It happened in slow motion; I couldn’t stop myself. It was like I watched from outside my body — NOOOOOOOOOOOOGGGHHH — as I reached into the seat pocket, pulled out my phone, and took an artsy photo of — STTTOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPPPP — my newly paired engagement ring and wedding band.
“It’s a six-hour flight to Hawaii,” I probably told myself. “What else am I going to do to pass the time?”
And then a force greater than myself caused my thumbs to move swiftly across the iPhone screen, open Instagram, and post the photo — tinted green, of course, to match my beautifully manicured, fir-colored fingernails and peridot-paired diamond, posed artfully above the mostly unreadable text of a Big Island guidebook — before I even knew what I was doing.
Eleven of my closest Instagram friends clicked “like” on that photo, because they are too nice to tell me what they surely were thinking, which was probably some silent, mental version of eye roll. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Patrick was not, in the seat next to me, taking artsy photos of his own wedding band.=
Not 12 hours before, the vast majority of the people in the world who gave a shit about the status of my left ring finger had been in a bar getting drunk and singing karaoke with me and my new husband.
So why did I put a photo of my “new” finger online for all to see? Looking back, I cringe at the decision; I knew when I was doing it that it was obnoxious and braggy. And yet, it seemed like the thing to do. So I did it. I figured my good friends, who would recognize that I was being an asshole, would brush it off as wedding-induced temporary insanity and forgive me for it. I figured everybody else could simply enjoy how pretty my ring was, because shiny things!
I had not taken a public-share photo of my engagement ring when I got it, weeks and weeks after Patrick and I decided to get married. I did take a photo to send to my friends and family who requested to see it.
Why was it, then, that after months of wearing a diamond ring, I only wanted to show it off once it was paired with my cheap-ass Amazon.com wedding band, in a moment of supreme, Wedding Industrial Complex-compliant banality?
It was like 99 percent the manicure. I’m sorry, I know that’s the stupidest reason ever and you probably don’t believe me, but that manicure was fucking fantastic and my hands looked like a million dollars. My fingernails looked so pretty, and the rings looked so pretty with my fingernails, I took a picture of that shit and put it on the Internet.
What I regret most is not that it’s a dick move to show off what amounts to a pile of money strapped to your hand (though it is). What I regret most is that I contributed to the ongoing fetishization of engagement jewelry and specifically diamonds. No one casually seeing that photo knows that I’m a feminist, that I had some complicated thoughts about my ring and the wearing thereof, that its story is not one of a velvet box and a man on his knees and a woman saying “Yes!” through tears but rather a story of “Should we get this diamond set since we already have it? Sure, why not.” They see “Man buy ring, lady brag about it, forever and ever amen.”
There is a billboard near my house that features a giant, sparkling platinum engagement ring with a solitaire diamond, and it reads: “Bring tears to her eyes. Not yours.” I want to set the world on fire when see this billboard. Luckily, it stands between me and my yoga studio, where I can get zen about such bullshittery.
Newsflash to men: buying a woman an engagement ring is not mandatory. Yes, it is traditional. Yes, it is the thing people do. But it isn’t mandatory, and a whiny-ass billboard about how greedy bitches be demanding all this fancy shit that you have no choice but to buy them? Like 40 brain cells just fell out of my ear.
Buy your partner a ring joyfully or not at all. Yeah, yeah, I know the billboard is a “joke” and I’m “over-thinking it” and I’m “too sensitive” and I just need to have a laugh or whatever, but I don’t care: fuck “jokes” about how men only enter into loving lifetime commitments grudgingly. That business is lazy and tired.
I would not, probably, have chosen to wear an engagement ring, and certainly not a diamond ring, had Patrick not been insistent upon it. But I had bought him an engagement ring, and, he was as insistent about my having one as he ever is about anything, which is to say, not particularly insistent. Dude makes sloths look hyperactive. He is chill as all get-out. And yet, he wanted to get me a ring.
We already had a diamond — he’d proposed to his college girlfriend years ago, but she ended the engagement — and so off we went to the jewelry store. I ended up with a very pretty little number.
What I did not do was ask Patrick to investigate, at all, the reasons why he wanted to buy me this ring. But it occurred to me, when he would talk about it, that there was something going on related to pressure to perform some kind of traditional masculinity. Which was weird for Patrick, a guy who loves “Downton Abbey” wears cowboy boots, drives a pick-up truck and sings heartfelt covers of “Les Miserables” showtunes at karaoke. Performing traditional masculinity doesn’t seem to be a particular concern of his.
But I never asked, “Why do you think you want to do this?” or “Why is this important to you?”
Whereas, if one of my feminist-identified friends was making a decision that, to me, seemed uninvestigated in meaningful ways and had the potential to put her out financially or otherwise, I would definitely sit down and have a beer with her and be like, “Yo, what do you think your reasons are for doing this, and are you cool with everything?”
I wonder if I was secretly more excited about my shiny present than I was willing to admit. When it came to my future husband and a shiny rock, I straight up decided not to do the thing that I love to do, which is think critically about a cultural practice packed with gendered implications. It was not my finest intellectual moment.
So last week, after reading Chloe Angyal’s great piece in New York about engagement ring photos, I asked Patrick why he wanted to get me a ring and, moreover, why he felt like he should pay for it.
“I don’t know, it seemed like what people do.”
If we’d had even that short conversation a year ago, I would have turned down anything even closely resembling a diamond ring. After all, there are all kinds of interesting alternatives that I never bothered to investigate.
But now, I’ve grown used to the ring and I love it as an artifact of our relationship. And I’ll admit, I try to sneak my left hand into photos if I can. But only if I have a really great manicure.
Contact the author of this post at Andrea.Grimes@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.