How to Propose Without a Ring

Couple who just got engaged

PHOTO BY SAMANTHA STOKES

Wedding traditions are constantly changing as society continues to evolve. Some traditions are made to be broken, like the bride’s father providing a dowry, while others have simply expanded, like colored gemstones replacing diamonds in engagement rings. Popping the question is a tradition that has been reimagined in the last decade, with some women flipping the script and proposing to their significant other instead of the other way around. 

Another element of the proposal has recently been called into question: Can you propose without a ring? The answer is yes, you can propose in any way, shape, and manner that you believe speaks to your unique love story. For some, a ring is a physical symbol of the emotional commitment their partner is willing to make for them. For others, it’s the commitment itself that’s important, not the jewelry that’s attached to it. 

To help you make this somewhat outdated wedding tradition more personal and unique to your relationship, we’ve created a guide with tips for proposing without a ring.

Propose with a ring box.

If you know your partner is picky about jewelry but you don’t want to ruin the surprise of an engagement by going ring shopping beforehand, proposing with a ring box is a symbol of your thoughtfulness. Everyone wins; you have something to get down on one knee with and you and your partner get to go ring shopping together. This ring is something they’ll wear every day for the rest of their life, so it’s not surprising that some people prefer to get the ring they know they want rather than let their partner roll the dice on this expensive everyday essential. 

Propose in writing.

Proposals can come with a certain pressure to plan and perform a public and elaborate engagement, but proposing in writing can often be just as meaningful. Whether it’s in the acknowledgments of a book you're writing or in the thank-you section of an album you recorded, adding those four words in ink on a project you’ve poured your creative energy into is incredibly special and thoughtful.

There’s also a certain permanence to proposing in writing that pairs nicely with the serious, lifelong commitment of marriage. It’s both a grand and small gesture at the same time because it’s a message for one person on something that many people might see. 

Propose with a different piece of jewelry.

Some people just don’t like or wear rings. Although it’s tradition to propose with a ring, you can just as easily propose with another piece of jewelry that you think your partner would wear or enjoy more. A necklace, a bracelet, earrings, or even a watch might be a piece of more practical and preferred engagement jewelry. It’s not the ring that makes an engagement, it’s what it represents—a commitment to marry and support each other for the rest of your lives. The jewelry is just the cherry on top. 

Propose with a tattoo.

If you and your partner share a love of tattoos, revealing an engagement tattoo is a great way to show just how serious you are about this commitment. Matching or shared tattoos are a way to express your individuality and love for one another. The tattoo doesn’t have to be a ring on that finger, either. It can be your partner’s initials, a portrait, or even an inside joke. Either way, proposing with a tattoo is a meaningful gesture that signifies your lifelong devotion. And signing the actual marriage license will seem like a piece of cake after getting inked together. 

Propose with a pet.

Show your partner just how dedicated you are to starting a family together by welcoming a furry friend into your home. Animals are a lifelong commitment, which is what makes them so perfect as an alternative proposal gift. Of course, this is something you should talk about with your partner beforehand to make sure it’s something you both want because you can’t return a puppy the same way you can a ring. Dog lovers will love this gesture, and it’s something you can nurture together for years to come. Plus, having a dog around the house will always remind you of the day you got engaged. 

Propose with a memento.

Proposing with a memento that holds a lot of meaning in your relationship will feel that much more special. Maybe it’s a movie stub from your first date or a plane ticket from the first trip you took together. Presenting this little piece of history along with the words, “Will you marry me?” will give your partner all the feels. Make it special by putting it in a frame and prepare for waterworks.

Propose with plane tickets.

If your partner values an experience over material items like an engagement ring, proposing with a bucket-list trip is a great way to surprise them. By traveling together, you’re creating memories that you can always look back on fondly. Surprise them with plane tickets to their favorite far-away destination and keep the surprises coming throughout your visit with restaurant reservations and off-the-beaten-path excursions. It’ll be a trip you’ll both never forget. 

Propose with art.

If an engagement ring is a public display of your love, who says that display has to be worn on your finger? Art lovers will appreciate the sentimental value of scoring a coveted piece of art from their favorite artist, or better yet, a personalized commission. Art is often a significant investment, similar to engagement rings, but it’s something you’ll have forever on display in the home you share. 

Propose with an heirloom. 

The older you get, the more important your family and family legacy is. Proposing with an heirloom piece that has been passed down to you from older generations shows your partner that you want them to be part of your family’s historic heritage. It’s an incredibly meaningful gesture and a reminder that this commitment isn’t about just the two of you. It’s about the joining together of two families and a reminder of the loved ones you might’ve lost in the past. An heirloom isn’t just a piece of jewelry, it’s a piece of history that you’ll take with you as you start your future together.

Propose with a romantic gesture.

Some people think spending a ton of money on an engagement ring is impractical. Putting that money towards the purchase of a home or to pay off your partner’s student loans is a grand gesture that shows how committed you are to your future together. It's a significant investment in your life together, which for some, is better than a standard engagement ring.

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