Ring Redux

I love the comic strip For Better or For Worse. I love the storytelling aspect of it. (Unfortunately, the story part of it will end soon, but that's another topic.)
She has been criticized for too predictably choosing to pair her young protagonists with childhood sweethearts. Today's strip reminded me of my own pet peeve about the predominant cultural pressures about marriage. (Why in the heck is she "frustrated" about the lack of a firm date? Because life doesn't start until you get married. That's the way it was in "their day" and why she's reacting to an unfixed date negatively.) I'm not saying Lynn Johnston is wrong for portraying it, I'm more reacting to the sentiment. But that's another topic as well.

Some of you may recall a post where I linked to an article about engagement rings and what they mean. Here is a summary of those sentiments in a previous FBoFW strip. It perfectly summarizes the predominant impression of engagement rings. The following is from a Carolyn Hax column and shows better than I can, the impressions from "the other side."

Dear Carolyn: I just got engaged, and I have no interest in a diamond ring. (I'd rather my fiance pay off some bills so we can save for a house.) But whenever I mention having a fiance, all eyes immediately go to my hand ... which is fine, I realize it is a reflex. But people always ask me "Where's the ring?" as if that is the only thing that makes it a valid engagement. What gives?
-- Anonymous

Dear Anonymous: Scream, drop to your hands and knees, and start "looking" frantically for your "ring." When the doink who asked about it is distracted by helping you search, get up and walk away.

Compare and contrast in 500 words or more, double spaced, with your name and the period in the top right hand corner. Due on Friday.


Janiece Murphy said...

Since the Smart Man and I just decided to "be married" based on Colorado's Common Law status, we just started wearing wedding bands one day. No muss, no fuss, no announcement.

We got a few odd looks.

vince said...

A friend of mine decided when she got married for a second time that she didn't want an engagement ring and wanted a non-diamond ring for her wedding ring.

I also have friends who have rings but rarely wear them.

My personal experience (a couple of engagements and one marriage, now defunct) was that the ring was important to them.

Diamonds are an artifically-controlled market that DeBeers (formed by the merging of major diamond investors in 1888 after the sudden flood of diamonds created by the 1870 discovery of huge diamond deposists near the Orange River, in South Africa) helped create by controlling both supply and demand, beginning with their US ad campaign created in conjuntion with advertising agency N. W. Ayer. Thus I consider the diamond industry lying weasels whose sole reason for existance is to convince people that if you truly love someone you must give them shiny baubles. Expensive shiny baubles. And if you don't, you're an evildoer who doesn't deserve the wonderful person you are/want to be attached to, and thus deserve to be kicked out the door and ostracized from society.

That being said, should I ever decide to get married again and she wants a diamond, I imagine that will happen.

Anne C. said...

That's a good point, Vince. I would definitely take my prospective spouse's desires into account.
But we would also have a discussion about what it means to both of us. (Probably be a good thing to talk about in any case.)

Anne C. said...

Janiece, that sounds like a low stress way to go about it. I like it!

Michelle K said...

I thought I commented here already. Bah!

I have an engagement ring--didn't ask for it, and was very surprised when I got it.

I don't wear it, except on special occasions, I just wear my wedding ring.

But I have to admit that it is nice to have a piece of jewelry to wear when I dress up, even if I don't wear it on a regular basis.

Anne C. said...

Heh, Michelle, I double posted on you. Muahahahahaha!

Do you know if Michael gave it to you because it was something he wanted to do or something he thought he ought to do?

Michelle K said...

I'm not really sure. But I think it's because he wanted to. I know he thoroughly enjoyed researching it and buying it and hiding it. :)

Anne C. said...

Hee! Well that makes a big difference. :)

The Grabill Family said...

Here are my thoughts. I don't think it's right to demonize those who want a ring, or those that put importance on it, just as much as it isn't right to demonize those that don't want a ring or think it's silly, stupid, archaic, or whatever. In the Dear Carolyn letter, Carolyn is assuming that the person who asked "where's the ring?" actually cares if there isn't one. That's an unfair assumption. In situations like that one, sometimes your response to people are based more on what you *think* they want hear than what you, personally, think or feel. I have a friend at work who recently "upgraded" to a more opulent engagement ring (she's been married for 10 years, I think). I made over it because I knew how excited she was about it, not because I support the idea of "upgrading" (which I, personally, wouldn't do). If I was the friend of the person from the letter, I might ask "where's the ring?" (I might not), but I can darn tootin tell you that I wouldn't give a rat's ass when she told me she didn't want one.

All in all, I want people to do what makes them happy and not feel constrained by worries about "what will people think if I don't have a ring?" just as much as they shouldn't worry "will people think I'm materialistic if I do want a ring?". Either option has you dealing with judgmental people that I wouldn't want to talk to either way.

[stepping off soap box]

Tom said...

I always heard there were 3 rings involved. The engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering.

When I first got engaged, I had my Grandmother's engagement diamond reset as a solitaire. She eventually gave it back to me when we both realized the wedding wasn't going to happen.

For my first real marriage, we picked out the engagement ring together. It had an almost-1-carat diamond mounted with a swirl of smaller diamonds around the main, finished off with 2 emeralds at the end of the swirls. I really loved the way that ring looked. And I had a ring that I really liked, and liked wearing. Sometimes I still miss that ring. Not the ex-, just my ring.

Anne C. said...

Aileen, You may not realize this, but I am actually agnostic about engagement rings. My post is not about whether they are right or wrong, but what social pressure is surrounding them. I don't think anyone here said wanting a ring was materialistic. And if you got that impression, I apologize. Please note that I deliberately left that aspect out of this post. I would never demonize someone for making different choices than me. I do, however, object to the diamond industry trying to make me feel like I have to have one to be happy. It's like a black person objecting to all successful people on TV being shown as white (not that this happens anymore, thankfully). One could argue that just because the TV shows it doesn't mean black people can't be successful. Sure, but wouldn't it be nice to see YOU and YOUR choices represented once in a while?

I do not agree that "where's the ring?" is a question without social pressure. Why ask if there is no expectation for there to be one. I equate it with "so when are you having children?" I understand what you are saying and I realize you would not judge the woman because she said "I don't want one." Her complaint, however, was not that people judged her response. Her complaint was that by asking, people were saying "why are you not doing the normal thing?" and to her, that is not a tactful thing to ask. I'm not claiming to be super tactful myself, but in things relating to marriage and childbirth/rearing, I really try to phrase things more open-endedly so that the person I'm talking to knows that I am aware that their options and choices may not be the norm -- having friends with fertility issues can do that to you.

Stacey said...

I have to agree with Aileen. I agree there is social pressure about the size/cost, yes, the diamond industry does present the ads that if you don't live up to that you suck, but so do car manufacturers, hoteliers, restaurants, computer companies etc. but welcome to the real world It's not the same as asking when are you having a baby - that's like asking how often are you having sex - it's personal and might relate to a personal condition one doesn't want to speak about. You can't say the same about having a ring. It's cultural too, but the way to have one, not just "normal". Janiece, I applaud the ease at which you handled your situation. Asking someone if you can see the ring shouldn't be met with disdain from the person who doesn't want to wear one. Don't follow what one considers rudeness with another rudeness as exampled in the Dear Carolyn article. A simple, we aren't going to wear rings would suffice and be much classier. I, like Aileen, am tired of the judemental attitude that seems to be prevalant today.
There's my 500 words or less.

Anne C. said...

She wasn't asked "may I see your ring?" or "I notice you aren't wearing a ring, is that by choice?" She was asked "Where is it?" And her reasoning for not wanting one was a financial choice. I consider money choices to be private. I do not ask people why they own an older model car or take the bus or go to the 1.25 movies. Similarly, I don't ask people why they always buy new cars or have expensive clothes. That seems invasive to me.

Plus, I read the response as a joke, not insulting. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Stacey, do you really perceive a judgmental attitude towards engagement rings (other than this advice column and that one article I posted several months ago)? Can you give some examples? I am curious because I perceive having an engagement ring as being something that is expected and therefore encouraged. I'm curious if this is one of those "it's the liberal (according to US conservatives)or conservative (according to international opinion) media" situations.

Stacey said...

First of all, semantics about the way the question was phrased in the article as I'm sure not every person said "where's the ring" I bet some said "may I see your ring". Secondly, the writer said "But people always ask me "Where's the ring?" as if that is the only thing that makes it a valid engagement." She's implying people are making a judgement about her engagement, ie it's not valid if you don't have a ring, which is absurd at best. Since a ring is the "usual and customary" symbol of engagement - good or bad - it is not outside the realm of what is reasonable to ask. Let's make the assumption the person, like Aileen, just wants to be happy for the other, they probably just wanted to make a big deal over it, not make a value judgement about it. I would speculate that most people who ask to see the ring do so because when they got engaged WANTED PEOPLE TO ASK so as not to keep going around saying "want to see my ring". I'm confused by your statment "I'm curious if this is one of those "it's the liberal (according to US conservatives)or conservative (according to international opinion) media" situations" Are you saying b/c I have one I think everyone should? I'm sure I'm not interpreting correctly.

The Grabill Family said...

Anne - I realize what you were trying to say. The question of why does society have to perpetuate the standard of having a ring vs. the idea that maybe there shouldn't be a standard and we (society) should lay off a little bit.

I guess I felt bad for the numbskull in the Dear Carolyn letter who asked "where's the ring?" they assumed they were speaking to someone who had a ring they wanted to show off, and instead ended up offending them. It wasn't the polite thing to say, for sure.

Anne C. said...

That is a great point, Stacey, about wanting to be asked. I assumed people saw her hand was naked and therefore were enquiring about that (as I'm sure some did), but she could also be lumping in the ones that did not see her hand and asked exactly the same question.

The media question was based on an amusing thing I've noticed about how the American media is perceived. Here in the US, it's "the liberal media," but overseas, it's "the conservative American media." It's exactly the same media, just interpreted as being biased one way or the other based on the position of the speaker. I was wondering if, because I dislike being pressured by the media, I perceive additional pressure in this area, whilst you, for your own reasons, perceive the opposite sort of pressure. That's why I asked for an example.

Not sure what you mean about you having one.

Anne C. said...

I agree. As someone who offends others by accident all the time, I sympathize!

Stacey said...

I agree that the media tries to exert pressure and some allow it and others don't. I think there is almost always two sides to every coin. I don't agree with the pressure about engagement rings, but I have one, I wanted one and JR wanted me to have one. We never thought about what others wanted. We didn't follow the diamond associations 'guideline' about 2 months salary bc we didn't care what they thought. We bought what we wanted in the price range we wanted. I don't agree with the pressure the ads put on consumers, but the consumers allow it by buying into it, so I don't know what the answer is. The "where is your ring" question is stupid and thoughtless. However, acting like you lost it and then leaving the person searching for it is thoughtless as well. I know you perceived that as being humorous, but I suspect some will use it. Being PC has almost risen to the point of only discussing one topic - the weather - in case you might offend someone by asking something they take as offensive, when you were just trying to be polite. In a situation like this, I just want to express my happiness to the extent the other party wants to. I think I've used more than my 500 words :(

Anne C. said...

That's OK, Stacey, the 500 words was a *minimum* number (and was a joke, based on numerous high school social studies classes).

It seems to me that "where's the ring" is not a difficult PC problem to get around, especially since the ring (in theory) is a representation of what you're really congratulating -- the engagement. It seems to me that 90% of the time the woman is going to have a ring that you can see and compliment if you like. This was a case of people (in theory) commenting on a missing ring. Not a usual case at all, and certainly no reason to PC out compliments on the other 90%.

belsum said...

People often assume my engagement ring is not that because it's a) antique and b) emerald. I don't really care for the look of a diamond solitaire. I appreciate that Mr. b took the time and effort (and OK, my friend to the antique store) to find something that I'd actually like. But for me, I wanted *something* in exchange for my last name. I wasn't so much that I was against taking his last name, it was just so vastly more important to him that I do it that I wanted him to quite literally pay a bride price.