They're not supposed to be a joke, they truly do mean something.
The promise ring trend has faded in and out throughout the years, and it is beginning to take root yet again. By definition, promise rings are supposed to be an intermediate level of commitment, with the intention of being replaced with an engagement ring in the foreseeable future.
However, it seems that this definition no longer rings (no pun intended) true.
I know at least half a dozen young women who received promise rings and were no longer with their boyfriend within a year of receiving it. Why are young men treating these as unimportant little gifts that can be canceled at any time? What has happened to the value of a promise?
This may simply be a result of the demographics of promise ring purchasers, which is usually 16-24-year-old men, or the instability of the average young adult relationship. However, it still doesn't justify making a commitment without the intent to follow up on it.
My promise ring means the world to me. With my boyfriend 2,000 miles away, it serves as a constant reminder of what we have, and his future intentions of replacing it with an engagement ring. He has made that very clear, and the promise ring is intended to be a precursor. Of course, it isn't necessarily set in stone that I will marry my boyfriend, and it won't be until he proposes. But, that is the intention, and I believe it's time to revamp the meaning of promise rings.
If you are considering purchasing a promise ring for your girlfriend, think long and hard about it. If it is not your intention to replace it with an engagement ring, make that absolutely clear to your significant other; or, just don't get one at all. They aren't something to be taken with a grain of salt, and they do truly mean something. If you intend to be a man of your word, keep the promise the ring entails, and treat your girlfriend with respect, then a promise ring may be an appropriate move. It will mean the world to her, and she will have the reminder of your commitment on her hand at all times.
If that isn't the intention, then maybe it's best to stick to a necklace.