Do Engagement Rings Still Matter?

Yesterday, Peter pointed out this piece in The Globe and Mail“Why do engagement rings still matter?”. It got me thinking. Why do we have engagement rings or even wedding rings? Are they needed? Are they still relevant?

According to Wikipedia (ie: take it with a grain of salt), engagement rings have been around in some form since ancient Egypt but diamond engagement rings didn’t become popular until the 1930s. Also, apparently during World War Two it was more common for men to wear rings to remind them of their special ladies back home. I like that.

I don’t have a hard time believing that diamond engagement rings become popular after the efforts of jewellry stores and diamond sellers. Apparently 80% of American women are offered a diamond when proposed to.

So do we wear engagement rings simply because we’re locked into a consumer tradition? Or do they mean something more?

I’m inclined to believe that your engagement or your wedding ring means as much as you make of it. There was a time when I didn’t think I would ever wear a diamond ring. It seemed too common, too gaudy even. When Peter and I began to discuss engagement, we started to look at rings together and we were drawn to antique rings. This was partly because we both liked the look of old-style rings – the filigree and the cut. It was also because antique engagement rings tend to be cheaper than new ones. The ring I wear now belonged first to my grandmother, who was married in 1948. It’s a diamond ring and I love it. Because it connects me to my Nana, who I loved dearly, and because it’s unique. I’ve never seen another one like it, but the closest resemblance seems to be found on the hands of little old ladies who have been married for 50+ years. I like that too.

Photo taken by Lynsey Hulls of Select Photography

I don’t believe that a ring needs to cost three months’ salary, or whatever the norm supposedly is, and I don’t believe it has to be a diamond. I do think the reason you don’t just slap on any old cheap ring is because you’re going to wear this one piece of jewellry every day for the rest of your life. Better quality materials tend to last longer. My grandmother wore this ring for fifty-four years, fifteen of those years being after her husband died, and it definitely needed some restoration before I could wear it.

That brings me to the next major point of the above mentioned G&M article. What does an engagement ring symbolize? Katrina Onstad, the author of the piece, seems to think the ring symbolizes a sort of modern dowry, the price of a woman’s virginity perhaps. She speculates that once a woman has that ring, she gives the man her body in exchange. That feels very off base to me and certainly not the experience of any one I know personally, whether or not you save sex for marriage. Onstad speaks highly of the idea of a 5-year-engagement (not just the new movie), of engagement as a trial period to see if you really want to marry this person. That’s not engagement, that’s just dating. Engagement is more than a notice of interest, it’s a serious intention, a promise.

For me, a ring displays that promise. In our society, it’s a completely recognizable symbol that I am spoken for. I belong to my husband and he belongs to me (shown by his own wedding ring). I’ve worked in customer service for a number of years and any female in such a job knows that men can confuse professional friendliness for romantic interest. Basically, I’ve been asked out by customers more than once. After I put a ring on my left hand, I was never asked out again. Sure, that’s anecdotal evidence and maybe after engagement I let myself go, but I do think it demonstrates the strength rings still represent in our society.

So, yes, engagement rings matter. I wear mine proudly, paired now with a wedding band. I expect my husband to wear his ring. It doesn’t reflect my worth or the value of my body – I am worth far more than any piece of jewellry or three months’ salary and I know my husband knows this. It says, quietly but firmly, I have made a promise. I belong to someone and he belongs to me. If our society displayed that promise using anklets or mountain bikes, I would display my anklet or bicycle just as proudly.

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