One of my favorite topics when I was teaching University 101 (aka Life Skills) was a class on money. I passed out slips of paper to my student with real-life Money Management scenarios on them about lending money to friends, paying debts, saving, using credit cards and much more.
My favorite scenario, however, was THIS ONE:
You and your fiancé are planning for your future. You can either buy a dream engagement ring or put a down payment on a reliable car that you really need as neither of you own a car. What do you do?
The discussion that ensued was lively. Some students were torn. Some were practical (“the car, of course”) but many, especially from my female students, were adamant about the necessity of an engagement ring.
I remember one girl, in particular, retorting, “If he can’t buy me a ring, there’s no way that I would even think about marrying him.”
My eyes widened and I bit back a smile, but not very successfully. “Let me tell you a little story…” I began, holding up my left hand.
“I don’t have a diamond ring.”
The lively discussion came to a screeching halt. I let the palpable silence permeate for a heartbeat or two.
And then I told them my story, our story, about two young college students who were in love and wanted to get married.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, and it bothered some people, like my parents, that he didn’t buy me an engagement ring. They wondered, ‘How can he provide for you if he can’t even buy you a ring?’
“But I knew better. My boyfriend (now my husband) was a hard worker. In addition to being an RA, he worked as a soccer referee and a lifeguard at the YMCA.
“He always paid for our dates. Even though I had a job too, it was work-study and not a lot of money. When I needed something, he never batted an eye. He bought necessities for me at Walmart and helped me pay for my laundry when I didn’t have enough quarters.
“Once, when I was in a play, he paid for the tank top and slip that I needed to wear under my costume because I couldn’t afford it.”
I looked around carefully at my students and closed the discussion with these words: “A diamond ring is a cultural expectation for engagement, but it isn’t a necessity. Did I want an engagement ring? Of course! But did I need one to start our marriage or convince me that he was a hard worker or a good provider? No.”
I smiled wryly. “Of course, I’m still waiting on my ring. I tell him, ‘You know, the longer we are married, the bigger the rock gets every year!’”
We all laughed and then we moved on to the next section of our class.
That was 4 years ago, when we had been married for 7 years.
I was holding out for our 10 year anniversary, hoping it would be the year of my ring. But our finances continued to be tight. After all, we had 4 kids, a fixer-up house, a kid in therapy, and student loan debt coming out our ears. We even debated whether or not we could afford a nice dinner out (we did go out and it was wonderful).
“I’m not going to lie,” I told my husband in bed that night. “I’m a little sad. I hoped that we would be able to afford a ring for this anniversary.”
“Brittany,” he said, smoothing my hair away from my face. “I’m sad too. I wanted to get you a ring. I hoped by this point in our life we would be able to afford it. But—“
“I know.” I sighed. “It’s okay. It’s disappointing but it is what it is.”
We celebrated our 11th anniversary in May with no fanfare or going out to eat—an impossibility since Aaron was at Officer Training School in Alabama.
The two months he was away for training were really hard on me in many, many ways. I was stretched beyond all my adult capabilities up to the point.
I put our house on the market and sold it all by myself.
I fixed my roof.
I solo parented 4 kids.
I took care of our bills.
I packed up our house and drove across the country.
I had to develop some deep inner muscles and keep moving forward when I wide-eyed and overwhelmed, when I just wanted to lie down and quit.
It was an intense growing time for me, a time when my mind, soul, and heart underwent immense change.
Our life changed: We joined the Air Force. We moved across the country.
Our marriage is changing: We’re learning new daily rhythms, and better ways of communicating and working together as a team.
And I wanted to commemorate these changes with a special symbol.
So I bought myself a dang ring.
I spent $135 on this beauty from ETSY and it is exactly the ring I wanted 11+ years ago when we were talking about getting married, minus the price tag that was always out of our reach (it’s not a “fake diamond.” It’s a real white topaz set in silver! :D).
Spending thousands of dollars on a ring just makes me laugh right now, not at this point in my life, when I am scrubbing dishes and stained shirts, and cleaning up bodily fluids on a daily basis, parenting 4 wild boys.
A ring was never a “need” in our marriage. It was a strong desire I had held for many years, but thanks to some moving-expense payouts from the Air Force, we were finally able to afford it (along with paying off a credit card and our car loan).
I finally got my ring, ya’ll and it’s beautiful and practical…
…because that’s exactly where I’m at in my life right now.