As I wrapped my hand around a pole on the subway a couple of weeks ago, an older lady pointed at my left hand and said, "fabulous ring." It would've been a welcome compliment on my commute, but it was doubly so because I bought my engagement ring myself.
If this is a surprise, it shouldn’t be, but even in 2019 it feels like a weirdly bold statement.
It’s no secret that marriage is still a particularly traditional institution, and one that's accompanied by a long list of things small and large that are expected of people (but mostly women) who enter into it. Some of those assumptions have, thankfully, evolved over the years. (Can you imagine being forced to give up work just because you're married?) As many of us are choosing to keep our names and get married on our terms, these norms are dissolving. For example, it's no longer expected that a bride’s family will automatically foot the bill for the wedding. And yet, for all the progress we’ve made, it still feels as if engagement rings are a frontier we haven’t breached.
Even as women have started to increasingly outearn their partners, the thought of a woman paying for her own ring still feels wildly taboo. Maybe it’s because of the myth that any woman who plays an active role in facilitating her engagement is tragic or desperate—thirsty to lock a man down or a demanding shrew. Instead, we're left to wait and wonder around every Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and anniversary if this is the moment. For plenty of women, a surprise or grand gesture is romantic. For others, the whole thing is about ceding power to a man (and is made worse by well-meaning friends and family who ask, "Do you think he’ll do it then?" before every big vacation).
I wouldn’t expect or want my partner to choose my wedding dress for me. To get the style, the color, and not to mention the fit so right that it’s perfect. Why should a ring be any different?
Over the past year and a half, various people have, sweetly, asked me how my now-husband proposed. I feel like I’m short-changing them when I tell them there's no story because there was no proposal. Or rather, the proposal was a conversation about whether we wanted to get married (yes) to each other (yes), when we wanted to do that (maybe late summer or early autumn?), and a mutual agreement that maybe a year ahead of that rough date we would need to start planning. This is not a good romantic story.
The romance is all the other bits of our relationship. It’s how he makes me laugh every day before I’ve even gotten out of bed. It’s how I’ve never made my own coffee in our home because he always does it for me. It’s never asking me to go to a gig with him, because he knows I hate live music. It’s his handmade birthday cards and making sure I appreciate the significance of every achievement I make, which I have a tendency to downplay. It’s even, I would argue, in respecting my preference to be actively involved in the planning and logistics of things that happen to me—like getting engaged. My husband is the kindest, sweetest, best person I’ve ever met in my whole life. And the best part is, he knows exactly who I am.
Our timeline of starting to think about a wedding roughly coincided with me receiving the advance on my debut novel. It was a pleasant but not life-altering amount of money, which weirdly made me feel more inclined to do something at least semi-impulsive with it. So I decided the least-frivolous frivolous thing I could do with that chunk of money was to buy an engagement ring.
I looked at a few gorgeous Georgian pearl cluster rings, but given that I’m fat by today’s standards, I'm certainly fat by vintage ring standards. And although they can be resized, I wasn’t willing to commit to something in which I had no idea what it’d look like on my hand.
After that, it didn’t take long for me to go back to an old favorite: Tessa Metcalfe, whose style seems to perfectly encapsulate the rough decadence of London. I’d bought a Tessa Metcalfe ring before. It was a gold-plated band made of two pigeon claws holding a freshwater pearl. I wore it so much that the gold plating came off and the shade turned silver. It was big, bold, and beautiful and just felt so right for me. A perfect solution, then, seemed to be a version of this ring, except one actually made to be worn every day. I asked Tessa to make one of her ready-to-wear rings but in solid gold so it wouldn’t tarnish, clasping a huge rose quartz with natural rubies set into the claws. It’s so perfectly me that I’m not surprised old ladies on the subway want to tell me how fabulous it is.
Never once did it occur to me during this process that it was inherently my partner’s responsibility to handle.
I would’ve felt guilty at the thought of him spending several hundreds of dollars on something that would only benefit me, when I was perfectly capable of buying it myself.
I very much know what I like. I work with clothes, I love fashion, and I occasionally design collections of my own. Through a combination of my day job (I work in marketing for a plus-size fashion brand) and the money I make from writing and hosting events, I earn more than my husband. This isn’t uncommon, and it doesn’t cause any friction or difficulty in our relationship. (In 2019, why should anyone assume that the man in a relationship is the breadwinner?) I would’ve felt guilty at the thought of him spending several hundreds of dollars on something that would only benefit me, when I was perfectly capable of buying it myself.
We talked about it briefly, and he was fine with it. It wasn’t a huge blow to his male pride or ego, because he is a sensible, rational person. To me, it felt like a particularly neat solution: I get something I want using money I earned myself, and he doesn’t even have to worry about guessing what I might like enough to wear for the rest of my life. It simply didn’t make sense for him to pay for it, let alone choose it.
Think of it this way: I wouldn’t expect or want my partner to choose my wedding dress for me. To get the style, the color, and not to mention the fit so right that it could be described as perfect. I took so much pleasure in picking out my dress—a Kelly-green satin 1940s-inspired midi that also bucked tradition—and my ring feels no different. Although it’s absolutely the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought, it was still considerably less than most engagement rings (probably due to the lack of diamonds), and a tiny fraction of the outdated wisdom that an engagement ring "should" cost "your man" three months’ salary.
I’m thankful that for the majority of people in my life, this was unquestionably just another decision on our path to being happily married. The only people who have been surprised or taken aback when I’ve tried to explain it are people who are either quite a bit older than me, or people who don’t know me very well. Women my age in particular have been overwhelmingly supportive of my choice to buy my ring myself.
An engagement ring doesn’t need to be grand to hold great meaning. It just needs to mean something to you.
Bethany Rutter is a writer, style influencer, social media editor for a plus-size fashion brand. Her book Plus+ is available on Amazon.
Published at Tue, 08 Jan 2019 14:00:00 +0000