In 2006, after six weeks of dating and six more weeks of hiding our engagement from our parents, my now-husband and I sat down to inform his parents, sisters, and niece of our impending (albeit distant for financial purposes) nuptials. The reactions summarized perfectly both his family’s individual personalities and the placed importance on the engagement ring and feminine identity in marriage.
His mother: “Oh! Is that the ring!”
His older sister: “Oh! Is that the ring!?”
His younger, feminist sister: “Is that the ring? Also—why doesn’t my brother have a ring?”
Niece: “Is that the ring? Can I be the flowergirl?”
His father, an ornithologist, proceeded to read a passage about the eating habits of waterfowl in the northern parts of Ontario. As one does.
The ring. It is an incredibly powerful symbol in the wedding industry (equally so for Lord of the Rings fans, I understand). But I’ve stopped wearing mine entirely. In fact, it’s (irresponsibly) waiting for me to pick it up from a jewellery store, where I was contemplating having it made into something. I’ve since abandoned that idea and it’s been there for a few months.
The ring was, and is, a nice white gold 14K band with three stones—two diamonds on either side of a green emerald, his birthstone. We picked it out together. Ring shopping was, in hindsight, a bonafide nightmare in our city, with invasive salespeople and nothing but chain stores.
The proposal was far from traditional.* So, why did I feel that my ring needed to be? Over the past seven years, I’ve come to learn more about myself, about my partner, and about his and my views on feminism. Frankly, while I would have said then that I was a feminist, it wasn’t until I read The Feminine Mystique about two years ago that I had the words—and the historical data—to explain what that meant and how that affected my views—why my opinions were the way they were (or why his opinions were the way they were, for that matter).
I got engaged at nineteen, six months shy of twenty. I didn’t know a lot of souls who were engaged or married. So, we picked the ring out together, my partner and I, and that was that. The ring glistened, it drew attention, and it was what one might expect such a ring to cost. It was all the things that I thought should matter, and I didn’t think to question what might actually matter.
However, my engagement ring was, first of all, entirely impractical. Frankly, I think there should be a rule that if you don’t know the name of the gem setting, you shouldn’t be allowed to have it. To this day, I don’t remember what it was called, but I know that it exposed the emerald. I also know, now that I’m older and have been informed by many souls who have gotten engaged or married, that emeralds are precious stones and chip easily. I found this out the hard way, working a shift at Starbucks, where brushing (smacking) the stone against the steel counter top caused it to chip.
Similarly, if you are not going to clean your ring, this should probably inform your choice. I remember as a child, my mother soaking her rings—Art Deco opulence at their best—in a smelly, brightly coloured solution and then polishing them away. I owned such a concoction, but the layer of dust that settled on it became quite thick and I became nauseous every time I tried to wash my ring after making pizza dough. Whenever I did clean it, I found the glisten of the diamonds was entirely overshadowed by the cracked emerald.
Slowly but surely, I stopped wearing my ring. I can’t tell you when exactly it happened, but by the time we got married I wasn’t wearing it at all. I wore it for our wedding day, though, because that is what I thought mattered. It came off as soon as I put on my wedding ring. It’s not that I wanted to reject the ring. Its promises were not empty. But, my wedding ring just felt so much more comfortable and strangely, it feels honest and like it’s part of me. A Knottedrush ring from Bario-Neal, my wedding ring is more relaxed in its design. It goes with me everywhere: On to the ultimate field, into the pizza dough, out on the lake. I am never worried about it.
Truth be told, about four months after we got married, I thought I had lost it. I was so sure of it, in fact, that I simply ordered a new one (it was not expensive to replace). The original turned up several months later in a cleaning spree. I don’t mean to sound blasé about replacing a wedding ring—I know a lot of people who have lost rings of incomprehensible financial or personal value. That’s my point, though. My wedding ring isn’t that. It just lives with me, as a reminder. And that’s okay.
After the wedding, my engagement ring has become a reminder of how much weight I have lost in the time since I got engaged. You know how women are supposed to strive to fit into their wedding dress, which is supposed to (for some God-forsaken reason) be two sizes smaller than they are now? My wedding photos are actually my “before” photos. Two years and eighty pounds later, I couldn’t wear my engagement ring if I wanted. It is too large even for my big toe.
I recently took my engagement ring, as well as a few other pieces of jewellery to a local craft collective. They analysed the gems for me and told me that the emerald was wrecked. They quoted me a new ring, made from the old gold, the stones, and the other pieces. Going through that process, I realized that I don’t want something new. I’m content, aesthetically, with my modest jewellery collection and I wouldn’t wear another fragile piece for the reasons mentioned above. I’m also happy with the idea that my husband and I each have one symbol that commits us to one another. I’m also not going to get rid of it, though. It represents our past – that of my partner and I – and the decisions that we’ve made and the lessons that we learned early on in our relationship and our engagement. It tells a few damn good stories. It’s chipped and it’s not polished, and I should probably pick it up from the jewelry store soon, but it still has the meaning given to it by both our culture and ourselves. Even if it’s not being worn.
*He blurted it out via text one night while he was in Chile and I in Canada. I made him promise that he would propose in-person before accepting, in principle, his request. He did so.
Photo from Kaitlin’s wedding by Sarah Naegels