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For These Couples, the Best Engagement Ring Is a Lump of Caramelized Sugar

bon Appétit logo bon Appétit 6/30/2022 Ali Francis

Kelly Anderson still treasures the wrapper left over from the Ring Pop that changed her life. Last December, her partner Marty Weiss proposed with a bright blue, diamond-shaped lump of caramelized sugar in a park near their home in Bloomingdale, Illinois. “It was just so funny,” says Anderson, a 29-year-old photographer.

The candy had been an inside joke since early on in their relationship, when the pair went to a wedding shower that featured a display of Ring Pops. They’d barely been dating for two months at the time, but Anderson joked that Weiss should eventually use one to propose to her. The 31-year-old mechanical engineer pocketed that exact blue raspberry Ring Pop, and though he eventually offered a traditional ring too, the Ring Pop proposal is what felt special. “We love food and we love those little dorky details,” says Weiss.

© Courtesy of Kelly Anderson and Marty Weiss

Weiss and Anderson aren’t alone: It turns out lots of millennial couples are using Ring Pops these days to add a playful detail to their proposals. After the pandemic put in-person gatherings on hold, about 2.5 million weddings are expected to take place this year, and couples seeking a lighthearted vibe are including nostalgic elements in their celebrations, says therapist Landis Bejar, LMHC, who runs the wedding planning counseling service, Aisle Talk. For millennials, Ring Pops evoke positive childhood memories and ease the stress around popping the question and shopping for expensive rings—and they buck tradition, another wedding trend for this generation.

When William Jean Paul Harry proposed to his fiancé, Marcella Clarissa, with a strawberry-flavored Ring Pop last August, he’d hoped to forge a “fun memory” that the Jakarta, Indonesia-based couple could always look back on.

Harry, a 28-year-old doctor, loved the red and purple ones that his grandparents always kept in the fridge. And throughout the five years they’d spent dating, Clarissa says both made jokes about how their proposal might involve a Ring Pop one day. “I was surprised and super happy,” the 27-year-old online baking store owner says, remembering the moment. “We both cried and shared a long hug.”

© Courtesy of Marcella Clarissa and William Jean Paul Harry

As many millennials—those currently aged between 26 and 41—grow older and settle down, they’re craving the familiar, says Bejar. Ring Pops, which a lot of folks in this generation grew up enjoying, bring up “memories of when life was simple and slow,” she says. “Not filled with deadlines, mortgage rates, and inflation.”

Memories live only in the heart and mind, says Bejar. So when they’re tapped through symbolic gestures, like a Ring Pop proposal, one partner is signaling to the other that “they know you intimately, listen to and care about your stories, and value your past and the moments you hold dear.”

Every time Chris Wadsworth looks at those diamond ring-shaped candies, he feels “like a child again.” It’s this sense of wonder and joy that the 35-year-old construction manager hoped to evoke when proposing to his fiancé, Lindsey Rock, in Salt Lake City, Utah, last December.

He’d hidden a strawberry Ring Pop in at the bottom of her Christmas stocking. “And I just looked at it with my mouth open,” the 36-year-old eyelash and brow artist says about discovering it. “I remember saying, ‘Um, what is this doing in here?’” When Wadsworth got down on one knee, she was almost speechless. She was “just laughing, smiling, and saying, ‘What?!’” Wadsworth recounts.

© Courtesy of Lindsey Rock and Chris Wadsworth

When it comes to marriage proposals, more couples are collaborating on the details. About 75% of those who were proposed to last year helped select or purchase the engagement ring. Still, the lion’s share of responsibility falls on the proposer: almost half spend between one and three months planning a thoughtful and intimate engagement for their partners.

Bejar, who counsels couples through the often-stressful marriage period, says a Ring Pop proposal might be a “sweet way to alleviate the pressure” of a perfect engagement, while keeping the element of surprise.

Others want to do away with the ring altogether. Jana Kriesl proposed to her partner Michelle Zumbrink with a Ring Pop last July. The Düsseldorf, Germany-based couple, who have requested their surnames be withheld for anonymity, have always been “non-conventional,” Kriesl says. Plus, the 31-year-old student says, she wanted to honor the fact that Zumbrink didn’t wear jewelry. At first, “that was a bit of a dilemma,” says Kriesl. But since “she’s really into food, it was a no-brainer” to use the candy. Zumbrink ate the strawberry ring as soon as their friends had finished taking photos. “But we still have the wrapper,” the 27-year-old pharmaceutical laboratory assistant says.

© Courtesy of Jana Kriesl and Michelle Zumbrink

These Ring Pop proposals also represent a shift from centuries-old ‘white wedding’ fanfare, the large, expensive, and formal celebrations that millennials have been resisting in favor of smaller, cheaper, and more intimate engagements and marriage ceremonies. It’s just one more way to say, “Screw tradition,” Bejar explains. Couples might share past Ring Pop memories, want to ease proposal-related anxiety, or simply not see “the need for a big, expensive diamond.” These are all reasons for ditching the established template and doing something different.

In Bloomingdale, Anderson and Weiss have always bonded over silly moments. From a first date spent watching Deal or No Deal at the Cheesecake Factory to Weiss creating a handmade Valentine’s Day card, the Ring Pop proposal was a continuation of their “funny and quirky” connection, says Anderson. And the fact that Weiss was able to use the exact Ring Pop they’d first joked about proposing with years before made the whole thing “a little bit more special,” he says.

Bejar says this playful approach applies not only to engagements but to the much harder work of loving someone for the rest of your days. The Ring Pop proposal “is emblematic that this couple’s [connection] is personalized, unique, and just for them,” she says. “Laughter, nostalgia, and playfulness are all great ingredients for making a marriage last a lifetime.”

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