Adventures in Egalitarian Marriage: On the Rocks, Please

Adventures in Egalitarian Marriage: On the Rocks, Please December 18, 2012
A man wearing a gemstone ring on his pinky.

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.

A men’s engagement ring, from Hytrek’s Jewelers.

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.

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