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Patriarchy, Engagement Rings, and Jigsaw Puzzles

Making engagements more egalitarian

A Practical Wedding | Patriarchy, Engagement Rings, & Jigsaw Puzzles

As I’m sure my parents would happily verify, I have always been stubborn. Before I was a stubborn fiancée, I was a stubborn girlfriend. A child of divorced parents, I decided at the age of twelve that I would never get married, and as I discovered feminism as a teenager, I collected more and more reasons to never walk down the aisle. “Everything about weddings is rooted in patriarchy!” I would think angrily to myself. “Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce! Women in (heterosexual) marriages end up doing more housework even when they earn more money than their husbands!” All my research supported my initial hypothesis: Marriage was too risky, and definitely not for me.

Things were complicated, however, by my partner, whom I started dating when I was fifteen. Our relationship wasn’t always easy; in the last eight and a half years we’ve endured going to college in different states, semesters abroad, multiple bouts of we-say-we-are-broken-up-but-we-aren’t-actually-broken-up, trying to get over each other, and finally realizing that we have to do everything we can to keep each other in our lives.

So there we were, ten years after I had decided that marriage was for the birds, talking about the possibility of getting married. Or, more accurately, he was talking about marriage and I was trying to steer the conversation any other way. I would repeat my points ad nauseam: Marriage is patriarchal, statistically unsustainable, and I don’t need some broken institution to legitimize our relationship. He would take the more romantic side, saying that he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me and he wanted us to be a part of each other’s families. The best way he knew how to do that would be for us to get married.

Despite my stubbornness, here I am, engaged. A couple factors contributed to my change of mind and heart. One was that I went to a few weddings that were awesome and as nontraditional as the couples wanted them to be and that made me very emotional and touched. Another was that I knew it would mean a lot to my partner’s family if we got married, because they could acknowledge their support for our relationship in a way that was comfortable for them. And finally, I started my feminist research.

I read all the books and blogs I could get my hand on (including APW!) about how feminist women decide to get married and what their weddings and marriages look like. I realized that weddings and marriage can be whatever you want them to be, and could even be fun and slightly revolutionary. I realized that, while my previous ideas on marriage were totally valid, I had started to outgrow them. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to declare our commitment with the support of all our loved ones, and have a celebration that reflected our relationship and love for each other. After all, if my feminism didn’t allow me to celebrate LOVE, of all things, it would be a pretty terrible philosophy to live by.

So at the beginning of 2013, I gave my partner permission to propose to me, but there were some things he had to agree to. (Did I mention that I am also somewhat of a control freak?) I didn’t want a proposal in a public place, especially not at a sporting event, and I didn’t want a ring. Well, what I actually said was that I didn’t want to be the only engaged person in this relationship wearing a ring, so he would either have to let me pick one out for him or figure something else out.

A note on patriarchal traditions: They are everywhere you look in our society. It is damn near impossible not to participate in any of them, and trying to do so would take a lot of energy and probably result in a lot of stress. Every feminist I know picks her battles differently, and the same is true about wedding planning. Some wedding traditions rooted in patriarchy still feel okay to me, and some I stubbornly refuse to participate in.

To me, the idea of wearing an engagement ring while my fiancé wore nothing didn’t sit right with me. Why was it important for me to have a physical marker of engagement? To let other guys know that I was already “taken”? No thanks. Plus, I’m not really a jewelry-wearer, so the idea of having a beautiful ring did not appeal to me. And the money! I am a frugal lady, and the thought of my partner having to spend more than $20 on any piece of jewelry for me was—and is—mildly horrifying. He didn’t want a ring, either, and so we nixed it.

When the time came and he proposed, what I got instead was a jigsaw puzzle:

A Practical Wedding | Patriarchy, Engagement Rings, & Jigsaw Puzzles

Now, some pretty cheesy symbolism can be extracted from an Engagement Puzzle: Just like a relationship, it takes time and work to make everything fit together, etc. However, my fiancé wasn’t thinking about that. He just knew that we have a lot of fun when we do puzzles together, and that after eight years of dating, there are a lot of cute pictures of us together. Either way, it was perfect for us.

I was expecting a lot of questions about my ringless finger after we announced our engagement, and I braced myself for some weird responses. To my surprise and delight, everyone loved our Engagement Puzzle story and no one seemed to care that I didn’t get a ring. In fact, even after being engaged for six months, fewer than five people have even asked about a ring, and my fiancé has received many compliments on his creativity and adorableness.

What I learned from this is that my family and friends know us well enough that they don’t expect us to have a traditional engagement, wedding, or marriage. No one will be disappointed if I don’t wear a white dress or don’t change my last name, and everyone will love it if our first dance is to a Beyoncé song (his idea, not mine!!!).

While I know that the WIC world will continue to insist that there is a right way to do our wedding, and our marriage, I at least know that my nearest and dearest have my back. The pressure is off in a major way. I can be stubborn about the things that are important to me, we can figure out creative ways to do what we want, and we will come out married and ready to make our married lives awesome.

Top photo: Kelly Benvenuto. Jigsaw puzzle photo taken by Marie.

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