What If the Diamond Is Too Small?

I normally adore Last Psychiatrist’s posts but this one is just too bizarre. What should a man do, this talented blogger asks, if a man proposes to a woman but she thinks the diamond ring he is offering is too small. Last Psychiatrist’s suggestion to such a man is to analyze his own motives and recognize his own manipulative and shallow nature:

The truth is that you knew when you bought it whether the ring was what she wanted. What you were banking on is that she’d accept it anyway.  It was a kind of test of her love.  That’s why this offer of the less than “perfect” ring that she rejects can be understood to be a defensive maneuver: you don’t want to marry her.  “You know what, you’re absolutely right.”  Not so fast.  I mean you’d be much happier just dating her, living with her, status quo.  And you know, if she just waited, someday, someday, someday, you’ll be rich; and then you’ll buy her a really nice ring. Yummy.  Nothing the kind of woman looking for a perfect ring now wants more than a wait-and-see guy.  You’re with her (partly) for her looks, yet you expect she’ll gamble those looks on a single horse race that starts sometime in 2025.

I’m from a different culture, folks, so many of the things surrounding this whole culture of proposing marriage is very alien to me. First of all, I don’t get this idea that one person decides to get married and makes a surprise offer to another person. My powers of imagination fail me when I try to figure out how this scenario can possibly transpire. I mean, if people are together, have a relationship, talk about things, how is it humanly possible that the subject of marriage is never discussed? Don’t people normally have plenty of conversations about their take on marriage, their attitude to the future, etc.? Or do they just studiously avoid the topic to create this weird atmosphere of a surprise?

I also really don’t get this whole diamond-giving tradition. It makes me feel kind of ashamed to consider the idea that a man I love will give me this hugely expensive gift while I just sit there. I have heard the whole spiel about the diamond being a symbol of his love. But if we are exchanging symbols of love, why doesn’t he get a diamond? Is it supposed to mean that my love should be bought? (Please note that I’m saying I, me, myself. This is how I feel, but nobody else is required or even asked to think the same way. This is  just me expressing my thoughts on my blog. There is no personal criticism of anybody implied, really.)

So if this guy with a rejected diamond were to ask my opinion, I wouldn’t tell him to analyze his failings as a human being. I’d tell him that this entire system where men need to beg and pay to have sex and romantic relationships and women need to look for sponsors / providers to whom they can sell sex and romantic relationships destroys any possibility of a genuine, loving and uninhibited human contact. Yes, the ring is a symbol, but is it a symbol of something we really want to perpetuate?

Why is one person sitting there waiting for another person to approach, ask for a date, pay for a meal, call for a second date, propose, give an expensive ring just because she has a vagina? Why is one person taking the initiative, making choices, facing rejection, paying, saving like crazy to buy an expensive ring just because he has a penis? What possible sense can this make? Isn’t it possible that the vagina-owner is more into taking the initiative? While the penis-owner just happens to dig diamonds?

The entire system of courtship, romantic relationship and marriage is so contaminated by this stupid gender binary that it’s scary. Gender compliance is like a strange religion that people sacrifice their interests for on a daily basis. And what does it offer in return? Some vague and completely imaginary societal approval? Is it really worth it?

All that we need to disrupt the gender binary is simply to start asking ourselves, “Am I really doing this because I totally enjoy it or because I have decided that this is how things are done (passive voice) and I struggle to fit myself into the mold?”

The people who force themselves into the “small diamond=bad, big diamond=good” model are not shallow. They are just caught up in a gender binary that is so widely adopted as to seem natural. The only way of breaking the system down is not to dump on people who participate, but to question what is it that makes us see such a profoundly unnatural and weird system as something worth upholding at the cost of sacrificing a wider range of options.

About these ads

40 comments on “What If the Diamond Is Too Small?

  1. Yes, ring culture in North America is dreadful. I’ve written about it before, about people telling me that the size of the diamond matters because people will judge you and your partner “for the rest of your life” by it, and sharing horror stories about how if you have a tiny diamond, it will negatively impact your social and work life, including chances at promotions.
    Two of my friends got engaged recently, both of them opted out of diamonds. One of them decided she didn’t need a ring, and the other had a close friend of hers make a custom one with an opal as the stone. They’re both getting a load of grief from their families about this, but are standing their ground, I’m very proud of them both for it.

    • I don’t have any diamond, and I can’t say that anybody at work or in my social life cares. :-)

      Besides, if the people in one’s workplace are so stupid that they promote on the basis of one’s jewelry, who needs to work at such company, anyways?

  2. The expensive engagement ring historically can be viewed as a hostage payment. Women who had lost their virginity were downgraded in the marriage market. An engagement often was viewed as a justification, before marriage, for sexual intercourse. Yet for the most part, engagement commitments were not viewed legally as binding contracts. So the expensive ring, that would not be returned, was one method of reimbursing a woman for breach of promise in a non-contractual environment.

    Diamonds now are not such a good hostage. Diamonds would be as cheap as glass, except for cartel restrictions on output. If I were an 18th century virgin, I would have insisted at least on an emerald or,preferably, a sapphire.

    • Diamonds now are not such a good hostage. Diamonds would be as cheap as glass, except for cartel restrictions on output. If I were an 18th century virgin, I would have insisted at least on an emerald or,preferably, a sapphire.

      Or better yet a pearl. Prior to the practice of seeding of pearls, natural pearls were the most valuable of “stones” by far.

    • “The expensive engagement ring historically can be viewed as a hostage payment. Women who had lost their virginity were downgraded in the marriage market. An engagement often was viewed as a justification, before marriage, for sexual intercourse. Yet for the most part, engagement commitments were not viewed legally as binding contracts. So the expensive ring, that would not be returned, was one method of reimbursing a woman for breach of promise in a non-contractual environment.”

      - How interesting. I had no idea.

  3. I find the whole ring thing bizarre, even in the more innocuous modern form of exchange of wedding rings, with the engagement ring taken out of the question. The symbolism of it just icks me out tbh – why the hell do you need a marker? Marriage is a wholly private affair to me and not anybody else’s business what my ‘status’ is. Of course, I wouldn’t wear a ring even if I didn’t feel like that, because I have knobbly knuckles and rings are uncomfortable.

    I suspect people who are into the small diamond = bad type model are also people who buy into the theory that marriage is essentially buying sex and guaranteed paternity children off’ve a woman in exchange for financial security. If you have that mindset and are female, then your fiancé is ‘disrespecting’ you by short changing you on the value of the ring / or is a lesser value fiancé because of course, all you want from him is his money, or if you’re male, the ring size is a way of showing off how much money you’re able to lavish on your female accessory. Or possibly I’m just cynical. ;)

    • “The symbolism of it just icks me out tbh – why the hell do you need a marker? ”

      - The reason why N. and I are wearing wedding bands is because this is a very simple way to ward off prospective admirers without having to reject them verbally. We are both kind of very good at attracting admirers. So now whenever I see a potential admirer approach, I start fingering my ring in a very pointed way. It very often works. :-) As we always say, it’s a burden to be so beautiful. (JOKE!) :-)

      “I suspect people who are into the small diamond = bad type model are also people who buy into the theory that marriage is essentially buying sex and guaranteed paternity children off’ve a woman in exchange for financial security. If you have that mindset and are female, then your fiancé is ‘disrespecting’ you by short changing you on the value of the ring / or is a lesser value fiancé because of course, all you want from him is his money, or if you’re male, the ring size is a way of showing off how much money you’re able to lavish on your female accessory. Or possibly I’m just cynical.”

      - Join the club because I agree completely.

  4. I have always found the ring thing weird and ridiculous, and overall I agree with everything Clarissa said in this post (even though I grew up in a US culture; but maybe it’s important that it was a coastal culture). That said, I know a lot of people who have “upgraded” the woman’s engagement ring, sometimes more than once, over the course of the marriage, so a person is not necessarily stuck with the “tiny” ring the couple could afford when they were starting out. And yet I find the upgrading even more ridiculous and awful. I never wanted a diamond, but if I took it as symbolizing permanence (as they are supposed to, because they are so hard), I’d want to stick with the one I started with, as I’d be sticking with the man I started with. If “big” matters so much, get an anniversary ring or something when you can afford it, but to symbolize commitment, it makes more sense to me to hang onto whatever symbol you start out with.

    And yet, it is a symbol. I lost the wedding ring that I had at the beginning of my marriage, and we replaced it, and the marriage is just fine, because we know that the ring is a symbol, not an omen.

    • “That said, I know a lot of people who have “upgraded” the woman’s engagement ring, sometimes more than once, over the course of the marriage, so a person is not necessarily stuck with the “tiny” ring the couple could afford when they were starting out.”

      - Funny. :-) It’s like that whole renewing the vows thing. Even my parents almost decided to do it even though it isn’t like they ever broke up. This is how infectious this whole thing is.

      “I lost the wedding ring that I had at the beginning of my marriage, and we replaced it, and the marriage is just fine, because we know that the ring is a symbol, not an omen.”

      - That’s a healthy attitude. There are tons of couples who can’t afford any ring, yet they are super happy.

  5. It seems much of psychoanalysis is based on the notion that you never ask a question without already knowing the answer. So if you ask yourself if the diamond is too small, you know it already is. If you raise a question about anything, like “how does my fridge work?” that’s because you’re a hateful, self-deluding imbecile who simply doesn’t want to face the truth about how fridges work and you’re employing a delaying tactic, since the truth about fridges frightens you.

  6. Z :

    I thought that was the only reason for them and that everyone knew it!

    I’m from a different culture. :-) It takes time to learn about all of the customs of a different cultural environment. I’m learning a lot from this blog!

  7. bloggerclarissa :
    The blogger I linked to calls himself a psychiatrist.

    I’m not sure what that means. I’ve had experiences with a Freudian guy when I suddenly realised all the questions I’d been innocently asking about Lacan had been turned into suppositions that I already knew the answers. So if I said, “What did Lacan mean by such-and-such?” that was a reflection on me and my evil ways.

  8. bloggerclarissa :
    If he was an acquaintance who decided to psychoanalyze you, then he should know that he was only being manipulative.

    He should have known that. But I think something frightened him a lot. Part of it may have been my study of Bataille, whom some character called Wolin dubbed a “left fascist”. So I think he was running scared of some imaginary entity of “left fascism” and decided to attack preemptively.

  9. If I were a man who proposed to a woman who thought her engagement ring was too small, I’d take back the ring and think “Good riddance”. Seriously, I can’t imagine being married to someone who values a stupid ring more than a relationship.

  10. “I mean, if people are together, have a relationship, talk about things, how is it humanly possible that the subject of marriage is never discussed? Don’t people normally have plenty of conversations about their take on marriage, their attitude to the future, etc.? Or do they just studiously avoid the topic to create this weird atmosphere of a surprise?”

    I don’t really know what normal people do because what the hell is normal anyway? Seems to me what is “normal” often times feels pretty crazy and that isn’t really what I aspire too. Aside from that there is such a thing as “silent communication” which is riddled with all kinds of problems.

    As far as diamonds go and the preference for them…well I would attribute most of that to marketing. People like belonging (groups, cultures, etc.) too–pressures to conform are rampant and so they seek the approval of others, despite not admitting so.

    I have a diamond ring and I wouldn’t consider it large. I could care less if other people do not approve of the size. There are plenty of people who let me know what they thought–when I didn’t ask them. The ring is significant to me for other reasons and I suppose one could suggest that it has sentimental value, but then “sentimental” tends to always be devalued and dismissed by others. I don’t really recollect how much talk went into the ring, etc. We already had an existing romantic/intimate relationship prior to being married, so it didn’t come as a complete surprise–the proposal or where our relationship was headed. The thought never crossed my mind that my future husband was begging or paying for anything and I was selling anything either nor did I see him as a sponsor or provider. Apparently, there are many people who view marriage differently than I do. I married for love, pure and simple.

    What I did find annoying was being in a college class and having the professor put the question the reasons for getting married–these were group discussions. I felt as if I had been put on the spot to justify why I got married. I knew plenty of people who denounced marriage in favor of living together and they were quite condescending towards me. I sometimes wonder if they went on to get married, but ultimately I lost touch with them which I feel was a healthier choice for me to make.

    • I’ve had a professor who compared her diamond ring to that of female students and always loudly proclaimed: ‘Mine is still the biggest!”

      A very famous, highly successful professional in her mid-sixties she is.

      • She sounds like an idiot–egotistic and materialistic, unless it was in jest and was poorly received. I’ve been around all kinds of people who make a ton a bad jokes, etc. Anyway, this just goes to show that age does not always bring wisdom. A good many people with character flaws tend to stay the same.

      • “She sounds like an idiot–egotistic and materialistic, unless it was in jest and was poorly received. ”

        - My friend had just gotten engaged and her fiance was not rich. He saved and scrimped for the ring and, in the case of that particular couple, it was, indeed, a symbol of love. The prof who made fun of my friend’s small(er) diamond really hurt her feelings. And it’s not like you can really put a prof in their place when you are dependent on them, you know?

      • I had people behave that way to me as well and it was hurtful as well, so I can empathize. My husband scrimped and saved in our case too, I always felt that it was a symbol of love. That is why I could never “trade up” so to speak, or whatever people call it. The ring’s value lies in what it means and represents. So, I do understand as I’ve met the same kinds of people.

        As for the professor, well I’ve known and experienced the same. I realize one cannot put a professor in their place as I’ve been in similar situations, but those were about other issues–certain professor’s and their inappropriate “sexualized” behavior. It is one reason why I can have such hard feelings towards professors/academics in general. I work hard against that, but sometimes it can be very difficult for me given my experiences.

      • Teaching offers a perfect opportunity for mean people to unburden themselves psychologically at the expense of those who can’t afford to talk back or protest. And one can always find a perfect justification for that. As one mean prof said to me, “well, if you can’t take this from me (“this” meaning nasty insults), how will you survive job interviews?” In her mind, she was doing me a favor by preparing me for what might happen during a job interview. Unbelievably cynical.

      • “Teaching offers a perfect opportunity for mean people to unburden themselves psychologically at the expense of those who can’t afford to talk back or protest. And one can always find a perfect justification for that.”

        I agree as I’ve encountered far too many people like this. I think it true of many people who occupy positions of power. It places everyone else in a one-down position for the reasons you offer. In fact, I sometimes believe that my tendency towards being an “introvert” is related to a lot of experience in having to deal with people like that–a learned response.

        “As one mean prof said to me, “well, if you can’t take this from me (“this” meaning nasty insults), how will you survive job interviews?” In her mind, she was doing me a favor by preparing me for what might happen during a job interview. Unbelievably cynical”

        I’m sorry you experienced someone like that. Sadly, I can relate to this experience all too well. Wish that were not the case.

        Wonder if this might make a good topic?

  11. oh wow… that post was bad enough, but the comments were worse. On the one had, I can inda see the guy’s point that if you’re at the point where you’re getting engaged, you should already know your intended well enough not to be blindsided by something like this… but that still doesn’t excuse her for being a materialistic jerk.

    I’ve pretty much sworn that if i ever get married, and I do buy an engagement ring, it will NOT be a diamond. There’s a few reasons for this

    1. They’re kinda ugly. I mean, if I’m going to get a gemstone, how about something with some actual *color*?

    2. In that same vein, there’s really nothing special about them. They’re a charcoal brickette that got lucky.

    3. I don’t consider it a valid “tradition” The whole concept is less than a hundred years old, and it’s literally a memetic ad campaign that got really really lucky

    4. You can’t *really* be sure that you’re not getting a conflict diamond/supporting the trade of them. …Or at least, thats not a risk I’m willing to take for something shiny.

    Any woman I marry will have to accept this, or she’s not the woman for me, obviously. Or she can buy the damn thing herself, whichever.

    • Paul, for the most part I agree with you, especially the materialistic part. Some people may be unaware of the conflict around the trade of diamonds. They may like the gemstone for other reasons too and hopefully that wouldn’t be a deal breaker, but I agree that there are many different gemstones that are beautiful too. One can break with “tradition” even if that “tradition” was/is the concept of an enduring ad campaign. So many “traditions” are really all about ad campaigns. I work with beads and so many of these stones are mined all over the world, but the lapidary work is mainly done in China. Some of these stones are considered more rare than gemstones–value and the meaning ascribed to it is a funny thing.

  12. I’ve had people stick their noses up at my small diamond. My husband and I got married while in grad school; money was extremely tight, and I was (and still would be) uncomfortable with wearing something with that much “value” (as other commenters have said, the value is largely artificially constructed). I agree with your post and that the entire system of buying and selling sexuality and affection is creepy. That said (and I recognize this takes an element of cognitive dissonance), I still love my ring and do feel like it is a symbol (though certainly not the only one) of my love and my marriage.

    I would also like to add that the symbol is only as strong as the marriage–not the other way around. My husband has some acquaintances that frequently brag about how much they spent on their wives’ rings and how many carats they are; they often tell these stories while scoping out women to cheat with in a bar.

  13. The article he links to, “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?”, is a bit dated (1982) but still worth reading for insights into how the engagement-diamond meme was developed and, bluntly, marketed. At http://vintage-ads.livejournal.com/2393570.html I’ve posted a few early ads from the De Beers “A Diamond is Forever” campaign: the recurring motif is that the stone in your engagement ring isn’t merely a diamond, it’s YOUR diamond. It isn’t just a sparkly chunk of carbon, it’s emotion, it’s commitment. The diamond is the engagement. (De Beers inadvertently invented the concept of “we’re engaged-to-get-engaged” by promoting the notion that an engagement wasn’t merely an agreement to marry: an engagement was the sparkly chunk of carbon. Without it, there’s no engagement — only a promise to get engaged, someday, when he {and it is always “he”} can afford the sparkly thing.)

  14. I like sparkly (a lot!), so I have a CZ with two tiny garnets in a silver setting. I like the way it looks and the bonus part is that the cost was very small. In my opinion, diamonds are only OK when compared with a CZ. But then, I prefer semi-precious stones (and I love ammolite!) or art glass for jewelry (faux fire opals are the best) over expensive gemstones.

  15. Thanks for posting this! I think the whole diamond engagement ring tradition is terrible. It is just a complete marketing scheme. And even worse, for some people a large diamond seems to represent how much a woman is worth. For example, the other day a friend of mine who had a large diamond ring had a waitress comment, “Oh! You must have worked really hard for a ring like that! You go girl!” I’m sorry, but a woman’s worth has nothing to do with a diamond ring, and our society is terrible if they think a woman’s sense of value should be derived from a stone.

    I do personally like the idea of an engagement ring (perhaps it has been too socially engrained in me). But I don’t like the idea of tying a romantic moment between two people to a material good. I don’t like the idea that a decision to get married is supposed to be marked by buying something. I also have serious issues with the ethics of the diamond trade, and don’t really want to celebrate an engagement by supporting that industry. Also, I work with a lot of low-income people, and I don’t like the idea of having a huge ring because it seems ostentatious and wasteful. Even if I have the money, I can think of many more important or fun things to spend it on than a ring.

    I plan to pick out a ring with my partner, and shop in the jewelry boxes of my mother and grandmother. That way I still get a pretty ring while eschewing the capitalist aspect of the whole ritual.

  16. Pingback: Questioning as sin. « MUSTER YOU

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s