First of all: I know. Diamonds are pretty. They sparkle in the sunlight and blind your enemies. They transform your boring little finger into a Price is Right showcase showdown. I get it.
But here are five reasons we need to overcome our shiny obsession and kick this lame tradition to the curb.
1. We buy diamond engagement rings because of a 100-year old advertising campaign. For real. In the early 20th century, the head honchos of the diamond industry put their advertising wiz brains together to figure out how they could make that cheddah. Before they came up with the genius idea to pound the collective conscience of the American male with the idea that diamonds=romantic devotion, a common engagement gift was a sewing thimble. Yes, a sewing thimble. And — surprise! — weddings still happened. Plenty of long, happy marriages started with goddamn sewing thimbles, and no one had to subsist on rice and beans for three years trying to save up for them.
2. Speaking of overpriced… Diamonds are not rare. They are not particularly difficult to find or mine. The people who do mine them, i.e., underprivileged laborers in 3rd world countries, get paid squat to dig them out of the earth in substandard conditions. It takes a skilled professional to cut them well, but that is true of any gem or stone. So why are they so freakin expensive? See above, re: the power of advertising.
3. Yes, the tradition of giving a woman a ring to wear as a symbol of betrothal is older than that 1930s advertising campaign. But, the root of this tradition is a lot less romantic than you might like to think. In ancient Rome, for example, a woman wore a ring as a symbol of a legally binding contract regarding possession. The band wordlessly announced, “Sorry fellahs, but ownership of this hot bod will soon be transferred from my father to my future husband.” Ah, l’amour. Oh, and before you start going on about how things have changed, let me ask you: Have things changed? Outside of my gay friends, I’ve never personally witnessed a man wearing an engagement ring. Seriously, it’s the 21st century, and we ladies still need physical proof that we have already been claimed? What are we, freakin’ checked luggage at baggage claim? Why is this still happening? Why?!
4. How much money a man spends on an engagement ring is, whether you want to admit it or not, considered to be directly correlated with how much he loves his bride-to-be. Seriously, how fucked up is that? You really want to take LOVE, the most beautifully free and immeasurable thing in the world, and try to count it out in dollars? Call me crazy, but that is superficial as hell and, I’m sure you can agree, a really shitty way to begin a lifelong partnership.
5. When my (now) husband and I announced our engagement, I experienced the same disappointing knee-jerk reaction over and over again: “Let me see the ring!” Really? I just told you we were planning to make these deeply romantic, spiritual vows of love to one another, and all you want to do is look at my finger? Talk about cheapening the moment. If my extensive field research is any indicator, telling the world you are getting hitched in 2013 pretty much unilaterally involves one action: posting a picture of your freshly manicured hand weighed down by a big ol’ diamond on Facebook. There. Now everyone knows all the important things about your impending lifelong commitment.
Again, I know. They are sooooooo sparkly. I wanted one, too. I’ll admit it. When my boyfriend and I started talking about marriage, though, I had to have a nice long sit-down with myself. During this one-person pow-pow, I fantasized about the kind of ring I would look the most awesome wearing (vintage style, square cut, wide band). I could even request a conflict-free diamond! I told myself. That felt noble.
But eventually I had to admit it: the tradition sucks. I knew that if I put a ring on that finger, I would be doing it for two reasons: 1) I wanted a pretty thing, and 2) I was worried about what other people would think if I didn’t have one. Well guess what? Those reasons are not good enough.
“You can marry me,” I said, “but you cannot spend thousands of dollars on a piece of jewelry that will turn me into the kind of person who wags her stupid finger at other women and takes pleasure in their envy.”
Let’s be real, I’m not completely immune to vanity and material desire. “You can buy me a lovely, vintage non-diamond ring for the wedding,” I added. “P.S. I love pearls.”
Surprisingly, my boyfriend was pretty okay with that. Yours probably would be, too. Jesus, look at him. He’s skin and bones! Rice and beans is no way to live.