Can you skip it and have NO engagement ring?

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Not having a ring
Shortly after Andreas and I decided to take the plunge into engagement,
I found myself in my underwear on my regular aesthetician’s table, waiting to get my legs waxed.

The aesthetician and I were chatting amicably, and she asked how my boyfriend was, and I said, “Oh, hey! We got engaged!”

“Me too!” the aesthetician squealed, and held out her left hand so that I could see her ring. I, too, reflexively whipped up my left hand beside the aesthetician’s, splaying my fingers out happily. (Is this the secret gang sign for engaged women?)

The difference was immediately evident: I was not wearing a ring. I don’t really even like rings. Our proposal was a joint decision involving heath insurance. There was no ring.

So why was I holding my hand up like a dumbass? I snatched it back down to my side. “Our engagement was more of a decision than a proposal,” I said, and swallowed. “No ring.”

A tradition?
As for the diamond ring tradition? It’s not a tradition, it’s marketing. De Beers kicked off a publicity campaign to establish diamonds as the standard engagement ring in 1938. Clearly the campaign worked, because here we are, seventy years later, still hearing nonstop from Tom Shane, our friend in the diamond business.

Sabrina Dent explained it to me this way: “I feel good about engagement rings as long as they are a token of commitment — and not of status. I worry about our traditional pattern of engagement: Man shoves big rock under woman’s nose and says, ‘Will you marry me?’ A lot of women seem to hear this as, ‘Would you like to wear this really big ring and have a huge party?’ Why, yes! Yes I would, thank you!”

Simply stated, the diamond industry is creepy (I could write another whole book on that — but it’s already been done), and the tradition of having a diamond engagement ring is just marketing. So then how in the hell did I end up with a diamond on my wedding ring?

Making it your own
Andreas and I thought about it a bit, and we decided that we liked the traditional symbolism of rings — I’m pretty dang agnostic, but what faith I have tends to revolve around cycles and circles. It’s the shape of raindrops, of our pupils, of planetary orbits. It’s also the shape of a hula hoop, and even if I’m not sure about diamonds, I’m definitely sure about hula hoops. As the engagement announcement I placed on my blog should have made clear: I’m big into hula hoops. And what’s a ring but a little finger hoop?

In keeping with the rest of our wedding planning, we made the most of what was available to us. I had inherited my grandmother’s engagement and wedding rings from her (cough) third marriage. The design made it eminently clear that Grandma had been married in Las Vegas in the late ’60s while wearing a muumuu and a stylish wiglet, so we found a local goldsmith to help us redesign the rings.

I wholeheartedly recommend the experience of designing your own rings. Especially for those who like to dance to the beat of their own drum (or kazoo, or double-headed death-metal guitar), there’s a deep satisfaction in having hands-on experience in the creation of a piece of jewelry you’ll potentially wear every day for the rest of your life.

Symbolize with your own style
Gulp. Sorry to harsh your mellow, but seriously! If you want them to, these rings will symbolize one of the most important decisions of your life — so why not take the time to make them as unique as you and your partner? Our experience of sitting down and working with our goldsmith, David Weinstock, was reassuring and almost therapeutic.

I had to side with Jen Moon when she said, “We couldn’t have gone with boring, or picking something from a glass case. We really did have to do our own.” She and her fiancé ended up designing rings that were “Alex Grey–inspired, with a DNA strand with a kundalini fire shooting through it.” You’re not going to find anything like that at the national jewelry chain store at the mall.

And what of diamonds? I hemmed and hawed over including one of the diamonds from my grandmother’s original ring in my wedding band. Joriel Foltz sums my feelings up best when she explains her reasons for not wanting a diamond: “De Beers sucks, and we didn’t want to wonder whether anyone died for me to have a little bling.”

I salved my political concerns with the fact that my grandmother’s diamond was antique — my wedding ring wasn’t putting any money in the De Beers coffers (or coffins), and the family sentiment was nice.

Ultimately, however, the choice of stone (or whether there will even be a stone — or whether there will even be rings) is up to each bride. It’s interesting to note the ways even the most offbeat of us buys into these material longings.

I guess the best advice I can offer is this: If you’re going to buy into the concept, at least choose what you want carefully and with intent. If you want something shiny, consider all your options, from diamonds to opals to tinfoil and everything in between.

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