I Bought My Husband an Engagement Ring
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When journalist and author Jo Piazza got married, everyone gave her advice about the wedding. No one talked to her about the marriage. Piazza set out on a trip around the world to interview hundreds of women about how to be happily married. The result is a new memoir, How to Be Married, which comes out April 18th.

I didn’t want an engagement ring. I’m the kind of person who loses jewelry. I’m cheap and thought the money should go towards a vacation or furniture for our empty new home. But, more importantly, I felt like a ring was a way of my almost-husband marking his territory, of claiming me as his before our life together had even begun.

Most of this was in my head. I was marrying a guy who was more of a feminist than I was, a dude who once told me he read all of the Judy Blume books as a kid (“Didn’t all little boys read Blubber?” he asked me once with baleful honesty).

But engagement rings come with baggage. Some historians believe a pagan caveman would bind his mate’s ankles and wrists with braided grass to signify his control of her before they consecrated a relationship. Some sources claim the first engagement rings were used by the ancient Romans, rings with tiny keys attached to them that denoted a husband’s ownership of his wife. Since the Middle Ages a betrothal ring has often been considered to be an insurance policy for the bride’s virginity leading up to the wedding. The entire history of the engagement ring is pretty gross.

These days, engagement rings get even more attention. Brides-to‑be give them their very own Facebook posts, tacitly telling the world according to social media: “I’m taken.” Getting married already felt like surrendering my independence in so many ways. I at least wanted to start the marriage on equal footing.

I found a solution in South America.

While researching my latest book, I learned men in Chile happily wear simple engagement bands until their wedding day. After that, they switch the jewelry to their opposite hand.

I wanted to mark my own territory. I wanted to propose.

I’d be an outlier for sure. The tradition has never caught on in America. In 1926 the department store Bamberger’s, which would eventually become Macy’s, tried to market a male engagement ring with over-the-top macho names like “The Pilot,” “The Stag” and “The Master.” Imagine walking up to the jewelry counter in a place with a name like Bamberger’s and having the saleswoman ask you, “Is your husband more a Stag or a Master?”

Before we got married, my then-fiancé Nick and I planned a research and reporting trip to Chile for both my book and my job as a travel editor for Yahoo.

This was my moment.

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On a walk one evening, I ditched him to wander alone into a warm jewelry shop carved out of an adobe row house in San Pedro de Atacama. The ring that caught my eye on was cool. Really cool. It was silver with three intricate braids of copper on the inside. Indiana Jones would wear this ring. I imagined all manner of scenarios for how I would propose. I could drop it into Nick’s wine glass or hide it in a molten chocolate cake. I could wait until the sun began to rise over the volcano and drop to one knee on our terrace wearing very tiny underwear. For a brief moment I wondered what would happen if he said no. This foray into the unknown terrified and excited me. I bought the ring and slipped it into an innocuous brown paper bag.

After rejoining Nick, we strolled on. Eight minutes later, we realized we were lost.

“Maybe we can cut across this field,” Nick said, heading into a pasture of cows. An angry German shepherd leapt at us, snarling and baring his teeth.

Shaken from the near dog attack, I stretched my arms wide and folded them around my shoulders in a pinched hug. In the past, with any other boyfriend, this would have been the moment I would have said, “I told you we should have taken a cab,” and stomped back to town to hail my own taxi.

Instead I dropped down on one knee in the gnarly bushes, the rocks scratching my skin, dust billowing into my nose, exposed and cold.

Nick looked down, confusion flickering across his face.

“I hate getting lost,” I said. “I hate it. It makes me nervous and angry and I’m freezing right now.” I pulled more air into my lungs. My voice quavered. I finally understood why men get nervous when they propose and why they feel such a rush when their bride-to-be finally says yes. It was terrible and wonderful all at once. I felt empowered as hell. “But I don’t mind getting lost with you. I love you and I am going to love you for a hundred thousand years. Will you marry me?”

He paused, cocked his head to the side and got down into the dirt with me. Now we were on equal ground. This was what I wanted all along.

Collages by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.

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  • Suzan

    Holy crap, this is an adorable and beautiful story! Got me a tiny bit teary eyed.

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  • I love this. I agree with you about the gross history of engagement rings… but I can’t help but want one 🙁

    • Natty

      same. why?

      • I love jewelry, especially rings. My boyfriend has given me three rings over the course of our relationship but there’s something just so special about the prospect of an engagement ring. I like to think that it’s not “marking territory” or “insurance policy” but in this modern day a real expression of love and commitment. Maybe I’m too hopeful, too romantic.

        • Rae

          I think that traditions with frankly sketchy roots (such as engagement rings) can still be meaningful, if it means something to you! I’m not religious anymore, but I still display my nativity set at Christmastime because my dad gave it to me and it’s meaningful to me. If you want a ring, go for it! Girl it’s your finger!

          • robert

            If you ask Saudi Arabian women: “would you wear the burqa if there wasn’t any law to impose you to do it?”
            I think 97% will answer “yes”. A bad tradition creeps insidiously into the culture and gradually causes people to forget its origins of power and submission. But the evilness is still there, but well disguised. So it brainwashes Arab women who now think they really want the burqa, it’s good to wear it. the same with the engangement rings.

  • ❤ thank you.

  • Kate

    So true that people always want to talk to you about the wedding but not the marriage. Looking forward to checking out her book!

    • Jo Piazza

      Can’t wait to hear what you think of it 🙂

  • This was the most beautiful engagement story I’ve ever read. I am TOTALLY inspired. We need more stories like these. So amazing. Thank you for sharing, Jo!

  • Ma

    We do the same in Brazil! Back in the day we didn’t even have the diamond solitary engagement ring, but now it’s becoming more of a thing. Upon getting engaged both the man and the woman wear their wedding bands (usually chosen by the couple rather than just the man or woman) on their right hand, and then at the wedding they change it to the left. It’s good because both parties have a say on jewellery they will both wear (hopefully) forever, and it doesn’t discriminate against either gender or gay couples 🙂

    • Imaiya Ravichandran

      i love this idea!

  • Angela

    This is exactly what I want.

  • Danni

    Ha! The lowercase ‘s’ in German shepherd made me picture an angry person with lederhosen and shepherd crook!

    • Bree

      Same! haha

    • Jo Piazza

      me too!

  • Rae

    This is SO beautiful! I also insisted on no engagement ring, for the reasons you articulated above and also because I already wear a ring on my left ring finger & have for years (bought after a terrible breakup as a sort of “I don’t need a man to put a ring on this finger!” statement; I’m now quite fond of it).

    • Jo Piazza

      I did the same exact thing. I bought myself an engagement ring in Tanzania about six months before I met my husband as a fuck it, I’ll marry me present.

  • Faz

    This post just made my morning! It’s feminist, beautiful and just full of love! I think what I take away from it is that you should make your life and your relationship what you want it to be. And I love that!
    The origins of engagement rings are pretty terrible, but I like the idea of one because to me it’s a symbol of love and commitment, a reminder of the day you chose to make a life decision to someone. But that might just be me!
    Bisous, Faz

  • robert

    If you ask Saudi Arabian women: “would you wear the burqa if there wasn’t any law to impose you to do it?”
    I think 97% will answer “yes”. A bad tradition creeps insidiously into the culture and gradually causes people to forget its origins of power and submission. But the evilness is still there, but well disguised. So it brainwashes Arab women who now think they really want the burqa, it’s good to wear it. the same with the engangement rings.

  • jdhammer

    This is great for so many reasons. Jewelry can signify whatever you want it to. Get a ring, or don’t. Get a ring 3 years into your marriage, change your ring, wear it on whatever hand you want. It’s your relationship and your choice.
    I designed myself a new wedding ring after 12 years of marriage. It has no stone and it represents who I am NOW and I love it!

  • Trishita

    Love this! In India, not a lot of women take initiative in their relationship, which I’ve always found a little foolish, I mean, it’s their life as well!

    I was planning on proposing to my now-husband and was researching ideas (a friend suggested mid-deep sea dive)… and then I just blurted it out when we were bed together. Since it was a last-minute thing, I just made a ring out of paper.

    Two days later, he proposed to me – not with a diamond ring, I’m really not a diamonds girl which I’ve always found a little vanilla (sorry!) – but with a ring bursting with colours – so that our lives are always this colourful & magical.