Tradition… or not?
Same sex couples are reveling in the trappings of the traditions of engagement and marriage so long denied, with the engagement ring presenting its own joys and questions. What does an engagement ring mean to us, and what should it represent?
When in Rome…
While the wearing of rings by married couples stretches back to ancient Rome, the more recent history of the engagement ring doesn’t exactly sparkle with love and equality. With the value placed on “purity” by puritanical Western societies, the engagement ring became something of a modern bride-price. Women relied on marriage for their future financial security, and when a man broke off an engagement it damaged her prospects. She would be tainted goods, and suspected of no longer being a virgin. The giving of an expensive engagement ring was less about the promise of forever and more a form of vagina insurance. If the engagement were broken, the jilted woman would at least be left with some extra money to offset the ruinous impact of her damaged reputation… and hymen. Romantic, isn’t it?
Diamond or not?
In modern times, and thanks in no small part to massive diamond promotion campaigns like “A Diamond Is Forever,” the engagement ring has come to signify a promise of eternal love. Awwwww. But it’s also retained a cynical financial undercurrent. Men are encouraged to spend at least two months’ salary on an engagement ring, and a large diamond in an engagement ring is a status symbol among certain social circles of women. The general implication is that if the man didn’t spend a sacrificial amount of money on a diamond ring, he doesn’t truly value his bride-to-be. If he drops ten grand, he really loves her. If he spends fifty dollars on a silver and CZ ring, run, lady — that’s all he’s offering for you.
If not a diamond…
Many modern brides and grooms see right through the societal deficits of the engagement ring tradition, and make decisions based on individual desires. Some eschew the engagement ring altogether, while in other cases the woman will choose her own engagement ring. Many times this less traditional choice will be based on personal taste and preference. We commonly work with women who do not want a diamond at all, because they feel it’s a poor value, find the absence of color boring, or are concerned about contributing to the blood diamond trade. They might choose a bright blue sapphire, or their significant other’s birthstone.
Before we continue, we want to take a moment to defend the much-maligned diamond. There are reasons that these stones are valued and valuable. They are the most durable of gems by a wide margin, and the only gem tough enough to endure decades and even generations of wear. They have one of the highest refractive indexes of any material, which gives them a multi-hued sparkle difficult to obtain with any other gem. While it’s true that diamonds are plentiful, ones suitable for jewelry, especially in sizes large enough to be center stones, are rare. Most diamonds mined are tiny, and/or are of industrial-quality only and are found coating the rims of saw blades on construction sites. Finally, no: diamond prices are not controlled by an evil syndicate which dictates availability and hoards stock to ensure scarcity. Diamonds are mined all over the world including Canada and Australia, and a very competitive worldwide market exists.
Now… same sex engagement rings
We’ve had a few couples ask us what is “traditional” for same sex couples: Does the one to propose give an engagement ring and the other go ring-less? Do both people get engagement rings? If so, do they match? Do men get diamond engagement rings?
Our best advice…
Our hope for any same sex couple we work with is that you emerge with something that holds deep personal meaning for you. You get to both embrace tradition and claim for yourself something that should have been your birthright. But at the same time, you are in a position to eye tradition with a certain amount of wry cynicism. You get to choose what is beautiful and symbolic and loving, and throw the vagina insurance out with the bathwater.
Let’s start with the assumption, since you’re on a jeweler’s website reading about engagement rings, that you find the tradition or aspects of it appealing. Great. So do we! 🙂 There is something undeniably romantic and heart-stopping about the dropped knee, the open ring box, and “Will you marry me?”
But we’re sure not going to invent a norm so that you can be pressured by it. Here is our advice to you:
The person who is going to be wearing the ring should get input on it.
Exchanging engagement rings
3. There is a pleasing symmetry to the exchange of matching rings, because it echoes the vital underlying theme of personal and social equality. But, if you aren’t both completely thrilled with a matching design, go for individual choices. You are individuals; you don’t have to match.
4. Men: you are absolutely allowed to give engagement rings, including ones with big diamond center stones, and have a blast doing it. Diamonds look awesome on men. Liken your ring to a fine watch; it does not need to be the least bit girly, or resemble a class signet ring. You can have a gorgeous, masculine, fantastic engagement ring you’ll be proud to wear.
5. Women: it’s okay to both hate traditional diamond engagement rings and want a diamond engagement ring! Nobody said you have to get a big rock delicately perched on a flimsy little band. We can design something to your taste, and it doesn’t even have to have a diamond in it!
6. You’re not stuck with the tradition of fancy engagement ring followed by plain wedding ring. After all, you’re ditching the “vagina insurance” model for good! In many ways, it makes more sense to exchange simple, plain bands to symbolize your commitment to each other, and come up with the perfect “fancy” rings to with which to cement your marriage.
7. If you’ve been life partners for years, perhaps planning to get married when it became legal in your state, the concept of engagement rings might not make a ton of sense. If you’re essentially engaged already (in a committed relationship, planning marriage), maybe you go right for that stunning wedding ring we talked about in #6.