Some girls grow up dreaming of their wedding day. Veil or no veil? Big church wedding or small ceremony on the beach? What shape will the diamond ring be? These questions, I've been told, are front and center in the minds of many women.
I'm not one of those women. My happily married parents tied the knot at City Hall, and my mother didn't take my father's last name. Growing up, marriage was the furthest thing from my mind—I was much more concerned with paving a path for a career I was passionate about than hitting relationship milestones. And frankly, I found a lot of the traditions associated with marriage to be pretty appalling. For example, why does a man forever keep the title of "Mr." while a woman goes from "Ms." to "Mrs.," and why is a woman expected to take her husband's name, saying goodbye to the identity she's had her whole life at the stroke of "I do"?
In my early 20s, I decided marriage was an institution I could do without. I watched friends and cousins get engaged, then married, and there was no question that a partnership and a day celebrating with friends and family made some people very happy. Who was I to judge? If that was their thing, great—it just wasn't for me.
Then I met a person I wanted to marry.
When my now-fiancé and I first started dating, there was no question in my mind that this relationship was different from anything I'd been in previously. While past relationships had filled me with anxiety or left me second-guessing how much I even liked the person, there was an ease and lightness that came with this relationship. It infused my life with a kind of joy that nothing in my career ever had, and suddenly I couldn't remember or imagine my life without this person.
So maybe I did want to get married, and after 10 happy months of dating, my then-boyfriend confessed that, even though he was very aware of my strong feelings on the institution of marriage, he wanted to be with me forever.
The bigger the ring, the shorter the marriage.
As we moved in together and started talking about marriage more seriously, I was stumped by how to tackle the proposal and engagement ring aspect of marriage. Not only did I want to make sure I liked a ring I would be wearing every day, but the engagement process felt like a transfer of property—if we did it in the traditional way, my fiancé would ask my father for permission to marry me, put down thousands of dollars for a diamond, and "buy me" with that diamond ring. OK, so maybe that was a dramatic interpretation of the tradition (I've been told it is), but it's how I felt and still feel today.
Plus, as a big believer in science, I knew research showed that the more money a man spends on a ring, the more likely the couple is to get divorced. I was in this for the long haul, I didn't want a super-expensive rock to tear us apart! In all seriousness, though, I would much rather spend those dollars on an amazing vacation or put them toward a down payment on a house. Was that so wrong?
So we picked out the ring together and split the price right down the middle.
I know this isn't the most romantic end to my story, but with the help of a few small family diamonds and a jeweler, we had a reasonably priced engagement ring made. And when the time came to pay, we split the price right down the middle. My fiancé did propose to me (although I resisted that part of it—I should have proposed to him!) and although I'm not getting married for another nine months, I'm happy to have a ring I love that I picked out and helped pay for.
I've come a long way since I was 22, and I now believe that one of life's greatest joys is finding a partner you want to grow old with. While I'm all for throwing down for an engagement ring if that's what makes you happy, I think it's important to step back and examine certain traditions to make sure they align with our values. If we learn to do that, maybe we have a shot at making the world a more equal place.
Craving more reading on relationships? Here's how to be single without being lonely (according to a therapist), and this is what it means to be loved unconditionally.