The Absurdity Behind Monster Engagement Rings

Maybe there is a lesser-known German word for this poison thing I do, which is to semi-consciously attempt to make other women feel bad for wanting different things than I do. I’ve been doing this since about forever ago, and I do it often enough, which is too much. When I encounter women who participate in a stratum of the girl experience that I think is below all of us — blithely excusing fuck-man behavior, but sparring with women in ways that are subtle and noxious — I will drop in my own judgments, as if I’ve never loved a dummy or vied for social position.

This is my lowest self, an exhausted version of the more tender me who gets that moving through life with your head up and heart right is sometimes impossible. My better angels are not involved in the self-satisfaction of realizing the woman beside me at a manicure (where rings — wedding, engagement, and otherwise — are laid beside you while your nails are attended to by a woman who usually asks, directly or not, about what your rings, or lack of rings, indicate) is wearing a monster diamond — and that she definitely is listening while I go off about the absurdity of monster weddings, the corniness of monster rings, and the implications of monster expectations around what should be all love and joy.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
There are very few differences between the ways I idealized and envisioned my engagement and marriage before and after they happened. My proposal was perfect and private, and except for an anxious brunch in my parents’ WASP-command-center dining room, I didn’t announce my engagement anywhere outside my email outbox. I didn’t have a bachelorette party, a shower, or a registry, in part because the only people at the wedding were our parents and the way-laid-back minister of a rural church. I posted nothing, but I did, a little weirdly for me, change my Facebook status to “married,” so satellite friends would know.

Except when my boyfriend, pre-engagement, put the ring decision in my hands, all "Peace I'm out!!," I spent a couple of days intermittently online, looking at rings and dismissing almost all of them for familiar reasons. I wrote an email to Tiffany, asking if they could produce one of their signature rings “without the excess,” or something, which is just adorable ring psychosis. But, I ended up staring like a mesmerized puppy dog at the many-tens-of-thousands-of-dollars, art-deco-sugar-mountain of a ring that I’d once chosen as “mine” in some fantasy exercise with a friend (even though I would always choose “freedom” or “vacation” over any individual item). As if it was walky-talkied from the base camp of my desires, I found myself wanting exactly what I thought I didn't.

When I see Kim Kardashian wearing a monster ring, it’s mostly, like, "get it," because she could have ostensibly bought it for herself, and because she makes her intergalactic money executing masterful performances of femininity. Engagement rings are “about” their own beauty, and emphasizing the beauty of their person — but they are actually about indicating class and taste, sex and beauty, status and security. Kim’s ring is part of her job. When I see a Normal like me wearing something that engulfs her finger (especially when it’s one giant diamond of question-mark quality stacked on top of a ring of more diamonds) I wonder (less judgey-shittily, more curiously, I think) about whether she knows she’s flexing social capital, or not, and why it’s so important to her that I notice it, if it is. I wonder if it’s created an affective experience for her that’s working. I wonder if she likes her husband.

So wanting a mega-ring was surprising to me. “Style is about the choices you make to create the aspects of civilization that you wish to uphold” (R.I.P. David Bowie Superstar), and I’ve never wanted to uphold the aspect of civilization that is about compulsory symbols of womanhood. At some point in Parks and Rec, Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford says, “Even the super left-wing chicks that saw Blood Diamond and cried, when they get a diamond, they’re like ‘Yeah bitch, gimme one of them blood diamonds. Make ‘em extra bloody.’” Yeeeah. “Want” is the conclusion of so many inputs, from simple exposure to the complex mechanics of the socioeconomic systems we are nestled inside of, as first-world citizens, for all eternity. I wanted to put the big center rock inside my mouth and bite down, and feel a thick flood of the YESSSSS that a monster ring promises through the kaleidoscopic lens of girl culture. That would be a new feeling. Mega-rings don’t make me jealous the way I’m supposed to be, but they do make me jealous of being the kind of girl who wants one, and other normal things. Even in an era of alt-weddings and, “I’m not like a regular bride, I’m a cool bride,” there is still the dominant thing of easy satisfaction that comes with choosing a big, dumb, blinding ring. Wanting that just looks so nice.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
So maybe obviously, when I sent a link of that ring to some friends, I didn’t feel the bright pop and hiss of feminine success, or even the sordid bedazzlement of finding and procuring the exactly right, forever-perfect, beautiful thing. Instead, I felt like I was about to swan-dive into something that is far beyond the objective facts of “bad investment” and “socio-sexual indoctrination” and “wedding-industrial complex.” I felt like it would be a power move in a game I don’t understand wanting to play. It also felt like a basic affront to some of the reasons why my husband loves me, like my ambition and individualism and my constant, probably-annoying question-asking.

That's when I had another idea, and then found a ring that had a familiar rightness: not an engagement ring at all, but a figure-eight of diamonds, a fairy-light delicacy that exists as itself, as an infinity, but sometimes reads like a bow or a bandit mask. I got engaged in July and married in September, because I do not play, and since then I’ve worn a squared-off platinum wedding band on my left hand, and my engagement ring on my right. Sometimes I tap them with my thumbs for their comforting symmetry. Symbols are everything and nothing: I have small, black tattoos for my dad; my sisters; my dog Scout, who died, and myself. I sometimes wear an old charm bracelet with my sisters’ initials engraved on the silver tag; and now these “infinity” diamonds for me, my husband, my marriage.

An equally potent symbol, though, is maybe the candy Ring Pop I keep in its neon package in a special bowl in a special place, that my husband bought after I told him I didn’t really care what ring I had, because I already had him.

More from Fashion


R29 Original Series