Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Engagement Ring Ambivalence

As much as I love my ring, and as much as the ring is a perfect reflection of our joint values, I’m having some serious ring adjustment issues.  I already mentioned that I never wanted an engagement ring and that a process of compromise led to our ring.  Because of our approach, we ended up with a ring that is completely impractical, even as I’m completely enamored with the symbolism and meaning behind it.

Our ring, with the flowers from his proposal

Pretty, right?  Yeah, and so much more sparkly than I ever anticipated, thanks to the synthetic sapphire.  Synthetic sapphire is chemically a real sapphire – there’s nothing fake about it, it’s just created in a lab instead of extracted from a mine.  There are numerous benefits to using a synthetic over a mined gem.  Because it’s lab-created, it can be made without any flaws or imperfections, giving it clarity and sparkle similar to a diamond.  Mined sapphires of this size and quality would cost many thousands of dollars, whereas the raw materials for similar synthetics can be purchased for well under $100. We also bypassed the negative environmental impact associated with mined gems (which is the primary reason I insisted on a synthetic.)  Once we found a genius stonecutter who was willing to work with synthetic gems (few are), we had a stunning sparkle of a rock that looks like a much more expensive status symbol  than I would normally be comfortable wearing. 

Women in my mother’s generation all tell me I’ll grow into the sparkle and appreciate it later.  Well, I definitely appreciate the ring now, but I’m not sure I’ll ever grow into this particular sparkle.  In fact, when I’m out at night, I’ve already started swinging the ring around so the stone is hidden in my palm and I don’t attract muggers.  It’s also difficult to deal with others’ response to the ring, particularly the “how-big-is-that-sapphire” questions.  Just to clarify, I have no idea the carat size of my ring, nor do I give a d*mn what carat size you’re wearing either.  It's as big/small as it needed to be to fill my mother's heirloom setting, so take me out of the carat-size competition altogether, please.  (If the first thing you mention to me is the size of your new diamond ring, I know to cross you off the we-could-be-bosom-friends list.)

Frustratingly, no one seems to believe me.  I know it shouldn’t matter what other people think (good or bad), but I’m entirely irritated that so many colleagues, acquaintances, and even long-time friends seem to dismiss my careful explanation of my initial ring ambivalence, our egalitarian proposal, and our ethical ring decision process with a “yeah right, whatever.”  Apparently, according to them, all women want a ring.  This is almost as laughable as when J’s friends told him that all women want an expensive ring, so he should ignore my stated requirement that the engagement ring be inexpensive.  I’m really uncomfortable with a ring that suddenly lumps me in with “all women.” I’m also particularly uncomfortable with the notion that all women forgo rational cost-benefit and value-based decision making when it comes to engagement rings and that men (paternalistically) know what individual women really want, based on broad gender-based generalizations.

Putting aside what the morons out there assume about me and my ring, the other much more practical issue is that I’m a complete klutz.  And this is a raised-setting ring.  And it keeps sliding off my finger and spinning around. (Unfortunately, it can’t be resized because my fingers are nearly bi-polar in their swell/shrink behavior.) And so, I’ve already managed to bang up the ring, bend a prong on the sapphire, and knock a diamond out of the setting. I found the diamond (thank goodness) but the ring is now waiting in a drawer until I find time to get it repaired. Just over a month and it already needs repairs.  Clearly, this will be a special-occasion-only ring once we have children because, at this rate, I’d destroy the ring and permanently maim any future children with my (apparently very rough) treatment of my hands and rings.

Darn.  As much as I know the ring is entirely impractical and as much as I never needed or wanted a ring, I miss it now while it’s awaiting repairs.  And I miss it for my future mom self.  And I miss what it means to be perceived as just me, and not as engaged-me. And I know this is all entirely ridiculous, because it’s just a meaningful, pretty symbol of our personal commitment.  Has anyone else felt similarly conflicted about their ring?  I can’t be the only one who’s having adjustment issues even though they completely love their ring, right?


  1. i feel you on a lot of this. this is only confirming my desire for a ring with a stone set as flush as possible so it won't get in the way of my life. maybe you and your guy could pick out a simple alternate ring for you to wear when you don't feel comfortable wearing your engagement ring, until you get a wedding band. also it's so ridiculous about how everyone expects engagement rings to cost a bazillion dollars. shouldn't women want that money saved toward their future with their partner instead of spent on a piece of jewelry?

  2. ok, i have a lot to say on this so bear with me. i totally agree on the whole synthetic stone thing. if mike hadn't inherited his great grandmother's diamond, we would have went the synthetic route, or chosen something else practical. my ring is so sparkly and flashy that i too feel uncomfortable wearing it at times. you're right, to other people, the ring isn't just seen as a symbol of partnership--instead it means that you're that "typical engaged girl." i too don't want to be lumped into that category of women who subscribe to the blow-the-bank mentality on weddings, or believe that certain outdated gender roles should be observed despite their blatant sexism. i was constantly surrounded by these types of women growing up, so meeting someone like you is so refreshing, becca! mike was raised by feminist parents, so i feel very lucky he sees eye to eye on all this. it's probably one of the things i love most about him. i'm sure you feel the same way about your progressive guy. great post :)

  3. Amen. I only posted about this in passing, but I didn't have an engagement ring at all, for all the reasons you wrote and a few others and yes, I really don't feel comfortable with a giant status symbol on my finger. I am not sure we could possible have been prepared for the amount of shit we got for it. Ordinarily egalitarian, progressive folks, just would NOT believe that I could not want a ring. It sucked. I still do not know why this particular "tradition" makes people to irrational.

  4. i totally agree- it has been a constant weirdness for the past year (wow- already!). Andrew surprised me with a beautiful blue opal (so perfect for me!) and the first thing I did was drop it... on the beach on the sand. Right.
    Most people ask to see my ring when I say I'm engaged... even after they've already seen my blue ring. Or- I get a lot of: "ouu what a pretty mood ring". I don't like diamonds, and i'm pretty sure my blue opal was created in a lab. woot!

    because my ring isn't shaped very well, I won't be able to have a wedding band to fit with it. No biggie, I really don't mind all that much. My plan- we have consulted with a local jeweler who makes rings and stuff from silver and sea glass. My new "band" will be a combo- a pretty sea glass that I picked out in her studio (which her parents picked for her off the Atlantic shore) and a silver band.

    seems that people assume that I should be sad or disappointed that I won't be able to fit it with my engagement ring- but it's just a ring. The point is our love :)

    I love your ideas and stance- don't worry, same-minded people are out there!

  5. I tend not to comment about rings much, because I'm doing it so differently than so many other people, so brace yourselves: I wear a flashy ring, it's a diamond, I know how much it weighs, I know where to look for its GIA number, and I don't know where it came from, or who had to go through what hell to pull it out of the earth.
    Funny that it seems to you like so many other peole are on the same traditional tip, because I read about women like yourself, who are all into the synthetic stone, or the non-diamond or whatever, who are really about working hard at going against the tradition of a diamond engagement ring. So it's hard for me not to feel judged by friends and fellow writers in the blogosphere who have gone in an alternative (and really wonderful) direction. So remember, LA, you're not the only one subject to judgement and scrutiny out there.
    Having said that, I had a panic attack on the train one afternoon, looking at my engaged hand, with a ring on it worth more than my car, and thinking how vulnerable it made me and how it definitely said something to the rest of the world. So I understand completely the need to grow into, or the resistance against growing into, what this ring on your finger means to the rest of the world. It can be incredibly frustrating to think that others are noticing this thing and judging you for it, making assumptions about your relationship based on one silly little ornament you wear on your finger.
    But here's the thing: people were judging you and making assumptions about you before you got engaged. They were, I promise you; it's the nature of humanity. Now you've just given them something else to notice. But f*ck what other people think! You're a woman who wants wedding pie, or popsicles, and who wants as much of your day green as possible, and who wants your relationship to be the thing it needs to be. This will probably ruffle someone's feathers, but so what? You've never been able to control others' judgments of you before, so why start trying to now?
    What I'm saying, LA, is that I love our ring because of what it means to my fiance to give it to me and what it means to me to wear it, despite the fact that some would call it cliche, irresponsible or even cruel. There are plenty of folks who think what a bad thing my fiance's done by choosing it and how deplorable I am for wearing it. I've had to make peace with my choice, but once I have my peace, it's mine. Find your peace about your ring and its meaning in your relationship. Don't waste your time and energy thinking or being frustrated by what others try to put on you. They're going to continue to do it the entire time you're planning, so stay grounded to who you are.

  6. Jessica - Thanks for chiming in with the other side of the debate. I hope I don't sound judgmental about diamonds or more "standard" ring choices - My own kick is thoughtful, conscious choices. So long as you enter into a diamond decision having weighed your own pros and cons, who am I to question your decision? And heck, my own ring has diamonds. They were mined at the turn of the century, but any person seeing them on the street wouldn't know and could sniff their nose at me for having blood diamonds, or some such. So I don't judge when I see diamonds anymore either.

    Nor do I judge you for knowing your ring's stats. I DO judge, however, if you shove those stats in my face the moment you tell me you're engaged. I will appreciate the pretty and coo over the intrinsic beauty of the ring, but start talking carats and I find it offensive. It's like saying "this ring was $5k or $10k or whatever." It's an attempt at monetary superiority via carat size and it's lame. Talk to me about the meaning, about the proposal, about why you find it beautiful and I get it.

    I also agree with accordians and lace more than you about the pressure to be traditional vs the pressure to be indie. I think we choose to hang out with online voices that are a lot more progressive in questioning bridal assumptions than the world at large. I've taken a lot of shit for my ring decisions from surprising places. I work in an environmental consulting firm, for goodness sake, and my indie ring choices were belittled. No one got excited for my ringless proposal to J but they got excited for another girl in my office with a big ring (and sent her a Modern Bride subscription as an engagement gift.) Everyone dismissed my desire to have a non-diamond. It think the diamond charm is a lot more pervasive than I anticipated.

    And as for caring what other people think.. that's the battle, isn't it? I make my choices and learn to live with them, but I've been gobsmacked by the ways in which others seem so particularly invested in my wedding decisions. They're mine, yours are yours, and this whole process has made me much more accepting of what anyone else does with their wedding - Disney adventure, hotel ballroom, backyard wedding or elopement. I'll do what I do regardless, but I find it fascinating (and a bit distressing) how others care so much. It's a transition point that everyone seems to want to comment on - even if they silently judged before, this wedding stuff seems more prone to active conversations about that judgment.

    I'm trying to focus on making conscious choices and ignoring the rest. And that includes ignoring the choices that anyone else makes on their wedding day. We're all battling with family, personal values, cost, emotions, tradition, religion and compromise. None of us are perfect and we're all working to make something right for us.

  7. I think we may be bride-soul mates! lol Check out my engagement ring =) It's sapphire too (and I'm definitely in that "aack" budget set of mind!)


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