Sean and I met during a leisurely summer at Bucknell University, the summer before our senior year.
Although we’d probably interacted many times (Bucknell is pretty small), we hadn’t really spoken until that summer. But we became friends, and then more than that. We spent our nights playing beer pong in his fraternity basement, and our days floating down the Susquehanna River, or laying in the sun on the academic quad. It was the closest I ever got to the college glory days.
Four years later, we both live in Boston. We’ve been through a lot together: terrorist attacks on our city, job successes and failures, the deaths of family and friends, my stint in grad school, a lot of travel, his grad school applications, many apartments and lots of great moments with friends. We didn’t talk about marriage initially, but during the past two years or so, we slowly began to talk about it more and more.
By the time we hit 2014, we each knew we'd found the one.
But as with many members of our generation, the question was more about when we should start the whole shebang than if we should do it. When did we want to move in together? When would Sean start school? When would we be able to afford something like a wedding - or an engagement ring, for that matter - amidst loans and despite decently paying jobs?
Eventually, and after many late night conversations, we decided to move in together this fall, and to get engaged this summer. Our narrative seemed to make sense.
To be honest, though, I didn't even want an engagement ring initially (an engagement puppy, however, was at the top of my list).
I didn’t understand why diamond rings had to be so expensive, especially because I never wear jewelry, and Sean and I aren’t exactly rolling in the dough. And while I believe in the symbolism of wedding rings, I also think engagement rings - and especially diamonds - are just a marketing ruse pushed on us by the diamond companies.
[Have you heard of Da Beers? He created the "diamonds are forever" campaign in the early 1900s because there were too many diamonds and he was having trouble selling them. Before that, women often received a thimble and a bottle of wine when they got engaged. Diamond engagement rings are completely consumer driven, with little to no tradition backing them.]
But Sean and I went to a local engagement ring store anyway, just to see what the rings looked like.
And I surprisingly fell in love with a beautiful, tiny rose gold band, encrusted with very small diamonds. The ring was simple and it looked right on my finger, which I didn’t expect. And while it wasn’t cheap, it also wasn’t crazy expensive. It would be something I would be proud to wear and something I’d feel comfortable with Sean buying, too. It felt reflective of our current life stage. It was a winner.
Sean took note, then dove into the world of Etsy to have something similar professionally made just for me. The result was the ring he offered to me on the top of Mount Major when he proposed last month, and it was even more beautiful than the first one I'd tried on.
My engagement ring was the start of all the things Sean and I had planned together, at least symbolically.
I expected it, and I was excited about it. Sean is my best friend, my better half, and the person I want to spend my life with until I’m old and gray. I could not be more thrilled to be his wife.
But that ring came with more than just the "him and I" stuff, too.
It also came with assumptions about what I was “supposed” to do as an engaged woman in America, and judgements about what my ring should (or shouldn't) look like. And that part... that part is the unexpectedly tough part that I didn't necessarily sign up for.
Since our engagement, I've gotten a fair number of not-so-subtle ring comments (“oh, how cute” has been common), along with looks that were clearly full of surprise at the simplicity of my ring. It doesn't look like you'd expect, and that's okay. (The rebel in me secretly loves this feeling of non-belonging, but is also a little bit wary of it).
But this simple ring is teaching me a lot of things about how I want to be in the world, too, and how liberating it is to change the narrative, to do something outside of the norm.
I'll tell you this: the wedding industry is a scary beast.
As it inflates (and inflates, and inflates), our generation’s sense of what is normal for a wedding has become pretty skewed. A $30,000 wedding, despite significant debt in your twenties? Okay! A $5,000 ring, despite the fact that we’re pinching pennies on our groceries each week? We’d better do it, because everybody does. And it's SO easy to get wrapped up in that, to want to do the thing (or wear the ring) that you so envied on Facebook last month.
And that's why I'm writing this: I want you to know that there is another way, if you want it.
For Sean and I, a simple, beautiful, dainty ring was a much better reflection of our relationship and of where we’re at right now in our twenties than a huge diamond would be. I’m proud to wear it.
For other people, a diamond might be what they've imagined for their whole lives... and I say go for that (if you can, realistically). I even know of couples who've given engagement bikes, or engagement cast iron pans, or who've promised themselves to marriage with no rings at all. That rocks.
For me, this ring has been reminder to stick to what Sean and I are, to what we've always been, and to stay in the moment. It’s a reminder to keep our wedding, and our relationship, always within the bounds of reason - to focus on the people we love, rather than the things we're supposed to buy.
While Facebook may make it seem like you’ll be judged if your significant other doesn’t pick the perfect huge diamond (because the size of that diamond is a direct reflection of his love, right? ack!), and while Pinterest may have you convinced that the Etsy table numbers you covet will make for the most beautiful wedding ceremony of all time… you can (and you should) do whatever you want. Because in the end, you're really the only one who will see that ring on your finger every day.
It's rough out there, with social media showing us what everyone else's lives look like.
It can make me feel like I’m doing my twenties all wrong. But take it from someone who’s in the midst of a war with the wedding industry: you, too, can break the rules. And it can feel pretty damn liberating.