Sunday, December 28, 2008

Diamonds are a girl's woman's:

Photo Credit: Swamibu

1) ❒ Best friend

2) ❒ Worst nightmare

3) ❒ Lowest priority

4) ❒ Acquaintance

While not technically part of the "wedding planning," I thought this topic was nevertheless worthy of discussion, since many of us address it at some point: the question of the engagement ring. Do I want one? What does it mean to me? Can he/she/we afford one?

For about as long as I can remember, my opinion on the matter was that engagement rings were a waste of money, unnecessary and superfluous. But mostly, I didn't care to think about it, and so would have likely checked 3) above.

Years later, when the question was directed at me by the man I actually planned to marry, well, my responses sounded more like, "Can I have an engagement trip instead?" or "How about an engagement camera lens?" I suppose I was demonstrating my no-nonsense, pragmatic side to my future husband, just in case he hadn't gotten the message during the last six years of our relationship. Jake, of course, appeared satisfied--albeit amused--by these answers, and took them in stride. I figured we were pretty much done with the engagement ring chat. Every so often, Jake would inquire again, to make sure I hadn't changed my mind. I hadn't, though I did vary my responses with different objects; engagement road trips, engagement restaurant meals, engagement houseplants, and so forth. One never wants to be too predictable. But overall it was clear that a ring was not exactly on my list of priorities. Hell, it wasn't even on my list, period.

At least, that's what I felt at first.

As more and more couples find themselves making joint decisions about marriage and weddings, they also tend to consult one another on marriage-related issues that past generations left undiscussed. The engagement ring is one such topic that is potentially hashed out by modern marrying couples. Some brides-to-be don't want a ring along with a proposal, and prefer something more meaningful or less traditional. There are many reasons why an engagement ring is not right for some, including:
  • Feeling the money is better spent on financial obligations.
  • Wanting to focus on the personal commitment of marriage rather than a material object.
  • Finding rings uncomfortable to wear.
  • Women commonly propose to men who may not want to wear an engagement ring.
  • Wanting a more personal expression of love/commitment than jewelry.
  • Not being really into jewelry.
  • Wanting to avoid questions from (nosey) others that a ring often provokes.
  • Not feeling comfortable with what some feel an engagement ring signifies (ownership, materialism, etc.).
Pendants, tiaras, custom designed tattoos (better hope she/he says yes!), piercings, matching earrings, down payments on a home, good wines, and baskets full of hand picked meaningful goodies, are all popular alternatives to an engagement ring. Many simply pop the marriage question empty-handed, or openly discuss and mutually make the decision to marry together with a partner.

As for me, I was down with all of the above, and confident that I was uninterested in receiving a ring as a token of Jake's commitment to marry me. I remember reading this excellent article and having to restrain myself from screaming "Amen!" and "You go girl!" at the computer (I was at work at the time). And so it seemed, my mind was made up.

But then, I remembered.

I don't own fancy jewelry or gems. Most of the jewelry I wear is either from my travels abroad, jewelry I've made myself, or jewelry that friends made for me. Except for one piece of jewelry.

About five years ago, for our one year anniversary on the day we met, Jake got me a bracelet. In hindsight, we didn't know each other that well at that time, and this was one of those first joint celebrations where you are hoping and praying that you get your partner the perfect gift--the one that makes him/her think, "Wow, they really do know me!" Despite his frugal ways, Jake had little savings at the time, having just started a new job. He was shyly apologetic that the gems in this bracelet were "only" cubic zirconium (I wouldn't have known the difference, believe me). Jake gathered I was not too into (fancy) jewelry and yet he wanted to give me something I didn't have, something different for me, something new, a gift I would not think to get for myself. (Seems like with today's commercial online wishlists and registries we forget that some of the best gifts are true surprises!)

At first, I didn't think too much of it. It was nice. I thanked him, put it on, and moved on. I wore the bracelet on occasion, when I was feeling a little "dressy." When I did, friends would compliment me on it, "Ooooh pretty! Where did you get it?" I caught myself smiling when I told them, as my eyes lingered over the details of the bracelet. People often seemed to notice the tiny bracelet, and would ask me about its unique pattern. This soon led me to examine the bracelet more closely myself, looking at the design Jake chose, wondering what made him select the little curlicues, delicate yet funky. I could imagine him, a solid looking "guy guy" at the little jewelry counter, asking a salesperson to show him these tiny bracelets one after another. He undoubtedly made a big effort and took his sweet time to pick out this special bracelet for me. He had never bought jewelry for anyone else, so this was special and new for him too.

© All Rights Reserved Wedding Thrift

I came to really enjoy putting the bracelet on for special occasions; birthdays, parties, anniversaries. And I started to detect a shy little spark in Jake's eye whenever I wore it. He clearly took pride in the fact that I enjoyed it, pleased that he was the one to have contributed to my pleasure in some way. It wasn't until years later that Jake and I talked about the bracelet: How much it came to mean to me, how he had won me over with such a sweet and surprising present, and how much thought he put into it, having chosen a design he felt matched my personality.

This memory got me thinking about what an engagement ring--another piece of jewelry--might mean to me; what it would represent in terms of my relationship with Jake. Would it be like the bracelet; carefully and thoughtfully picked out, making me smile to myself when I wore it, reminding me of the connection I had with someone else?

I hadn't wanted an engagement ring because--in theory--to me it represented materialism, mainstream-ism, and manufactured emotion. Now I was pushing myself to look beyond this stereotyped notion I invented for myself. Maybe I had been scared to admit that some (sentimental, sappy) piece of jewelry would mean something to me? Maybe I had just been defensive--even self-conscious--about Jake spending his hard earned money on such an extravagant gift for me? Perhaps I hadn't adequately considered Jake's desire to treat me to something unusual and indulgent? Or...maybe I just quite possibly over analyzed the whole darn thing (no, not me!).

Next time Jake mentioned it, I hesitated before answering. "Um...maybe, it could be cool." That was good enough for him, I saw it in his grin.

But, but but. There were a few buts:
I didn't want to pick it out or be involved. I trusted Jake to make the right choice.
I didn't want the ring to be so big that I felt the least bit uncomfortable or self-conscious riding the subway.
I hoped the ring would be modest and delicate. I'm not one to flaunt jewelry and have tiny fingers.
I didn't want Jake to spend too much money on it. Cubic zirconium was a-OK as far as I was concerned.
I wanted to be able to put on gloves over the ring without a large "lump" sticking out. That would annoy me and interfere with my obsessive glove-wearing (as an always-cold person, this was important to point out).
I wouldn't be wearing it every day, no matter how much I loved it. I prefer to wear jewelry as an expression of my mood, rather than habit. I wanted it to be special each time I wore it.
I didn't want the ring to become the focus of the engagement, but rather a nice peripheral bonus.
Jake listened carefully to my requests. Then we moved on to more important things, namely, "What's for dinner?"

At first Jake was worried that this might be too big of a purchase for him to make without my input, and risk my not liking it (we are definitely not big spenders). But I reassured him that I trusted him, and that the ring itself was not as important as what it represented. Soon Jake regained his confidence, and enjoyed the process of choosing something special.

In the end he made the absolute perfect choice. Modest, simple, classy. It did turn out to be a diamond ring, primarily because I've never owned one (a diamond, that is). Jake knew I liked the Funky Bracelet which was diamond-like, and he thought a clear stone would attract less attention (yay!) than a colored stone (probably true). This is the only diamond I ever plan to own, and that's the way I like it.

© All Rights Reserved Wedding Thrift

I realize better now, that I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to anything "conventional" and am always looking to buck tradition in some way. But what is right for me, and what is right for others may, coincidentally, be identical at times, and that's OK. Some traditions are worth keeping, if they are meaningful. What matters is being honest with yourself and your partner about what you want, without being afraid that you are falling into some stereotype that others have defined or may judge.

Same goes for my wedding. I'm not looking to make a statement or do something no one else has done before. I'm just looking to make choices based on who Jake and I are, and what we love. No doubt it's been done before. And that's totally OK by me. What will make our wedding unique is that it's Jake and I getting married. And what makes my engagement ring unique is that it was exchanged between Jake and I, with words that no one but us will ever know.

Just the way it should be.

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