Defending Priscilla Chan and Why I Love My Fake Engagement Ring

My ring is cubic zirconia and sterling silver, and anyone who wants to look down on me or my dude for that can, frankly, suck it.
Publish date:
June 5, 2012

Oh, hey, did you hear? Mark Zuckerberg and his long-time girlfriend Priscilla Chan got married recently and it was sort of the cutest thing.

I mean, I wasn’t there, but I find something incredibly charming about people who could afford to have a multi-million-dollar underwater circus wedding officiated by a submarine full of Cristal having an intimate backyard shindig to celebrate their love. Especially in hard economic times like these, it’s comforting to see that even the obscenely wealthy can find joy in modesty.

Not everyone agrees with me, especially when it comes to Chan’s ring.

The understated ruby and diamond ring is not only beautiful, but capable of causing members of the populace to absolutely lose their shit in indignation. Whole articles have been dedicated to taking Zuckerberg to task, questioning whether the nine years Chan put into the relationship mean she’s worthy of more, and appraising the piece of jewelry (after some jewelers came out in defense of the ring, a series of relieved articles ran as well). The New York Post was probably the harshest in their criticism:

“It looked as if Mrs. Mark Zuckerberg had won the lottery when she married the Facebook boss last weekend — but now she appears to be the unluckiest lucky woman alive,” wrote Rita Delifiner.

“Zucker-bride Priscilla Chan dined out in Palo Alto, Calif., this week revealing the itty-bitty rock her man -- who is worth about $17 billion on paper -- put on her finger as they exchanged vows Saturday.”

One photograph of the ring, which is at one point mocked for its inability to hold a candle to Kim Kardashian’s, is even captioned with the word “cheapo.”

I’m not sure about you, but this kind of snark gets me all riled up. There are a lot of things that bother me about this kind of talk -- the butting into other people’s business, the blatant materialism, the thinly-veiled jealousy -- but most of all it just hits close to home.My engagement ring is fake. This is the first time I’ve actually told anyone. My ring is cubic zirconia and sterling silver, and anyone who wants to look down on me or my dude for that can, frankly, suck it.

I didn’t start out wanting a fake engagement ring. There was a time when I could be heard cooing to my fiancé, Luke, that I wanted a very reasonable $600 ring. When we went to try on what I thought was my dream ring, the saleswoman also slipped a different one on my hand, a ring that was more than 1,000 dollars pricier. I fell in love with that ring.

I don’t wear rings and I don’t care much about jewelry, but I literally couldn’t take my eyes off that ring. It was the moment you see on Say “Yes” to the Dress where the bride just breaks down crying because she’s found her dress.

Falling in love with a ring I knew we couldn’t afford led me to get real and get a fake. After a lot of searching, I realized I wasn’t going to get what I wanted aesthetically for the amount of money Luke and I were able to spend. It dawned on me that, above things like carat, cut and clarity, I just wanted something on my finger that I would love to look at forever. Screw real if it means settling.

There are other reasons a fake engagement ring made sense to us. I’m chronically forgetful and ridiculously prone to losing things. The thought of slipping on a ring that we had invested a lot of money in brings me to the brink of a panic attack.

I mean, I know marriage is a big responsibility, but I don’t trust myself to take care of bling. Two years ago I lost a $15 Etsy ring Luke gave me and I’m still not over it. If I were to lose my ring, I would be heartbroken, but at least we could replace it cheaply and quickly.

We’re recent graduates. I have plenty of student loan bills to pay and Luke goes to law school, for which he’s taken out some loans. We like to eat. We like electricity and Internet. We like our freedom to live on our own. Every extra dollar is one less day eating Ramen.

But my biggest reason is that I have this little rebellious streak that I’ll likely never kick. I’m simultaneously interested in keeping out of conflict and ruffling feathers, so the cubic zirconia is a bit of a kindred spirit. It’s traditional and unassuming on the outside, but it’s subversive underneath.

The cubic zirconia says “Fuck The Man” but plays nice enough to fly just under the radar. The cubic zirconia is like, “Whatever, I have more fire than brilliance so I’m full of rainbows,” and, come on, rainbows. The cubic zirconia is like the Haters Gonna Hate Guy of the gemological world, and I can definitely get behind that.

One of the things that really surprised me about this whole process is how difficult it was for Luke to get behind a fake ring. I know it seems like the ultimate First World Problem to bemoan a missed opportunity to spend a large sum of money on a piece of jewelry, but what I found out through picking my ring was how much pressure men experience when getting engaged.

Luke, who is usually frustratingly pragmatic about everything, was deeply concerned about how my friends and family would perceive him if they found out my ring wasn’t a real diamond, and I found the same sentiment expressed all over the Internet by droves of nervous, broke husbands-to-be. I’d never really thought about how much men feel that they have at stake when choosing an engagement ring.

The ring is not just a symbol of commitment, but a totem of masculinity. We see it in the coverage of Chan’s ring: Zuckerberg’s love for his wife has come into question because the ring he gave her doesn’t meet the criteria for a “good” or “real” engagement ring. He’s been called cheap, and that’s one of the worst things you can call a man if you think about it: Being the financial provider is a significant aspect of traditional male gender roles, and failing on that front must hurt.

I know it hurts, because I’ve seen the anxiety it can cause a person firsthand.

It makes me sad to know that a lot of this pressure comes directly from women. I’ve felt pressured to perform my gender in so many ways in my life -- I need to be pretty, be sexy, be modest, be, be, be -- that it pains me to see anyone else being shoehorned into an identity, or else. These are hard times, and plenty of men in love just don’t have the money to buy their loved ones the right ring.

Love shouldn’t send you spiraling into debt. And I truly believe that for every woman who wants a diamond -- and that’s okay -- there’s another who would rather have something else, but doesn’t feel comfortable going for it. If we as woman spoke up and stopped judging, we could make everyone happy.

The funny thing is that if the measure of a good engagement ring is how well it stands up to public scrutiny, my imposter has more than proved its worth. I get plenty of compliments and inquiries about its age (“is it an antique?”) from strangers, plus the occasional “what a rock!” or “You’re so lucky!” comments (those sort of weird me out). It feels like I cheated the system by getting all this validation on super-sale or something.

All of this is not to say that if your engagement ring cost a lot of money you should feel badly. We all have different priorities and desires, and that’s the point. It doesn’t matter if your ring rang up for more than the average college education or cost 20 bucks on Etsy or is a tattoo or a Ring Pop or not a ring at all.

However you want to celebrate your commitment to your partner is just fine -- it really is. Please, just be happy, both of you. And let everyone else be happy with what they have, whether it conforms to your idea of what an engagement ring should be or not.

I don’t have a single regret about my “cheapo” engagement ring. When I think about the money we saved, I can’t help but smile. My cheap engagement ring is so much more than a ring: it’s impromptu trips to the art museum and train rides to see our friends back home. It’s going out for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. It’s buying the video game we’d been wanting and staying up all night to play it together. It’s getting ice cream with all the fixings for a night of watching "Top Gear" in our underwear. Every penny we saved has become a memory.

My ring could fall down the drain tomorrow, never to be seen again, but I will never lose the little moments we’ve spent together and for that I am so unspeakably grateful.

So if you need ask, no, my ring is not a real diamond, but yes, my ring is real.