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The promise ring explained

Engagement rings and wedding aren’t the only rings that grace the third finger of the left hand. That finger (or another) can also hold a promise ring. The meaning of the term can be a little murky at times. A little explanation of the origin and current etiquette of the promise ring should help clear up this matter.

In the simplest terms, a promise ring is a physical symbol of a pledge, a commitment or an agreement between two people. The meaning of the symbol is determined by the giver and recipient. It could be a precursor to an engagement, an agreement of chastity, a vow of friendship or an expression of parental love. There are really no rules other than that the promise should be clearly communicated and understood between both parties.


A little history

The tradition of giving and receiving a promise ring dates back to Biblical times. It was most often part of a larger betrothal agreement (but that is not always the case in its more modern uses). Back then, an engagement was a legal procedure and a contract. A ring was given as a visible sign and seal of the contractual agreement long before the actual marriage took place, like a public announcement.


The meaning behind the ring

In today’s world, the uses and meanings of the promise ring have shifted significantly. It may still be used to signify the intent to marry, but it also may have numerous other meanings. Here a just a few currently popular reasons to give a promise ring:

  • Pre-engagement/fidelity. Some couples feel that the time is not yet right to announce an engagement. Perhaps they feel too young or that they need more time together, but they still want a visible reminder of their monogamy and a future marital commitment.
  • Pledge of abstinence. Many parents and children are using promise rings to open a dialog about purity, whether that means maintaining sexual chastity or abstaining from drugs or alcohol. The ring serves as a reminder of the family’s values and their importance.
  • Family devotion. Siblings or relatives can opt for promise rings that link them even when they are far apart. They serve as a reminder that you aren’t alone, that you are loved and accepted, that you will always be part of something larger than yourself.
  • Friendship forever. This is your childhood split-heart BFF necklace taken to the next level. It’s a more mature way of marking a special bond with a friend.


The etiquette of the promise ring

The only true etiquette ‘rule’ regarding the promise ring is that both parties have a very clear understanding of the implied promise and that it be sincerely meant. However, there are a few guidelines you may want to consider. Any finger can hold a promise ring. It does not strictly need to be the traditional ring finger of the left hand. Indeed, if the wearer wants there to be no confusion as to whether the ring is a marital symbol, it should not be worn there. People will likely make assumptions if they see it on the left ring finger. Choose where you place you promise ring intentionally.

Materials and styles should also be considered. Heart-shaped rings, gold bands and diamond solitaire rings most often symbolize a romantic commitment so be careful about these choices. You can add meaning to your ring by including birthstone(s) or an inscription. Pearls, gemstones, gold and platinum are classic choices, but nearly any style or stone can be appropriate depending on the circumstances.


If you have a special sentiment you’d like to share with someone dear, a promise ring is a beautiful expression of your heartfelt emotions.

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