My stove died.
The electrical panel that governs the oven shorted out, and the replacement part was fabulously expensive. A new stove was in order, and after dinner one evening, parked on the sofa watching the news while my husband read the paper with my feet propped up against his legs, I reported on costs.
“Wow!” he exclaimed, impressed but not really engaged in the conversation—he has no idea what things cost, and he knew we’d get the stove anyway.
“Not really,” I replied, “a diamond ring is much more expensive,” offering a useful point of comparison.
His eyes snapped into focus, and I felt a lurch of alarm against my stocking feet. Without changing his outward demeanor in any way, he was suddenly alert, the way husbands are when they suspect they may be in trouble, but don’t want to give too much away, just in case it’s nothing after all.
“Did you want a diamond?” he asked, genuinely surprised. It was clear that it had never crossed his mind that I might want a diamond ring, and that this might have been a serious oversight.
Setting aside for the moment whether or not people should have diamond rings, or how much money is appropriate to spend on a range, his instincts had been correct. I didn’t want a diamond ring.
When we got married, we were both established professionals. It was unseemly to expect my parents to pay for a wedding, so money that might have otherwise been spent on a diamond was spent on a wedding, a gift to our families. Later, I might have gotten a diamond for our first anniversary, but we went out to dinner instead. In Paris.
After that, my husband went back to graduate school, an expensive one, and our daughter was born. Then we bought a house. Then our son was born, and I quit work to stay at home with our children. The next thing we knew it was time for elementary school in a lackluster school district, and we were forking over tuition for one kid, then two. Out of respect for the earthquake fault that runs along the end of our block, we bolted the house to its foundation and added shear walls. The washer croaked. The floors had to be sanded.
We’d always loved wisteria vines, so the next time we pulled ahead financially, we built a splendid deck with a trellis for a wisteria.
By the time we’d been married 20 years, we’d run through two minivans and a secondhand Datsun. We’d trekked to the grandmas in Nebraska and Seattle dozens of times. We’d gone to every national park we passed, and once each to Disneyland and Washington, DC. For our twentieth anniversary, Grandma came over, and we went out to dinner again. In Rome.
If it sounds as if we weren’t thinking about diamonds, you’re right.
When I was single I was vain about my hands. My nails were always perfectly done, and I had dozens of clever, if not expensive, rings to show off. If I had wanted diamonds, I could have easily purchased them myself, and thought nothing of it. But even in those days, I never wore rings on my left hand, and when I put on my wedding ring, I took off the others. I never wore them again.
My wedding ring is nothing fancy, just a narrow gold band with a milled edge. And I think, maybe because marriage is such a complicated thing, a simple ring is best. As a symbol, it reduces the circus of life to the virtues that can sustain a couple over the long haul—honor, grace, fidelity—the qualities that bear love aloft and over anger and impatience, weariness and misunderstanding, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
When the ring was new, I loved to catch its gleam out of the corner of my eye. In its simplicity, it seemed so elegant and adult. Wearing it appealed to the best in me, and I didn’t take it for granted yet. I didn’t know then that our individual orbits would sling us both nearer and farther from one another in the apogee and perigee of events, or how the specific gravity of children and circumstances would distort our trajectories. I didn’t know that there’d be times when only loyalty to the idea of marriage would carry us over until I could remind myself that the same sweet person I had fallen in love with was at the heart of the much more interesting man who is still my husband.
Diamonds are so very fashionable now. But fashion is something you adopt for a season. Style speaks to the larger issue of those things we wear year after year because in some essential way they reveal who we are, our preferences and loyalties. My wedding ring has style, and I’m betting that it will still look good on an old woman.
So if, as common wisdom suggests, bread is the staff of life, then I definitely prefer the stove; you can’t bake bread with a diamond. And while Marilyn Monroe was smart to bank on high-quality gemstones in matters of the heart, I don’t think I need them; I already have a best friend.
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