Friday, May 24, 2013
Put A Ring On It
I got this ring from Etsy a little while ago, and I've been wearing it quite a bit. It's lovely, much more comfortable than you would think from the size, and also quite significant - because it's not significant at all.
I'm 32 dang years old, and this is the first ring I've worn for any period of time that isn't emotionally significant.
This was a pretty surprising realisation for me come to, considering how completely disinterested I am in getting married, marriage, and that whole truckload of cultural baggage that comes with being a woman who wears a ring. I wouldn’t have thought it would be such a big deal for to see a ring for what it is – just a little bit of metal that looks nice on your hand. But if you look at how long rings have been a symbol of marriage, betrothal, and general long term commitment, it’s probably not really so shocking that I would attach so much emotional importance to something that is essentially a fashion accessory.
One of the theories as to how rings became a commonly worn item is the idea that signet seals were too unwieldy to carry around all the time, so they were shrunk down to a form you could put on your finger. Even these very first rings, before they were anything to do with marital relationships, were a symbol of power, ownership, and authority. In his Natural History, Pliny tells the story of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and was punished by being chained to a rock while birds ate him alive over and over for 30,000 years. Jupiter eventually decides this might have been a little bit of an overreaction and lets him go, but makes Prometheus wear a link of the chains that had bound him to the rock as a ring, with a chunk of the rock set in it like a gemstone, so he would always remember his misdeed. It’s interesting to compare this to modern complains of a wife being a “ball and chain”. Prometheus’s ring was certainly a strong symbol of responsibility, if a largely negative one. Rings were given quite commonly in Roman society, to signify betrothal (specifically ownership) or friendship.
In cultures based around pagan beliefs, rings were thought to be an extension of early spells made from twine knotted around a finger – a symbol of binding, of power over someone or something. The practice has faded and resurged again over time since then, but Western society seems to keep coming back to the idea of putting a strip of metal around a finger to signify a bond.
For me, my emotional attachment to jewellery started long before I ever got a ring from someone outside my family. I've always been too lazy to really wear a lot of jewellery, especially just to look pretty. It didn’t seem worth it to put something on if I was just going to take it off again the next day, so all the jewellery I bothered to wear was pretty much permanent, and the only reason I would wear something all the time is if it really meant something to me. I still have the first piece of jewellery a romantic partner gave me. My first real boyfriend in high school melted down a lead Warhammer figure he didn't want anymore, and shaped it into a little fish pendant for me. I have no idea why he made a fish, and it wasn’t the prettiest thing ever, but I loved it dearly. Sadly it was too delicate to wear all the time, so when we went to the Easter Show together he bought me a little silver Celtic knot, and I didn’t take it off until we broke up, at which point I threw it at him in a fit of rage. The necklace was so firmly entangled in my head with our relationship I couldn't bear to keep it after he dumped me, and hurling it at him in the middle of the playground felt like the clearest way I could express that I was hurling him, and everything I had felt for him, out of my life. For some reason I kept the little fish though, which has only gotten more delicate with time.
After I left school, I got a little bit more interest in jewellery in general. Getting into the Goth scene meant I ended up with a truly embarrassing number of collars and crosses and bats and matching wrist cuffs. Despite my early experience with emotionally invested necklaces, these quickly became an item of jewellery I was happy to wear for purely cosmetic reasons. But somehow rings still remained something apart, something I couldn't wear unless they were emotionally significant. I would wear spikes around my neck two inches long, but wearing a ring because it was pretty seemed... well, silly, and yet too serious at the same time. Wearing them without a reason seemed ridiculous, and I wasn’t ready for any of the grown up reasons I felt justified a ring.
Eventually my boyfriend at the time gave me a silver Russian wedding ring, and I wore it happily. It wasn’t an engagement ring, or a promise ring - we didn’t even live together in the years we dated for. It was just a gift, given because he thought it would make me happy. But unlike all the other trinkets he’d given me, it felt significant, and I felt grown up enough to justify wearing something so serious. When we broke up however, I couldn't wear it anymore. I had grown up enough by this time not to throw it at him though. I kept it in a box for years and years, longer than we had even dated for. Finally I took it out of the box and left it hidden under a house I'd loved living in when I moved out, in an attempt to properly leave the relationship behind.
What I find really fascinating looking back on these rings I've had and loved, is that even though I had no intention of getting married, the matrimonial ideal of rings as a symbol of commitment was so deeply engrained I still acted like these rings were more or less engagement rings. I seriously had no interest whatsoever in getting married, for the longest time. I was the most commitment phobic girl you could imagine – it took me two or three boyfriends to even accept the idea of any of them having any of their things at my house, and I only moved in with a boyfriend for the first time because I literally had nowhere else to go. My views on commitment eventually mellowed a great deal, to the point where I was even willing to share a room when cohabiting with a boyfriend. (I still won’t mix book or DVD collections. That one is never going to change) But I still wasn’t interested in getting married. Had anyone proposed to me during this time, I would have flat our refused them, possibly after laughing awkwardly in their face. But I still treated the rings partners gave me with the significance and the reverence of an engagement ring – I would never take them off when we were together, and when we broke up I could never wear them again. These rings were symbols of a relationship, so deeply entwined in my feelings about the relationship I had no ability to view them as the passive objects they actually were. Even the one I bought myself was a symbolic of a commitment, a commitment to love, protect, and cherish myself.
One day, however, I found myself in a place where I had a real engagement ring of my own.
I still don’t really know how it came about. Perhaps it was some sort of quarter life crisis, but out of the blue I suddenly decided I really wanted to be engaged. Happily my boyfriend at the time was also interested in being engaged, so we got engaged. We got a beautiful ring (I paid for half of it, still being ridiculously, stubbornly independent), he took me out for dinner and proposed properly, and then it was done. Unfortunately, we never seemed to actually get around to getting married. We kept putting it off, year after year, and eventually it dawned on me that I didn’t actually WANT to be married, as such. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be with him, I just actually didn’t really want to be married. Unsurprisingly, the relationship began to fall apart pretty rapidly after that – engagement is a hard thing to come back from. There isn’t really any way to “take it back”, and once I took the ring off the relationship was more or less doomed.
It’s been a long time since this all happened now, but I haven’t worn a ring since. I still have the engagement ring – it’s pretty, I paid for half of it, and while technically according to tradition I should have given it back because I called it off, my ex fiancé didn’t really want it. I don’t really know what I’m keeping it for. I can’t imagine I would ever be able to wear it happily again, and I don’t think I would be comfortable giving something that has so many sad memories attached to someone else. Even though I actually get along quite well with my ex-fiancé now, the ring still reminds me too much of promises made in excitement, and how it all fell apart. So now it just sits in its ring box, in a packing box somewhere under my bed, probably getting quite dusty and tarnished, and my hands have been ring free ever since I put it away.
That is, until I saw this lovely little leaf ring, and bought it on an impulse. I’ve worn it three or four times now, and it’s still not taking on any extra meaning. It’s not even becoming a “Whoo, I’m over my broken engagement” ring…it’s just a ring. And that is such a strange, new, and exciting thing for me. I don’t quite know what to make of it yet, but I’m hoping it’s a sign that I’m finally actually shedding some of the baggage I’ve been dragging around forever, and that I can start filling my bags with pretty things that make me happy instead.