History of the engagement ring

Posted: October 1, 2010 in india, love
Tags: ,

Not that I believe every custom has a reason and purpose behind it, but given my inquisitive nature I try to understand the reason behind any social norm that I come across. Engagement rings have become a part of the Indian culture for a while now. AFAIK, there is no significance for the engagement ring in the Indian custom of arranged marriages. It’s just an import from the west. As always, the rich and powerful in our society ape the west, and the rest of us follow them. Anyways, in the western context, I thought engagement rings were a way of advertising that the wearer is in a committed relationship, and hence is not interested in potential suitors.

Recently during my game theory studies, I came across an interesting explanation of how engagement rings became part of the western culture. The explanation is that giving an expensive engagement ring is a way of signaling the credibility of a man’s promise to marry a woman. During the 1930s premarital sex was still a taboo even in the west. However it was acceptable for engaged couples to engage in sex 🙂 Of course, ‘if proposing marriage is what it takes to sleep with a woman, then proposal it is’ was the attitude of men. Naturally, one can expect that there were a lot of false promises. Apparently courts entertained these cheating cases for a while, and probably were flooded with complaints of this nature. So courts decided that it’s too frivolous  a matter for them to be spending their precious time on, and stopped accepting such cases. Women are a smart lot and quickly figured out that getting into bed with a man just because he gave his word to marry her, is not a good idea. Well, men are no less smarter either; they intuitively knew game theory, and quickly came to the conclusion that they needed to prove their credibility before they can seal the deal. Now, what’s the best way to signal that you are going to honor your promise? Go to an escrow service, deposit a significant amount with the condition that if you fail to keep your promise, the deposit would go to the promisee. That’s how business would be done isn’t it ? Come on now, it’s a love matter that we are dealing with here. It’s supposed to be so romantic that it should sweep her off the feet and drop her on the bed. Not make her cringe with disgust and throw you out. So, a plan taketh shape, and the tradition of engagement ring gains popularity. At last a win-win situation! an equilibrium is achieved.

There seems to be very few directly linkable sources that tell this story. May be a conspiracy by the jewelers to keep the magic alive? Anyway, if you can’t take my word on this, go read it here : http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/5260120.stm

[Draft started: July 10, 2010]

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