Monday, August 31, 2009

Rules of Engagement

I am old enough to not believe in fairy tales.  There is no Prince Charming and the happily-ever-after kiss does not fix all problems.   In fact, it’s kind of where the problems begin, since all of a sudden you and your life partner learn the value of compromise and negotiation  - as you work towards common ground in areas where you KNOW you’re right, suddenly it's now it’s more important not to insist on your-way-or-the-highway.  Because, if it really is your life partner, that highway suddenly seems like an awfully lonely place, and finding new boundaries in your personal comfort zone suddenly seems exceedingly worthwhile.

And so it was with our process of getting engaged. 

My background:  I grew up in a household where my father made our school lunches (he was a teacher who loved teaching) and my mother earned more money in a management job, so gender roles were always a little fluid.  My parents decided to get married over house-buying discussions, never had a proposal or an engagement ring, had a low-key backyard wedding, and both of them kept their last names, all of which sounded pretty reasonable and awesome to me.  With beer, barbecue, and love, what else did I need?  Certainly not an overpriced ring and a man-ask-woman proposal, since this was presumably a decision we’d come to together.  I figured any man should think himself lucky to find a woman who didn’t want an engagement ring at all (cue my comeuppance story).

J’s background: He was born and raised in Texas and, while I'd hardly call a Jewish, liberal, non-football playing  man stereotypically Texan (whatever that means), he’s certainly more traditional than I am.  He was raised by a full-time mother who took pleasure and pride in her role as a fun, supportive mom and a father who works hard to support and provide for his family. Whereas my feminism and social justice is rooted in a strong political and theoretical framework, he lived as a Jewish outsider in Texas and therefore came to his egalitarianism as a natural consequence of experience instead of based in discussions on gender and minority rights.  So he was actually looking forward to the on-one-knee-with-a-ring proposal and to the big-family-big-white-wedding.  In fact, the standard proposal was important to him, in a way I couldn't understand, as a way to show that he was actively ready for a lifetime commitment of marriage. 

So we compromised – If he wanted his on-one-knee proposal, I’d make sure it met my basic concerns about egalitarian proposal issues, diamond/gem/metal mining, and cost.  So, we set rules for the ring and proposal we were both comfortable with.  Yes, rules.

Our rules
  • No new diamonds or gems.  Heirloom diamonds and gems were fine.  Lab-created gems were also fine, and even preferred from a price, aesthetic and environmental perspective.  The case against diamond mining and pricing has been made elsewhere, so if you're interested, please take the time to learn more.  
  • No solitaires (that was an aesthetic request, not a moral one.)  I like interesting jewelry pieces and didn’t think an important ring should buck my overall style.
  • We both wear rings, because there’s something odd to me about a woman being visually “off the market” while a man walks around with a bare finger during the entire engagement.  If we’re both off the market, we’re both advertised as such.
  • We both get engagement presents.  Since I love jewelry already (I have a lot of unique metalwork necklaces) I could get excited about an amazing ring-as-present.  Since he’s not as excited about a hunk of metal, I had to find him something equally meaningful and equally awesome, in conjunction with a simple ring. 
  • Each of our rings/presents had to cost under $1000 - none of this three-months-salary thing.  We’re starting off our lives together, and we can use that money on something we’ll both enjoy instead of something that will sparkle on my finger or on whatever engagement-ring-equivalent I got him. 
  • We both get to propose, and it’s not “official” until we both proposed to each other.  Neither of us are passive “yes – I will” folks in this scenario. 

It may not sound like the most romantic-swept-off-your-feet scenario to work with half a dozen rules, but I’m still in schmoop city here.  I have a partner who listens to what’s important to me, even if these weren't considerations in his own initial approach.   And I have a beautiful and meaningful ring that I adore, because it suits my aesthetics and my values.  And he had an incredible experience-gift that he would have missed out on if we’d gone the standard on-one-knee route.  But then again, I got the on-one-knee story too, and it swept me off my feet more than I ever could have imagined.

Photo by Chris Craymer, via Le Love

Compromise is definitely romantically swoonworthy.


  1. this so great. we, too, are trying to break the wedding gender rules. i just love that there are other couples out there that see their relationship as a true PARTNERSHIP. kudos!

  2. We proposed to each other during a super secret ceremony and we got gifts for each other too. I love that you compromised and figured out something that worked for both of you. I think you guys are off to a great start!

  3. I like your rules. We came up with a game plan too, and he wanted the whole get down on one knee and present the ring experience, so that's what we did, even though it really wasn't a surprise. It was mostly an excuse to spend the weekend in a really nice hotel, eat a lot, and play on the beach.
    Refreshing to read this, what a great start!


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