Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve found engagement rings totally perplexing. The part about them being symbols of love and commitment made sense. I got the commercial appeal, too – after all, I was a child of the nineties. I had enough merchandise from every TV or book series I liked to learn the important consumerist message that when you really love something, you buy a souvenir.
What I didn’t get was why men didn’t get them. And nobody could give me a serious answer. Married men wore rings; why not engaged men?
None of the answers I got were very satisfying.
The “it’s tradition” answer exposed some ugly roots of marriage: Cynics explained that the rings were marks of ownership, signals to other men to step off the ring-purchaser’s property. Men didn’t wear them because they weren’t ever really expected to be faithful. The solution to that one seemed easy. Get the dude a ring, and now you’re both marked as each other’s property. Double standard solved!
Then there was the “manly men don’t wear jewelry” answer. But that just wasn’t true.
Another answer left me even more uncomfortable: it had to do with money. Girlfriends don’t spend money on their boyfriends; it’s inappropriate, emasculating, even desperate for them to do so. There’s no traditional calculus of how many months’ salary a girlfriend should put into a ring for her man. And girls don’t do the proposing, so they don’t buy the ring.
I really didn’t like this. I’ve never believed that my gender entitles me to pulled-out chairs, opened doors (at least, no more than anybody else who follows another person into a building) or paid dinners. Those all seemed like a piss-poor return for giving up my claim to equality. In the rest of our relationship, we’re equals: we contribute equally to the bills, we trade off paying for meals, and his “proposal” was a private conversation, not a public show. So why on earth would I make him spend a bunch of money on a ring for me? It seemed like a tradition from another age; it certainly didn’t resonate with the rest of our life together.
So I brought up all these points with Stuart, my fiancé. He had never thought about it before, but all of a sudden, he started to find the double standard annoying, too. Then we went ring shopping.
We had to make some concessions to the economy. In my dream world, I wanted a blue diamond. I settled for taking a ruby out of an heirloom necklace from my grandmother and recycling that. Stuart’s stone (also not a diamond) has been bought, but we’re still saving for the setting. We don’t plan to buy separate wedding bands.
So we’re a little poorer, a little weirder, and a little happier. Fair’s fair.