The Ethics of Fake Engagement Rings
Some young man asks on Money.com whether it’s ethically okay to give his intended a fake engagement ring:
Question: I’m planning to ask my girlfriend to marry me, and here’s the problem: I’m building us a new home, so cash is tight. While I want to give Stacy a diamond solitaire, I don’t have the money. My plan is to buy her a synthetic “diamond,” then replace it with a real one as soon as the house is finished and I get a little ahead. Must I tell Stacy the truth about the ring up front, or can I wait until I give her the real diamond?
The answer from whoever it is that writes Moneyethics is predictable, and predictably boring:
Our Answer: Tell her when you give her the ring. Unless Stacy is different from most women, she’s going to show off that ring to all her friends and family. Imagine how foolish she would feel, then, if she were to learn later that the stone she’d told everyone was a perfect diamond was nothing more than a perfect fake. She’d be humiliated, of course, and you’d look like a loser for putting her in that situation.
That’s not the only problem with your plan. Spouses need to trust each other, and Stacy is going to have trouble trusting you if she learns that your first act as a prospective husband was to mislead her. For reasons that should be obvious to everyone looking to tie the knot, it’s a bad idea, and you should forget it.
That said, we applaud your financial priorities. Putting the house ahead of the bling is certainly prudent, and we wonder if you’re not selling Stacy short in assuming she doesn’t share your sense of responsibility. Why don’t you take the high road here and ask her what she thinks about all this? You may be pleasantly surprised by her answer.
Trust, she’d be humiliated, blah blah blah. *YAWN* God, so boring and so… pedestrian and politically correct.
Okay, here’s the real ethics of engagement rings.
First, although the law treats engagement rings as conditional gifts, our society treats them as some sort of tributary sign of love for one’s intended. Having been married for quite a few years now, I believe society is dead wrong on this. We’ve all been drinking some bad DeBeers, I’m afraid.
Don’t believe the hype! The engagement ring should be no more a requirement of asking someone to marry you than having a nice car should be. If she actually loves you, then she ought to just be pleased as peach that you’re asking her to marry you in the first place. I happened to have gotten my wife a nice ring that I agonized over. I should have known better, as a marketer myself. She should (and would) have been happy with a $9.99 silver ring from the street vendor — the monetary value of the ring itself has zero bearing on the quantity or quality of the love, fidelity, loyalty, and so forth in a marriage.
Second, I believe engagement rings to be the functional equivalent of bail. Granted, my own wife thinks I’m crazy for this point of view, but I think it entirely consistent with our current socio-cultural regime where equality between the sexes is taken for granted. A woman is not property; engagement rings are not a down payment. They are simply a bond to guarantee performance of a specific act — in this case, the act of showing up at church and marrying said intended.
That being the case, the value of the engagement ring should relate inversely to the value of the underlying promise that it is being held in bond for. If you’re being charged with a minor felony, and you’re not a high flight risk, the courts are likely to set bail low — or even let you go on your own recognizance. The idea is that the value of your promise to show up at trial is very high, so the value of the bail need not be high. On the other hand, if you were caught in Mexico by bounty hunters, and you have six passports in different names, perhaps bail will be denied or be set at an incredibly high level. Your promise to show up in court is worth jackshit, so the bail will be high.
Applied to promises to marry, you and the intended should evaluate the value of your promise. If you’re a reliable, dependable guy who isn’t likely to “enjoy the goods” as it were, then skip out on the actual marriage, then the value of the bail (aka, engagement ring) should be set low. A fake diamond should more than suffice if your promise is of sufficient worth. If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of guy who would promise the world and deliver squat, say you’ll be there and be found passed out at a bar, or spend a lot of time chasing other women… then perhaps the value of the engagement ring ought to approach Hollywood celebrity levels. (After all, those people change spouses like normal people change cars — an upgrade every three to five years….)
In either case, however, lying is no good. There’s no point to telling a lie. Simply state your case: “Honey, I got you this cubic Z from HSN as bail, because you know that I’m a 100% reliable guy, and my word is my bond.” She might counter, “Actually, you’re the biggest playa in five counties, and I know you’ve been messin’ around with Susie and Joann, so you’d better go visit Mr. Cartier, buster!” Then the negotiations can begin.
Incidentally, make sure you and she negotiate the period of service after which your bail should be returned to you. I recommend five years, but up to seven years could make sense for return of your performance bond.