Wednesday, November 23, 2005

An Ideal Engagement

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I really do have conversations about my ideal engagement or wedding scenarios.


I really do.

These flights of fancy tend to be instigated by the news that a friend of mine has, in fact, become engaged and plans, therefore, to get married. It’s usual for me, then, to imagine myself in a similar scenario, just as I tend to consider what it might be like to share in the experience of an earthquake, a hijacking or the collision of my location on the earth with a meteor. It’s just a small further extension of the imagination to conceive of the possibility of getting engaged, and — every now and then — I employ my mental faculties in such fashion.


My latest conversation in this vein happened to be about rings. This conversation was instigated by the collision of two events: 1) the arrival of the news that two good friends of mine have become engaged and 2) the arrival of a jewelry catalogue.

‘You know,’ said my housemate, flipping through the overtly glossy pages, ‘there tends to be a relationship between the cost of jewelry and its actual appeal.’ She held up a picture of a particularly garish ring with a particularly garish price. ‘And the relationship is inversely proportional.’

‘I know! What is it with gold and diamonds? They’re very rarely put together in a tasteful or attractive way, and they’re obtained by ripping the earth to shreds.’
The conversation went on in this way for some time, as we discussed the specific aspects of (what we considered to be) the tacky design features of various rings. We also discussed the fact that we probably sounded like cynical, self-righteous, left-wing wankers. We considered this to be better than being vacuous, possession-obsessed, jewelry-flaunting destroyers of the earth. This confirmed our status as cynical, self-righteous wankers who were sitting at home, criticising a jewelry catalogue while their friends were out getting engaged in ways that actually had nothing to do with being vacuous, possession-obsessed or any of the other awful presumptions we were making.

Feeling that, if I was going to be cynical and self-righteous, I should at least also attempt to be open minded, I said: ‘There must be some appeal in this jewelry. Or people wouldn’t keep buying it, and other people then wouldn’t keep making it.’

Emily put her head to one side for a moment, maybe trying to see the rings from another angle. ‘I think it’s all part of sustaining a fantasy,’ she said. ‘Maybe the people who like these rings see them as a symbol that someone was willing to spend a lot of money on them, which, I guess, is a socially recognised sign that a guy is taking them seriously and is willing to make a commitment.’

I stared at the rings for a while. ‘Ah, the power of socially recognised signs,’ I said, then grinned to myself, my mind suddenly subverting the lyrics of a U2 song Love is Blindness. I looked up at Emily, a twinkle in my eye, and — pointing to another expensive ring that I knew she’d consider ugly — said: ‘Signs are blindness.’


Having reached the end of the catalogue and seeing nothing we liked, I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if, for your engagement ring, a guy chose something not because it was ridiculously expensive or covered in jewels, but because he knew it was exactly your taste. And — even better — if it was from a Fair Trade store. And — even better — if the money that he saved by buying that kind of ring, he then used to buy a whole lot of goats and cows and harvest crops and irrigation through TEAR or World Vision or something. How cool would that be!’

Emily agreed that it did, indeed, sound cool.

I know I sound like a ridiculous, annoying idealist … but, hey. Every girl’s got her dream.


The next day, I found a ring that came very close to the kind of thing I’d imagined.

It was $15.

I bought it on the spot.

Now — if I ever happen to be involved in that rare coincidence of discovering a person who’d like to spend the rest of his life with me and about whom I feel the same way — he’ll have a reference point.


When I got to work, I showed Kaitlin.

‘I bought myself a ring today,’ I said. ‘I got it because it reminded me of the kind of thing I imagine as an engagement ring.’

She looked at it. It didn’t send her into raptures. I think that’s because it wasn’t made of gold or diamonds.

‘It was fifteen dollars,’ I told her.

‘Fifteen dollars!’

‘Yeah,’ I said, and proceeded to tell her my about my desire for a guy to save money on my engagement ring and spend it on people in the world who could probably use it for things like food, shelter and water that wasn’t going to poison them to death.

‘But what about the fantasy of having a guy spend a fortune on you and wearing a big, fat diamond on your hand to prove it!’

‘I don’t have that fantasy,’ I said. ‘I have a fantasy of saving the world.’

Kaitlin looked at me in shock. ‘I have a fantasy of taking over the world.’

The moment was perfect.

We both laughed.


I’ll admit that I have a good deal of trouble trying not to be judgmental about all the things that seem to sustain the traditions that, in turn, seem to sustain the harmful things about our cultural and economic systems.

I can be too cynical.

I can be too dismissive of traditions that other people maintain with sincerity.

I don’t like this about myself.

But, still, every time I look at my reference-point-ring, I think about the possibilities for ‘subverting the paradigm’.

I know that’s still cynical, self-righteous, left-wing wanker talk.

Nonetheless, when I think about it, I smile.