Why am I having trouble with the idea of someone putting a wedding ring on my finger?—as if saying, “I own you now.” In loving, do I belong to someone? Does the ring remind me, and the world, of that fact?
Thinking about rings as symbols of marriage, I look up information about them, and none of it has anything to do with me. “It generally is accepted that wedding rings symbolized possession of a person, like a slave,” notes the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
It wasn’t until World War II that husbands wore them. The ring, until the war, which brought on spasms of jealousy from men being shipped off to fight and die, was for the woman.
It showed she was owned. I’m not into any of that.
Historically, the ring is a symbol of a woman being owned.
The wedding is a transfer of property. This was true throughout the ancient world. In the Bible, in Genesis 31:15, Rachel and Leah note their father “sold” them when they married their husband, Jacob. But the mentality persists in wedding traditions practiced now.
Her name changes; the man’s does not. In the traditional vow, they are “man and wife,” not “husband and wife.” The man didn’t change, only the woman. Her father “gives her away.” It’s a transfer of property.
In the ancient world, husbands paid for their wives, a practice called a dowry. The wedding ring takes over this function for modern people, “modern dowries,” notes Cristina Richie. “Once beringed, the woman is clearly marked as belonging to another man.”
A woman, then, wants an expensive wedding ring to indicate the value of her perceived worth. The size and quality of the ring are understood to reflect the price placed on her. Naturally, she wants a big one.
A wedding ring was worn on the left hand, which was widely perceived as inferior, and feminine—the left is symbolically perceived as the feminine side, and so the side that requires male control.
The origins of the wedding ring are unclear. “Some authorities suggest that the actual wedding ring originated in the ceremony of giving the bride the household keys,” suggests G.M. Hort.
If so, the ring ties the woman to the house and indicates the range of the work she’s to do. Other possibilities include a tie to the signet ring, as used by men in authority.
The ring is always about power—using power, giving up power, and power ultimately residing in whoever made the ring.
A wedding ring ties one to a chain of distribution that often has ugly roots, like Zimbabwe’s diamond fields, or Libya’s, etc..
Then rings engage a system of marketing that benefits from fads and traditions, and seeks to dignify them as expressing love, when the only real interest is selling product.
“Jeweler’s promotion of invented traditions should be seen in the larger context of the industry’s competition with mass marketers,” notes Vicki Howard, in a study of that subject.
She notes that “wedding consumption became a patriotic act.” By buying rings, we participate in nationalistic ideals, in militaries, in tariffs and contracts, low wages and no wages, in many acts of domination.
I think I’d rather skip this. I’d rather be free of it. I don’t need a sign that I’m tied to someone and wanting to be around them. I feel that myself.
I don’t need a piece of jewelry to ward off other people, to signal that I own somebody. I don’t.
It was just something else to lose, another thing to worry about. You might lose the ring, or your spouse. You were always beset by fear. The wedding ring is an artifact of a fear-based system.
I’m reading about women losing rings. “6 Things to Do Immediately. First of all, take a deep breath and try not to panic.”
Subliminally, she’s lost her man, and marriage. The ring symbolizes the contract they made. I’m not really feeling the love.
Lord Byron says the wedding ring is “the damnedest part of matrimony,” and I like the idea that, in protesting rings, I’m part of a long tradition of poets and sensitive people asking . . . what love could really be?
Or recall the old Freda Payne song, “Band of Gold”—
Now that you’re gone
All that’s left is a band of gold
All that’s left of the dreams I hold
Is a band of gold
In the song, the departed man seems to be gay. They never had sex, she says. There is a story here, actually, of men and women held in traditions that prevent them from seeing each other, or learning what each other needs. They played the roles until they couldn’t anymore—until the roles broke them.
Now, she’s focusing, when alone, on a bit of metal. A ring that becomes a repository of her “dreams” that are just cultural scripts taught to her since she was a girl. And now, even when shocked by reality, she can only stare at it, singing to a man who isn’t there.
Then there’s “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé. “’Cause if you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it . . .”
This seems less like a loving exchange than a commercial one. Note that the singer refers to herself as “it.”
I grew up Evangelical Christian, a tradition-based, indeed, slavery-based system in which the ring is an cherished sign.
Lately I’ve been trying to use the Jesus teachings to re-think the world. He discourages vows, as in Matthew 5:33–37, His followers are family, all together. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother,” he says in Mark 3:35.
I like the idea that we’re everything to each other, that we’re family in a way created by spiritual valuations of each other. I don’t think that has much in common with modern marriage, as symbolized by rings.
Could possession-based love be avoided entirely? Antonia George suggests “a shift away from romantic love” points “toward Revolutionary love.” A start might be: not thinking of love in terms of a band of metal.
II might prefer to say to a loved person: I share my freedom with you.
Let’s learn how to love. Nobody taught us how.
Let’s be together now.
And really, the clerics, and the system they oversaw, didn’t know all that much about human togetherness, or self-knowledge, or knowledge of others. If you think about history, and religion, and your parents, they probably mostly knew about playing roles.
Maybe relationships could be about observing and being together? Learning to be human together? A process not characterized as ‘roles’, or governed by tradition.
A relationship would let people leave, because they aren’t owned. It would let them stay if they want to work on being free.
It might be a process that continually focuses and re-focuses on the need to learn to see each other.
Not the overpriced metal on our fingers? — that comes with lots of baggage I’d rather just throw away.