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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Prudie will not a host a live chat at Washingtonpost.com Monday, March 15. She will return the following Monday, March 22. * Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

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.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I have been successfully practicing law for almost 10 years. I'm married to a wonderful man and have a beautiful baby daughter. So what is my problem? For years I have dreamed of becoming a doctor. I dabbled with the idea in college and did very well in science classes, but I was a confused kid. My mother talked incessantly about how I should be a lawyer and would never be able to become a doctor. The first day of law school, I felt I had made a terrible mistake. I finished school, started practicing law, and couldn't stand it. I was accepted to some pre-med programs. However, my then-fiance didn't believe I could do it, and I listened to him. We eventually broke up. My current husband is supportive. However, a career change would mean a huge sacrifice for my family, and that would leave me with tremendous guilt. What should I do?

—Juris Doctorate Who Would Rather Be a Doctor

Dear Juris,
I hope you get to medical school and that if you do, you use your psychiatric rotation to get some insight into why you allow yourself to be so buffeted by others' expectations. Even though you have moved past your mother's hectoring, thrown over your negative boyfriend, and have a wonderful spouse who supports your desires, you continue to thwart yourself out of guilt over your obligations to others. You're right, leaving a prosperous career in your 30s for medical school would be a sacrifice and a hardship. You'd probably be around 40 by the time you got your medical career started. However, that means once you did, you could have three decades of doing something about which you've had a lifetime passion. Imagine being a 60-year-old lawyer and see how that makes you feel. You're not the only person to consider becoming a later-in-life medical student. Here's an encouraging essay about it, and here's a Web site devoted to it. But you don't have to make a commitment to throwing over your current life; your decision can be made in steps. You can think of it as taking a leave from your current career in order to enroll in a program that prepares you for medical school. This will tell you if you really do want to be a physician, or if this is a dream best left on your pillow.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
On Oscar night, my wife and I had a party for 12 people. It was fun, and we provided food and alcohol for everyone. We also encouraged people to pony up $20 to submit an entry for an Oscar betting pool. The winner of the Oscar pool was supposed to get two-thirds of the entry fees ($160), and the runner-up was supposed to get one-third ($80). As it turned out, my wife won the pool and I got second place. Was this a party foul? We obviously didn't rig the betting, but it felt weird to take our guests' money and send them home. To the extent it matters, last year we had an Oscar party and I won the pool. Should we have submitted a single entry or not entered at all? Or should we just gracefully accept our winnings and expect nobody to come to our Oscar party next year?

—Oscar Shark

Dear Oscar,
Forget your current dilemma and tell me what the outcome of the fall elections will be, and also if it's going to rain next Tuesday. You're right that your friends know your Oscar pool is not a setup, unless you have a mole at the Los Angeles offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers. But when you invite people to your home, you also don't charge an admission price. An Oscar pool is fine, but everyone should have simply submitted a free ballot, and you should have supplied the prize—something on the order of a chocolate trophy. If you have an Oscar party next year, as you extend the invitations, tell everyone you're probably going to be the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award because while you're going to keep the Oscar pool, you're going to eliminate the fee.

—Prudie

Correction, March 12, 2010: Due to an editing error, this column stated that Prudie would not host her live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com on Monday, March 22, but would return on March 29. In fact, Prudie will not chat on Monday, March 15, but will return on March 22. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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