Wedding planning makes it easy to get caught up in the equation that marriage = forever, therefore things pertaining to the wedding = will also be important forever. Particularly when the wedding industry is force-feeding us the trope that one always represents the whole (mostly they use that idea to sell us invitations that match our tablecloths). But the reality is it’s perfectly all right if some things start out with a level of symbolic importance that dwindles as time passes. Because truthfully? It’s a lot of work upholding the symbols of our relationships, and marriage would be a tough row to hoe if all of those symbols carried the same weight all the time. So today, our intern Elisabeth imbues on us perhaps on of the best wedding mantras I’ve read in a while: it’s one thing, but it’s not everything. If there’s one thing you should print out and paste it on your wall leading up to the wedding, let that be it.
I lost my engagement ring at the Long Island City YMCA. I lost it somewhere between the rowing machines, the showers, and the pool. I realized I lost my engagement ring later, on the way to work, while I was standing up and swaying as my bus careened down Queens Boulevard. I was humming the chorus of “I Knew You Were Trouble,” wondering if my friend J could learn the drums and if we maybe could become the next Tegan and Sara, the mid- to late-thirties version that only sings pop music covers (I think this idea has real legs), when I glanced down and saw my bare finger. I got off the bus and burst into tears. I was not grieving the loss of a precious ring. No, I was seriously pissed. This ring had been a total freaking albatross, and now it goes and gets itself lost.
As I wrote in my last post, our pre-wedding discussions have been more of a meandering path rather than a clear-cut before and after engagement. Neither of us proposed to the other; rather, we decided to get married together over the course of a couple months. We didn’t put much time into finding engagement rings, but I did want something tangible, some representation that we were a pair who had DTR-ed to that level. I wanted something different, meaningful, something quintessentially us, and pretty soon I was describing in many adjectives something that would remind me of our most beloved places, of our happy picnics, walks, and attempted body surfing. I showed K the ring I’d had bookmarked through my last three girlfriends (at least), a gorgeous beach stone set in silver. “It’s very us,” I said wisely, “being that we both love the ocean.” K took one look and immediately nixed it. She pointed out that last spring that I made her take swimming lessons at the Y since she actually hates the water, and furthermore, she would prefer if we selected something that didn’t have ghosts of girlfriends past all over it. Totally reasonable.
Incidentally, everyone needs to take swimming lessons! You can drown in thirty seconds in two inches of water! Plus, spotting K through the glass in her swim cap at the Dodge Street Y, blowing bubbles and paddling a kickboard, was hilariously endearing.
So we ended up envisioning a ring that would be made out of sand from our favorite beaches up and down the Eastern Seaboard. (This really highlights one of my favorite theories: “If something is simple, make it complicated.”) I scooped up a handful of sand and carried it back to the car during a whipping windstorm on Assateague Island, VA. I climbed over a barricade in Red Hook, Brooklyn and shoved some pebbly grains into a leftover Steve’s Key Lime Swingle wrapper. On a trip back from Maine I pulled off at the closest beach I could find to grab another handful of sand. I stood on the shore and mistily gazed out like I was seeing our future, though it didn’t feel particularly special like I thought it was supposed to, since I was cold, annoyed, and not even on my favorite beach. We sent all this combined sand off to a jeweler who returned a lovely ring with the combined sand set under glass, a little hourglass representing our past and future. I slipped it on and felt satisfied. “Now,” I thought, “we’ve arrived, we are here.”
Except. Soon I realized the ring wasn’t watertight. Between my work in public health and my fear of getting sick, I am all too aware of the frothy underbelly of everyday appliances like computers, doorknobs, and subway poles. You guys, I live in Brooklyn; even the poor oysters in the Gowanus Canal have typhoid and gonorrhea. Danger everywhere. I wash my hands about four hundred times a day, and soon I started to notice patches of the sand slightly darken as my sand ring turned to more like mud. Basically, a moldy cholera colony, right there on my finger.
I tried to save the ring, I really did. I tried to remember to take the ring off when I did the dishes, when I showered, and during all 407 daily hand washings. I forgot at least half the time, furthering the progress of the mini drip castle on my finger, and when I did remember to take it off, of course I would forget where I’d put it and tearful step retracing would ensue. I would finally turn up the ring nestled near the Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour or sitting in the soap dish. “This is a disaster,” I would think as I sullenly looked at it. I suspected this ring maintenance wasn’t normal, and that most people who decide to mark a commitment with a ring don’t feel resentful about germs when they look at them, but what do I know? The handbook for mid-thirties lesbians with cats doesn’t provide this sort of guidance.
So when I realized it was gone, I wasn’t too sorry to lose it. I was just so disappointed. Instead of reminding me of the profound, joyous decision we’d made, this dorky, sweet idea, and my efforts to do “something different” had tanked. I want to get married, but I feel uncomfortable slipping on a visibly heteronormative tradition. (Obviously, this is only my experience—I have queer friends who feel just the opposite and wear gorgeous cupcakes on their finger because they want to be as out as possible.) I don’t want to emulate every tradition. Planning a wedding that is as close to a traditional wedding as I can make it is not going to be the tipping point that makes my relationship authentic. And queer or no, isn’t this sort of reenvisioning the point of planning a practical wedding and relationship?
It’s been a few months since my ring sailed off to bigger things. I do have a stand-in, but now, I sort of love the idea of getting a new ring every few years, as my tastes shift. Ultimately the ring fiasco reminded me of what I’ve been saying more and more as we get closer to our wedding: this is one thing, but it’s not everything. Besides, it is damn near impossible for a piece of jewelry to symbolize every summer vacation ever.
Epilogue: Incidentally, K didn’t want a ring. She is much less interested in wedding traditions than I am for both personal and political reasons (she calls our wedding a legally binding clambake), and she’s also allergic to some metals. But after the meticulous hoopla leading up to the selection of my mold colony, she decided she did want a present, because who doesn’t want a present? So we researched for weeks and settled on an antique gold watch. I ordered it hoping to surprise her, not realizing it was being shipped media mail from an antiques dealer in Kazakhstan. With any luck, it’ll make it here for our golden anniversary.
Photo by Leah Verwey for Favor Jewelry (APW Sponsor)