7 Engagement Ring Etiquette Rules to Ditch Now and Forever

Rule #1: There are no rules! (Sort of.)
sarah hanlon associate editor the knot
by
Sarah Hanlon
sarah hanlon associate editor the knot
Sarah Hanlon
Associate Editor
  • Sarah is an Associate Digital Editor for The Knot, with special focuses in fashion, pop culture and wedding trends.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Sarah was a contributing writer for Bravo at NBC Universal.
  • Sarah has a degree in journalism and resides in New York City.
Updated Jan 05, 2022

While couples are constantly rewriting the rules about how to get married, it's no secret that the experience is steeped in tradition. Even as trends evolve and modernize over the years, it seems like some things stay the same—especially when it comes to getting engaged. Today, it's still quite common for proposers to pop the question with a ring in hand while getting down on a bent knee. In fact, according to The Knot 2021 Jewelry and Engagement Study, which surveyed over 5,000 couples who got engaged last year, this was true of 90% and 86% of engagements, respectively.

But we'll let you in on a secret: Some wedding rules are meant to be broken. In 2022, getting engaged is less about the formality and more about crafting an experience that reflects your partnership and your love story. Gone are the days of following traditional engagement ring etiquette rules that feel stuffy and outdated. As couples completely revamp how they get married, the same is true of how they get engaged too.

Below, we debunk seven of the most common engagement etiquette "rules"—along with why it's time to ditch them now and forever.

The Rule: You can't tell your partner exactly what ring you want.

There's an age-old misconception that you can't tell your partner what kind of engagement ring you want. Instead of being upfront and honest, people often resorted to sharing preferences with friends or family in hopes that it made its way back to their partner through the grapevine, saying "that's a nice ring" during a movie or TV show, or dropping nonchalant hints that, quite frankly, went over their partner's head. The idea of outright saying what you wanted was taboo—but we're here to get rid of this engagement ring etiquette rule once and for all.

Reality: Communication leads to everyone feeling happy and heard.

Communication is the key to a happy and successful marriage, and it starts before you say "I do." If you have strong feelings about the kind of engagement ring you want to receive, tell your partner directly. It's going to sit on your finger for the rest of your life, after all, so your gem should be something you look forward to wearing every day. "Couples should definitely discuss the style of the engagement ring, especially if opting for a bespoke piece as it comes with endless design options," says Los Angeles-based jeweler Grace Lee, noting that one simple way of doing so is sharing links and pictures online. "With social media, it's much easier than ever before to discuss preferences."

The rising trend of talking about the kind of ring you want is reflected in data too. According to The Knot 2021 Jewelry and Engagement Study, three out of four of those being proposed to had some type of involvement in selecting or purchasing the engagement ring, which is roughly a 10% increase since 2015. We found that 41% of people said they were somewhat involved in the ring shopping process by hinting or discussing what they wanted, while 26% shopped and looked at rings with their partner—8% even said they were present when the ring was purchased. So, take it from real couples: It's normal to be honest about what you want in a sparkler.

If you're not sure where to start, browse our guide of the best jewelry Instagram accounts to follow for inspiration. Then, read up on diamond shapes, gemstone colors, and setting styles to get an idea of what engagement ring designs speak to you. Of course, if you want the ring to be a complete surprise that's perfectly acceptable too—but if you have any specific preferences, don't be afraid to speak up.

The Rule: You can't shop for engagement rings together.

When it comes to engagement ring shopping etiquette, you might think it's bad luck to try on options before you're actually engaged. We're here to debunk this myth, as it goes hand-in-hand with the rule above. Just like you can talk about what ring styles you like, you can also shop together with your partner. In fact, experts highly recommend trying on engagement rings before the proposal.

Reality: Shopping together level-sets expectations and priorities.

There are plenty of benefits that come with ring shopping together. Not only will this help you voice your preferences, it gives you the opportunity to find designs that comfortably fit your budget. "I always recommend couples start shopping together," says New York-based jeweler Ashley Zhang, noting that this won't ruin the surprise element of the actual proposal. "If the person receiving the ring has a particular taste or style, it's usually best to have them involved throughout the process while keeping the proposal itself a surprise."

The Rule: One person has to foot the bill.

According to our study, the average cost of an engagement ring is $6,000. Of course, cost often varies by region too, as we found that the average spend in the Mid-Atlantic is higher at $7,900, while spend in the Midwest is $5,200. The cost also depends on custom details too, as bespoke engagement rings tend to come with a higher price tag. Regardless, there's no denying that an engagement ring is a sizable expense. And while it's common for the proposer to buy the ring, either partner can contribute any amount they'd like.

Reality: Both partners can contribute as much as they want (or can).

Our data found that, while 94% of proposers paid for the engagement ring, 4% said their partner paid, while 3% said they both contributed to the purchase. And while these numbers are on the lower end, it remains a viable option, especially if it makes sense for your financial status and your lifestyle. "While we see many couples who prefer for one partner to pay for the ring, it's becoming more common for the recipient of the ring to be involved in both choosing and paying for their ring," says Mark Broumand, president of jewelry brand Mark Broumand Inc. "We're finding that some couples are open to both partners contributing to the cost in order to get their dream ring."

This trend is echoed by Los Angeles-based jeweler Anita Ko: "Now, I'm seeing more and more women contribute to the budget of their ring so that they can get the style they've always dreamt of."

The Rule: You have to spend three months of your salary on the ring.

If you've done any engagement ring research, you might have come across the "three months' salary rule." This engagement ring etiquette adage indicates that the buyer should spend three months' worth of their salary on the purchase. But, what you might not realize is this began as a marketing campaign during The Great Depression to promote more diamond sales while the industry was struggling. It started as the one-month salary rule, then was increased to two and, ultimately, three.

Reality: Spend what realistically makes sense for your lifestyle.

So, what's the secret formula for determining what you should spend on an engagement right? It comes down to what you can comfortably afford. While you can certainly reference the average cost of an engagement ring or calculate what three months of your salary is, these numbers are to be used as reference points, not absolute truth.

The most important engagement etiquette rule to follow revolves around your budget. It's best to spend an amount that makes sense for you. After all, beginning married life by paying off engagement ring debt is never an ideal scenario. "Couples should agree on expectations and a price and not push for something that would make them feel uncomfortable," Zhang suggests. "I always say that we can make a gorgeous ring at almost any budget."

The Rule: You have to shop for your wedding band after the proposal.

When you consider the rules of getting engaged, you might assume that you should start shopping for wedding bands after the proposal, during the wedding planning process. While this does seem like the natural progression, it's not your only option. In fact, experts find that more couples are starting to shop for wedding bands and engagement rings at the same time.

Reality: Shopping for an engagement ring and wedding band at the same time allows for customization and creativity.

The concept of the wedding ring stack has risen in popularity in recent years. A stack allows you to change up the overall vibe of your engagement ring, and it offers plenty of options for personalizing your gems—especially if you add additional pieces to honor milestone anniversaries or children. And if you want a stack that complements your engagement ring, it's helpful to shop for the first two bands at the same time.

"The wedding stack is more relevant than ever as people are looking for unique options," explains Lee. "We are definitely seeing a rise in custom wedding bands that complement and accentuate the engagement ring."

Adds Broumand: "We're seeing more couples thinking about the wedding stack as a whole prior to picking out the engagement ring, which we predict to become the most popular way of shopping for the perfect ring. Thinking about the way your ring will pair with different band arrangements ensures that you'll have a variety of stunning options when it comes time to choose your bands."

The Rule: The engagement has to be a total surprise.

When it comes to movies and TV shows, plenty of on-screen engagements come as complete surprises. Thanks to this fictional trope, we're meant to believe that the best proposals are those that you can't see coming. After all, the element of surprise seemingly makes the moment that much sweeter.

Reality: Your partner probably knows it's coming… and that's okay.

Here's the deal: There's a good chance your partner will have a hunch that something is coming, especially if you've discussed ring preferences. Plus, we always recommend having important conversations with your partner to ensure your relationship is ready for marriage. In doing so, your S.O. will know that an engagement is in their future. According to our study, 54% of people said they knew a proposal was coming but weren't sure exactly when. An additional 11% said they had a feeling it was happening.

So, even if you've window shopped for rings together and talked about the moment itself, you can still create a proposal that'll wow your love. (And if you need a guide on how to propose, we've got you covered.)

The Rule: Only one person should propose.

Culturally speaking, engagements are often viewed through the lens of heterosexual relationships. It's generally expected that the man proposes to the woman… but what about women who want to propose to their partners? And what does this mean for same-sex couples? Fitting your relationship into any predetermined mold simply doesn't make sense in 2022.

Reality: Joint proposals are becoming much more common.

Today, it's perfectly acceptable for any person to propose to their partner, regardless of self-identity. "Joint proposals have been most common with our same-sex couples," says Zhang. "It's so fun for them to work together to pick out their own individual ring styles, and we find ways to keep elements a surprise." In fact, joint proposals are one of our top engagement trends of 2022, proving that anyone can take on the exciting role of asking the big question.

The bottom line is that, in 2022, there are very few engagement ring rules that need to be followed. Getting engaged is a deeply personal milestone, and it should happen in a way that makes sense for you and your relationship. "As love and partnership continue to be redefined, I think the 'rules' will go away," reflects Lee. "There will always be tradition, but expression of love will be constantly evolving."

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