A few weeks ago in our new Saturday Link Roundup, I linked to the Dear Sugar‘s advice on the kids/no kids decision called, “The Ghost Ship That Didn’t Carry Us.” Similarly, I think a lot about my “ghost feminist choices”: the fights I could have fought, but didn’t. Because as APW staffer Emily T. puts it, “If everything I did had to advance the cause of woman kind, I would pretty much just lie down.” Not every fight is our fight. So while I fought the hard fight on my (and my child’s) last names, the engagement ring issue just didn’t end up being my battle. But I think of it wistfully sometimes. Today, Rachel Wilkerson (who is changing her name, illustrating my point perfectly) is telling us about how she bought her partner an engagement ring (and the feminist angels sang).
I knew way before Eric and I got engaged that I had no desire to have a proposal. We all have those wedding traditions that just kind of squick us out, even though they are no less arbitrary, bizarre, or rooted in patriarchal bullshit than another tradition that we totally dig, and proposals are one of my squicky ones. “No one is going to be asking anyone any questions,” I declared to Eric. But what about the ring part? Oh, I was totally down with that.
You see, I am a gifter. I love that moment when I’m out shopping and I see the perfect gift you never knew you always wanted. If there isn’t an occasion coming up, well… so what? And before you think I’m just in it for the stuff, I should say that it has nothing to do with monetary value—you could bring me a pack of gum you thought I’d like and I’d feel like we just shared a magical bonding moment. I start planning for birthdays and holidays months in advance. So of course I’m going to be excited about engagement rings. And hell yeah I’m going to want an opportunity to buy one too! Is this even a question!?
Well, I’m a woman and I wanted to do something that felt right to me so… of course it’s a damn question.
“I’d like to… buy you something too?” I told Eric before we began shopping for my ring. I really had no idea if he’d be into the idea or not. While I love giving and receiving gifts, Eric could take or leave them. But I’m not sure that the question was so much, “Hey can I buy you this thing?” because I didn’t exactly need permission. I was really asking, “Hey, I want to be seen as your equal. Are you okay with that?”
I didn’t just want in on the gifting fun, or the opportunity to buy him something special and symbolic; I also wanted to make clear to everyone who knows us that we view this relationship as a partnership. I wanted to start the official process by saying, “Don’t just ask about my ring. He has a ring too!” (And I do say that, a lot.) It will be the first of many similar statements, I’m sure. “Don’t just ask me about the wedding! It’s his wedding too!” “Don’t just ask me about why our house is a mess! It’s his house too!” “Don’t just ask me when I’m going to have kids! Actually… seriously just don’t ask that question.” He’s stuck around for this long; I should have known he was okay with this. But I was really thrilled when I realized he was more than okay with it; he was actually into it.
So… now what? Now we had two rings to buy and no idea what to buy for either. Despite the wealth of information out there on picking out a diamond, none of the research we did was very helpful. (Do an internet search for it and you’ll get a lot of “that two months’ salary thing is nonsense; do whatever you’re comfortable with!” which is nice, but totally useless.) I kept asking him to just give me a budget, but he didn’t know what the “right” budget was and didn’t want me to be disappointed once we started looking at rings in real life. (While the idea that all women believe bigger is better when it comes to engagement rings is constantly reinforced in our culture and it’s incredibly toxic, Eric and I both know damn well that I really love nice things, even when I cannot afford nice things.) The night we finally set the budget, I seriously expected him to write it on a legal pad and wordlessly slide it across the table to me.
But at least there was guidance for him. For me? Not a thing. Should it even be a ring? We talked watches, bracelets, cufflinks… but we kept coming back to a ring. But… how would he wear it? Should he wear it on his left hand and then move it to his right hand after we were married? And what rings did he like? He knew what he liked for wedding rings, but it seemed like his engagement ring should look different from his wedding ring in some way. On the one hand (heh), I was worried we weren’t going to find something and that our official engagement (which was to be marked not with a proposal, but with a secret engagement party we were planning for our parents’ upcoming trip to Houston) would be here before we found a ring for him. But on the other hand, I was having so much fun with the process. Between shopping for the perfect ring and planning a surprise for my loved ones, I started to get a sense of what men have been experiencing all these years. It was awesome! I couldn’t understand why we had been letting them have all the fun this whole time.
About a week before our engagement party, I came across a great ring on Etsy that we both really liked. Loved, actually. I contacted the seller and asked if he could do a “shotgun engagement,” and he could. I wasn’t expecting that I would feel so excited when I hit the button to actually buy the ring, but I got a huge rush. As soon as I got my confirmation email, I had to email all my friends to tell them (in all caps, no less). I couldn’t wait to see it in person and to put it on his finger. Yes, I love buying gifts for people, but this was better than any gift I’d ever bought before. You think ripping a $5 DVD player from the hands of a rabid soccer mom at 5 AM at Target on Black Friday is the best feeling in the world until you buy someone an engagement ring.
I didn’t want to love picking out our rings that much. I wanted to like the process, sure, but I also wanted to believe that the ring wasn’t as big of a deal as the commercials make it out to be. But the moment when the woman at the jewelry store set a loose marquise-cut stone on a thin yellow gold band on my finger and we both leaned in to look, when instead of him saying, “If you like it, I like it too!” he instead said, very quietly so only I could hear him, “I would be very proud to buy you that ring” and the ring was under budget…was the moment a choir of angels descended from heaven and sang a sweet song about how perfect we were for each other. It was clearly my favorite part of our engagement process… until I bought Eric’s engagement ring. At which point another—bigger—choir of (badass feminist) angels descended upon me, lifted me up from my desk on their wings, and carried Eric and me off into the sunset and into engagement bliss.
I don’t know how a man feels when he looks at his fiancé’s engagement ring, but when I look at Eric’s ring, I completely understand why he told me he would be proud to buy me my ring. Because I was so proud to buy him that ring! I’m proud that I found something awesome that fits his tastes, even on my tiny budget. (Another thing I learned? There’s definitely some ego involved in the buying of engagement rings.) I’m proud that I can tell everyone I liked him so I put a ring on it (and, subsequently, I can proudly call him my feyoncé). And mainly I’m proud because it’s not just a ring; it’s also a tiny little starter feminist soapbox.
Photo of Rachel & Eric’s engagement rings from Rachel’s personal collection