Tiffany Brown-Bennett - The Wedding Ring

Nov 29, 2012

The miniature hands of little girls are prepped and awaiting this powerful symbol as they play with their Barbies and Kens, mashing them together in perpetual matrimony. The budding bodies of adolescent girls speed heart-first into the arms of their first loves in hopes he’ll be the one she ends up with forever and happily ever after, but does anyone read the fine print?

18th Century English writer Samuel Johnson once described it as "a circular instrument placed upon the noses of hogs and the fingers of women to restrain them and bring them into subjection," but nowadays we picture the squealing satisfaction of a blushing bride-to-be as she realizes her turn has finally come.

Whether kneeling on bended knee in the middle of a packed 5-star restaurant; having it scatter across the JumboTron during Super Bowl; or serenading on a rooftop during a candlelit dinner ... what if the ring was missing or lackluster within this calculated display of undying affection?

The engagement ring is the baby step. It’s like having your foot in the door that’s finally ajar, yet being teased by the jingle-jangles of a nagging chain-lock as you try to inch your way in.

The denouement will always be the wedding ring.

But, the history of the wedding ring bared little resemblance to its present connotation.
In ancient Rome, it represented exchange of valuables and property; a contract between the families rather than the bride and groom; a symbol of possession.

Our common tradition dates back to ancient Egypt nearly 3,000 years ago. They viewed the circular form of the ring as a symbol of endless love and eternity and wore it on the third finger of the left hand, following the belief that the ‘vena amoris’ (vein of love) traveled through that finger directly to the heart. We still follow this tradition almost religiously.

What’s interesting, though, is that the realistic round-trips of these marriages do little to dull its shine. Its sparkle elicits clouds of envious greens masked by cheery claims of congratulations from all of your friends and even strangers. America’s obsession with love and being loved is what gives these rings their undying power.

Even more interesting is how consumerism and materialism have come to further characterize it and love in general. Think about it. In its earlier stages, bands were just as good as their yellow diamond encrusted, princess-cut, 12-carat cousins. But nowadays, size matters just as much, if not more.

The ring still remains the withstanding symbol of what is supposed to be a sacred union when all of the rice has been thrown and the pasty confection flowers have long been digested. Eternal love and commitment are still in frequent utterance as its affixed themes, though some forget the “through sickness and health, till’ death do us part’ and the work that actually goes into it.

But I guess there's still some hope. It only becomes as bad as you allow it to be, so I’d still appreciate it, if for nothing else but to be handed down. True physical markers of a triumphant love that will outlive us and carry on our legacy through generations? Why not?

I, nonetheless, still find myself balancing the forgotten realities against the whole charade: high divorce rates, multiple marriages, infidelity, and the outright materialism of the whole institution.

I dread Valentine's Day for the very same reason and refuse gifts and reminders on that day. I scoff at the over-the-top displays that should apply and mean just as much on any other day. Why is February 14th so special? Didn't you love me just as much on January 5th?

It's as if we engulf ourselves in all things love, taking the wedding ring, Valentine’s Day, and the wedding gown (among others), as our ceaseless captives, but can we really appreciate what it all means without the accessories we've Krazy-glued to the idea over the years? Does love even have anything to do with it all anymore?

The live television broadcast of the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton was watched by 750 million to 2 billion people worldwide. But I'm curious, what would it all have meant without the grand visual of her sapphire wedding ring of rare Welsh gold?

Beyond all the glitter, diamonds and materialism, the love and who it comes from is what should really matter. Isn’t that where the real value should come in? A simple band would've been just fine for me.

Tiffany Brown-Bennett is a graduating senior at UAlbany majoring in Journalism, with a double minor in English and Sociology. She's been interning here at WAMC this semester and plans on returning to her hometown of New York City this December to pursue her MFA in Documentary Filmmaking.

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