The Significance of a Ring

When my husband removed the wedding ring from his finger where I had placed it more than ten years earlier, it was the last in a series of moves intended to hurt.

And it did.

I wasn’t young and inexperienced when I took those vows. I knew what I was doing – or so I thought – anticipating a life with the man I loved at my side. I would be a married woman, part of a couple, and welcomed into a new family.

And of course, I would still be “me.”

I expected ups and downs with a man I thought to be equally committed, who would weather everything with me and with our sons, as I intended to weather everything with him.

But some storms are not weathered.

There are a hundred reasons a marriage will work, or maybe just a few important ones. There are a hundred reasons a marriage will break, or maybe just a few important ones.

When he took off the ring, long before the marriage was officially over, and refused to put it back on even as we went through motions of working on our issues, I should have known. The writing was on the wall.

Same Sex Marriage: Thoughts

This has been an extraordinary week for some of my friends, as President Obama’s public affirmation that gay marriage should be legal is cause for celebration – and also, reflection.

As a woman who once lived with a man, committed but not married, and as a woman who was married and is now divorced – I consider my own feelings on gay marriage – and divorce – at the Huffington Post.

Incidentally, I am not against divorce any more than I am against marriage. If anything, I understand all too well the desire for both, and the need for both. Yet in the act of accepting that ring, of standing in front of a judge, a clergyman, our family and friends, in the deliberate undertaking of a legal and public commitment to wed – we move beyond a state of civil union.

I do becomes we do, and that marital status matters.

Marital Status, Subtle Stigma

Marital status matters tremendously in some instances, as we assign a hierarchy of approval of sorts whether we realize it or not. And that hierarchy imposes tacit prejudice, or at the very least, judgment and misconception.

For example, if someone is unmarried at 50 we view them as odd. We assume something must be wrong with them, rather than a more appropriate assumption that it is a choice or, they never met someone they thought they could marry.

Everything is not an explicit choice; and marrying and divorcing are examples of that. 

Diamond engagement ringThe stigma of divorce is less than it once was, but there is still stigma. The married woman is welcomed into certain circles in ways I couldn’t have imagined (before marrying) – and trust me, the divorced woman is not.

I have never been widowed so I can only comment on my observations of those widows I’ve known. They’ve been met with compassion, though I sense they deal with their own version of stigma.

Marital Practicalities

There are those who marry and divorce, remarry and divorce, and continue returning to the marriage well. I can’t say I get it, and I can’t say I would ever do it. Are they eternal fools or eternal optimists – or possibly both? Is there something in the legal or social status of marriage that they need, or we insist on as a culture?

How else does that change to a “married” status impact us?

Legally, our financial obligations and resources change, as does our access to spousal benefits (health care for example, as it isn’t considered a human right in this country). So the practicalities are real – with advantages and disadvantages to tying the knot – or not. And these are only the most obvious.

Clearly, when children are involved, everything is complicated if we divorce, as we struggle with issues of custody, visitation, and support. Naturally, divorce through our children’s eyes is a subject unto itself.

Marriage: The Emotional Side

And then there is the realm of our emotions, our dreams, our sense of home – not as a place, but with another person, as part of a family, a history.

I’d like to ask about your situations.

  • If there is a ring on your finger and you are legally wed, did going that extra step to marry make a difference in the depth of your commitment?
  • Does the fact of joining two families “officially” create a stronger bond?
  • Does it encourage you to work harder at your relationship, or have you grown lax instead – assuming it will always be there?
  • If you are remarried, why did you choose to actually marry again?
  • If you have chosen to stay single, why?

No Ring On My Finger

For myself, the significance of a ring is enormous. I was slow to remove my wedding ring. It felt… wrong.

Wedding cakeI waited to marry. I considered my options. I often thought of my grandparents’ marriages, in particular of my maternal grandmother and the stormy, passionate, patient, and lifelong relationship she shared with my grandfather.

I planned to marry once, and honor those vows for life.

Facing the reality that my marriage ended in divorce remains painful.

It isn’t so much that I feel like we failed, but rather, I live with a lingering sensation of profound disillusionment, and yes, loss. It is not the man I miss or even marriage. I miss my innocence.

Relationship Lessons

The years since my marriage ended in divorce have taught me much: about myself, the man I married, and what I genuinely need in a relationship. I’ve done my share of dating, had nearly given up at various points, and yet, I currently enjoy a lovely relationship which I never expected, one that offers mutual pleasure, solace, laughter, and connection.

As for marriage?

I wish I felt differently, but I cannot imagine giving that much power to another person again, especially legally.

You might say that makes me a non-believer when it comes to marriage. Or, you might say it makes me a person who honors it. But I would never deny anyone the right to go for it – taking their time before marriage to know who they are and who they’re marrying.



© D. A. Wolf

Comments

  1. Uralriver says:

    Umm so we are on the marriage topic again, I see.
     If there is a ring on your finger and you are legally wed, did going that extra step to marry make a difference in the depth of your commitment?
     Not married
     Does the fact of joining two families “officially” create a stronger bond?
     I’ve never been married, but I’ve had the support of both welcoming and non-welcoming families. I do think joining an open family with strong bonds is welcoming and it does help ease the transition – particularly in melding families-
     - it’s good unless your mother in law is a backstabbing …-
     Does it encourage you to work harder at your relationship, or have you grown lax instead – assuming it will always be there?
     In general families are a representation of you. You either support or deface them.
     If you are remarried, why did you choose to actually marry again?
     Not remarried
     If you have chosen to stay single, why?
     Simple; I won’t compromise, because I know I will lose my identity just because someone likes me.

    Would like to add that:

    5 minute marriages are not OK in my view; to marry just because you have ants in your pants or for money or whatever else, just cheapen the marriage institution for the rest of us.

    My mother was a widow; she never re-married and when ever the subject came up she threw a fit and began to sob. She never told me, but I knew this was her way of honoring my father’s memory; -they were together 25 yrs and they never married- Now that’s commitment.

    Nevertheless after two long failed relationships, I hope to marry someday soon and be a wife and have a husband. I will appreciate the bad and good. I hope we fight fair and that he honors and cares for me the way I will for him. My hope is that we grow old in love together. If he’s not out there; then I guess I move on and hope my family, children and friends will bring me joy for the rest of my years. It’s all good.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Happy you stopped by, Ural River. Yes, the marriage topic – given that this week was historic from the standpoint of same sex marriage, and the President’s and Vice President’s stance on the matter. After all, the ability to create a “recognized” family unit is pretty central to most of us, however we define that family unit.

      I appreciate your answering the questions. I am always fascinated by how different people are – those who wait and hope to choose the best possible partner for themselves, and those who are more impulsive (or more naive), and may plunge into marriage too quickly.

      Why do you say you will lose your identity? Many of us (women) slide into traditional roles more easily than we would like, but personally, I’ve found that keeping my identity intact while part of a couple is a matter of practice – and a respectful partner.

      Your mother’s story is very touching. Yes, that’s commitment.

  2. I am 51. I was married for 18 years. Hated it. I’ve been happily divorced for nearly 12 years. I won’t get married again, but I am in a committed relationship that has lasted 7 years and I don’t see it ending. I have nothing against people getting married, I just see no reason for it. Yes, our society may have attached a stigma (or many stigmas) to the marital status. But really, part of growing up is realizing that stigmas are nothing to base your life decisions on. There are many wonderful married couples in my life. But I also know many unmarried, committed couples. I do not subscribe to the belief that legally joining families makes the bond stronger. And I do feel that the traditional American marriage lends itself to loss of identity for the woman. I mean really… you lose your name! How does that even make sense?? And the trouble just goes on from there.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Yes, that name thing… That is pretty fundamental to some of us. (Dr. Leah at Singlemommyhood had something about that issue recently.)

      As to the joining of families, I think that may be more important to some of us than others. If you have little to no family of your own (for instance), marrying into a large family (with no mother-in-law problems!) can be a joy. Losing them – as well as everything else – makes the pain of divorce harder.

      So happy you stopped by. It’s been awhile! And glad your 7-year relationship is going strong… I love hearing that. :)

  3. I’m interested in the ideas of power in marriage. That a ring gives power is an archetypal notion, but who holds the power in marriage and why? Or is how a more interesting question?

    Personally, I like the feeling of commitment backed up by promises in front of friends. Then again, I see our power as largely equal in our marriage. But maybe I am foolish or naive? Legally, I know women still fight for full personhood.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      As you point out, Kate, issues of power in relationships – and in marriage – are interesting. I used the term “power” intentionally, when saying I didn’t think I could give up power again. Not control, but power.

      If you have what feels like an equitable power structure in your marriage, I’d say that’s wonderful. I don’t know that saying as much is foolish or naive. Some of us are aware that something is “off” from the beginning, not facing it, but aware all the same.

      How much do you think power is tied to money – even in marriage?

  4. I know. I’m sorry I don’t comment more often. :)

    There is definitely still a bonding of families when there is no official marriage. Most families recognize a strong union as being just as important as a legal union. My sister has also been in a 7-year relationship with a wonderful man. They live together and are very committed. She lives within five miles of our parents and other two sisters, along with nieces and nephews. (They call me the one that got away. Hee.) Our family has frequent get-togethers and we are very close. So my sister’s boyfriend has become very much a part of our family. My mother has been struggling over what to call him, when making reference to him in conversation. He’s definitely more than just a boyfriend. I think she’s resigned to just calling him her son-in-law. This really is an issue. I once asked my boyfriend if he ever referred to me as “the ol’ lady.” He said, “Of course I do.” I said, “Why the hell would you do that?” He said, “I’m not going to call you my girlfriend. That sounds so high-school.” I said, “Well then call me your whore or your bitch or something. I hate the ol’ lady moniker.” LOL I jokingly tell people that the only real reason to get married is so you can stop having to call your mate your boyfriend/girlfriend. Any ideas?

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      You make me laugh, Teri. I know what you mean about that “boyfriend-girlfriend” moniker. At a certain point in time, it sounds off… “Hunka-hunka-love?” Um, nope. Doesn’t work either.

      I rather like “he’s my man” and “she’s my woman.”

      Don’t ask me why. (I honestly don’t know!) ;)

  5. I am not sure what to say about the past and your divorce, and the pain that remains, except that I am sorry. And I am happy for your present relationship. It proves that there are always new possibilities.

    I believe you are absolutely accurate when you say that there is a certain stigma attached to being a divorced woman – even in this day and age. It’s wrong and I’m sorry. Frankly, I think single women frighten insecure married women. I don’t think the stigma attaches to men (unless they are divorced several times over – and even then I’m not sure). Unfortunately, double standards still exist.

    A ring. I think it made all the difference in the depth of our commitment to our marriage and each other. We have been married thirty-two years. Icky personal stuff coming – I was pregnant at the time and that is what pushed us to the alter (ok, the mayor came to the house and married us). We had dated for seven years before that. There were a couple of very difficult times over the course of our marriage, and divorce came up twice. But we decided together that we didn’t really want that for us or for our children. I didn’t give my vows a second thought when I took them. I think they grew on me. I became more committed to them over the years.

    Joining our two families “officially” did not create a stronger bond. We both came from divorced families. It was always a challenge deciding who to invite to what, who to visit for holidays, etc. We made every effort to do our best with the extended families.

    I think that sometimes both my husband and I take our relationship for granted, because it is comfortable. That isn’t to say we don’t work at it every day. We share the same values, but we are two very different people. I never assume my marriage will always be there (remember my ‘runaway father’).

    I can’t say if I ever became single or widowed that I would marry again. I also can’t say that I wouldn’t.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      What thoughtful comments, Robin. Thank you for taking the time to share all this. Personally, I believe that the more we explore what works and what doesn’t, even though every couple is different, the more ideas we’ll have about what to try in our own relationships. Also, it’s reassuring to know that everyone goes through troubles, and some come out the other side.

      I’d like to hope we can learn from the lessons of those who come out the other side, as it sounds like you two did.

      As for my marriage and my divorce, I learned a great deal from both, and the years since. And I have two incredible kids – funny and grounded – and I hope, only minimally scarred. That’s the worst of it. We simply don’t ever know what scars they carry from our presence and our absence, our acts and our omissions.

      But we all have scars. None of us has an “ideal” family situation. We do the best with what we have, and depending on the day – we see the good in so much of it, and that overshadows the harder times.

  6. Must admit, “man” and “woman” are probably the best options so far (ol’ lady being a variation of that) but still just not on the mark.

    It is hard to decide to divorce. For a couple of reasons. Yes, it devastates the children. Even in the best cases. And I don’t use the word “devastate” lightly. And also (in my case anyway), I had to be okay with not being the “good woman who stays with her man no matter what” any more. And I must say, I’m a much happier woman today. Losing THAT stigma was the best thing to happen to me.

  7. I miss wearing my ring. I feel like I’ve forgotten something very important. It breaks my heart and is one of the things that is a constant reminder of my situation.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      That one took me a long time, Cathy. Rubbing my thumb on the back of my finger, where the ring had been. I think it was two or three years before I stopped doing that… It’s hard, even when it’s relatively civil. I hope you’re doing okay.

  8. When I married the father of my children, it was the thing to do. In those days, a couple did not simply “live together”. As I grow older, I lean more towards the belief that marriage is simply the legal thing you do when you have made a commitment, for reasons that have more to do with health insurance, the disposition of belongings in the event of death of one of the spouses, than it has to do with true commitment. Perhaps in the days of our parents (for those of us who are no longer 20) the legal document held couples together who might have gone their separate ways without it. Or – just possibly – those marriages back in the 30s and 40s and 50s and before and after those years lasted longer because women simply could not support themselves and their children. What I am saying here is that I do not think a legal function increases a commitment or bonds a family more tightly or any of those things. When my husband dies, I shall not marry again; then again, I do not even care to have a relationship any greater than a friendship because for me, at this age when sex no longer matters, friendship is the most precious thing in the world.

    I hope some of this makes a little bit of sense!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      It makes sense, Carol. And those practicalities – health insurance for example – these days, that’s pretty important.

  9. Sweetheart and I lived together for 4 years before legally marrying. We had a cat, dog and bought a house a few months before our wedding—which was a traditional event that was already being planned when we bought it.
    I think rituals and symbols hold power and thus they are important. He was my first and I felt married simply by cohabiting. A few hundred years ago, that might have been enough to legitimize a marriage if there was not an available clergy—a ceremony would be performed later, but the relationship prior to the ceremony still considered valid.

    So for those who are cohabiting, why not have a ritual of some sort?

    I think it’s sad that our culture has discarded so many important rituals of life passage. The wedding ritual is not merely about announcing commitment to one another—let’s face it, love and that sort of commitment are new to the bond; marriage was a social and legal contract that had nothing do with love—which was a lucky byproduct if it was there.

    The wedding rite is a rite of passage from youth into adulthood. That shouldn’t mean we don’t have other rites to adulthood. Having a mate should not be a requirement for us to consider a person mature. And these days we encourage waiting until a person is a bit further into adulthood before marrying, so the ritual may need some revising.
    But why no ritual of commitment? Make your own ritual—an affordable ritual, but one that has meaning to both of you. Isn’t that more about commitment than getting caught up in the culture of the big wedding?

    Does getting married by a minister have to include the legal part? Why should it? We have a separation of church and state.

    An older couple—maybe two who are widowed—may have reasons of pension and leaving inheritance to their children to maintain, but they may want to feel legitimate—depending on their beliefs. So why not have a minister marry you, so you are “right” with God, but forget the Justice of the Peace?

    For the younger couples who would choose that route—which is fine—ask why though. Is there a lack of trust? Do you fear that it will end and you will lose your financial security and possessions? Then why are you marrying that person? Legal marriage is for those who are willing to do the work to keeping up their commitment so that they are also protecting their personal and communal assets. What are the legal advantages and disadvantages of marriage? Clearly health benefits are advantageous and some tax benefits. Next of kin rights—can a person have those legally made up through a lawyer without legally marrying, that would see fair.

    I think a committed couple has the right to call themselves spouses—husband and wife—if they are committed to their union—regardless of its legal status. Maybe that would do away with the idea of a permanent engagement, without every marrying.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      As usual, Rollercoaster, you give us much to think about. We seem to have accepted a very limited number of options as the “norm,” when the variations – in reality – are greater.

  10. Is it possible to just buy a ring that you love and wear it to alleviate the “empty finger syndrome?” I have purchased a few rings that I wear on that finger and I especially enjoy them because they are mine. For me. From me.

    Also, the health insurance issue is largely resolved in that most companies accept a domestic partner as equal to a spouse. As for the law and possessions and who will have a say in decisions that need to be made in the event that you are incapacitated, that can (and should anyway) be taken care of by having a living will.

    In truth, practical reasons for marriage essentially no longer exist. It’s almost entirely traditional.

  11. All excellent and thought provoking points, Rollercoaster.

  12. I love it that people can get together and share so that the limited options we have learned to accept are expanded. Freer minds create freer spirits. (Is freer a word? lol)

  13. Yup!

  14. sheila in S.F. says:

    Fascinating comments and opinions on marriage and divorce. I am a widow so I welcome the different points of view. I can relate to the widow who never married. I was married 37 years to the only man I ever loved. You miss the love, and companionship more than anything else but it is difficult to think of being with anyone else, even at times when you long for a warm friendship. Fortunately, we had three children who are a very an integral part of my life and the fruit of my marriage.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Nice of you to stop by and join the conversation, Sheila. (And happy mother’s day.) It sounds like you shared something wonderful. I think we can all learn from these good relationships and good marriages. I wish we heard more about them, and what made them work so well. I hope you’re spending the day with your kids!

  15. Ms. Ambivalent says:

    Interesting discussion. Unfortunately, in my midwestern U.S. town, most employers do not recognise domestic partnerships for insurance or other company benefits. So there is still a significant ‘practical’ reason for marriage.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Yes. For too many of us. And when no one in the family has an “employer” who partially subsidizes the expense of (group rate) health insurance – or life insurance and disability, for that matter?

      Thanks for stopping by, Ms. Ambivalent. (Hope you’ll pop back more often!)

  16. Marriage for my husband and me was important to us as an affirmation of our commitment to each other, but we did weather years of a long-distance relationship first. Marriage celebrated the end of that challenge more than it cemented our bond — we’d had to work actively on maintaining that connection to make the distance work. What I didn’t expect and only understand after several years now is that marriage also was a breaking of my own family circle, a designation of a new set of boundaries. It allowed me to put my husband’s (and our) needs first in a way that they could (sort of) accept. Until we were married, they (very traditionally for Chinese culture) did not consider my not-yet-husband’s needs equal in consideration to my family’s needs — even though it meant our relationship had to stand up to more stress. It was a relief to shift that dynamic — though my parents still struggle with that whenever they rub up against it. I’m their first married child, so it’s a new experience for them.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I love that you raise this issue of adjustments for families, relative to marrying, CT – the fact that your parents had to respect new boundaries, once you “officially” had a husband.

      When I read your comment, I think of circles somehow, and for some reason, images by painter Hung Liu – circles being one of several leitmotifs in her work (I saw a beautiful show of hers several years ago). We are part of so many family circles. Their shifting and expanding makes for considerable adjustment. The breaking of one circle in the system can have widespread ripple effects as well.

      A very thoughtful comment, CT. Je te remercie, et j’espère que tout va bien.

  17. Bien sûr, BLW. Pour moi, c’est un sujet qui possède une importance personelle. Le mariage et la famille — les deux sont liés, bien qu’on veuille les diviser de temps en temps!

    Tout va bien. Je suis revenue des vacances en LA hier — là, j’ai (finalement) eu quelques jours pour lire les autres blogs :). Heureuse d’être chez moi encore.

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