and wore a gold caftan with gold glitter on my scalp to the prom (I emphasize again, in rural Montana!). It was an utterly fabulous aesthetic, but that boy, outmatched and dismayed, left me at prom and the principal had to drive me home.
    So many things haven’t been for me because I was too poor, too fat, from the Rez. I was dazzled by the idea of being chosen and everybody knowing it.
    I married at 22, with a men’s turquoise pinky ring from the pawn shop by the Missoula courthouse.
    I’m divorced now, of course. My life is very different. But my sister had a ring made for me of two silver rabbits, complete with tails, who are either embracing or fighting, just like sisters. She has chosen me, and keeps on choosing me, as a person to love. That ring is my favorite possession. And the things that used to feel like they were keeping me out were making me into myself, a fierce caftan enthusiast who goes to Stanford Med and sleeps in the very middle of the bed.

    • Shira says...

      You. sound. awesome.

    • jane says...

      You surely know this already but you are a writer/storyteller.

    • MM says...

      I love this! Jenny, you have rocked it out all your life and lived to tell. You are amazing and have achieved the trifecta — middle bed position, rabbit ring and Stanford to boot. All the things are for you.

    • AN says...

      I legit just cheered out loud through tears. You are a mofo badass and this story had BETTER end up featured in the Friday wrap-up, Jo! ;)

    • a.n. says...

      ok i love everything about this.

    • Donna says...

      I hope you pursue writing in some form because you really know how to capture the reader.

    • Beth says...

      I love every word of this, Jenny. Ditto what Shira said—you’re amazing.

    • Caitlin says...

      ❤️❤️❤️

    • fgb says...

      YES!

    • Elle says...

      This is EVERYTHING.

    • Lizzie says...

      Someone needs to get Jenny a book deal…stat! Our world needs more writers like you.

    • CL says...

      Jenny, you are dripping with swagger, and it’s glorious to witness.
      Get it.

    • Lisa says...

      Please write a book so I can read it and be happy. Kidding of course, but wow. If you get bored with medicine try writing as a side gig.

    • Marisa says...

      This is just the best. Wish I could hang with you, Jenny!

    • Agnès says...

      Jenny, you’re a writer!

    • LEE ANN says...

      What a story. You are amazing.

    • Erin G. says...

      CoJ – I think we need a Week of Outfits with Jenny right now!!!!!! All caftans, all the time!

    • Katie S. says...

      Jenny, this made me pour tears. I have driven by the Missoula courthouse so many times, often wondering about the people inside. I wish I would have known you at 22 because you sound amazing. I am so extremely happy for your sister-love. Thinking the warmest thoughts about you and your caftans!

    • Rindi says...

      Jenny, thank you for sharing your story! As a woman who also grew up on a MT Rez (on the other side of the state), and who is in counseling for *precisely* this issue as I reenter dating life after divorce and realize how messed up I still am from those early feelings of not being considered _____ enough for romantic love, celebrations, etc., I really identify with and appreciate your comment.

    • Panfilo says...

      I hope for an upcoming feature on Jenny and her caftans. Jenny, your writing is magical and so is your sister.

    • Jess. says...

      Jenny, as in toddler-as-a-hat Jenny, by chance?

    • JN says...

      This is so incredibly moving, Jenny. Seconding the other ladies’ comments: Can this be turned into a book? You sound phenomenal and your writing makes me think of a free spirit like wild horses on the plains.

  89. Ashley says...

    Oh wow, yes! All through my 20s I wanted a beautiful engagement and a beautiful ring. Now in my mid 30s I’m not even sure I’d want a ring! They seem so weird to me.

    Loved this piece! Thanks for sharing.

  90. Emily says...

    I’ve always loved weddings– the romance, the aesthetics, the promise of what that commitment means– but as I’m now in my mid-20s with people announcing engagements every time I go online, I’m starting to get stressed out by the engagements. It’s so hard not to compare yourself, your relationship, and your life! At the same time I’m happy for them, but it’s weird to have a bit of a shift on this as I’m getting into the age where it’s within the realm of possibility for me.

  91. Cassie says...

    I’ll make a confession here.

    I never really thought much about engagement rings. I did always wanted to be married and had talked extensively about marriage with my then boyfriend, so was ready for it when he proposed. But I hadn’t thought much about engagement rings so we hadn’t talked much about the ring itself. I hadn’t told him what I’d want or expressed much of an opinion. And the dear man went and custom-made a ring for me, which was truly beautiful… but a bit bigger than I would have picked for myself? And I felt SO BAD. so, so, bad. Who complains about an engagement ring’s gem being too big?! It wasn’t gaudy by any means but I just like my jewelry being very very dainty. I felt so bad for the longest time that I wasn’t IN LOVE with my ring and burned up with guilt, feeling it was my fault that I hadn’t thought to communicate more about what I wanted. But after a few years, I have found myself loving the ring more and more, because it is a pure expression of his love. It may not have been what I’d pick for myself but it is 100% mine. I cherish it.

    • Lauren says...

      I get this! My ring isn’t what I would have picked either (beautiful but a bit *more* than I would have selected for myself). But like you, over the years, I’ve become more emotionally attached to it simply because it was chosen for me with so much love. If I did it all over again, I’d still do it this way.

    • Donna says...

      This happened to me as well. It’s bigger and ‘flashier’ than I would have personally liked but it’s a beautiful ring and I get asked if it’s a vintage heirloom all the time. I’m very fond of it now, but I don’t wear it every day because it doesn’t go with my sweatpants lol. And when I do, I notice I’m treated somewhat differently (by salespeople for example, preCovid obv) and it amuses me that people make assumptions based on a silly ring.

    • Em says...

      A woman after my own heart! My boyfriend has been joking for the last ten years that he’s going to propose with a puppy and then fall by the wayside as I fall in love with the dog. He might not be wrong… hahaha!

  92. ARC says...

    Beautifully written, Caroline. I grew up in Germany, and even after having lived (and been married) in the US for 20+ years, I still do not quite understand the American obsession (or so it seems to me) with engagement and especially, the engagement ring. When we were in our 20s, a number of my friends in the U.S. got married and showed around the big rock engagement rings, and I always asked myself the question why it is so important for a modern women with her own career to receive a big diamond ring. It never sat quite right with me. My (American) husband proposed to me in the presence of my parents, which I found very strange, as my German friends did not do that. They just decided to get married, and that was that. When he gave me a thin band with tiny blue and white stones (the Bavarian colors), I knew that he had considered my preferences, as the last thing I wanted was a big single diamond to brag, and with which I would have gotten stuck somewhere …. some of my friends on the other hand thought he was being “cheap” as I did not get the big diamond.

    • jane says...

      Several generations were subjected to the full force of American advertising industry and it left lasting scars on the female psyche. Similar to the way the tech industry uses meta-data today to “optimize” us into boxes for more efficient marketing. It has the power to shape culture in ways that even super savvy women just never see coming or are oddly naive about.

    • Agnès says...

      As a french woman; I’ve had the same experience. I don’t get where the excitement comes from (goes from dating to wedding, all the excitement around)- Is it beacuse of marketing? where does that come from? I find it quite fascinating to understand where these myths come from.

  93. Calla says...

    Thanks for sharing Caroline! You have such a wonderful voice

    My myth is that being in a relationship and/or living with a partner makes you more mature. I’m 28 and have been living on my own for 5 years. I’m in a PhD program, have lived in many places, am financially independent, have cultivated a myriad of skills and interests, and am a good friend to the people in my life.

    And yet, so often when I am confronted with a friend or family member who is living with a significant other, I feel small. There is a sense that the true measure of adulthood and maturity is merging your life with another person. It can feel like no matter how much I learn about how to be a good person in the world, nothing will be as good as sharing a bedroom with someone. I often experience this externally from people’s offhand remarks but I recognize a lot of it comes from a myth I have built as well.

    Also, unrelated (but related to the onslaught of engagement ring pictures in your 20s) if you want a good laugh please check out the wonderful instagram account @notengaged

    • Calla, this was lovely. This was exactly me at 28 (including the PhD program, the kindness to friends, the myriad of skills, and feeling about not being partnered exactly the way you’re describing). It sounds like you are way, way way more than enough. I suspect that if you want, you’ll find a person to share your life with, but if you don’t, you’ll always be enough – and the world frankly needs more women with PhD’s, skills, and kindness. I’m cheering for you.

    • Calla says...

      Tereza, this brought tears to my eyes! Thank you so much for the kind words!

  94. Emma says...

    Caroline, this was stunning. As silly as it sounds (maybe it did while you were writing this?) I never knew someone else looked at a ring and also thought: “The rings, to me, were glittering symbols that someone had been chosen. I wanted to know how that felt.” I have never dreamed of a wedding or children, but to be with someone forever feels like a club I cannot seem to get a membership to. Maybe it’s getting older or maybe it’s all this time we have to think (alone, in my case) during a pandemic. But the unquestionable devotion of two people wanting to be together for life sounds simply perfect. And you get to showcase that every day with a ring. Not the big weddings, photos, endless planning and choosing of bridesmaids dresses. Thank you for writing this.

    • Claire says...

      I’ve always thought that being proposed to would feel like such a magical, special thing. And confirm the idea that I had been chosen. Wanted. (Also, rings are gorgeous!)

  95. Hanna says...

    We can debate rings as markers of arriving in adulthood, but in-unit laundry? That is the DREAM.

    And the dream doesn’t dim once you’ve achieved it. The first time my husband and I rented an apartment with a tiny stacking washer/drier, I ran to its little closet and jumped up and down in delight every weekend for a year. Later, we bought a small house and a large side-by-side front loading washer and drier. The entire family spent most of the first weekend sitting in the laundry room floor watching the clothes spin like we were binge watching Netflix. That was 5 years ago, but I think I have some clothes to wash right now . . . . There are luxuries, and then there LUXURIES.

    • M says...

      What is in unit Laundry? I’m a Londoner and we usually have washing machines in the kitchen, no matter how tiny flats are here!

    • Olivia says...

      Can confirm. Bought a place with in-unit laundry a year ago, it was my first time having it since school. My husband and I still regularly remark on how amazing it is today.

    • Alison says...

      M – in the USA, apartments without any laundry are very common! Sometimes it might be in the basement of the building (so shared with other renters and maybe not so nice), or you might have to take your clothes to a laundromat! Sometimes apartments will have the hook up for a laundry machine, but having to buy an appliance for somewhere you might not stay long-term is the worst. Agree with Hanna that having in-unit laundry is LIFE CHANGING. :)

  96. Agnes says...

    I am in my 40’s and although I’ve had proposals, I’ve had no rings and no marriage yet. So I feel like when I finally get that proposal I want to accept, that the ring is BIG. A BIG DIAMOND ROCK. BIGGER THAN ANYONE ELSE’S… (did I say that out loud?)Maybe I want to make up for all the years of feeling not-chosen by proving that I’m REALLY chosen? OK, it’s immature. But that’s how I feel right now :) Love your honesty Caroline, and I hope your future engagement is all you’ve dreamed of and more <3

    • emma says...

      I get it 👍

    • emma says...

      Just make sure it’s an ethical, conflict-free diamond. 💖

    • Hayley B says...

      Haha you go girl! I applaud you for knowing what you want — that’s no small thing.

    • Agnes says...

      Emma oh my gosh. I have actually ALWAYS said that an ethical diamond was my only special request in choosing a ring!!! (Except for size hahah jk)

  97. lynn says...

    I went through a similar longing and wanting an engagement, marriage, kids—the whole nine. I even stayed in a relationship for too many years wishing it to happen. Once I left that relationship, everything changed. After being so very not happy for so many years, I just wanted a relationship without drama.

    When my husband and I met at a party several years later, we both knew we were meant for each other after a five-minute conversation. We even had a conversation about not wanting wedding rings on our very first date. We talked about getting married over dinner a few times. He remembers our decision being made at one restaurant one night, I remember it being at another restaurant another night. :) Once we decided to get married, officially asking seemed unnecessary. We just announced it over Twitter, as people do nowadays (after telling our parents, of course). There are no rings, there was no big wedding (a 90-second ceremony at the marriage bureau in NYC). I remember the day fondly, but it’s not a defining moment in our lives. The most important days are the ones that could have been defined by drama, but were instead defined by our pragmatic, practical relationship and our admiration, respect, and love for each other.

  98. Tracy says...

    love this so much!

  99. Andrea says...

    Hard pass on an engagement ring. I am not property that my husband reserved.

    • Caitlin says...

      Fuck yes Andrea. This is how I’ve always felt and you can be damned sure my husband knew me well enough to respect that! I’m always bewildered that this is still such a thing.

    • Andrea says...

      I also hate the longer term phenomena of other woman looking at your hand for your ring to judge your (net?) worth? A particularly bad party in Westchester had every woman checking out my bag (Target), shoes and non-existent engagement ring. Thanks for confirming that I was the outsider, ladies!

  100. Lydia says...

    Oh Caroline, I so adore your writing.

    We had a very, very short engagement. I admit to no one else, other than my invisible internet friends on CoJ, that I often wish our engagement had been a bit longer so I could have worn just that ring on its own for a couple more months. I feel a tinge of guilt in writing this because I would not change a thing about our own process. We decided to elope & miraculously did so 1 week before all of New YorkCity shut down for the Covid-19 pandemic. Even so, on some days, I wear just my engagement ring while working from home to enjoy the sparkle :)

    • Erin says...

      I wear mine alone all the time. Prefer it that way. May even continue wearing it after I move out and the divorce is final. I loooove my ring but outgrew the relationship.

  101. Stephanie says...

    It was actually my husband who was most invested in my engagement experience! This was five or six years ago when wedding websites were getting really big and among all my friends, it was the bride-to-be who wrote every part of the website EXCEPT the story of the engagement. My husband had read the stories written by my friends’ grooms and he was determined to outshine them in this area by surprising me with a perfect moment. He ended up booking us a “spontaneous” weekend trip to the Bay Area, where he casually suggested we pop off the freeway to stop at a beach we had been to before. When we got to the sand, he got down on one knee and a sneaky photographer captured it all. Only afterward did I learn that he had visited the beach a week before on a business trip where he made a (male) colleague stand in for me to “practice” the engagement and as they walked back to their car they received congratulations from passers by who that that THEY had really gotten engaged! It was very sweet that he put so much thought and effort into the big moment, even if his motivation was primarily competitive.

    • Hayley B says...

      Omg this is so fun(ny) and sweet! Love that your husband “rehearsed” the scene with his colleague, what an adorable perfectionist! 😍

  102. jenny says...

    Good for you! Nothing wrong with the idea of a fairy tale, but it never ends the way you dream it will. I longed to pick out a ring…until I was engaged. Suddenly, I refused to participate in the process. As someone who is rarely satisfied with other people’s choices, this was inexplicable especially when my boyfriend was actively seeking my input. The months drug on and then 9/11 happened – I reconsidered a lot of things and one night before falling asleep, I said “Ok, l am happy to go look at rings.” He replied, “Too bad, I already bought one” and rolled over and went back to sleep. We got engaged a month or so later. Now almost 19 years later I still like my lovely ring, but it is probably not what I would have chosen. I guess I had this romantic notion of him choosing the perfect ring and surprising me with it but what are the odds of that? But we are happily married with two amazing kids. Funny how things have a way of working out even if it’s not the way you wanted.

  103. Eve Boyce says...

    Caroline, the best writer!

  104. Ashley says...

    Thank you for sharing this. I recently commented to a (married) friend that being single when you hope to someday be married is a very unique kind of loneliness. It really is exactly as you described it – it seems like everyone else is in a secret club that you can’t figure out how to join. I really appreciate the perspective your article brings, and it’s nice to hear it from someone who’s been where I currently am.

  105. CB says...

    So interesting and well written, Caroline. For my first marriage in my mid twenties, my preference was what you outline you now want (low key, we had no engagement, no wedding, just a tiny wedding band). I felt an engagement was backwards and patriarchal and couldn’t understand why the man traditionally gets to decide when to marry, and felt romantic gestures were embarrassing and forced. Oddly, now in my 30s, divorced, and in another serious relationship, I’m so much more effusive in my affection, indulge in romantic absurdities, and would be totally ok with an engagement. In my current relationship, I know it’d be a gesture of affection, not artifice or performance, and trust it’d be done in a way authentic to us, not just in a perfunctory way that social media demands. Unsure if that shift says more about my emotional maturity, or the nature of the relationship, but I am pretty glad I’ve gotten more ridiculous in love as I’ve aged.

  106. Meg says...

    Living life shakes off the glitter of romance, and I mean that in a positive way! A distant ex tried to connect with me on LinkedIn (!?) last week, and I got butterflies in my stomach when I saw his name because – hands down – we had some of the most Romantic Times of Youth together. I started to reflect on how that flavor of romance isn’t present for me today (try being a stepmom for a day, and your idea of romance will be instantly redefined!). But my ex was also mean and unreliable. My husband (to whom I proposed over text on a Tuesday) is down to earth and reliable while also bringing in a great sense of adventure. Life is overall more steady, punctuated by romance, rather than playing out with a through line of romance. Letting go of the idea of an ideal romance has brought on the greatest maturation of my life.

  107. Sarah says...

    There’s an interesting counterpart to this story, as well, which is the story MEN hear about what makes an acceptable ring. I would have loved a simple band, but my now-husband had internalized these ideas about how big the diamond needed to be, how expensive the ring. It was a real challenge for him to navigate, as well. I love my engagement ring, but it’s not what I would have chosen for myself. I wish there was more messaging to
    our ring-picking partners (not always male-identifying) about how to ditch social norms/expectations and do whatever feels right!

  108. Taylor says...

    I keep drafting a comment that I can’t articulate very well because it sounds boastful when really I want to convey that I’m kind of at standstill and hoping to hear from others.

    I recently actually “hit” both of my “life goalposts”–1) to be financially independent and secure and 2) to be a mom. I worked really, really hard to hit both of these and they’re not exactly coexistent….but here I am, with a three month old, a solid career in law that I chose because of the flexibility it would offer me with my future kiddos, and a husband I fall more in love with every day! And while the fact that my baby is a different, new, bigger baby literally every morning means new anxieties and more things for me to do, plan, and learn for her to be happy and healthy, I’m not quite sure what I want MY next personal goal post to be! The journey to financial security and motherhood were both nothing like I thought, and “hitting” these goals looked totally different than I imagined too.

    Everything I try to come up with seems so small…learn to play chess?…maybe open a local bar when the world stops exploding….try to write that mystery novel that I’ve been poking around my laptop…travel more, also when the world stops exploding–but no amount of planning to travel will ever feel as significant as planning for my kiddo or grinding it out in law school. I saw this gorgeous “5 year planner” the other day and I got kinda bummed thinking about how I don’t have any long term personal goals now other than “love the crap out of my daughter/stop googling everything that makes me nervous about a three month old” and “love the crap out of my husband”, “get more sleep (lol)” and “keep my job.” Curious if anyone else has ever reached a point like this? Does motherhood keep the goal posts continually moving?

    • Katey says...

      There is a new paradigm in self-help (talk about using the exact tone you’re trying to avoid!). It ousts goals and inserts values. I’ve gotten so much out of this shift.

      Old goals: 1. career, 2. kids, 3. publish

      I’ve met 2 of those goals. Having kids really changes things. I’ve decided to put a lot of time into my relationship with them, so other things aren’t a priority. Replacing my goals with values has calmed me down a lot. It’s made me feel centered instead of frantic–as if I’m failing in multiple spheres of life.

      Values: anti-misogyny, anti-racism, and pro-environment. These values seem completely unrelated to my old goals, but they focus my daily decisions. This shows up in the products I buy, the comments I let slide, the causes I fight for, the media I let into the house, voting, and mundane things like that. It has made me feel more powerful than goal-setting.

      By shifting from goals to values you shift your locus of worth from society to your self.

    • Alison says...

      I’d love to recommend following @elisejoy on instagram (she has a book on goal setting/productivity that is great). It’s been really useful to me to see her change and set goals – and even small ones. I don’t think every goal needs to be big to be satisfying – or that small goals can’t lead to larger ones! I think surrounding yourself with people who are trying to accomplish things, even if much different from your own goals or just virtually, can help you think more about where you might want your life to go.

      I also like the trick of thinking about what my life will be like when I’m *insert age* (like 70!) and what would need to happen between now and then to make that life real. It’s a fun and different way to back into what I work on now.

      Good luck with goal setting! But also soak up and enjoy your big accomplishments. <3

    • Alison says...

      Yes, Katey!! This is how I’ve approached “New Years” goal setting the past few years – by first defining/reflecting on my current values and then making some real changes aligned to those. It’s led to my consistent composting for the past three years, shopping locally/package free, mending clothing, and only purchasing “new” second hand clothing. I have gotten SO much more satisfaction in putting my environmental values into the forefront of my life. Each year I make a new tweak or set a new “goal” around a change that I’ve wanted to introduce – and then those changes become part of my daily routine. Yes yes yes!

    • AN says...

      I take it back, Jo, @katey’s comment below is the one for Friday! ;) But for real, this re-framing is (mind blown emoji).

    • T says...

      I’d set your new challenge as “understand why I can’t sit still” and “work towards feeling peace in my accomplishments” – as someone who also shifts the goalposts the minute I reach them this is my biggest challenge to date, but it’s a very worthwhile quest, even better than those with tangible outcomes.

    • C says...

      Congratulations on your kiddo and financial independence! What about having your next goal be something specific related to a cause you care about? A long-term goal could be something running for school board or city council to help push that agenda forward. Just a thought! :)

  109. Emily says...

    I definitely thought about rings when I was younger, and pretty rings still catch my eye when I’m out and about. However, some time in my mid-20s, as getting engaged became a real thing among my peers, I started to change my mind. Engagement rings started to seem more like trophies for women to wave around. I learned about the marketing campaign that created the “tradition” of diamond rings. And I started to think it was really weird that (traditionally) when a man asks a woman to marry him, he gifts her a really expensive rock to wear on her hand. I don’t really understand why it’s still a thing!

    A few years ago, I made my now-fiance swear he wouldn’t get me an engagement ring. When he proposed, he proposed without one. But a few days later, we both blurted out that it felt weird not to have any physical symbol/talisman/what-not of our big change! So we decided to buy our wedding bands, which we both now wear on our right hands (and will switch to our left when we marry). It has been the best decision :)

  110. Molly says...

    When my grandmother passed, my sisters and I inherited her engagement ring (not her original ring, but the one my grandfather got her when he could afford something nicer). It was a massive ring, divided into three parts for the three of us. Being the middle daughter, I got the center part of the ring.

    That ring, recently realized to fit my ring finger, is currently taped to the inside of the lid of a pint of Jeni’s ice cream, tucked away in a cabinet we never use lest my boyfriend find it. The corresponding pint of his absolute favorite ice cream is hidden in the freezer. I’m waiting for the right moment to surprise him with the ice cream and pop the question.

    Despite our constant rejection of traditional gender roles in a relationship, I’ve still had to convince myself that it’s ok if I’m the one who proposes, not him. I suppose I’m trying to let go of that particular myth.

    • Jenny says...

      I am so excited for you! This breathless ring, waiting its turn!!!!!! So many possibilities ahead, and all include ice cream!

  111. LEE ANN says...

    For as long as I can remember, I have been opposed to the idea of an engagement ring. My now-husband and I had what I’d call a non-engagement and a surprise wedding (with about 40 of our closest friends and family members in the backyard of our first house). We exchanged simple matching wedding bands. It felt right then and it still does now.

  112. C says...

    It’s so interesting to me, these dreams of engagements, rings, and weddings. I wonder, do men have the same visions?
    As someone who has absolutely Never dreamt of engagement rings, weddings, dresses, etc I find it fascinating.
    Maybe I’m pessimistic about all of it but it’s interesting that I’ve just never been into any of it!
    When I have a moment, I’d like to do some research about this!

    • ange says...

      And are you married? I also never had engagement fever but do very much wish to marry or rather more specifically, experience the joy and personal growth of shared commitment.

    • Stephanie says...

      It is funny you say this because my husband totally surprised me by having MANY thoughts on engagements and rings and weddings.
      I never thought about rings (I am not really knowledgeable about jewelry) and I never wanted a big wedding. The minute we got engaged he went into his months long saga, dreaming about the engagement and picking out a ring together and his thoughts of our wedding. He then told me he had always dreamt of being married. I was totally shocked because I (wrongly) assumed this wasn’t something he would envision on his own!

  113. Denise says...

    I love this, thanks Caroline. I feel similarly, especially around the holidays and all the ads for pretty rings! Give those marketers a raise because I’m a person who never wants to get married at all, but I do want a gorgeous wedding ring & I’ve got several all picked out for when I win the lottery. But I do currently have a fun little ring that I picked up on a trip somewhere and only fits my previously reserved ring finger. It has fish on it. Maybe it’s time to wear it.

  114. Stephanie says...

    On our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I traveled out of town for another wedding. We stayed with a friend and, while out for a bike ride, his home was robbed. Among the missing items? My husband’s wedding band, which he’d took just before we left.

    A few years later, I found myself pregnant and enjoying a regular milkshake (ha!) and before long both my engagement and wedding ring no longer fit.

    Reading this, I realized something. We just celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary. But we never replaced my husband’s band. And although, yes, my rings now fit, I rarely wear them.

    Before we got engaged, I cared so much about those rings–were they not a symbol of our great love for one another? But now I see the real and true evidence of our love: commitment over time, children we are lucky to enjoy together, and our dreams for the future.

  115. Karen says...

    When I was a bartender in my 20s, rings were a quick barometer tool to judge a personality type: first if they had a ring, second what it looked like (very telling), third how they behaved with ring on. The last was very true for males interacting with me, a female in a serving position, while he tipsy, wearing a wedding ring. Often my own ring being my main line of defense.

    So you put on whatever the heck ring you want, any day of the week, and tell your own story.

  116. Jenny T says...

    My husband proposed to me with an engraved bell for my most beloved possession- my bicycle. Just the kind of ring I wanted for our engagement.

    We later had the wedding rings from each of our late grandfathers melded into simple wedding bands.

    • Maclean Nash says...

      Jenny, that is the sweetest story!

    • Shannon says...

      I love this

  117. Chandra says...

    This speaks to me so much Caroline, thank you for sharing. All of my friends are married with kids and at 36, I often feel like I’ve missed both of those boats completely as a long-term single person. Companionship would be great but it feels like now especially it’s beyond out of reach during a pandemic. Part of getting older I do believe though is recognizing that everyone’s story is going to be different and embracing where you are.

    • Calla says...

      @Chandra I’m a little younger but feel the same way! If you haven’t read “It’s Not You; 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Still Single” stop whatever you’re doing and go get it. I’ve always been single and the book really helped me separate my occasional loneliness and desire for a partner, from the shame and embarrassment of not being where I thought I should be by a certain age.

    • Rachel says...

      I met my husband when I was 36, got married 6 weeks before I turned 40 and had my son a few days before my 42nd birthday. At each step I assumed the next wasn’t in the cards. Your path is your path . . .

  118. Isa says...

    I’m going over that with motherhood. Trying to see why it has so much meaning with no reason, if it’s a myth, and how (and if) to rewrite that in terms that speak truly to me. It’s hard!
    * no engagement rings in my country, you just use a wedding by band that moves from the right to the left hand. So I may say I didn’t feel that pressure regarding the ring. Which makes me feel exploding the same phenomenon in other cultures may help the healing?

  119. Emma says...

    Caroline, as per usual, your writing is sublime. I got engaged three years ago to my then boyfriend, in the midst of a whirlwind relationship we both plunged ourselves into because I was 32 and he was 36 so we thought ‘sure, I guess this as good as it’s going to get!’ I had also spent most of my adult life buying into the belief that once I cracked the ‘Club of Engagement’, I’d be a proper adult. Well, ironically, that engagement ended and I ended up having to move back in with my parents just before I turned 33. It took me the subsequent three years, and so much therapy, to unlearn everything I had been taught about weddings and commitment and womanhood and blah blah blah. I just got engaged over the weekend, this time in a good relationship, this time with a good sense of myself, and the silver lining of Covid is that all the flash-bang whoopla around weddings is now gone. It now seems like a much simpler club to belong to. And it fits me a lot better at 35 than it did at 32 (practically a child bride, no?)

    • PRISCILLA VANHEEST says...

      <3 I loved this. I also got engaged during the pandemic (and married). never would it have been what my younger self envisioned but as you said, i am part of a simplier club now. and i feel right at home there.

    • Angela says...

      Emma! I was going to comment in a similar vein about how Covid changed the way I wear jewelry. And Caroline’s writing is sublime!

      First of all, I don’t “get dressed” these days, which always included me wearing my wedding and engagement rings and earrings. Secondly, I found that I was paranoid about wearing my rings when Covid all started for fear of not getting my hands CLEAN.

      Now here we are many months later, and I’ve found myself as the bare fingered person I NEVER thought I’d be. So much so, that when we got family pics in July, I realized on the way to the site that I wasn’t wearing my rings. La-di-da, I sulked for a few beats, before realizing this is who I am in this moment in time, captured forever. Ringless and mom-bun wearing is the new me. And I have been the mooniest- mooner about engagement rings my entire life! I remember the 3 stone rings – Past, Present, Future that were all.the.rage. in my romantic high school days and stashing ripped out pictures from magazines in diaries “so I could remember what I wanted.” Who is this 2020 me?

  120. Lynn says...

    What is the whole ring thing, other than an outward message that you fit into a marriage mold (and the rest of the world should too)? I’ve been partnered for decades, and neither of us wears a ring. I feel much more comfortable not appearing to be part of the hetero-industrial complex.

    • Calla says...

      I kind of agree! I’ve never been able to picture myself with an engagement ring because I just can’t get over the gender imbalance. But I honestly never really thought about not having a band either and I kind of love it.

      I’ve been single for so long, I have begun to resent how partnership and marriage can form a kind of social hierarchy. Even though I do hope to get married one day, I don’t feel a burning desire to advertise that status to strangers

    • ange says...

      Seriously, this.

  121. Nicola says...

    I’ve said goodbye to a certain baby myth -the fun night resulting in two lines on a test and a shocked happy scream…. for us the process is much more medical. Scans and tests and needles. However I try to keep my promise to myself to follow the goal, not the fantasy. I know that that when/if we get to a baby, it will be our baby, achieved through our bravery.

    • PRISCILLA VANHEEST says...

      i loved your line “i try to keep my promise to myself to follow the goal, not the fantasy.” I want to tack this to my wall.

    • Stephanie says...

      Thank you. This comment means so much to me, as I’m in the same boat. It’s been really tough for me to let go of the “magic” of things happening organically, but you’re right – the end result is what matters, and I like to think the process is building the skills in us that will make us great parents (bravery, patience, perseverance, etc)

      Sending positive thoughts your way, Nicola!

    • JR says...

      I’m about to embark on that same path and have finally come to accept that the outcome will be so, so, so much better than the myth. I’ve felt so hopeless for so many months, but am starting to emerge and feel hopeful for what’s to come (however long it takes to come). Thanks for reminding me that I’m also really f***ing brave.

    • Nicola says...

      These replies to my comment make me feel so much less alone. Sometimes it feels like the pregnancy myth gets screamed from the roof-top, and those of us who come to it a little more medically are the odd ones out. The more and more I travel this path, the more and more I realise that’s not the case.

      Here’s to all of us ladies and our bravery, we are building the muscles we will rely on as parents, I’m sure of it. Also when I have bad days I (weirdly) listen to Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart and remind myself that everyone has something they long for. Onwards!

    • Kamina says...

      “our baby, achieved through our bravery” is so frickin’ beautiful.

    • Mary says...

      Nicola, your thoughts on this brought tears to my eyes. I also had to say goodbye to that baby myth. I thought I had it at first — and then we got the news that we were not, in fact, going to sail blissfully and carefree into parenthood. Instead, my story is a lot less dreamy and involves many sorrows I never imagined for myself, but we did exactly what you are doing. We followed our goal.

      Our beautiful, perfect son just turned one, and he is magnificent. I wish with ALL my heart for the same beauty and magnificence to greet you, on the other side of your bravery.

  122. JJ says...

    Wow Caroline. This is so vulnerable and it hit home for me. I feel everything you’re saying. The concept of someone wanting to commit the rest of their lives (???) to me just seems so alien and impossible. It just seems like it’s not in my cards. And I do want it, so much. I know logically that this is a pure myth – why couldn’t it happen to me?? I don’t lack self esteem (I think I’m great! I know I deserve love!) but for some reason the concept of people wanting to spend their entire lives together seems so foreign that my biggest fear is someone not wanting to do this with me someday. -_-

  123. Cate says...

    When I was finishing college and looking ahead to life after I remember heavily daydreaming about buying a new couch. Didn’t think as much about where I would live or what I would do, but I dreamed about having enough money to buy a couch instead of dragging one off the side of the road or going to goodwill. Took awhile but it was really exciting when it happened. Later, and still, the goalpost is having a second child. Hoping I’ll be able to report back soon that it took awhile but was really exciting when it happened.

    • K says...

      haha I’m still in the “daydreaming about a new couch” phase. Perusing the west elm website and thinking how crazy it would be to spend that much money on a couch and not have to scour craigslist for one (though honestly, I’m quite fond of our current comfy beige one we scored from CL)

    • Sarz says...

      Cate, a brand-new couch is an amazing way to measure adulting success! :D I’m all for Goodwill, but I will no longer acquire any used goods that can’t be popped directly in the washing machine. (Two words that haunt me to this day: bed. bugs.)
      Hopefully that couch, and all ones thereafter, are amazing memory-catchers for your growing family.

    • Rachel says...

      In the 90s I had a weird hand me down wicker loveseat. I decided that if I was going to find a boyfriend, I needed an actual make-out sofa. So, I saved up my money, took myself to IKEA and came home with a full-length red velvet couch. It didn’t see a whole lot of making out, but it did feel like an adult purchase for sure. Thanks for reminding me about that adult goal post.

  124. Lindsey says...

    The longer I am married the more deeply I understand that the rings only mean as much as the marriage. I know women with gorgeous, blinding, boulders on their fingers who are miserably sad. I know people in loving, committed relationships that wear necklaces instead of rings or no rings at all. That is a long way of saying that a gem of a husband / wife / partner is the best jewelry :)

    • Morgan Mellinger says...

      yes!!!!!

    • Have to say I agree. I was young when I got engaged and totally bought into the whole engagement myth. I hated the ring my husband picked out and stopped wearing it after we got married and I started working in a hospital.

      Luckily the marriage is solid, even if the ring wasn’t. We’ve been together 10 years, married for 5 and are expecting our first child in a couple weeks. I was so disappointed when I first saw my engagement ring but I feel so silly looking back now at how much weight I put into it. Since then we’ve learned to communicate better and I pretty much tell him exactly what style I want when it comes to major gifts. And there may or may not be a very pretty replacement ring lined up this Christmas :) at any rate these are such minor things. There’s way more important features to look for in a relationship that determine if you’ll make a good match long term…

  125. Raquel says...

    Oh that myth and ‘ring’ and after 20 years of marriage I no longer wear any. Mostly because I’m a baker and they no longer fit.

  126. amy says...

    Oh Carolin. Your writing slays me every time. Your posts are my absolute favorite

  127. I Never Will Marry says...

    Very timely for me. I am so depressed today because I told my partner of 20+ years last night to stop bringing up getting married and that it is now off the table. Official marriage has never been a big deal for us and we have been very committed to each other, but for 2 years now he’s been bringing it up, almost getting a ring, almost getting a license etc. I’m just so sick of succumbing to the romance and excitement about formalizing it only to never get around to it or decide not to do it after all for one reason or another. I know we’ll be happy together still but I am just sick of the emotional upheaval from almost getting engaged, almost getting married, talking about it but never doing it. Been shopping for a ring to give myself all day today and trying to just let it go and be happy with what we have (which is a great relationship).

    • Allie says...

      My aunt is very anti-marriage (after a bad one ended) but it means a lot to my uncle (her partner). Their compromise was a series of surprise, fake weddings in small groups with family and friends. The “officiant” was never official, there is no wedding license, but they got to celebrate their commitment with those they love. They wear rings and call each other husband and wife. I’ve always loved the middle ground they created.

    • Aneli says...

      Hugs to you. I think we could talk all day! I’m going to call it a good sign when ending talk of marriage doesn’t end the relationship. I, too, came to the stage where I just couldn’t talk about it anymore.

      I’m with an amazing partner and father but the discussion was no longer fun. (That look he got – couldn’t take it!) We found each other later in life, after kids and divorces, and commitment isn’t a question. We are raising our kids together and talk plainly about their college funds, retirement, beneficiaries… One *could* think marriage to be just a formality now. An engagement ring would not be for me nor a debt I want to budget for. But who wouldn’t want to sport that obvious symbol of being chosen, loveable, and marriageable? It’s been a challenge to not take “still dating” personally. I mean, I am a catch and a keeper! The heck.

      I’ve been wearing a lucite ring from MOMA on my 3rd finger for years. I simply won’t reserve space there. So when the inexpensive wedding band I’d been stalking for myself stopped being made, I accepted it as my cue to quietly close the door on this topic. I’m trying to look forward to being one of those cool older couples who never felt the need or got around to marriage.

      Caroline, thank you for this beautiful piece. Identifying the myth was a balm to a still-touchy nerve and the comments (read all 353) have been a comfort I couldn’t have found otherwise. Thank you, friends.

  128. mary s says...

    I guess I’m a freak – never had any interest at all in engagement rings — or weddings. I have found it difficult to let go of the myth that I would meet a romantic partner with whom I would stay forever, though.

  129. Anna says...

    Before we were dating, my husband and I were with a group of friends and someone received a text from a friend with a photo of their hand with their new engagement ring. It got passed around the room and everyone commented on the large sparkly diamond. I mentioned that I wanted just a plain band as my engagement/wedding ring. Months later when we were about to become engaged my husband asked if I was serious about the plain band. I was surprised he remembered and I was serious! I’ve never regretted not having a stone but it was hilarious to see people try to act excited about my plain band when we were first engaged and asked to show off the ring.

  130. G says...

    Caroline, I love this so much! It makes me happy to hear others’ engagement stories and I am a romantic at heart but at the same time have never been a jewelry or even a wedding person. My now-husband proposed to me without a ring (which is what I wanted and would have expected). Yet, I still remember those social norms making their way into my mind as I responded to numerous expressions of ‘Let me see the ring!’ But truly it did not matter to me and I carried on doing it my own way. My husband and I spent time shopping around picking out simple but lovely wedding bands and it felt just perfect for us :)

  131. Betsy says...

    I love this. I needed this. Thank you <3

  132. Raquel says...

    Oh that myth and the ‘ring’ and after 20 years of marriage I no longer wear any. Mostly because I’m a baker and the rings no longer fit.

  133. Valerie says...

    I found as the time came near that I didn’t care anything about having an engagement ring (or a wedding band) – those items didn’t hold any significance for me, so it seemed silly to waste money on them… and in the first few years of marriage, whenever I would *want* to spend money on something that maybe wasn’t practical, a little too indulgent, I’d say to my husband “remember all that money I saved us because I didn’t want an engagement ring??” So that’s another way to go ;-)

  134. AJ says...

    Beautiful, Caroline. This is so great – the piece and the meaning. Makes my heart glow.

    I had my own engagement myth once (my wedding was called off), I remember posting a comment on one of your pieces a few years ago, about relationships and knowing when you are in love – and quickly regretting it, as I’d shared a note on heartache among a sea of joyful comments celebrating love, and I felt bad about bringing the mood down. I emailed and asked you to remove it, which you kindly did although you also said you’d liked my comment, as it was honest and love and relationships can be so complicated. I’ve just looked to find the email – that was 2015! Crazy! God, that myth shattering left me absolutely stunned and pulled every rug from under me – but five years on, well long story short, I am SO glad that wedding didn’t happen. Our narratives can take so many twists and turns and different forms, all that really matters is that they’re the ones we’re meant to be on.

    You’ve shared your love stories with us so generously, Caroline, it’s such a gift. Especially as however they’re framed or whatever the details, there’s a universal courage that speaks way beyond the ‘shoulds’ . ❤️

    • K says...

      That’s lovely, I’m so glad to hear you’re happy with where your path has taken you.

  135. Anna says...

    Love this post! I’m working on trying to be happy exactly where I am. I’ve realized that once you reach the “I’ll be happy when…” milestone, another one appears ahead. I realized the other day that I reached all the “life goals” I had as a teenager to graduate from college, get married and have kids. Now I’m anxious for my four month old to walk, talk and be potty trained, for my husband to finish grad school, for us to move out of our college town… I’m sure it will always go on. One blessing of the pandemic is the chance to slow down and recognize the good things I have, even among the many things I would like to change.

  136. Colleen S says...

    I’ve been wearing rings on my left ring finger since childhood. Rings that might look engagement-like, and get people’s attention. Rings fit better on that finger, and I’m not getting married anytime soon (or ever), so I’m cool with your new myth.

  137. Kate the Great says...

    I love your writing, Caroline. Each essay has an interesting circular feeling. I can list many of my favorite female internet writers, and they all have the same circular tone– the end always reaches back to the beginning, quietly. I hope I write like that.

  138. Susan from Toronto says...

    Caroline, this is a lovely expression of the tangled emotions around the hope and promise of an engagement, with a ring to go with it. Whether you wear one or not, the choice stands out. I have married twice. The first time, I had a plain, thin gold band, no engagement ring. I liked the simplicity of that, it felt sophisticated and private. When I remarried in my forties, I felt that if I needed an engagement ring, I shouldn’t be getting married – either I was in or I was out. I had a heavy plain white gold band with a single stone. Real jewelry, it felt sophisticated and private. So that was my theme. The symbolism of an engagement ring – love, wealth, promise, property, joy, ownership, celebration, loyalty – is intense and personal. I like your new myth of rings. My husband has passed, and I wear my wedding ring on my right hand, and his promise ring on my left. Only I need to understand it. That’s my new myth, private but loved, at least once. I have had a magical adult existence. Thank you for all your words, you’re a favorite part of my Cup of Jo experience.

    • K says...

      That was nice to read, Susan. Thanks for sharing.

    • Capucine says...

      Thank you for this.

      ‘Private but loved, at least once.’

      My husband is twelve years older than me, and the first lightening flashes of mortality have begun. I never thought of the value of a ring in this way, for the day when he is not in his body beside me anymore and it all feels imaginary, this extraordinary love that really did come to my life.

  139. Emily says...

    At 25, I wanted an engagement and marriage so badly that I pressured my bf at the time into it. We were together for 6 years at the time, but not quite happy, and I had a vision for myself: married well before 30, settling into a home, then having kids. Luckily, the engagement predictably blew up and the wedding was canceled, and it was all a blessing in disguise. I started dating someone who comes from a non-traditional background and doesn’t feel any pressure to get married, and it has truly changed my perspective on marriage. Everyone in his life is in long-term relationships, but choose to be there every single day. They don’t have any legalities tying themselves together, and yet they are some of the happiest couples I’ve met. I still think I will get married one day, but it has helped me understand that the strength of a partnership is not in the party you throw for your family or the paper you sign, but rather the true connection between yourself and your loved one.

  140. Ashleigh Wilson says...

    Excellent work, Caroline:) I loved reading this. The pace was perfect.

  141. Connie says...

    What a thoughtful post. For me, it has to do with motherhood. Year after Year (after year, year, year…) I watched friends, former schoolmates, coworkers, get married then get pregnant and have kids. I pondered (and ached to know) what it would be like if I ever became a mom, to enter that club that felt so exclusive. Due to mysterious infertility, my husband and I needed to rewrite our expectations for what highway we would take to parenthood, and so we added to our family by adopting from the foster care system.
    I’m a Mom. But not the way that any other people in my life became a mom, so I don’t have Birth Stories or Regaling Pregnancy cravings, and I didn’t have any showers. My friends have toddlers. I have Big Kids, because I went from no kids to two older toddlers literally overnight. My path to motherhood is nothing like that of my friends, and the way I have to parent through their trauma to help them heal is thankfully nothing my friends are needing to do with their kids. But in the end, we’re all just trying to raise kind humans, we’re all just doing our best, we’re all exhausted and still trying to hang tight to ourselves as women-beyond-moms…it’s not what I expected. But it’s still messy and beautiful.

  142. Hannah says...

    Gah. Love your writing. So good. Thank you.

  143. Eve says...

    34 years ago, my then bf and I got married at the Municipal building in NYC (it’s been strange attending civil ceremonies at the DMV). We exchanged simple bands purchased at Tiffany’s with my Tiffany card and I got my engagement ring a month later. And yes, we’re still married.

  144. Stephanie says...

    Reading Caroline’s post are like as if she peeked into my brain and put my messy thoughts into beautiful writing.

  145. I felt very similarly to how you did for a long time. I put so much stock in the engagement/ring part when I was younger but as I matured, I realized that part is really not so important. I had friends who were completely and totally surprised by their engagement. That was not the case for me. We picked out the ring together, I knew he had it and had a feeling it would happen in the first several weeks of December. And the engagement itself was very simple. I felt so much pressure to tell this grand story, but it was just a quiet night where 2 people decided to so yes forever and always. He made reservations at my favorite restaurant and asked that we not tell anyone until the next day so we could enjoy the evening together. That, to me, was romantic. I did call my parents on the way home but that was the only people we told that day.

    I think of that night fondly, but it’s not what stands out when I think about our relationship. We’ve been married for about 3.5 years and there are so many other more crucial moments that are important to me. Yes I love my ring, but it just pales in comparison to all the other ways my husband has shown up over the years – and during the years leading up to our engagement/marriage.

  146. Sisu García says...

    Caroline you’ve done it again! This piece is so beautiful and so true! I might have cried a little at “The rings, to me, were glittering symbols that someone had been chosen. I wanted to know how that felt.” ugh this suckerpunched me in the gut, i know this feeling so well. I have reached a place where being single in very enjoyable for me even if I’ve yet to experience that ellusive world that is romance, having never even gone on a second date at the ripe old age of 27, but by God do I want someone to choose me. I want it so bad, even if I know I don’t need it. But I 100% agree that I’ve been able to find my own narrative and it definitely looks different to tht of everyone else and that is a-okay.

  147. Ashley says...

    and *that* is how you end an essay. amazing!

  148. I had always pictured myself with a big traditional engagement ring, but as I got older I realized that I wanted my ring to represent some aspect of my relationship.

    • Calla says...

      I kind of agree! I’ve never been able to picture myself with an engagement ring because I just can’t get over the gender imbalance. But I honestly never really thought about not having a band either and I kind of love it.

      I’ve been single for so long, I have begun to resent how partnership and marriage can form a kind of social hierarchy. Even though I do hope to get married one day, I don’t feel a burning desire to advertise that status to strangers