My girlfriend wants a pricey engagement ring.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 11 2010 7:00 AM

If That Diamond Ring Don't Shine

My girlfriend insists on a pricey engagement ring, but I'm not made of money.

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Dear Prudence,
I am very much in love with my girlfriend of four years and want to spend my life with her. There is one thing preventing me from popping the question: the diamond ring. My girlfriend is not overly superficial but has made it clear that she needs a "moderately good-sized ring." I am young, in graduate school, and have no money. I would have to take out a loan to buy her what she desires. In the long term, money won't be the issue, so my objections to buying an engagement ring are mostly philosophical: 1) Buying a diamond ring seems like buying a woman. 2) If we are equal partners, what is she buying me? 3) Diamonds fuel conflict around the world. 4) They are expensive yet inherently worthless. I have told her how I feel, and she sees my point but has indicated a ring is necessary. I can't imagine proposing to her without one. Should I wait to propose and in the meantime try to change her mind, just buy her a stupid ring already, or take this impasse as an indicator of future conflict and move on with my life? (I don't know if I could do the last one.)

—Ringless

Dear Ringless,
I hope your graduate studies are in something more remunerative than philosophy, not only so you can eventually buy your girl a ring, but because philosophy doesn't seem to be your strength. Let me take your objections one by one: 1) Oh, come on. 2) Oh, come on. 3) There are "conflict-free" diamonds. 4) Many valuable things are inherently worthless. But despite my objections to your objections, in general I agree with you. (As I would, since I don't have, and didn't want, an engagement ring.) I find it ludicrous to consider going into debt to buy a piece of jewelry. If you can't painlessly write a check for a ring, you can't afford it. And I find it distasteful to think that a woman who wants to marry her boyfriend wouldn't consider herself engaged unless he shows up with a substantial rock. If you've been together for four years, and are ready to be married, then you both should be ecstatic to take that step, even if it means she has to have a naked ring finger for a while. Propose to her and tell her that you're hoping the two of you will build a happy, even prosperous, life together and that when you're more financially secure, you will happily get her a ring she will enjoy. I agree with you that it seems nutty to break up over your "philosophic" objections to a ring. And I hope she's not so "overly superficial" that she would refuse your proposal because it lacks sufficient carats.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My wife and I come from a conservative Islamic society. We had an arranged marriage. We have a 3-year-old child we both adore. I thought we were an average couple with our share of ups and downs. Last week, a routine Pap smear revealed that my wife has human papillomavirus. Her previous Pap smears had all been negative. I was shocked by the result. Both of us were virgins at marriage, and she has been my only sexual partner. Everything I've learned about HPV tells me it is sexually transmitted. I even accompanied my wife to meet her gynecologist to discuss the results. She said that the current scientific understanding is that HPV spreads only through sexual contact, but our knowledge of the disease is improving, and that we just had to trust each other. Is there any precedent for HPV being transmitted in the absence of sex? My wife denies being unfaithful to me, and I have been faithful to her. I think I believe her, but this evidence has introduced doubts in me. If she could have gotten HPV only from sex, I am not sure how to reconcile our relationship if my wife won't come clean.

—Shaken

Dear Shaken,
Your doctor is right, HPV is an STD, so your wife got it from having sex. Guess what, the person who gave it to her could be you. You say you and your wife were both virgins and she is your only sexual partner. But people's definitions of sexual encounters vary widely, as this study from the Kinsey Institute shows. The institute's Dr. Debby Herbenick explained to me that either you or your wife could have had sexual contact short of intercourse prior to your marriage—thus both being able to call yourselves virgins—that resulted in an HPV infection. If you have had zero physical contact of a sexual nature with another woman, then you aren't the source. But your wife may have contracted the virus prior to marriage while engaging in heavy petting. She surely would have been unaware such activity could result in an STD, and she may not have wanted to reveal her previous encounters. HPV is a tricky little virus. It can lie fallow for many years, then unexpectedly make itself apparent when a woman is under stress and her immune system is not effectively containing it. This bug can then wreak havoc between faithful partners who see it as a sign of infidelity. Yes, it's also possible it could be a sign of infidelity, but it means something that you are inclined to believe that your wife hasn't cheated on you. If your wife were having an affair, the savvy thing would have been to also conceal her HPV infection from you—there's no standard test for detecting it in men, so you'd probably never even know if you had it, too. That she told you indicates her innocence. You also say your marriage is working and you have a young child you're both crazy about. Don't let a devilish microbe destroy what you two have built.