Popular media — from movies to TV shows to Instagram — tend to show the engagement ring and the proposal as almost one and the same. A romantic setting, a smooth drop to one knee and then bam — one partner suddenly has a very shiny finger!
Out here in the real world, though, the picture is a lot more complicated! In fact, people regularly propose with placeholder rings, with jewelry other than rings or with other gifts. There are tons of reasons you might do it and even more ways to make it happen.
So, how can you pull off a proposal without a ring? While it can require a little more communication, planning and creativity than proposing with a ring, it's most definitely doable! Check out these tips for a lovely and heartfelt proposal without a ring.
Reasons Why You Might Propose Without a Ring
Proposing without a traditional ring isn’t nearly as out-there an idea as it might seem. Here are just a few of the reasons that you might do it:
- You’re saving up for a specific ring that you know your partner will love
- You have a good opportunity to propose coming up, but you don’t have the time to pick out a ring right now
- You want to pick out the ring with your partner’s help
- You’re traveling and don’t want to worry about expensive jewelry
- You’d prefer to put the money toward something else, like the wedding or honeymoon
- You and your partner prefer a symbol of commitment other than a ring
In many of these situations, you might use a placeholder ring for now and purchase a more traditional ring later. Alternatively, if you’ve both agreed that the standard trappings of marriage really aren’t a concern in your relationship, you might choose to skip the engagement ring entirely!
So Wait, I Really Don’t Need a Ring to Propose?
We’ll come right out and say it: We think it’s about time to normalize proposing without a ring! Sure, a ring is an important part of the engagement for many people, but if you and your partner want to get engaged, you definitely shouldn’t let the lack of a ring stop you. Love is worth more than any piece of jewelry, after all.
Think of it this way: There’s no law that says you need a traditional engagement ring to get engaged (or a wedding ring to get married, for that matter). The ring, or lack of one, won’t affect your legal status as a couple one bit. (In fact, your status won’t legally change until you’ve been approved for an official marriage license together.)
That’s right: The idea of having an engagement ring at all is 100 percent dictated by social custom. Of course, that’s not to say that social custom is meaningless or that your partner is wrong if they do want a ring. That brings us to a very important point, which is…
Rule #1: Ask Your Partner!
Trust us when we say that you should talk to your partner before you plan to propose without a ring. An engagement ring still holds a lot of power as a cultural symbol, and you want to make sure that your partner isn’t expecting one!
In addition, talking through everything beforehand gives you and your partner time to get on the same page about telling family and friends. There’s often a social expectation that part of an engagement announcement will include showing off a ring, and loved ones are sometimes caught off-guard if that doesn’t happen. You might choose to write a social media post together or head off any surprises by talking to your partner’s parents ahead of time.
Beyond that, it’s totally up to you how much you want to reveal to your partner before the proposal. At a minimum, many marriage experts recommend having a heart-to-heart about engagement before popping the question. This is a perfect time to bring up the idea of going without a ring and get a feel for what kind of proposal your partner would like. Some people cherish the intimacy of a private proposal, while others will love the cinematic romance of a public one. If you’re unsure which they’d prefer, it’s always better to ask!
Four Things an Awesome Proposal Needs (Even If You Don’t Have a Ring)
The way we see it, a meaningful and romantic proposal needs four things — and none of them have to be a ring!
1. An Occasion
Whether you have a ring or not, you want the occasion to feel special when you propose. Dinner at a fancy restaurant, hiking to a gorgeous overlook, vacationing in a beautiful city — these are all some of the ways to give a proposal the right vibe. Consider the things you both value and the places you love the most, and spend a little time brainstorming how you might be able to work these in.
The more elaborate the occasion, the more planning in advance you’ll need to do. A private proposal at your favorite hiking trail might not need much at all, while a dramatic public proposal at a sports event could require months of preparation. Whatever you choose, make it something meaningful for both you and your partner!
2. A Gift
A gift is a powerful symbol of your relationship and your lifelong commitment. So, even if your gift isn’t a traditional ring, you’ll probably want to bring something to the table. What kind of gift depends completely on your relationship, your budget and a lot of other individual factors. Big or small, over-the-top or subtle, serious or with a touch of humor — there are so many ways to give, and so many ways to thrill the person you love!
This is an opportunity to let your creativity and your knowledge of your partner shine. Whether you’re buying a ring or something totally different, the most important thing is to demonstrate that you really know them and what they like. We’d also recommend sticking to gifts with a more sentimental feel. Save the espresso machines and air fryers for the wedding registry. In just a minute, we’ll see some romantic gift ideas that will make your partner swoon.
3. A Surprise
The element of surprise is one of the most important parts of making a proposal memorable. Even if your partner knows you’re going to propose soon, you’ll usually want to keep a lid on exactly how, where and when it will happen. Trust us — it’s worth seeing the look of surprise and delight on their faces!
This might mean that keeping your proposal plan hidden will require some cooperation and coordination. You might need to enlist your partner’s parents, siblings or friends to help you get all of the pieces in place while keeping it on the down low.
4. A Memory
Your proposal will likely be one of the biggest events of your life, which is why you should think about a way to give yourself tangible memories of the moment. For many folks, this means hiring a photographer or videographer. If you’re going this route, make sure to coordinate ahead of time. It can be challenging to get everyone in position on the big day!
Not every couple will want photographs of the actual proposal. A shy partner may not want a camera clicking away at the big moment, or they may value the intimacy of a proposal with just the two of you. There’s also the question of image: Your partner might not like to be photographed after going on a challenging hike, even if the proposal spot is amazingly scenic. If you’ll be going without a photographer, think about how you might create a few treasured tokens of the day’s events, such as hiring a photographer for a separate engagement shoot later.
Five Ideas for Proposing Without a Ring
1. A Placeholder Ring
Maybe there will be a traditional engagement ring eventually — just not quite yet. Maybe there won’t ever be one, but you want something for the photo op! Either way, it’s often a great idea to choose a placeholder engagement ring that you’ll give your partner as you pop the question. In fact, even the placeholder itself can be quite meaningful if you get a little creative.
If you know your partner will appreciate it, something funny (like a novelty ring with a goofy design or a Ring Pop) can be a fun placeholder and a great memory. Or it could be something with a more traditional vibe, like an affordable engagement ring with a diamond alternative stone in an attractive setting. For those who like to keep it super simple, consider a minimalist silicone ring, or even using the ring box by itself.
2. A Piece of Art
For creatively inclined folks, making your partner a unique piece of art is a wonderfully heartfelt way to propose. It doesn’t have to be visual art, either — record a song, write a poem, build a piece of furniture or use your talents in whatever way you find most meaningful! The important thing is that it’s from the heart.
Of course, you still want to give your piece some romantic flair when you present it. That will look different for every art form and every proposal. You might present a painting in an elegant frame, or play your engagement song on some ultra-nice speakers, or read your poem out loud in a romantic location.
3. Jewelry That’s Not a Ring
Some people just aren’t big fans of rings in general! That’s why it’s not unheard of to see proposals sealed with a necklace, bracelet, pair of earrings or another item of jewelry. You’ll have plenty of shine and sparkle to make the occasion special, but in a form that your partner likes more (meaning they’ll be more likely to actually wear it).
Looking for some cool and inspiring pieces that will show your devotion? See our everyday jewelry selection and discover a tantalizing lineup of necklaces, earrings and more. These jewelry pieces make great choices for a romantic gift, and they come in a luxurious assortment of styles that make it easy to find a perfect fit for your soon-to-be fiancé.
4. A Bouquet of Flowers
Flowers are an underrated gift. They’re not crazy expensive (in most cases), but they’re the kind of gorgeous and thoughtful present that’s perfect for a proposal. A bouquet of red and/or pink roses is the traditional choice in most Western cultures, but your local florist’s shop will have a wide selection of beautiful blooms to choose from.
You can make flowers work on their own, but they’re often most effective when paired with another proposal gift. Combine a bouquet with a placeholder ring, a lovely new necklace, a custom work of art, dinner at a favorite restaurant or something else that will get your partner’s heart fluttering.
5. Proposing on Vacation
Who needs a ring when you’ve got the beach, or the mountains, or the Roman Colosseum? Proposing on vacation is a great way to give your proposal the right romantic vibe, whether or not you have a traditional engagement ring. If you want a splashy public proposal, you can find the perfect photo-worthy location, while those who prefer privacy can seek out an intimate spot to pop the question.
Obviously, this one can require a little more planning than others, especially if you want extras like professional photography. Do some research on proposal spots before you leave, and remember that some popular places may require a permit and/or a photography fee. Finally, think about whether you’ll propose near the beginning or end of the trip. The beginning can take some pressure off and give you great vibes throughout the vacation, but the end is a wonderful way to cap off a romantic excursion! If you do end up wanting to bring a ring on your big trip, consider a travel ring that can be the perfect placeholder ring while traveling with your fiancé!
At Modern Gents, we’ve always strongly believed that every couple should follow their hearts when it comes to how, where and when to get married! For more suggestions that color outside the lines of traditional weddings, see our guide to non-traditional engagement rings, or check out our full collection of unusual wedding rings.