When you meet people, you can tell certain things right off the bat. Their Metallica T-shirt could point to bad fashion sense (and questionable music taste). Bad breath could mean they have questionable hygiene practices.
But other things are not always so apparent. Do they still live at home? Have they been to jail? And, most importantly, are they even on the market?
When most women get engaged, they have big, shiny beacons indicating that they're taken. Not so for most men. Which is why I believe in what I call the man-gagement ring. That's right. An engagement ring for men.
"I think it's a good idea," says Adam James of Southwest Baltimore. "Men like to feel special, too."
And why not? Shouldn't we shed antiquated customs and emerge in a new era of gender equality?
David A. Bouffard, vice president of public relations for Sterling Jewelers, the owners of Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry brands, says his company doesn't market engagement rings for men, but "it is much more common for men today to select and receive diamond bands as either a gift of love [or] a sign of commitment."
Either way, not everyone is onboard.
"I would not wear one because I'm old-school," says Corey Templeman, 25, of Timonium. "I'm a traditionalist."
Templeman, who got engaged in October, says there are too many other rules to follow. His friend, 26-year-old Chris Hinkle of Owings Mills, agreed, but from a financial perspective.
"It just seems to be another thing to buy," he says. And besides, he says, a ring isn't much of a deterrent.
"If a woman gets a ring, she still gets hit on," he says. "I don't know whether it would matter for a guy."
But James says the man-gagement ring would probably be more effective than women's rings.
"Men are predators by nature," he says. "But, when a woman sees a ring, she's like, `I'm not going there.'"
I think he's right. As I see it, the engagement ring is more of a public service announcement than a deterrent. And most women I know already do the ring check when they see an attractive guy.
"Yeah, that's one of the first things you do," says Kristina Jones, 29, of Gardenville.
Karla Winder, 30, of White Marsh says her husband would have worn one when they got engaged. She just hadn't thought to ask him.
"That's the standard," she says. "Women get taken off the market before men do."
But her friend, Jackie Anderson, 28, of Reservoir Hill, has seen it work. When her brother got engaged a year ago, he gave a ring to himself and his then-girlfriend. "He called it his practice band," she says.
For that reason, she thinks the man-gagement ring is a sweet gesture. And, as a single girl, she says it helps to weed out ineligible men, too.
"It would be nice to know, because there's the playa playas that want it all," she says.
Like the guy she dated who turned out to be married.
"I was dating a guy and didn't know" he was married, she says, until his wedding ring made a cameo appearance. One minute it was there, the next minute it wasn't, enough of a change for Anderson to realize that everything wasn't what it seemed. Needless to say, their relationship was over faster than a Britney Spears marriage.
As weddings get more extravagant and engagements get longer, the man-gagement ring can only bring about good for everyone. It doesn't create a magic barrier against people who are hitting on you, and, yes, ne'er-do-wells can take the ring off. But it makes it more likely that those who don't mean to do right - like Anderson's ex-beau - will eventually get caught. And it's a handy tool for those of us on the prowl.
"We've got all of these relationships - married, engaged, living together - but we're still going out," says Justin Boyer of Mount Vernon. And it's annoying to get your hopes up about a new person when he or she is already off the market, the 29-year-old says.
"You're at a bar, you're talking for 10 minutes," he says, "and then she's like, `Oh, my fiance ... '"
His friend, 26-year-old Chris Dunn of North Baltimore, jokes that perhaps we could have a color-coded system like we do for terror alerts. Green for single, yellow for it's complicated, red for married.
And the ring would perhaps be a friendly physical reminder for weak-minded men.
"It would definitely get in the way of your martini when you go out to the bar," Boyer says.