foxinsnow's Diaryland Diary

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I Wore the Ring

I wore the ring.

For about two days, that is.

I was dating Danny, a really wealthy young British man. I thought he was the man of my dreams. He seemed liberal, he was devastatingly good-looking, he seemed to respect my feminist ideals, and we had great sex. Of course, I’m a bit ashamed to admit, the money and the prospect of someday living in the Ryerson family estate just outside Liverpool didn’t hurt either. We never discussed marriage, but we discussed children. I was so excited that I would be able to just concentrate on my writing and raising my—our—kids.

We never discussed engagement rings. I thought we didn’t have to.

The second Valentine’s Day we had been dating, I wore my sexiest red dress and we went to a swanky but cozy little bistro in the East Village. We were visiting his family friends and my cousins in New York. I ordered angel hair spinach pasta with pesto sauce—my favorite Italian dish besides my mother’s homemade lasagna. Danny also bought us a bottle of Merlot, my favorite. I was happy as a clam.

Until that awkward moment when Danny got down on one knee, shoved a huge diamond up my nose, and told me how much he loved me and asked me to marry him.

And I did want to marry him. But not like that.

“Danny,” I said, “I love you so much and of course I will marry you.” He beamed, his long brown hair shining and his angular nose widening slightly. “But,” I added meekly, “there’s one little thing.” This was amidst the applause of the other diners. I whispered in his ear, “I never wanted an engagement ring.”

His whole face changed. He was trying to look curious, but I could tell there was a ball of anger forming in his stomach. “Why not?” he whispered back.

I flushed. He was still on one knee—I wished he’d get up. “I just see it as a sign of being owned. I mean, why doesn’t the man wear the engagement ring, or why can’t we both? I just don’t like the idea. I think this runs in my family,” I added hastily, as though it were some kind of disease. “Why don’t you get me a diamond locket like my dad got my mom? She felt the same way when she got engaged.”

The expression on his face was now one of devastation. “I don’t understand. Don’t you love me?” he said. He was near tears. “You care more about your feminism than you do about me.”

“For Chrissake, Danny.” I took a big gulp of wine, finishing off the glass. “I said I’d marry you. It’s just a ring, for fuck’s sake.” Then I blushed because everyone had just heard me use the f word.

“Well, he sniffled, “if it’s just a ring, then why won’t you wear it? Won’t you be proud to be my fiancée?”

“I am your fiancée already, and I am proud. I just don’t like engagement rings.”

“Elizabeth,” he finally stood up and closed that damn box, “an engagement ring is not a symbol of ownership. It’s a symbol of love. I bought you this ring because I love you and worship you—and, I thought I diamond would be what you wanted…”

There was a long pause. I poured myself some more wine and gulped down half of it. I was ready to order a shot of whiskey or something. “I don’t see it that way,” I told him. “I’m sorry, I just don’t. It’s like, everyone will know I’m unavailable and you’ll still be free game.”

Danny gasped. “What, you think I’d cheat on you?”

Another pause, more gulping. “Danny, it’s a symbol of inequality. To me.”

Danny’s face tightened. I’d never seen him look that way before. “I won’t marry you unless you wear that ring.”

“Danny! Jesus! Why do YOU care what I wear? What if I said I won’t marry you until you stop pushing this ring at me?”

He looked away. His eyes were red from crying. “Then we’d have a problem.” Then he looked at me. “Look, we can talk about this. Would you like a less extravagant ring? I think I can get you to see my point of view.” He was right; he’d been a debater, he usually could.

“Wait, are you gonna insist I take your last name, too?” He looked at me in disbelief.

But, in the end, I put on the ring, happily, and after a shot of whiskey, It was really stupid to lose your guy over something so—well, stupid. Most chicks were really proud of their engagement rings, and envious of other people’s. And as I had said myself, it was just a ring.

II.

The next day, I woke up with the ring on my finger. It glinted blindingly in the sunlight.

“Don’t you love me?” It had been so heartbreaking to see him that way, and yet… who did he think he was? It’s not like he had worked his ass off to buy me that ring, ever—all his wealth came from his father’s million-dollar business. I had fucking quit smoking because it pained him so to see me smoke since his dad, whom I’d never met, had died of throat cancer. I had thought that was a big sacrifice. And I couldn’t help but think over his so-called enthusiasm for my feminism. First of all, he’d been an art major at Brown University—of course he had to talk the talk of a sensitive guy. And then, my adamant typical feminist pro-choice stance: no guy is gonna turn down a girl who would get an abortion, unless he’s Christian, and Danny was raised Hindu (his parents had been hippies-- evidently, motivated hippies-- he wasn’t South Asian.) And then there was his encouraging attitude towards the fact that I was a rape crisis counselor. Who wouldn’t encourage such altruism? And the more I thought about that, it was usually a girl or my friend from Chicago Saif (who was a hardworking South Asian, Muslim), who had been a suicide hotline counselor, that I turned to to get “therapy” for some of the more disturbing aspects of the job. Danny often got sick of hearing about it.

I started to realize that a lot of guys seemed turned on by my feminism because they found it refreshing that a girl could be as much of a feminist as I was and still wear makeup, sexy clothes, and “fuck me” pumps, such as I had worn that fateful diamond-studded Valentine’s day.

I tried to cast aside my doubts, though. After all, Danny was lying next to me. Asshole. And it was fun—for a few hours—to play the part of the blushing just-engaged-diamond-weighted girl. Until I had dinner with my cousin Therese—Danny back at the hotel room-- and I started bawling over our take-out pad thai while her adopted Chinese daughter watched in horror. (No husband was present, because Therese doesn’t have one.)

“Mommy, why isn’t Elizabeth happy?”

“I don’t know, Mimi,” Therese said. “Elizabeth, what’s wrong?” she asked in deadpan but genuine concern

“He’s making me wear this ring,” I bawled.

“What do you mean, sweetie.”It was a command, not a question. I love Therese.

“He—I didn’t want to wear it, because of some feminist stuff that I totally believe in, and he—he didn’t understand,” Mimi handed me some Kleenex, without being asked to, and I blew my nose. “I thought he understood that I would never wear some stupid engagement ring.”

Therese watched me cry for a minute.

“No, that’s ridiculous,”she finally said, “he shouldn’t expect you to wear something you don’t want to. And the issue isn’t the ring, or even feminism, but he’s trying to control you and that’s wrong. In fact, I always thought he was almost trying to use his money and family prestige to bribe you into loving him.”

I took off the awful ring and stared wide-eyed back at her, my sobbing cut off. “Yeah!” I said. “And you know, he’s always doing that, he—he got all bent out of shape when I wouldn’t let him buy me a car for my birthday one year, but it wasn’t as mean as this. I thought all that stuff just meant he really loved me, but it’s like—smothering.”

Therese cut to the chase. “You think he’s being mean to you?”

“Yeah!”

“You can’t marry him if he’s mean,” little Mimi piped up. Therese stroked her head and said, “That’s right sweetie.”

III

So, I finished my pad thai, took the train from Brooklyn back to Manhattan, walked to the Waldorf (I was wearing combat boots that day, not fuck-me pumps) and marched up to my suite, well, rode the elevator, but, you know what I mean. “Danny,” I stormed as I found him lying in his boxers reading Maxim, (hey, I read Cosmo), “I can’t marry you. Not because of the ring, but because you’re mean and controlling.” I threw the ring at him, packed my things amidst his protests, and spent the night at a friend’s apartment. I was furious. I haven’t talked to him since. He’s tried to call, and sent dozens of e-cards. He’s even sent roses to my parents’ home outside Chicago—multiple times (I got a job teaching in Seattle, unbeknownst to him, shortly after I got back from New York).

Of course, I look like the bitch. I guess I would rather be a bitch than marry the wrong guy. And the wrong guy is a guy who expects me to wear an engagement ring and live vicariously through him while he buys me things. You know, I’ve only dated one real feminist in my life (not counting a brief lesbian affair I had)—my high school sweetheart Aaron. And he was a real feminist because not only did he not just smile and nod and rail the party line when I talked about abortion and rape, he was a humanist who treated me like an actual person instead of just his girlfriend. He respected my feelings because they were mine, not because he was trying to be a nice boyfriend. Conversely, a lot of guys have treated me like shit in the name of having open discourse, too. In the name of being “true to themselves.” I mean, they’ve gone on and on about the girl they’ve been in love with since they were thirteen or whatever. That’s just fucking bad manners, you know? It’s like, if you have to try that hard to be a feminist, you’re not one, boy, even if you listen to Sleater-Kinney. Just have sex with most men if you want to do a study on how quickly their so-called feminism can fly right out the window along with an empty Guinness bottle.

I don’t know. It’s like, if you want an engagement ring (and I respect that most chicks do), wear one. Insist on one. If you’re pro-life, don’t get an abortion. Make the bastard marry you. No, I’m not telling anyone what to do here. I’m just telling my own simple love story of how a love that seemed perfect wasn’t. And in my case, it took a stupid ring to make me realize that.

12:44 a.m. - 2004-01-03

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