Tag Archives: long-term commitment

Engagement rings: the tricky commitment illusion

Engagement ring 1An article in Guardian’s Comment is Free (A man’s perspective on why engagement rings are a joke) by a male author, criticising our culture of using the size and price of an engagement ring as yardsticks for a man’s love and commitment, reminded me a diamond is not always a girl’s (not even a boy’s) best friend.

I once overheard a colleague discussing with other young ladies in my office that, according to tradition, a man was expected to spend the equivalent of three times his monthly salary on an engagement ring.  My own ring had cost less than my husband’s two days’ wages (at a relatively low-paid job), so I kept my head down and carefully avoided being dragged into the discussion. At the time of my engagement I had been unemployed for more than a year and was broker than broke. I had accepted the ring with gratefulness. What woman is not happy to be presented with a ring from her future partner?

I didn’t tell anyone that my husband had, on one occasion, even taken me to Argos to look at their rings. Buying an engagement ring at Argos sounds as naff as buying your wedding dress at Walmart, of course, but I am sure some low-income couples do it.

The serial cheater
This would not have been the case of Tracey, an American stage costume designer married to a Japanese rock musician, whom I met while living in Japan. (I used to be involved with an amateur theatre group formed by English-speaking expats and developed many friendships with thespians and other arty types during that time.)

Tracey wore a large stone on her finger and used to flaunt her husband’s gift to her whenever the opportunity arose, “Look at the size of this. Is this love or wot?!”

Her husband was on the road a lot, so most of our post-rehearsal parties ended up happening at her place, with wine flowing freely all night; some of us ended up staying over. It was common knowledge among us that Tracey had slept with a few of the actors, at least one director and the Japanese lighting designer. Despite her serial infidelity, she swore, hand to heart, she loved her husband. It was just to fill the gap in their sex drives, she said, shrugging her shoulders.

“I want it three times a day; he’s happy with once a month. What can I do?”

We all loved Tracey and none dared judge her, but I felt a bit sorry for her cuckolded husband. So much for trying to keep his woman with an expensive ring. And yet, who knows, what he was up to on tour?

Embrace the change
The author of the Guardian column is right in that, just as overpriced Valentine’s flowers are a shameless commercial exploitation of love, which we buy into, so are catchphrases like “Diamonds are forever”, making us believe diamond rings are THE ultimate proof of everlasting love.

Diamonds may be eternal, but love? And commitment?

Get over it. Anyone who thinks love and relationships never change with time has a lot of growing up to do. Love is not “set in stone” because relationships between two humans are fluid by nature. Shit happens, people change, love can change too. When things go belly-up, the most impressive of rings, along with that cheap Argos one, may end up collecting together in a gutter, or a pawn shop.

The price of love
We women are just as bad for playing the game the advertisers want us to play…assessing men’s love by how much money they were willing to part with for us.

There is something fundamentally wrong about putting a price tag on love. When women set minimum values to gifts they ought to receive, as if they were dowries, they perpetuate the myth that women can be objectified and purchased by men. When we go around bragging about the size of the stone on our rings in order to make our girlfriends, and any potential suitors, jealous, we are basically saying “this is my market value”.

Men who give too much
Meantime, men who buy too many presents for their lovers, or go overboard with the pricey stuff, can give the impression they are trying too hard and are up for being being taken for granted. Sometimes, a small, thoughtful but inexpensive gift of any kind can be far more romantic and effective in impressing a girl in the right way.

It is like the balance between prices, and supply and demand: if too much is available, the value drops, no one cares.

I am not saying an engagement, or a pre-engagement, should be not be celebrated with the gift of a ring. We don’t have to eat cake at our birthday, but formalising it by having cake with our friends makes it more sociable and memorable.

A ring is also symbolic and represents a private celebration of a commitment between two lovers. But having gone through a bitter separation, being surrounded by men and women with a history of broken relationships, I would say don’t let the shine of that stone fool you. The actual, hard stone that seals your love to him or her, needs polishing everyday.

Finding the gem
Train the eye of your heart to separate the good from the bad stones. The long-lasting, unbreakable gems, which are worthy of our emotional investment, often cross our paths when we least expect it.

Whether you will be able to spot it or not, will depend on how ready you are to ditch the cheap and easy, and be dazzled by the beauty of that one precious stone you deserve.