"Trust me, you'll want a diamond!"
That there was no put-ring-in-the-finger moment didn’t surprise me, after all I actually knew J’s thoughts on that infamous line “nothing says I love you like a diamond ring” touted by the tacky commercials of mall jewelry stores. I had seen my share of engagement rings as plenty of my friends had tied the knot recently; from a big rock to a beautiful yellow diamond set on filigree to a more conventional solitaire diamond on platinum… I admired them but I didn’t aspire to the same, it was just not my thing (or so I thought). But I surprised myself by feeling a little bit of disappointment for not having a cool ring to mark the event. Something modern and special and unique…definitely not conventional nor multifaceted…certainly not something that cost (I had heard) the prescribed 2 ½ months of salary.
Later that day I had an epiphany…I actually already had my engagement ring. It was sitting in my shoebox in google town, back in California: a white gold double band with a single pearl, perfectly imperfect like all fresh water pearls are. I had bought it in Portugal many years before, for no particular reason other than its simple and understated beauty. The first time I wore it, my mom and sister mentioned that it looked like an engagement ring so I never wore it again. It went back in the box and was almost forgotten. Until the engagement day.
I came back to California ahead of J and immediately put it on my finger only to realize it was was too big – either I had lost finger weight or had I planned to wear it on a different finger? Still, it stayed on my finger until I found some time to go to the local jeweler to have it sized. The first person to see it was my friend A as she was literally getting ready to deliver her second son. Her parents, having recently arrived from overseas, were sick and at home with A’s other son (still a baby himself) so I offered to come to the hospital for the last part of labor. In fact, my biggest contribution was to keep her company as her husband took frequent cigarette breaks. In between contractions I told her that J had proposed and showed her the ring. She cried, truly happy for me, pumped with hormones and welcoming a distraction from the crowning baby. She said the ring was beautiful. Having no engagement ring nor wedding band herself, I guess dabbling in the story or provenance of mine was a non subject for her.
With time I started sharing the news with my friends, not as a big announcement but more like a matter-of-fact thing. And milliseconds after I had finished telling them that I was engaged, their eyes invariably zoomed, in no discrete way, on my ring finger. The comment “aww, a pearl, how different, how unconventional” from my friend with the rock sounded like “oh dear, you got ungagged to a poor man”. It was hardly unexpected from someone who, years before, suspecting her own impending engagement, told me to advise the fiancée to-be, if he ever sought my advice, to “buy the biggest diamond he could afford”. “It is an Asian thing” she later said when pressed to defend her desire to get a big rock. Then there was the husband of the friend with the yellow-diamond-on-filigree who asked J how did he get away with not buying me a diamond. We had a good laugh when J told me his answer “I didn’t have to bribe her with fancy rings like other men have to”. They are still friends so I don’t think my friend’s husband took it personally.
But the funniest ring-related situation came from a dear friend, a happy and outgoing no-nonsense mom of three, born and raised in South America and married to the sanest psychiatrist I have ever met. J was out of town and I was having dinner at their house, kids around, when the conversation shifted to the engagement ring. Her husband said he loved pearls and complimented our choice. My friend didn’t really say much about the ring. But when her teenager daughter, undoubtedly influenced by her dad’s approval and in one of those sweet day-dreaming fueled moments said “I’ll also want a pearl on my engagement ring” her mom, until then mute on the appropriateness of a pearl, let out an emphatic “No, trust me, you’ll want a diamond”.
One of my gym teachers, herself currently engaged, asked me “is this your engagement ring?” and after hearing the affirmative answer said “it is so you” which by now I was quite used to hearing. In fact, it was kind of the go-to comment. And I believe that, in many cases, it was a genuine one…because most friends didn’t know the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the ring, they were actually giving undue props to my fiancée for picking such a “me” ring! So, in the end, I am actually quite proud of not having a diamond. I like this “I’ll be a bit different”, and I take some sort of weird pleasure of not keeping up with my girlfriends. But then again, I remember that as a teenager, I (and others) always wanted to be different, unique… to “fit out” was the cool way to be those days.
Anyhow, this whole thing about diamonds and engagement rings is hardly interesting but somehow at the time I saw it as providing a sort a glimpse into the values and beliefs of my friends from a totally unexpected angle…but of course, it has all to do with De Beer’s greed that made up the “A diamond is forever” tradition (and the peer pressure it created) that lasts to this day. Although J is hardly cheap and could afford a diamond ring, I respect his personal convictions regarding the (tainted) life of diamonds: their connection to child labor, war, nepotism, slavery, so far from the thoughts of beauty, happiness and joyful commitment that they are supposed to represent. Plus, diamonds are not even rare! I am sure there are plenty of people out there that believe that a diamond, no matter how big and how clear, does not define the depth of love. Including my friends.