My rule for wearing my wedding ring has always been ‘if I am wearing a tie or a suit jacket, or if it is date night, I will wear my ring.’ But today I went to work at my part-time gig at a local garden shop and country store wearing shorts, a polo, and my wedding ring. And I feel that I compromised part of my values and succumbed to societal pressure.
There have been many reasons for my aversion to wearing my ring over the years, and none of them dubious. For one thing, it doesn’t fit right. My parents blessed me with abnormal hands: oversized knuckles on undersized fingers. For my ring to fit over the knuckle, it is so big that it leaves a gap when it gets to the base of the finger. It slides, bumps, gets caught on things, and generally feels as comfortable as a rock in my shoe.
Another reason is the various jobs I have held over the last several years while I have been in school. For a while I laid tile with my cousin. You better believe I was not going anywhere near tile, thin-set, or grout with a ring, much less a wet-saw. I like all my fingers right where they are. Then I was an assistant tennis pro. If there is the slightest ripple in my racquet grip I have to take it off and start over, so I certainly can’t play with an ill-fitting ring on my finger. Besides, I have enough tan lines from tennis without adding one on my finger.
Above all, though, I have never enjoyed wearing a wedding ring because I have never understood the concept of jewelry. It was never valued in my family, and I have never worn any sort of jewelry. Neither one of my parents even owns a wedding ring (Mom used to, but lost it doing yard work and never saw the point of replacing it). My mom and sister don’t even have their ears pierced. There are just too many other things we would rather spend money on besides ancient hunks of metal and stone (of course, stamp it with a picture of a Roman emperor or a Greek inscription and you have my attention!).
Gold and other “precious” metals and stones, unlike other natural resources like oil, plants, and water, have limited or no practical use—and therefore no intrinsic value (see what I mean by intrinsic value as opposed to extrinsic or instrumental value). That’s right, gold and diamonds are intrinsically worthless (and so is the American dollar, and all other forms of fiat currency. A Forbes contributor explains why all money is fiat money, regardless of whether it is backed my a commodity.). Their value to human beings is completely culturally constructed, having been arbitrarily invested with instrumental and symbolic value by groups of people, who continually negotiate their value in comparison to the intrinsic value of goods, services, and ultimately of human labor. As Jon Stewart comedically observes, and any investor will confirm, this negotiated value is subject to fluctuation.
As my wife and I approach our anniversary in early June, I have successfully abstained from participation in the societally mandated wedding ring cult for nearly five years. I have only occasionally been asked about it, and those who know me generally have a pretty good idea of my (dis)inclinations without me explaining myself. Those who don’t know me sometimes display slight curiosity or confusion when they find out I’m married but don’t wear a ring, but they generally let it go quite easily.
Now comes the scandal. Within a week or two of starting my part-time job at a local garden shop in Clemmons, NC, the owner casually commented that some of her customers had been asking about “the new guy.” She joked that I was going to have to get a ring so women would stop asking her for my phone number. I have never thought of myself as high on the attractiveness scale, so I was slightly embarrassed but easily discounted the comment as a combination of jest and flattery.
A couple of days ago she said again, slightly less jokingly this time, “We’re really going to have to get you a ring, I’ve had several women whispering to me about the cute new guy and trying to get your number for their daughters.”
I didn’t think much of it until later the same day when a customer struck up a conversation with me. After a little small talk she smoothly remarked, “…and if you’re single I have a couple of daughters….” As she trailed off I quickly informed her that I am married before she continued any further. “But you aren’t wearing a ring!” she protested, as if she thought I was pulling the old fake wife routine. I’m still not sure if her doubt was because I’m not attractive enough to be married or if she thought I was trying to avoid going out with her daughter.
I simply answered that I don’t wear a ring and that I never had because I dislike jewelry and I often work with power tools, explaining the danger of operating a saw with a ring on. The look of scandal that crossed her face would have shamed slick Willy Clinton.
“It’s also dangerous for a good lookin’ man your age to be going around without a wedding ring!” Once again, I have always considered myself decidedly average in the looks category, so her compliment slightly embarrassed me. I looked down and sheepishly said as much, while my ego secretly hoped she would continue the flattery.
What she had already said was enough to get me thinking. Why is it “dangerous for a man my age?” I must have arrived at the point where everyone assumes that if you are not married, you are desperately trying to get married. I also wondered why it has just become an issue since I have been working at this particular store. I have been avoiding jewelry for 15 years or more, and I’ve been barely wearing my wedding ring for 5 years. I don’t have an answer for this one, but I suspect it has to do with the clientele. Relatedly, it’s worth noting that all the comments have come from middle-aged women trying to set me up with their daughters. Not once has an attractive, age-appropriate woman commented on “the cute new guy.” Make of that what you will.
It’s not like I’m hiding the fact that I’m married. If anyone asks, I proudly tell them about my wonderful wife. How she selflessly moved cross-country with me so I could pursue my master’s degree. How she has worked full-time to support us while I was in school. How much I admire her kind heart and the job that she does as a social worker on the rough side of town. How she pretends to be interested in my studies even though I’m a nerd and most of it is pretty dull to most folks.
I have no reason to be deceptive. The absence of a ring does not make me more likely to cause trouble, and the presence of a ring certainly would not prevent me from illicit behavior were I so inclined. Ladies, if you don’t trust your husband to go out without his ring, you might reconsider why he is trustworthy at all. No, I’m not being deceptive, but some folks act as though they’ve been intentionally misled when they find out I’m married but don’t wear a ring, as if I’m perpetrating some elaborate ruse. But there is also more. I think that the reactions I have been seeing result not only from a feeling of deception, but also from a deep-rooted discomfort with the bucking of cultural norms.
So, I wore my ring to work today, and I’m still uncomfortable with the precedent that I have set for myself. This is the first time in a while that I have conformed to social pressure on something like this. In the end, I guess I thought it would be easier than to explain myself to everyone who asks. But I probably won’t do it again.