Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Get over your engagement ring

I've probably said this before, but I read a couple of advice columns pretty regularly.

Today, I read a Dear Prudence where the first letter was this particular problem, which I've heard before:

I recently got engaged to my boyfriend of two years. He is from a northern European country where engagement rings are usually simple gold band, worn by both the man and the woman. The big diamonds that American women expect are very rare, and considered rather vulgar by most. My engagement ring is a cultural compromise: A gold band set with a very small (1/6 of a carat) diamond. I love my ring, but back home in the U.S., many people seem personally offended by it. My mother is urging me to have my ring "upgraded" because a respectable American middle-class woman needs a bigger diamond. Other people have made comment along the lines of "That looks like a promise ring that a high schooler would give to his girlfriend" and "You should have held out for something nicer." To many American women, the size of the diamond engagement ring seems to be a symbol of their success and worth as women, and the message that I have failed at this goal comes across loud and clear. It stings a bit when they wave their giant rings in my face while making their little comments. What can I do to get them to stop?

Prudence is, of course, a lot more diplomatic than I would have been.

Because my answer would have been simple: anybody, including your mother, who says anything other than "that's lovely" when they see your ring should be told to shut up and stuff their opinions in their ears. Or something less diplomatic.

If they don't proceed to promptly stuff it and shut the heck up, then they should be crossed off the wedding invite list. Immediately, with no recourse or apologies, and that STILL includes the bride's mother.

Of course, there's also the fact that I sense an undertone in this letter that the bride herself is not happy with her ring, and sees it as a failing. And that's the actual problem at the root of all of this.

Because the thing is I know a number of women who had non-traditional engagement rings, myself included. Women with sapphires, emeralds, small stones, fake stones, and everything in between. My own engagement ring was just a sterling silver Celtic knot. The unifying factor with all of these women? These rings were exactly what they wanted, and were chosen because the women had specifically asked for them. I had shown my husband a handful of rings that I liked the style of, and gave him one specific rule: the price could not exceed three figures. If the ring was a diamond, or too expensive, then I would turn down the proposal because it would mean he was either not listening or too willing to cave to a societal expectation instead of doing what was best for me or us.

The other thing that unifies all of these women? None of us put up with any grief from ANYBODY about our rings. We had something we loved, and it was what we wanted, and if people didn't agree then that wasn't really our problem, was it? We already knew that we were bucking an expectation because we also knew the expectation existed for no real reason, and that was FINE. I get the feeling that this bride wanted the traditional ring, and that's why she's letting these people get to her, and why she doesn't know what to say in response. Because the response is really simple, "this is what I wanted and it's my ring."

There's also another thing at play here: this woman has bad friends. You should never, ever, ever comment on somebody else's engagement ring unless you're saying something nice. Maybe if it was your best friend and she confided in you that she was unhappy with his choice (and then you could suggest they try to pick out a ring together). But 99.9% of the time your opinion on someone else's engagement ring doesn't matter, and shouldn't matter, and should be kept to yourself. And if you don't know that, you are a bad person and you should probably figure out how to fix that about yourself.

As for telling your daughter that her fiance isn't worthy because he bought a ring that fits within his own culture instead of YOURS, that's a bit...xenophobic? I don't know the right word, other than self-centered.

All in all, the letter writer seems to have a lot of problems, but a fiance who doesn't love her or isn't really committed really isn't one of them.