Monday, June 7, 2010

Engagement Rings.

For diamonds do appear to be, Just like broken glass to me. ~ Panic! At the Disco, "Northern Downpour"

I can't say how it is I pick topics for this blog. I've been juggling several ideas for the past few months and none of them held me long enough to make a post, or just didn't fit the theme of this blog. For one--elephants. I still would like to do a post on them sometime...that is, elephants, and animals, especially the intelligent ones that some think are as smart as people. I wanted to talk about how the idea of intelligent animals does in no way threaten the Biblical view of man as dominant over creation, which both Christians and not tend to think is the case. Or another topic--abortion. This too I would still like to post on. But this is a blog about beauty, and abortion is ugly. Murder is ugly. So until I can find a way to talk against abortion and focus on its opposite (life), without getting impotently furious and mocking pro-abortioners with sarcasm and all-around nastiness, it'll have to wait.

But this topic just occurred to me today, and wanted to be written about. This is going to sound like another shallow Lipstick post, but hopefully I can express my deeper thoughts on the matter.

Engagement rings. I don't have one of these, because I'm still waiting for someone to help me with that. But I know a lot of people who do. And that's cool too, because I actually really like looking at the things. Why? Am I Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge!--diamonds are a girl's best friend? Not likely. My sentiments toward diamonds lean from the vaguely apathetic (they look JUST like cubic zirconias! Admit it!) to the scientific (nothing can cut a diamond but another diamond. So I assume the gems are shaped with diamond gem cutters, right? Well, what cut the gem cutter? My question is, what cut the first diamond?? Huh? I'm going to go the Children's Catechism route and say GOD). No. I just have a weird habit of looking at people's left hand to see if they're married, and I like to see engagement rings best because they're usually more glitzy. And to me, a ring is never just a ring. It has a story.

A frumpy old woman has an engagement ring over her wedding ring, and I start to try to imagine her younger, and someone was so in love with her that he spent some of the money he'd been saving up ever since he finally got a good job, just to buy her that diamond. A beautiful young woman with a body like a model's, sitting next to me with her nice hips and her nicely pedicured feet in sandals, is using her iPhone with a left hand adorned with a very, very large diamond sitting atop her wedding band. Some guy out there once walked into a jewelry shop, still hardly able to believe that a girl that hot was in love with him, and got the biggest gem he could find because she was more than worth it. Okay, so I make up these stories. And yes, I am a romantic. Cynically, I suppose, these stories could be complete fabrications, and the old lady was pressure by her family into a marriage with a cheating drinker. The young woman could be a vain monster who cajoled her boyfriend into putting himself in debt for that massive ring. But both those situations abuse the entire purpose of an engagement ring, which is a pledge. Everyone forgets that, even the cynics.

When I was younger, I read a newspaper article about women buying their own diamond rings. The gist was, if you don't have/want a fiancé, that doesn't mean you can't have a ring! They spoke of many celebrity women who sport diamond rings, and one normal woman in particular who bought herself a diamond solitaire. "I haven't found the right guy yet, and I'm almost 30!" she explained. "I was tired of waiting for a man to buy me one, so I got one myself!" What is sad about this? Not the fact that she can't find anything more useful to blow $1,000 on (like school loans for ME), nor the fact that she is having a hard time finding a husband. It's the fact that one of her biggest reasons for wanting an engagement is so she can have a diamond. Seriously?? I don't want a diamond ring on my left hand without a fiancé, it's fake and silly and belittles the meaning of an engagement ring. Engagement rings are not about the diamond.

I have always felt a gift diamond shines so much better than one you buy for yourself. ~ Mae West

Another thing they're not about? Property. As any feminist--or, better yet, a quick stroll through DoubleX blog--will tell you, men buy women engagement rings because they are purporting some antiquated combination of Bad Oppressive Things. That is, they want to give you a ring because (1) they want to show they can pay for everything so you don't have to work and fulfill dreams and so you can stay home and be pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen, making sandwiches and nursing his 13 (preferably male) brats; and (2) they want other men to see it and be like, "Oh, man, look, it's Ted's Woman. I can't have that one now, notwithstanding any of her wishes in the matter--she is Ted's Woman, just like that labrador with the collar is Ted's Dog. Man, too bad, I like that Woman and wish to objectify her as a sex object. I must now go find another Woman Thing for myself, and brand her with a bad, oppressive $1,000 ring that she likes the design of and will show off to her Woman Friends." Then he will shuffle off on his knuckles, grunting. Yeah, because if I wanted to show someone how much I loved to step on their neck, the FIRST thing I'd do would be to spend inordinate amounts of money on them. Right. Now, some men are gross pigs who want to own women, but the idea of the engagement ring is not that.

It's a pledge. We don't talk too much about pledges nowadays, but that's what this is. The ring is a symbol of the woman's promise that yes, she'll marry him. I read recently about "man-gagement rings" they put it, "more and more women" are doing the proposing nowadays (wha...?) and are giving their men rings. (Yeah, I don't know anyone who's done this either.) Because they see rings as a dog-collar that tells who's whose, and want their men to be branded and off the market. But that's not the meaning of an engagement ring. In ancient Greece, a piece of jewelry was given to the betrothed woman to indicate that her soon-to-be-husband planned to "adorn" her with his love and protection. In the Victorian era, the engagement ring was often the first wearable gift that the woman could accept from her beau, as clothing and jewelry were seen as permanent gifts that could only be accepted in a permanent relationship, which courtship was not. The betrothal period was therefore almost as serious as the ensuing marriage, and could not be broken off without considerable embarrassment. Etiquette of the time also required a ring be returned upon the breaking of an engagement, since the ring is not a "gift" in the ordinary sense but rather a symbol of the promise made; if the two decide not to marry, no matter whose fault it is, the girl gives it back. It means nothing once the pledge no longer exists.

It's not just a diamond. It's not just an identification tag. It's not just a piece of jewelry. And that's why to me, the sparkle of a diamond on a finger seems so much more than just a ring. It's a beautiful meaning, an entire story--if not of the individual, then of the rich history of betrothal gifts. I was standing on the subway platform and thinking about engagement rings, and I looked at my left hand and tried to picture how one would look. It's hard, because I can't seem to separate the sight of a diamond ring from the story of its bestowal. I don't know how it should look or what size it should be or anything, because I don't yet know my story, and an engagement ring is a symbol of that.

Or maybe I just see everything as a story. Is that bad? I think not.


Brittany Ann said...

Good post. I guess for a lot of people it's something they want/get because it's the thing to do, like vowing to stay together "in sickness and in health", when people think simply divorcing over minor faults (e.g. Mrs Doubtfire) is totally permissible. So other people see that meaninglessness and decide to be contrary instead of digging deeper for the original meaning. urgghhGGhhh. It's always the same--it's because no one knows anything about history!

Elizabeth said...

I feel like many girls see the engagement ring as a status thing-- "I'm more important than you because someone wants to marry meee."

What are your thoughts on purity rings? My dad bought me and my older sister one each, and I wore it faithfully while I was a teen, but he'd picked out a really ugly one and had gone with one of his male friends and not with us girls, so it didn't mean anything. But it should have. Then it broke and he never fixed it, and quite frankly, there were no promises attached to that ring. But I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

And very good post--I like that idea of being "adorned with love and protection."

Elfie said...

Ok, so I had to say something because it has to do with jewelery, and I love jewelery...believe it or not, but because of a male influence, my dad. He makes jewelery for a hobby, and has taken me to gem and rock shows, and stores all my life. As I said on Brittany's post on facebook when she shared this, I'm actually more interested in having an opal on my engagement ring...just because it's probably my favorite stone. What's funny is that I decided this like the past week or so after purchasing some opals at the Highland games. I decided to look around at opals on line, and came across some incredibly beautiful ones from Australia for a couple of thousand dollars. I came to the conclusion that I couldn't possibly justify paying that kind of money for a beautiful a rock as it is just for my own self gratification. I couldn't look at homeless people with a straight face after that. However, I thought, if it was on an engagement ring, or for an anniversary, or a very special occasion, I could live with it. Why? Quite for the same reasons you said. I feel that ALL jewelery has a story behind it. I find that asking people about jewelery is one of the best conversation topics out there. I could only justify wearing a thousand dollar rock on my finger if it had a special meaning behind it. So I gotta give you a thumbs up. Good article.

Renaissancissimoza said...

Great topic, Mel, and you brought up some excellent points. I'm fascinated with the idea of how, in a sense, a ring does show that a woman is "bound" to one particular man. But this "belonging" is not a degrading or demeaning belonging. Rather, it is a sort of belonging and binding that is freeing in its very tying-down.

Speaking of marriage, I think you might enjoy these Wedding Exhortations on Doug Wilson's blog... I've been reading them lately. It's a breath of fresh air, compared to what is said at a lot of weddings.

Joe WTF Hogan said...

Not sure I have all that much to contribute to this, but it was a refreshing read. My sister just got engaged, and this pretty much sums up her sentiments too. I'm nowhere near getting engaged yet (I mean, the career ahead of us is so unstable right now), but I'm actually looking forward to dropping a crazy amount of money on the ring someday, simply because what you get in return is a lot more valuable!

Jenny said...

This was wonderful! I think a lot of times since engagement rings are so pretty, a lot of girls would be tempted to pick out a huge expensive one, but you're totally right--it's the meaning that should give the ring value. The ring symbolizes a wonderful promise, especially between a Christian couple. It symbolizes to the girl that she has accepted her beau and is saving herself especially for him. It symbolizes to the guy that he loves the girl so much that he doesn't mind shelling out the cash because she's worth more than any diamond to him, and he wants her to be his bride for life.

Really, really good and insightful post. As always. <3

Andrew Stirling MacDonald said...

Nice post. My wife's engagement ring doesn't have a diamond, and it doesn't look like a traditional engagement ring. It is made out of sterling silver instead of gold, because my middle name is Stirling, and it is in the shape of a rose, because Rose is Rachel's middle name. When I designed the ring, I decided to set it with a ruby instead, because red roses are just the best kind.

Jen Black said...

Oh Melissa, it was beautiful! So true. Funny because I was just thinking of this the other day at a wedding I attended and there were several engaged girls there and literally there was so much glittering diamonds you could hardly see straight. It made me kind of upset because it was such a social status thing :( For my engagement I told Robert I didn't want him to spend a lot of money on me, so he went to Fossil and bought me a beautiful, classy and practical watch. It had a black face since his name was Black :) it stood for the time we had shared together and would continue to share, and there was one little diamond to represent us becoming one. SO SWEET. Then he went on a trip to Ireland and bought me a claudagh ring (which didn't fit) :) but it was the thought that counted. I didn't know at the time that he was taking me to Ireland on our honeymoon. Now I only wear my wedding band because I love the look of it by itself. Its his great-grandmothers and its so special. Like you said. Its the story behind it that makes it special not the price tag or the size. So glad to read this post!

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