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My husband and I are approaching our fifth anniversary.
We started dating when we were young teens, got engaged just shy of our 20s, and married when I was only 21 and he was 22. We never broke up or even “took a break." We’ve been in love for almost an entire decade. In a way, we got to grow up together.
Most adults reflect on their teenage years and reminisce on how much they’ve changed. My husband and I have the added bonus (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it) of thinking back on our relationship and remembering who we were and how far we've come. We're both different people now. I watched my husband transform from a shy, long-haired, awkward, nerdy adolescent into a social, confident, short-haired, nerdy man. (Once a nerd, always a nerd!)
At heart, he’s still very much the same guy. He was and is the most compassionate, open-minded, good-humored person I’ve ever met. Mix all that with his ability to make me laugh on a whim, his broad-shouldered six-foot frame, and his adorable nerdiness, and he is utterly perfect (I know, barf, but I promise there's a point). These inherent traits, the ones I fell in love with, never changed. When I look at him, he’s different but he’s still a reflection of the young boy I met when I was only 14. Only with much better hair.
He can’t say the same about me. I don't think there's anything left of the girl he met. Sometimes even I look in the mirror and the reflection is a stranger. I don’t look, act, think, or talk the same as I once did. And when I do manage to conjure a vision of who I was once was, I cringe. It makes me sick to remember that she ever existed.
When my husband met me, I was deep into church culture. It was an unhealthy dynamic. I used Christianity as an excuse to judge, exclude, and hate others. I’m definitely not saying all Christians are like this, but there are entire churches who operate this way. I know this from experience because I was part of one. I put myself on a pedestal above "non-believers." Most of my exchanges with others involved trying to convert them and using hell as a scare tactic. When they didn't listen, I sat up straighter on my high horse and remembered that I would be the one going to heaven in the end. I wasn't even doing it on purpose. I just watched the adults in the congregation and followed by example.
Back then, I identified as a "hyper-conservative" (a phrase I actually used as a teen) Republican like my parents. I had internalized many ignorant opinions. I was pro-life, pro-death penalty, and anti-gay. My father had passed down his racism to me and I cracked jokes without fully understanding the hate behind them. I was concerned with gender roles and had misplaced ideas about women’s roles in society. I often slut-shamed other girls my age because I was a virgin and thought I was better than anyone who chose to have sex outside of marriage. There are so many other terrible things, too many to list. Teenage me is the worst person I've ever met.
We talked about marriage often those days. He bought me a promise ring when I was 16. He picked it out himself and completely surprised me. It was beautiful.
Unfortunately, materialistic, teenage me didn’t fully appreciate how meaningful it was. The person I was back then loved that it had real diamonds; 10 little shimmering stones. In fact, that part was the most exciting. I’d seen enough jewelry store commercials to know that diamond rings were the ultimate expression of love. It appealed to me that I was probably the only girl in school with real diamonds on her finger, small though they were.
It made me feel like our relationship was more adult, more important, more real than everyone else’s. It was the perfect accessory to complement my wardrobe of trendy clothing and stash of designer purses. I wore it as a status symbol, one more way to show I was better than my peers.
I wish I could say that my thinking changed by the time we got engaged but it didn't. Before he proposed, I told him exactly what kind of ring I wanted: White gold. Large center diamond flanked by two smaller diamonds flanked by even smaller diamonds. The wedding band had to have diamonds too, to compliment to smaller diamonds on the engagement ring. Really, the more diamonds, the better.
I absolutely did not want a solitaire ring. I showed him pictures to make sure he understood. I even told him he should go to Jared’s and to make sure to get a warranty. I assured him it didn’t have to cost a lot because it sounded good and like something a humble Christian girl would say. But inside, I fantasized about expensive, large diamonds; lots of them.
He was saving up for my ring on a college student’s budget, so I knew it wasn’t realistic. I figured that someday, after we were married, when he had a good job, we could trade it in for something better, maybe as an anniversary gift (though I never told him that).
When he proposed, I was ecstatic. I loved him so much. I couldn’t wait to start our life together. And when he showed me the ring, it was exactly what I had wanted to the detail. I flashed the ring whenever I could to whoever would look. And when people asked me about it, I would smile and say, “Didn’t he do a great job?” like he was a toddler getting praised for drawing a decent stick figure.
Over the course of our engagement and the first few years of our marriage, I changed. It was a gradual process. It might have been a combination of going to college and my husband’s good influence that widened my world view. I registered as a Democrat and voted for Obama, much to my mom’s chagrin. My dad’s racism was no longer funny and not only did I stop partaking in it, I called him out on it. I stopped going to church and shed my “holier-than-thou” attitude. I quit shaming other women and embraced my own sexuality. I finally came out as bisexual, a fact I had denied since I was a young teen because I thought it was a sin.
Now, I respect others and care about their opinions. There's no room for judgment in those conversations. I scoff at gender roles and fully embrace feminism. My preoccupation with materialism fades more and more each day. I no longer need diamonds as a status symbol. All I need is my husband and his love.
And that's why I sold my engagement ring.
It wasn’t an adequate representation of myself or my relationship with my husband or our marriage. It was just a ring, a ring I picked out, showed off and used to brag. It was a ring I told my husband to buy, removing every aspect of him from the process aside from his wallet. It became a glaring reminder of my materialism and superiority complex. It did absolutely nothing to symbolize the love we have for one another. It didn’t reflect the permanence of our union or the commitment that we made. That ring was nothing more than the demand of a silly, misguided girl who wanted expensive diamonds. It felt fake, forced, and wrong.
When I told my husband about my plans to sell it and the reasons why, he completely supported the idea. Sometimes I wonder if he could see into the future back then, if somehow he could see the person I would become even when I was horrible. It’s the only way I can explain why he was with me before I became a decent human being.
I have yet to replace the ring. When I do, I know it won't have diamonds because I don’t need them. I don’t need or want others to look at it and wonder how many karats it is or how much my husband spent on it. I don't need the symbol of our union to double as a symbol for status.
All I want is to feel that comfortable weight on my left hand; the one that serves as a constant reminder that I'm married to the person I love. I've finally come to realize that I can have that without diamonds.