What Does a Promise Ring Mean?

A man and woman exchanging rings.
  Alan Graf / Getty Images

A promise ring is bestowed to symbolize a promise that one person makes to another in good faith.

In some cases, a promise ring is a precursor to an engagement ring. Although the latter symbolizes a promise to marry, a promise ring also can stand for many other kinds of vows. Both men and women can give and wear a promise ring. 

Promise Rings Can Mean

  • I will be faithful to you
  • I will return to you
  • I will keep a specific promise to you
  • I will keep your secret
  • My feelings for you are serious
  • I love you
  • My intention is to marry you, but I'm not yet ready to become engaged
  • I will save my virginity for you
  • We are best friends
  • I will always be there for you
  • You are my one and only valentine
  • I promise to abstain from a vice (gambling, drinking, smoking)
  • I promise to replace this ring with a (larger) diamond one as soon as I can afford it

Do Promise Rings and Engagement and Wedding Rings Look Different?

When a promise ring is given as a pre-engagement gift, it often bears a heart in the same metal as the ring. However, any ring can represent a promise, even ones with small, modest gemstones. Couples of Irish extraction may treasure giving and receiving traditional matching Claddagh rings.

  • Engagement rings tend to have a distinctive look and often include a diamond or other precious stone.
  • Wedding rings are typically band rings that may be rendered in a polished or matte precious metal. Sometimes they are embellished with small precious stones.
  • Both engagement rings and wedding bands are generally more expensive than promise rings and should be protected when traveling or replaced with an inexpensive substitute until you return home. 

Most people wear the ring on the ring finger of their left hand. If an engagement commences, the engagement ring replaces it and the promise ring can shift to the right hand. And if the promise ring is clearly not a pre-engagement ring, it should be worn on the right hand.

The Promise Should be Clear

When giving a promise ring, it's important to communicate the specific meaning you give to it. To avoid confusion and later unhappiness, make sure the recipient understands what it symbolizes for the two of you. You may even want to give the ring with a notecard that spells out the promise you are making.

Where Can You Buy One?

Any jewelry store should be stocked with a variety of rings that can represent a promise ring. If you do go looking for a ring IRL, don't let the seller try to convince you to spend more. Keep in mind that this type of jewelry should be modest in both price and appearance. Also, be sure to ask about a return policy in case things don't work out. And if you don't want to deal with salespeople at all, you can buy a promise ring from Amazon. Just be certain you know the recipient's ring size before placing an order.

If the ring is wide enough, the giver may be able to have a names or initials engraved or a few words that summarize the promise. It then becomes unreturnable, however.

What if They Change Their Mind?

Promise rings of low value do not need to be returned, although the recipient may not want to keep a ring around if it evokes bad memories.

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