On a sunny afternoon in June five years ago, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson proposed to his girlfriend, Natalie, at the top of a bell tower at Yale Divinity School, in the way that men have been doing for generations: He got down on one knee and presented a brilliant-cut diamond ring. After she accepted, they descended the steps and drove to her apartment to call friends and family. That's when things got weird: Natalie disappeared into the other room and returned with a small box. Before Wigg-Stevenson knew it, she'd performed an act that's becoming as common among the engaged as announcing a gift registry: She extracted a lightweight gold band with a Celtic knot pattern and gave it to her intended.
"It definitely caught me off guard," says Wigg-Stevenson, who works for a nonprofit. But at no point did his inner alpha chime in with thoughts such as What the hell is she doing? "I actually liked it," he says. "It makes more sense for both parties to have an engagement ringit's just not the way we generally do it."
Clearly "the way we generally do it" is changing. Two years ago, Britain's largest jeweler, H. Samuel, introduced the Tioroa titanium ring embedded with a tiny diamondbilled specifically as a men's engagement band. And recently American jewelers have been following suit. "We get maybe 20 to 25 inquiries a week from women who want to propose," says John Cordova, an expert at California-based Robbins Brothers, which calls itself the "world's biggest engagement ring store." "We've got literally hundreds of possible engagement bands for guys." While some of the uptick in sales may be due to gay marriages, it seems that the phenomenon has been gathering steam for some time: The term mangagement ring has surfaced on the Internetand joined mandal and man-cation on an ever-expanding list of linguistic masculinizations that are not so much signs of a blurring of the boundaries between the sexes as they are ways of getting people to part with their cash.
"Let's be honest," says Chris Easter, who runs an online wedding registry for grooms called TheManRegistry.com. "We're in a rough economy. The groom's engagement band is just a sales tactic invented by jewelers to trick young couples into spending money. I don't think we've reached the point where we'll be seeing a man showing off his shiny new engagement ring to his buddies."
Tell that to 28-year-old Army reservist Luis Delgadillo. In December 2007, when Delgadillo was on leave from Iraq, his girlfriend, Jasmine (also a reservist on leave), took him on a stroll through the palm-dotted campus of Chapman University, in Orange County, California. For some reason, she lingered outside the all-faith chapel. Then he noticed it: a big white pickup truck with a billboard that read, LUIS, WILL YOU MARRY ME? "My jaw dropped," he says, as she slid a white- and yellow-gold band on his finger. "I was playing with the idea of proposing to her, but she just kind of took the initiative." The delicious irony of Delgadillo's being rewarded with a stereotypically feminine object for exhibiting the stereotypically male behavior of dragging his feet isn't lost on him. But the ring hasn't earned the kind of scorn you might expect, either. "I've been deployed twice to combat zonesso I don't get too much crap about this from my friends," Delgadillo says.