The Politics Of Wearing A Ring On Your Ring Finger As A Single Person

Photo: John Salangsang/BFA.
In my family, jewelry was always the go-to gift. This is partially cultural: I'm half-Puerto Rican, which means gold bracelets, chains, and other accessories are standard presents for special occasions. When I was two, my finger got so chubby that my mom had to take me to the jeweler to cut off the ring my grandmother had given me as a baby. (And for the record: We were all rocking gold nameplates long before Carrie Bradshaw made them cool.)

This love for bling followed me into adulthood. I've worn a variety of combinations over the years, but no matter what, I always wear at least two rings: On my right hand, the pearl number my mom passed down to me from her 16th birthday; on my left ring finger, a pink gem stone my dad bought for me during an island vacation when I was 16.

Yes, you read that correctly: I wear that on my left ring finger, where an engagement ring is "supposed" to go. Why that particular finger, you ask? Honestly, there's no real reason — I just love the ring, and that's where it fits best. I've worn it daily for over 12 years, and my hand feels naked when I forget it. In fact, on the rare occasions I'm not wearing the ring, I still find myself automatically reaching down to play with it.

The ring was never intended to signal my relationship status. And yet, that's almost always what people assume. At a club recently, I started chatting with a cute guy. The conversation was flowing, I was in full-on flirt mode, and he asked if I wanted a drink. But when we got to the bar, he stopped in his tracks. "Oh man, you're engaged?" he asked. I gave him a confused look, until I saw him staring at my hand. "Oh, no, that's just where I happen to wear my favorite ring," I explained, laughing. "I always wear it on this hand." His response surprised me. "You really shouldn't," he said. "It will stop guys from approaching you."

His "advice" felt like something from the early 1900s. But then I realized, I shouldn't be that surprised — this was actually a somewhat familiar conversation. When I was in a long-term relationship, acquaintances or coworkers who had never noticed the ring before would see it and squeal, assuming my then-boyfriend had proposed. An Instagram where my ring was visible once led a high school classmate to comment, "Oh my God, is that what I think it is?!" And now that I'm single, when I've met new people, I've been asked if I'm engaged, married, or simply "what the deal is" with my ring. Most of the time, I just want to respond: Honestly? It's none of your business.

But I'm not alone. A photo of Kylie Jenner from two weeks ago sparked rumors that she was engaged to her boyfriend, Tyga:

A photo posted by King Kylie (@kyliejenner) on

In May, the media was quick to attribute Rihanna's diamond ring at the Billboard Awards to rumored beau, Drake:
Photo: John Salangsang/BFA.
And many fans took this shot Lucy Hale posted with boyfriend Anthony Kalabretta on Monday as an engagement announcement:

Man crush all da timmmme 😼

A photo posted by Lucy Hale (@lucyhale) on

Of course, in our social media-obsessed, pop-culture-driven world, the celebrity speculation is understandable. But in 2016, assuming a woman is wearing a piece of jewelry to signify her relationship status does seem a bit ridiculous. What's even more ridiculous, though, is that most of us don't even know why we still follow the antiquated custom that your left ring finger should even stay naked until you're "betrothed."

According to The New York Times, 75% of American brides wear engagement rings. Yet there's no singular, clear reason we still follow this tradition. Historians have many theories: Some say the exchanging of rings dates back to ancient Egypt; others believe engagement rings come from a time when virginal women were regarded as property that needed to be purchased away from their family; and then there are those who think it's all just the result of a marketing campaign to increase diamond sales.

I'm sure some of you may be thinking, If you don't want any confusion about your relationship status, why even wear a ring on that finger at all? You have nine other options! When I started wearing the ring on that finger when I was 16, it never raised eyebrows. Now that I'm "of marrying age," however, my favorite accessory has prompted so many questions that it's somehow transformed into a small feminist statement. Sure, if I ever get married one day, I'll likely wear an engagement ring, and later a wedding band, on that finger. But whether I'm single, taken, or somewhere in between, how I accessorize and express myself is up to me.

So if you ever see a woman with a piece on her ring finger, consider that it might not be appropriate to ask when the wedding is. Perhaps the better question is why she loves the ring.

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