Monday, May 16, 2011

Engagement Rings

In her piece, Let's Get Rid of Engagement Rings, Emily Yoffe argues that "to encourage more marriages, reduce materialism and further the equality of the sexes, I say let's chuck the engagement ring."

While I do take issue with a very heterosexist stance throughout the piece, she makes some excellent points.

The fancy-pants engagement ring tradition is a modern creation, one which
The diamond industry, in its infinite marketing savvy, seems to have convinced young couples that the only way to declare a lifetime commitment is for a man to ruinously spend two or three months' salary on the proper rock... Here's a secret that the folks at De Beers don't want young people to know: All you need to do to become officially engaged is tell everyone, "We're getting married!" 
Since getting a four-year degree is pretty much required now and getting an advanced degree is fairly common, and since higher education costs far more proportionally than it did 30 years ago, debt is also far more common. And when you're already trying to stretch a dollar, paying through the nose for a sparkly rock as a prerequisite for spending your life with someone seems a bit foolish.

The other problem with engagement rings? They're so damn one-sided.
 It turns young women — otherwise independent, successful strivers — into passive recipients, waiting for their prince to rescue them from their single state.
(Her next question, "In what other aspect of their lives do young women so totally turn over their future to the decisions of others?"... don't even get me started. But I was with her till that point.)
Waiting around to see what hoops your significant other will jump through in order to make some grandiose, over-the-top production about proposing (and essentially offering you a bribe) seems so... sad. There's no agency.

And finally, there's the whole issue around the actual diamond. Yoffe references women comparing rings with friends, which really highlights this whole "women are golddiggers"/"all women care about is money" bullshit. Yes, I've seen the phenomenon in all of its catfight glory. And, to be frank, (cause that's how I roll) I've observed it primarily amongst women who are settling or unhappy. And even women who don't play the comparison game can get sucked in when someone insults the ring that the person they love worked hard for and went to all the trouble of picking out.
It just shifts the focus onto things that aren't, or at least shouldn't be, important. Someone's income and ability to pick out a really nice ring are not reasons to spend your life with them. What kind of ring one has, where it's from, how many carats, how much it cost, how it's cut, blahblahblah are not crucial elements of a relationship OR indicators of how much someone loves someone else.

Really, when you think about it, engagement rings are just as offensive (or more so) than the father of the bride "giving her away" (because that used to be LITERALLY what the father of the bride did... he "gave away" his property [his daughter] to another man and she became her husband's property) or the bride wearing white (marking her as a "pure" virgin... because what a person and their vagina have or have not been doing is TOTALLY everyone business. And a necessity for marriage.).

Engagement rings are the equivalent of peeing on someone and saying, "THIS IS MINE." It's a way for men to "mark their territory" before marriage. (And you will notice that men do not wear engagement rings. Hmm.)
And really, you shouldn't need jewelry. If you love someone and you're committed to them, you two should be confident in that. If you both know it, that's all that matters. (And if you don't have the trust, you're pretty much fucked.) One would hope that if two people are engaged and one of them is hit on by a random, said person would inform said person "I'm taken." Problem solved.

Personally, I'm all for Yoffe's suggestion of simple wedding bands (meaning once married) for both people. You have your conventional symbol without the bullshit.
And if some snazzy piece of bling is something that's important, that can be added later on, when it won't involve crippling debt (and when the person who has to wear it has input, so they DO love and want to wear it).
Perfect example? My parents. Neither is extravagant, but they both came up poor and they have their little indulgences. Around the time my younger sister went to college and the nest was empty, my dad bought my mom a giant ring (Titanic status). Not because my mom demanded it, or because he needed to (she wears her wedding ring every day), but because my mom really loves and appreciates jewelry and my dad really loves and appreciates my mom and wanted to spoil her a little. She wears it on her right hand and jokes that it's "the ring she gets for putting up with him." It's actually kind of cute.
And to me, that is way more special than some obligatory flashy engagement ring.

No comments: