Boyfriend’s family ring? No, thanks. Carolyn Hax readers give advice.



We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend and I have started talking about getting engaged in the next 12ish months. My dad was a jeweler, and I grew up hoping to have a custom-designed engagement ring. Meanwhile, my boyfriend has a family ring he picked out. His mother let him and his sister each pick a ring from their “family collection.” He has no particular attachment to it, other than “it’s free” and his mother really wants him to use it. We’ve discussed how important it is to me to make this decision together and he sort of understands but also doesn’t understand why I wouldn’t just want a “free” ring. I don’t know how to explain my desire to pick a ring together. Any advice? Or am I being inflexible?

New Ring Please: My now-husband took his mother’s suggestion over my written preference on what ring to pick from the list I provided him (our agreed-to process). And guess what? That ring got returned and I’m happily wearing the one I wanted. My husband and I were aligned that the engagement ring was an important purchase that we should both feel good about, and ultimately, was there for me to enjoy. We also openly discussed budget.

You say you don’t know how to explain what you want, but, over the course of a marriage, you will need to explain your desires hundreds of times. Take this as an opportunity to practice. Try on words to explain your feelings the same way you would try on rings. Then, have a conversation with your boyfriend about what is important to you, to him and what is financially reasonable.

You also need to get aligned on his mother’s appropriate role in this decision — that it is not hers to make. If she is prone to pushing her opinions onto her son, it’s good to start establishing boundaries now while still being sensitive to her feelings. The ring may have sentimental value to her or represent your being welcome into the family. If so, you can find a way to express gratitude for that kind sentiment without bowing to her preferences.

New Ring Please: Might be worth zeroing-in on this point: “His mother really wants him to use it.” Is he completely ignoring your wishes and planning to give you a ring you’re supposed to wear everyday that you don’t like because he’d rather just appease his mom? If so, please just know that this is a problem that doesn’t go away. If you want to marry this guy, you have to be prepared for his mom’s emotional needs to come before yours — always, whenever they are in conflict. People have lots of opinions about engagement rings, but his blithe, meek reaction to something that is extremely meaningful for you — and carries your own family significance — says something about his character that you should think hard about before marrying him.

New Ring Please: I was in a similar situation, and we worked out a compromise. While the ring itself wasn’t important to my now-husband, he worried that my strong desire for something different and more expensive symbolized that what he (and his family) had to offer wasn’t enough. Neither of us wanted to start the marriage that way, and neither of us wanted me to wear something I didn’t like everyday “for the rest of my life.” So we lopped off the end of that sentence and agreed I’d wear it for our engagement, and then wear whatever I wanted as a wedding band.

I chose a diamond cocktail ring I still adore 20 years later, and wear the other ring on my right hand for family events. His family and strangers alike still gush over the beauty and meaning of BOTH rings.

New Ring Please: I had always been a people pleaser. My smothering new in-laws-to-be pushed the family ring that was given to the Older Son, who subsequently divorced and got the “treasure” back, on to me, soon-to-be wife of Younger Son. I hated it and its legacy but didn’t know how to say no.

Say no. Please. This is your time to wear the representation of your love and future proudly, on your own terms, on your own finger. I never wore this ring, making up a new lie every time I was asked where it was. Then, nearing our 17th anniversary, when I was wandering by a wonderful jewelry store with my two young sons, we went in, and I let them pick out the ring they wanted me to wear. I have proudly worn that representation of our family’s love ever since. It represented my future, as we now approach our 40th anniversary.

New Ring Please: My dad inherited a two-carat diamond ring. The diamond itself was stunning, but the ring looked dated. So he used that diamond and had a ring made for my mom with the diamond as the centerpiece. That could be an excellent compromise for you and your boyfriend, especially since the ring being custom-designed is part of what you’re hoping for anyway. Assuming the gemstone(s) in the heirloom rings are worth incorporating into a custom design, of course.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.