Commitment is an age-old concept, and a promise ring is its symbol. The romantic flavor was added to these rings by the Romans, who called it annulus pronubus. Initially made of iron, it was later made with gold, gemstones bearing inscriptions, and motifs. However, such expensive symbols of love and commitment were restricted to the Nobles and Royals only. Nevertheless, they all had deep-rooted meanings, some of which are covered in the paragraphs below.
During the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries in England, promise rings grew in popularity as a token of love or friendship. They underwent many changes in presentation and styling, but what didn’t change were the expressions of love, friendship, and commitment. Their meanings can relate to various instances as follows.
Pre-Engagement: These rings are exchanged between two individuals as a symbol of belief and commitment of wanting to spend the rest of their lives together in the near future. This exchange between a man and a woman is not an official engagement or a marriage, but is seen more as a sign of exclusivity for each other. This is the most common meaning in most cases, and can be replaced with an engagement or wedding band in the future.
Friendship: These can be exchanged by people of either gender, and is a symbol of commitment to always be there for each other in times of need. Friendship that does not get affected by time and distance, and does not relate to romantic love, is signified by these bands. For friends who have moved away from each other geographically, they can serve as a reminder of their friendship and their commitment to keep in touch.
Purity: Also known as chastity rings, they are a symbol of purity. The commitment is to remain sexually abstinent until marriage, or to maintain distance from undesirable influences, such as drinking, smoking, or drugs. They can be worn by both, males and females alike. They can be given by a parent, at times followed by a simple ceremony of signing of a document that further affirms the agreement between the wearer and the parent. It can also be worn voluntarily by individuals in order to indicate that he or she wishes to abstain from sex until marriage, and alcohol and drugs. People who are committed to each other can also wear them, signifying a promise of fidelity between them. Homosexual partners also use them to pledge monogamous commitment to each other.
Religious: They are mostly worn to show devotion and commitment to practices of a particular faith. Most of them are engraved with images of saints, or inscriptions from the holy books. A religious band symbolizes the willingness of a person to show religious devotion towards a particular religion or saint, and a commitment to follow the path of truth and practice the preachings of that saint. For example, bishops wear them as a pledge of their spiritual union with the church.
A promise is not dependent on the wearer’s finger. However, the ring finger is the most preferred finger for any sign of commitment. It is the third finger of the left hand. There are two versions as why it is the chosen finger. The romantic version is that the vein of love runs directly from this finger to the heart, whereas the more practical version is that the third finger is well protected by the thumb and other fingers on either side. While all rings can be worn on this finger, the friendship ring is preferably worn on any other finger, to avoid any misinterpretation or misunderstanding of its symbolism.
Promise rings can be also worn to symbolize renewal of a commitment, a change in lifestyle, or even keeping a secret! To avoid any confusion, it is best to explain the intent and symbolism to the person one exchanges the circlet with. Whatever be the reason, it will always signify a commitment that should be honored.