If You Like It Do You Have To Put A Ring On It?

Marriage seems to be everywhere now that I’m in my mid-20’s. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, I know when just about anyone I’ve had contact with in the last 15 years is getting married. And, by the end of the big day, I know all the details from the flower arrangements to the bridesmaids’ dresses and just how fun the reception really was.

With seemingly everyone around me getting married, I’ve talked about marriage often with my girlfriend. Well, not necessarily marriage, but weddings, and everything involved in the process of a wedding (sorry mom and dad, no surprise announcement here).

We’ve talked about it all: the proposal, the bachelor/bachelorette parties, the rehearsal dinner, the wedding, and the reception. Oh, and the engagement ring. We always talk about the engagement ring.

Simply put, my girlfriend doesn’t like them. Why should a woman have to wear an engagement ring when the man doesn’t, she wonders. A woman isn’t a man’s property. I can only agree as she pays for my coffee, my movie ticket, or even my dinner from time to time.

But she has a point: why should there be an engagement ring?

Other aspects of a wedding have, in one way or another, become more of a team effort over time. Or at least the man and woman get to have their own experience (like a bachelor/bachelorette party).

Take wedding planning. Wedding planning isn’t the exclusive domain of the bride-to-be anymore. Just think of themed weddings. No way those kinds of weddings happen with one party missing during the planning stages. At least, you’d hope the bride and groom were on the same page before the best man came dressed as Chewbaca for a Star Wars theme.

Many parts of the wedding have become joint decisions, except for the diamond engagement ring. Why?

The hopeless romantic in me wanted to believe the diamond engagement ring was tied to some cool Greek myth. Maybe there was a story about two Greek gods in love; and when the god wanted to spend the rest of his immortal life eating olives with his goddess, he looked into the night sky and picked out the shiniest star to give his goddess as a symbol of his eternal commitment.

That would’ve been an awesome story. But I had to make that up because it doesn’t exist. Turns out the real story is a lot less fanciful.

The giving of “betrothal rings” was a custom inherited from the Romans and became a part of Christian tradition in the 13th century. The first known diamond engagement ring was given to Mary of Burgundy by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477. (He did not go to Jarod’s).

But the diamond engagement ring didn’t become popular in the United States until the 19th century, when people could afford diamond rings. And the tradition didn’t become part of our social hardwiring until … wait for it … the 1930s.

It was then De Beers began its assault on our pocket books and marriage psyche by hiring a firm to come up with a national advertising campaign to boost diamond ring sales. The strategy worked and buying diamond rings for brides-to-be became a lot more popular.

But it wouldn’t be until 1947, when De Beers unleashed its “A Diamond is Forever” slogan, that society really became married (pun intended) to the idea that the diamond engagement ring was the truest sign of your life-long commitment.

That’s just 64 years. Species are formed and die in less time than that. Yet this tradition continues.

It’s not a terrible tradition. There is nothing inherently wrong with giving or receiving a diamond engagement ring. It just seems silly that when almost everything else related to marriage and weddings have become equal, the engagement ring has not.

There are plenty of couples that decided to forego the engagement ring, either as a stand for gender equality or just a stand for practicality (those things are pretty expensive). But even for those women, like my girlfriend, who are steadfastly opposed to the idea of an engagement ring, it’s very tough to completely shun it.

As a society we’re hardwired to believe in it. And, like with my girlfriend, it comes down to this: is the stand for equality really worth having to explain to everyone why you don’t have an engagement ring?

H. Jose Bosch currently resides in Phoenix but his heart is still in his hometown of Detroit. When he isn’t talking about weddings, he’s talking about Detroits sports and his alma mater, the University of Michigan. Reach him on Twitter @hjbosch21.

Photo credit doortoriver/Flickr

Related Links: