Friday, July 04, 2003

Clipping the price tag

I've always considered it rather gauche to ask people how much they paid for something--or to tell them how much I paid. And I'm an unabashed feminist. Those two facts, combined, make my engagement ring a problem for me.

I wear a plain wedding band all the time, indicating that I'm legally and spiritually in partnership with a spouse. No problem. But my engagement ring remains in seclusion because I'm uncomfortable with what it does--and doesn't--indicate.

The diamond makes an appearance once a year on my wedding anniversary to be worn, along with whatever is stylish, when I go out to dinner with my husband. When we get home, I put it away again.

Practically speaking, the engagement-style ring, with a stone in raised setting, is a bloody pain. It's right in the category with stiletto high heels, fussy little purses with rigid handles, and Brazilian waxing. The diamond snags on sweaters and upholstery, and you risk damaging it when you undertake any sort of respectable physical work like carpentry or gardening. Taking it off to protect it means you immediately forget where you put it, necessitating a panicked search.

But, practicality aside, wearing an engagement ring is like wearing your clothes with the price tag still on. Or painting the price of your house on the front door. Or wearing your resume pinned to the back of your shirt. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

Worse, the information conveyed by an engagement ring is not absolute. It's relative; merely an inviting starting point for speculation. When I got engaged and wore my diamond in to work at the downtown corporation where I was doing PR, female colleagues--even ones I barely knew--would dash over to check it out. The subtext of their interest seemed to be: "Did she hook a guy who's either really rich or really in love?" I felt invaded.

Those of you who can look at an engagement ring and not know if it came from a gumball machine or from Tiffany's (that's most men, and a small subsection of women who have my deep admiration) are now excused from reading the rest of this blog entry. The rest of you, read on--and admit you've entertained some of the following thoughts:

"They've got plenty of money, but that ring is a real loser. Maybe he's a cheapskate. Of course, maybe it's from back when they were starting out an she keeps it for sentimental reasons. Or is she just clueless?"

"Sheesh, that's one gaudy rock! But those two just got married, live in a cheap apartment and have entry-level jobs. So--are the parents helping them out? Are they in debt up to their eyeballs over that ring? Is the diamond a fake?"

"What a stunning ring. But they've always seemed so modest and unassuming. Are they secretly loaded and just pretending to embrace the "live simply" lifestyle like the rest of us? Maybe our non-profit should be hitting them up for a heftier donation. Maybe we should ask her to sit on the board..."

Thoughts to make you squirm, expecially if you're the subject, rather than the thinker. Thus my ring lives a quiet life, never getting lost in the garden or down the sink drain, and never providing tantalizing clues to anyone about my finances or social status. Anyone who wants to dig into my private affairs will have to take the time to get to know me, my family, and my friends. I've clipped my price tag.

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