*This is a paid post from an APW Sponsor*
I‘ve said here before that I’m not particularly interested in jewelry for its own sake. What really interests me about jewelry is the roles that these symbolic objects play in our lives.
What I’m going to say here is that conversations about engagement and wedding rings are important, not entirely frivolous. They’re a combination of “meat-and-potatoes” and “icing on the cake”—maybe more “meat-and-potatoes.” In spite of my substantive point, I’ve included images of vintage engagement rings on cupcakes instead of on a steak dinner (or a steak dinner with frosting on top). That’s because you’d probably find diamond rings in mashed potatoes or on a steak disgusting, even if you’re not a vegetarian. But whatever. Pretty pictures, big ideas. Let’s get on with it.
We see our engagement and wedding rings MORE THAN WE SEE OUR OWN FACES.
That’s kind of a lot. And it means that, consciously or subconsciously, your ring(s) can have a huge impact on the way you think about yourself.
You’re looking at that ring every time you wash your hands. And every time you look down at your hands on your computer’s keyboard (or touch screen). And when you pick up produce at the grocery store, or flip through the racks looking for a new pair of jeans.
You’re probably not inspecting the ring each time it enters your field of vision, but it’s still there.
To put this in another context, consider this: When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was very very sick. I threw up ALL THE TIME. For nine whole months. It was really hard. During that time, my husband started painting my toenails (I’m not normally a painted-toenails type of gal). When I’d swing my legs out of bed to rush to the bathroom to vomit yet again, I’d catch a fleeting glimpse of my toes and think with a little smile, “Well, at least I have movie star toenails.”
If painted toenails can inject a small smile into a pregnant woman’s miserable dash to puke, consider the power that engagement and wedding rings have to affect small changes in attitude during the course of a day—and a lifetime.
I can share this joy.
I can share this sorrow.
At least there’s something pretty in this miserable day.
Ooh, that’s sparkly.
Other people look at our rings a lot. And we’re aware of that.
We use wedding and engagement rings as social signifiers—clues that allow us to draw quick conclusions about people we see but haven’t had the opportunity to engage in detailed conversation.
So this ring has value in a bunch of different ways: for an individual, it’s a pretty gift to wear; to a couple, it’s a reminder to about the sentiments and commitment that you’ve made; and to the outside world, it’s a signal that you are a member of a partnership.
(A caveat: Wedding and engagement rings are NOT NECESSARY. You could forgo an engagement ring (I did!) and still be engaged. You DO NOT need a wedding band to be married. The RING IS NOT THE IMPORTANT THING about getting married or engaged. What I’m saying is that if you choose to wear a wedding or engagement ring, the rings can be useful anchors for thinking about abstract questions.)
How do we want to represent ourselves as a couple?
A friend of my sister is a salesperson at an upscale, mainstream jewelry store. To hear her tell it, most of the women who come into the store to look at jewelry are concerned with the messages that their jewelry sends to others. Yes, it’s pretty, but it’s also a social tool. Their counterparts (often men) usually have a different level of concern (and a different perspective) about the information jewelry conveys to people outside of their relationship.
So my sister’s friend the jewelry store clerk talks about being in super-awkward positions where the members of a couple aren’t able to communicate clearly (in the store or in the privacy of their home) about why and how and to what degree these Things are important. One ends up looking like a shallow fool while the other plays the cynical tightwad. Getting stuck in stereotyped positions like this doesn’t help us reach authenticity in our relationships.
There isn’t a right answer—and the question isn’t always obvious.
How we represent ourselves as a family is important. Maybe you and your partner share the exact same perspective on the rings, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you agree to disagree. Whatever the result (or the process), it’s a useful point of discussion. The same questions—How do we want to represent ourselves as a couple? Is this Thing important to our self-image or our public image?—apply to our homes, our cars, our clothing, our baby accoutrements, whatever.
I’m not saying that both members of a couple should be excited about the same sorts of Things (or that people have to be excited about Things at all).
Engagement rings and wedding bands can be a fun kind of “icing,” and they’re also a really useful vehicle for evaluating what you want your new family to look and feel like—from the inside and from the outside.
A meat-and-potatoes kind of thing.
P.S. The survey that TONS of APW readers completed last month was super helpful. I can’t be adequately effuse, so I’ll leave it at THANK YOU. And I’ll be sharing a graph on our Facebook page later showing the responses to the question: “What is your favorite vegetable.” It’s pretty awesome. The brassicas definitely get some serious love!
P.P.S. In a last-minute change to the April survey, I made a mistake in wording and conflated sex and gender. I was particularly upset about this because I know it’s a mistake, and I was actually trying to make that question more inclusive than it had previously been. I won’t even go into how stupid it is for me in particular to have made that mistake. I’m sorry.