Engagement. Not so easy to wrap your head around. And I am not even talking about Eritrean tribes, Maori society or Maya Indians that some people find oh-so-fascinating. I’m talking straightforward Western ways of getting engaged. Traditionally. As it’s done. As in the movies, with a ring and romance and the anticipated wedding. OK, yeah right. It is totally ambiguous this whole engagement business. And I really think it is, of course, just up to each and one to decide for themselves what they want to make out of it. That is – unless you are more interested in what others think of your engagement than what you yourself want it to be.
Hollywood tells us that all women are highly surprised when their boyfriends ask them to marry them. The girls had never thought the thought and it has never been discussed in the relationships. Ask me and I’d tell you it says something about their lack of conversation ability, and maybe thus their incompatibility for marriage? Anyhow, if the girl is lucky she gets a big expensive diamond ring showing the world she is taken and belongs to one man only. Her partner however is free of earmarks and readily available for any sort of, should I say temporary engagements, up until wedding ceremony when the wedding bands are exchanged. Where I come from however, and indeed in other countries and customs, the game goes a bit the other way around.
Couples in Sweden often make joint plans for an engagement, go look at rings together and set a date for when they are going to exchange the rings – yes, both partners get a ring. Many book a trip abroad or decide to do it on a, for them special place, such as a beach or in a restaurant. The rings are often simple bands in white or yellow gold, and are indeed often sold in combo. In the jewelry boutiques where they still label the rings “for women” and “for men”, the man ring tends to be a bit wider in style and the woman ring sometimes have an added little stone set into the very band, to differentiate them a bit. I haven’t done any actual research before writing this blog post, so alas I’m not updated on the development of gender awareness in the jewelry market. It is my hope however, that we have started to move away from the old women/men divide and that each individual in love can buy the ring they want for themselves and/or for their partner without being advertisement-ly pushed toward one or the other style. Getting engaged this way marks both partners as taken, equally devoted and obliged, and on the day of the wedding, traditionally the bride receives a second ring, which appearance’ could resemble her engagement band, upgraded in stones and value, or be a completely different looking ring, with a stand alone larger stone a la Tiffany’s. At the wedding, traditionally the man doesn’t get his finger decorated a second time. This way, the order is the complete opposite from that in the US.
As much as it’s true that not every woman in the US are completely surprised when their future husband pops the question (indeed many couples do talk about marriage and agree on a shared vision for their future!), it is also true that not every couple in Sweden are completely leveled in their life plans together (there have been known to be a number of surprise proposals even in that egalitarian country…!) Regardless of the order in which it is done, the gesture of giving the woman a ring is traditionally much more meaningful than most people in my generation seem to be aware of. It is two-folded really. The ring symbolizes a certain type of ownership, much like handcuffs on a slave. Yes, a bit shocking but true. We all know in the olden days that women were daughters in their family, under the rule of their father, until the day they got married off and instead became the wife of their husband. This is also further supported by the ceremony where a bride’s father “gives her away” to the groom, where she leaves her father’s name behind to become the Mrs. of her new master, the husband. Wait, wait, wait – don’t’ tell me off as a man hater just yet. I am not. At all. I am very much into traditions and I’ve had the fortune of being to a number of absolutely wonderful weddings in different countries with people of a variety of traditions and faiths. Including the one just described. I love it all and I can see the beauty in it, and I am the first to say that traditions are alive and breathe and constantly change with the way we live them and recreate them. And what meant something 100 years ago could mean something completely different today. That’s what’s so amazing with culture and traditions. I do think it is interesting though to know and understand the root of a tradition, if not to base any serious decisions from them, then at least to have an amazing thought to ponder upon. I believe people try to do things for a reason, and if you or your partner decide to make your engagement or wedding a certain way, I believe it is desirable to at least know why you are doing it in that certain way. So, just to clarify, I am not a hater of weddings or rings or family building or men in general. I tend to love it all.
A little side note to the walking-down-the-aisle-part: The Swedish way of getting married, traditionally in a church, when Swedes were still Christian, was actually for the bride and groom to walk hand-in-hand together down the aisle to the altar. There could be a flower child preparing the walk for them, or an unmarried bridesmaid, only one, who would help the bride with the bouquet. But the ring would be presented by the priest who would give it to the man to put on the woman’s finger. Ring bearer, best man, grooms men, brides maids, maid of honour and father giving his daughter away are all quite new additions to the traditional Swedish wedding. Today it is also becoming increasingly more popular with the American way of going about the ring business with women receiving, expectantly or not, an extravagant engagement ring, and the couple exchange rings at the wedding. It might be a small IKEA-furnished country far far up in the north, but like the rest of the world it is no stranger to adapting American culture 😉
Back to the meaning of the ring. The second reason to give the woman her wedding ring is because it is her insurance. If her husband would do anything inappropriate causing her to having to leave him, she is guaranteed to set off with at least the value of the ring on her finger. That jewel is hers. Maybe more relevant a couple of generations back than it is today, but the married woman is also more likely to loose her income, perhaps because she becomes a stay-at-home-mom, than the married man is to loose his. As you see here the value of the ring is not only meant to cover that juicy tab you and your girls keep on adding to when ordering in Aperol spritzers whilst verbally puking over the memory of that unfaithful ex-husband. It is also intended to cover all those stay-at-home-years of pension saving loss.
So, ladies, either make sure you get a big solid expensive ring, just in case, or better yet, make sure you make yourself some of your own money so in case, universe forbid, you would have to separate from him you got your own two legs to stand own. Preferably in some kick-ass shoes.
***** Dear reader, if you enjoyed this post, check back for Part Two on the same topic! I’ll be investigating the dos and don’ts with the ring after a break-up. Under what circumstances is it OK to keep it, wear it, bin it or sell it? Or would you hand it back or pawn it…?