I don’t think I realized, before I got engaged, what engagement rings mean in the social circle of women.
When I thought about and looked at the engagement ring, I focused on two things: the concept of it and the cost and not in that order. I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to money. I don’t mind spending it, what I do mind is not being able to save it. And with my freelance job, sometimes I go by with months where saving isn’t an option. And all that does is increase my stomach discomfort, makes me slightly irritable, and I view everything in terms of dollars and cost. It’s not something I’m proud of but, well, I’m working on it.
But an engagement ring is also a sign of commitment. It’s when I put my money into an external and physical symbolic piece of metal that says “I want to spend the rest of my life with you” and that I want to pledge that devotion to God, my family, my friends and my cat. That last one is very important. So, when I wanted to marry my fiancee, and we went ring shopping, I cared quite a bit that she got the ring she wanted. I wanted her to always admire how it sparkles no matter where she is and if she tried to hypnotize me sometimes with it, telling me to go that I’m getting sleepy and that I need to make her a sandwich, that’s good too. The actual material of the ring didn’t matter – it’s her loving it that mattered.
But, WHOA, was I not expecting how women tend to react to my fiancee’s engagement ring. I don’t mean in a bad way, I mean that when women talk about engagement rings together, they unleash all these hidden social cues and meanings that I never picked up on before. I joked with my fiancee that all I really care about is her making other women jealous but I didn’t think that would actually be true. When you live in New York City, it’s not hard to see HUGE DIAMOND RINGS or to see rings on young women’s hands that could probably be used to create optical traps to help give humanity cold fusion. In fact, I’m usually amazed that the women are able to hold up their hands at all but they probably get use to it. When you have the diamond district and the prevailing wisdom that diamonds are required to be .5 carats bigger in NYC than anywhere else, huge is in. Sure, the hipsters in Brooklyn might claim that’s not true but lets be honest, it is. NYC is BIG and values BIG and that impacts everything in our lives.
So last night, at my fiancee’s friend’s birthday party, my fiancee and I struck up a conversation with a newly wed. She heard we were recently engaged, asked us all sorts of details about the wedding, and then wanted to see the ring. She oowed, awwwwed, and loved it in all sorts of ways that my fiancee and I tend not to see from our social circles. In fact, she seemed a tad jealous. She loved how it was set and was jealous when she compared her ring to my fiancee’s even though my fiancee’s diamond looked smaller. They both had cushions, they both loved simple bands, but her husband got her a thick band while I let my fiancee pick the ring out herself.
Hint to all the dudes out there; let her pick it out herself.
The newlywed mentioned that her now husband spent a lot of time picking out a ring that really mattered to him. The style of the band was important, he wanted to own it, and it was a big deal for him to give his now wife that ring. Of course, she said she’d reset it in ten years for a simple band, but my fiancee and I both wondered later about why the newlywed’s husband really needed to pick the band. In fact, why do a lot of guys focus so much on getting a ring they like rather than a ring their fiancee will like? Is this our version of when women go dress shopping with their friends where everyone dresses themselves rather than the bride to be? Or is is something more subtle than that.
I, of course, automatically assumed that it was a control thing. He wanted to control the decision because he’s controlling the decision to propose. He’s focused on the fantasy in his head, what he wants his future wife to wear, and, although he does truly want to marry this one young woman, he can’t let go of his desire to feel a sense of ownership with the decision. I related it to when people make mixtapes for their new found crushes. People tend to pick songs and music that speaks to THEM without realizing that their new crushes might dislike small Brooklyn dance hall bands and really like Top 40 stuff. The idea is, again, one of ownership. It takes time, and effort, to be like the guy in High Fidelity and learn to put songs on the disc that she would like and would make her happy. Using other people’s poetry to describe what you are feeling doesn’t mean that only the feelings you feel are the most important. Conveying the message and getting the similar reaction in a totally different person is the big deal and that, sadly, is something a lot of people don’t learn.
Some say that’s because people are inherently selfish. I just say that it’s hard to live outside of your own head.
And as much as I’d like to play armchair psychologist with the newlywed’s husband, I realized later that I wasn’t talking about him – I was talking about me. I was talking about the phase in my past, and current, life where I struggle to live outside of myself and look at what brings my fiancee joy. And looking back at my past relationships, I realized that this was always always a problem and even if I try to view myself as some unselfish sensitive wonderful guy who was just misunderstood, it really turned out that I was merely just living in my own head and failing, miserably, to look outside it. And I finally did learn, mostly, how to get past that. I stopped making mix tapes and I started giving my fiancee coupons for Combos and Cheezits.
Many women do enjoy looking at engagement rings. I have one friend who likes wearing my fiancee’s ring. I have another friend who mentioned to her husband that my fiancee’s ring was a lot bigger. I have friends who are annoyed with me at how much that ring cost. And as much as I originally wanted this post to be about what I see when women look at engagement rings, I really don’t know much about it. I’m a groomzilla after all – I see the world of weddings through the social conditionings of a United States that gives definitions to what is, and what isn’t, socially acceptable for guys depending on your class, your money, your looks, and your skin color. But I do realize that most weddings really aren’t about living outside yourself and, as much as the indie/DIY/whatever movement likes to claim, even trying to make weddings personal or unique or whatever fails to really address the fact that we all struggle living outside our own heads. If you make your wedding “unique”, you’re falling into the trap where you wedding is limited to merely what’s inside your head and that’s like buying a thick band for a woman who likes thin. In the overall scheme of things, it might not matter; she’ll love you just the same. But why get the ring set again in 10 years when, with a little effort, you could get it right the first time? What’s wrong with that?