“I feel that giving a promise ring is a bit more serious than giving a Claddagh ring. I think a promise ring is a symbol of one’s dedication and promise to stand by a significant other,” Cairns says. “Personally, I’ve always thought of a promise ring as something that is a step below an engagement ring, therefore something that should be done in a very serious relationship in which you can see yourself with this person for a long time.”

The definition of a promise ring has changed a lot from its start in biblical times. Today it is interpreted by each couple who chooses to partake in the tradition. A promise ‘ring’ doesn’t even have to be something that lays embedded in the creases of your finger. It could be a necklace, a song, or spoken word poem. Today’s promise ring is just a symbol between two people who care for one another.

FREDERICTON (CUP)—Last winter, Aly MacIsaac and her boyfriend, Matt Estey, jokingly told friends about a glittering promise ring that they were about to pick up. With mock wide-eyed excitement MacIsaac gushed about taking her relationship to the next level.

Their friends believed the tall tale and responded largely with an uncomfortable ‘Oh, really?’ or ‘How nice.’ The couple then burst into laughter.

“I didn’t even know promise rings were still a thing outside of high school,” MacIsaac says. “There would always be an over-excited girl skipping around the hallways showing off her new ring. I just assumed most girls begged their boyfriends and he probably begged his parents to foot the bill.”

In the usual promise ring fables, after a young girl is presented with the sparkler, she goes home and later that night might change her MSN instant messaging display name to ‘I love you babe—one month, two weeks, 6 days…always and forever, no matter what!’ This is usually followed by a line of hearts and squiggles. A week later, the same girl would be single.

“That was just never my thing. I can for sure see why people see promise rings as corny or dramatic,” MacIsaac says.

The concept of the promise ring has been around for centuries. The ring can have different meanings from religion, purity, faithfulness, or the most common, the pre-engagement promise. In biblical times, a lot of marriages were arranged. The not-yet couples would be betrothed and would promise to marry their chosen partner when the time came. The girl would usually wear a ring as a physical symbol of the agreement she made years before. In Shakespeare’s era of prose, the promise ring was used as an ‘I owe you.’ A man who couldn’t yet afford a life with a wife and child would give his future bride a ring to show his intentions.

Last month, MacIsaac and Estey celebrated their one-year anniversary over dinner. After a stomach full of fettuccini, MacIsaac received her own promise ring—a simple band with tiny diamonds.

“For someone who had never wanted a promise ring I was pretty excited when I opened that box, but then I was like jeepers, what does this mean?” MacIsaac says.

“I thought it would be a good way to show my love for her and that I’m serious about our relationship,” Estey says. “This isn’t high school anymore and we’re adults so it’s time to start making those big decisions.”

For this smitten couple the promise ring holds a traditional meaning.

“I know I want to marry this girl, but I also know we’re still young and can’t afford all the ties that come with marriage. I bought the ring to show her that I’m willing to wait until we are both in the right position to go ahead with our future together,” Estey says.

In the 1990s, somewhere between grunge and boy-bands, the promise ring became modern. It’s not all about engagement parties and wedding vows. People started handing out rings for a slew of reasons. I promise to take care of you, I promise to be your friend, I promise to quit smoking, and the list goes on.

“I have no idea if I’ll marry my girlfriend, but I did get her a promise ring,” Megan Hayes says. Hayes was living in a world of partying and unfaithful relationships when she met her girlfriend.

“She knew my track record when she started dating me and was feeling insecure when we started to get serious. I wanted to prove to her that my partying days were over, so I got her a ring as a promise to stay faithful,” Hayes says. “I just picked out a ring that I thought she would like. Turns out it’s an engagement ring, but we both know it doesn’t hold that kind of seriousness.”

There is no set style for a promise ring. Some are simple, inexpensive trinkets while others drip with diamonds.

Allie Christensen recently received her own ring. It wasn’t bought at a store and it didn’t cost hundreds of dollars. All it took was digging around the utensil drawer. Her boyfriend melted down a spoon and made a unique ring alternative.

“I think because it was handmade I give it a lot more of a symbolic meaning. If it was just a ring someone gave me, I’d treasure it and all that, but I feel more of a connection to this one because he put the thought and the time in and made it for me,” Christensen says.

The stigma that promise rings are only for couples who are thinking about marriage has shifted and alternatives are constantly cropping up.

“My boyfriend and I are very close friends. I feel that the tradition behind the Claddagh ring really embodies the bond that we share,” Holly Cairns says. The Claddagh ring is a traditional Irish ring given as a token of love, friendship, and loyalty.

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