Ed Sheeran's recent engagement made waves for one very important reason: While fans of the singer were excited to hear he and Cherry Seaborn were making their relationship official, it was a shiny band on Sheeran's left hand that caught everyone's eyes. No, the couple didn't have a super-secret ceremony. Instead, Sheeran announced that he decided to wear an engagement ring, too. While his choice may seem surprising, current trends actually point to the emergence of the male engagement ring. Given the patriarchal history of this statement piece of jewelry, a shift in this tradition may be long overdue, especially for millennial couples who prioritize equality. Even so, the verdict is still out for most men—and women—on pre-wedding bling for men.
According to Kathryn Money, the founder of the ethically-sourced bridal and fine jewelry company Brilliant Earth, there's been a 56 percent increase in men searching for male engagement rings since 2007—and she predicts more and more guys will join this movement. She accredits this shift to a younger generation that views an engagement ring as a symbol of partnership rather than ownership, as its historical roots mandate. The American Gem Society notes that the ancients Romans were among the first to wear engagement rings, although their particular baubles were attached to small keys, a sign that their husbands were seen as their owners. It wasn't until 1477, when the Archduke Maximilian of Austria had a diamond engagement ring created for his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy, that European nobility started to pop the question with these stones. For American culture, glitzy engagement rings for women didn't begin trending until 1947, when De Beers launched their infamous "A Diamond Is Forever" slogan, which sparked an impressive 50 percent increase in the sale of the precious stones within three years.
Over 70 years after the push for modern-day engagement jewelry first began, Mehul Sompura, the founder of DiamondHedge.com says men are becoming more open to the idea of wearing a ring themselves, but it's mostly because there's very little difference between a male engagement ring and wedding band. "They interchange those terms all the time. With most male rings, a wedding band will look the same as an engagement ring, as opposed to a female engagement ring and wedding band, which anyone can tell the difference between," she explains.
New York-based relationship expert and author Dr. Jane Greer disagrees, explaining that the majority of men who wear engagement rings are considering more than just appearance. Instead, she credits women with pushing for this shift, noting that they are expressing their needs and desires more clearly, and often have a deeper understanding of what they require out of their relationships. This means that by the time a twosome has reached a level of commitment where marriage is on the table, they've likely already discussed what matters to them, creating stronger communication skills and more flexibility within gender roles. "The couples who also have a man wearing a ring are ones who are looking for more equity. They are not bound by conformity or tradition. They are able to adapt norms to their needs, rather than feeling limited by the standard protocol," she shares.
But what do men think about this change? Mixed reviews, mostly. Thomas Gift, a married man himself, says he sees nothing wrong with a man wearing an engagement ring, but that he wouldn't have worn one. "If I had been asked to wear one then, I would give quite a bit of push back because it's not the social norm," he says. "My biggest gripe probably would have been my family, friends, co-workers continuously asking if I was already married, and then having to go through the whole spiel of explaining, 'No, I am not,' over and over."
Other men agree: Travis Ely, who is also married, says that he wouldn't have worn a ring while engaged, but thinks it's perfectly acceptable for a man to do so if he wants to. But what if his wife-to-be felt strongly about it? Then he might have changed his tune, he says, but only after an important conversation. "If I had been asked, we would have certainly explored it, especially if it was important to her. I would have also wanted to understand why it was something she wanted to do," he adds.
Men in their 20s have different opinions than their hitched comrades though, according to bachelor Van Brambor. "I don't see any reason why I couldn't or wouldn't wear a ring during the engagement period," he says. "An engagement is basically all the commitment and responsibility of marriage, but with the added stress that comes with planning a wedding. So, why would I add another hurdle to that if it really mattered to my partner?"
If you're considering asking your future husband to do take a page out of Ed Sheeran's relationship handbook, Dr. Greer says to first think about all facets of your engagement, including the proposal. Equality can be found in every part of wedding planning, beginning with the question. That's right: In addition to asking him to wear an engagement ring, you could also choose to pop the question yourself. "Women are exercising more choice and control in their lives. They don't have to wait for the man to propose and stay stuck in this limbo, not knowing if or when it's going to happen," she says. "They are taking initiative and putting the option on the table."
You don't have to propose to discuss the idea of your guy wearing an engagement ring, though. When you're ready for that chat, Los Angeles-based psychologist Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., says to approach the topic with honesty and reasoning. "If you would feel more emotionally safe and secure that he is wearing an engagement ring, too, let him know these reasons and why him also wearing an engagement ring would provide comfort and assurance for you," she explains. "If you want him to also wear an engagement ring while engaged because you would feel good to have him wear something that represent his deep love for you and commitment to the relationship, discuss this with him. The bottom line is if a man wears an engagement ring, whether by his inclination or his fiancée's, it needs to be a healthy decision because he wants to and feels good about doing this."