07/30/2012 11:50 am ET | Updated Sep 29, 2012

Engagement Ring Follies

A woman's ego is often fitted to the size and expense of her engagement ring. It shouldn't be. But for many ladies, this symbol of commitment is an important form of social proof, the kind that signals to the world that she's hit the Darwinian jackpot.

As I am nearing an engagement with my boyfriend, I have started to think a lot about The Ring. After all, it's something I'll be staring at for the rest of my life. Frankly, I wouldn't care if Dave proposed with a Cracker Jack decoder ring -- I love him that much. And yet, I'd be lying if I said I didn't fantasize about what my potential ring could look like and how women around me will respond to it.

We all know how it works: A friend or colleague gets engaged and the first thing out of every woman's mouth is, "Can I see the ring?" Then come either the genuine oohs and ahhs if it's a real sparkler, or the feigned oohs and ahhs if it's small or unappealing. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; regardless, "It's beauuutiful," is the typical and expected refrain.

Indeed, the fairer sex has a tendency to ogle and obsess over rings. Just pick up a copy of the latest issue of Life & Style or one of the other celebrity rags: Indubitably, the latest star's engagement ring, usually zoomed in on and then circled, is thrust in our faces. We common folk are in awe of these luxurious tokens of love bestowed upon reality stars and pop stars from their shipping heir and A-lister fiancées. Publicly, we may find them repugnant, even gaudy, yet we drool over them in secret.

Sadly, this madness extends to the masses. 'The bigger and more expensive the ring, the more he must love and care for me and the more envied I'll be by other women,' goes the faulty thinking. The perception of others becomes a consideration. I've seen the anxiety build-up over The Ring happen too many times to count among women I know. I'm afraid of falling into that same ridiculous trap.

I've always admired women who choose to wear a plain, unfussy band, and proclaimed that I'd consider doing the same when it was my turn. No need to flaunt to the world how rich you are, how much your husband loves you because of his decision to plunk down what could be a down payment for a house into a tiny, circular object that wraps around one's finger and shines and sparkles -- especially if it's recently been cleaned by a jeweler for the purpose of shining and sparkling to all who come across it. But now that the time is nigh, I feel pulled in different directions. A beauuutiful ring would be nice, but why should I really care all that much how much it costs? Whatever happened to my esteem for plain, gold bands? It's a funny thing, this engagement ring business.

Or, shall I say, the business of engagement rings. "A perfect expression of your everlasting bond," one commercial goes. Gee, all this time, I thought trust and communication were the cornerstones of a successful marriage, not the actual stone. Intellectually, we know the premise of this advertisement is bunk, puerile, yet why are we still so married to the idea of the blingier the better?

I remember once laying eyes on a very successful finance woman's rock. Had I not had my glasses on, I may have missed the actual stone. For a split second, I wondered why it was so tiny, given her and her husband's financial situation. Snapping myself out of my snobbery, I wondered why that thought should even come to mind. In fact, I admire that woman that much more for not upgrading to a newer, shinier model, for appreciating the ring she was presented with when she and her husband, as I imagined, weren't earning much at all but loved each other dearly, when a man wasn't expected to spend three months' worth of salary on a ring.

It's a bizarre thing, this business of engagement rings, not just from a financial standpoint, but also from a cultural one. You'd think that in today's world of gender equality -- where many working women are making more money than men and earning more college and master's degrees -- the end of engagement ring insanity would be over. But even some of the most feminist women I know pine for their boyfriends to propose and bestow that shimmering status symbol of commitment, featuring, preferably, more than a carat. You'd think we'd all tell our husbands-to-be to save their money for other, more practical items -- it as, after all, the Great Recession.

In the end, the hullabaloo over the ring -- Cut! Clarity! Carats! Color! Oh my! -- seems like a whole lot of noise that can often distract women from appreciating the real everlasting bond between husband and wife: friendship. As I look forward to our engagement, whenever that may be, and our life together, the one thing I know for sure is that my best friend will always be Dave, never a diamond.