A sideways love letter to my partner and a dismantling of assumption
It is jarring what memories resurface when you start contemplating patterns in your own life. As I was manifesting this piece, an image of my mother was resurrected in my consciousness. I am 12 years old or so. She is middle aged, divorced, and attempting to date (around work and children and health challenges). I remember her putting on a ring on THAT finger. A piece of cheap, costume jewelry that would pass for the real thing, if needed. She said something to the effect of wanting to go out and be left alone.
We signal through our clothing and body appearance. Sexuality, wealth, religion, ethnicity, relationship status, political opinion and social unrest. Dress is a form that can be manipulated for social cueing of these characteristics as well as creative expression. We all do this, knowingly or not, within the confines of our privilege. As a high schooler, I played with dress and appearance explicitly. Submerged in teenaged angst, I shaved my head, dyed the bit of hair I had rainbow hues unnatural for human hair. I wore grunge with heavy boots, accessorized by my lip-curl scowl and piercings I acquired by lying about my age. Challenging the overculture in the way most suitable for teenagers – through my appearance, I was pissed off by the mundane and the apathy and wearing my anger literally as my sleeve (“don’t these people CARE ABOUT ANYTHING? THE WORLD IS DYING”), all while expressing my Self and my need for body autonomy and freedom of expression. I still smile, self-satisfied, at the looks some of the adults gave me in the middle of suburban Ohio.
My dress and signaling are more subdued now, in middle age, preferring dresses with pockets though leather boots are still my footwear of choice and piercings and tattoos are visible, though more socially acceptable now than decades before. What seems to get side-eyed and questioned the most though is my choice to not wear a wedding ring. I have been asked about it directly by acquaintances and have been told that by others that they knew I had “marriage problems”, presumably from this signaling choice of mine. Not wearing a ring has been a slow shift over the past seven years. I realized I could not explain myself in the expected 30 second sound bit, that this explaining myself, never required but always a good practice in awareness, would take time…….
My marriage is great, possibly the best it has been in years. In late 2019, we will have been together 20 years and married 15. The way Love looks and is defined over that course of time shape-shifts, it is not the gasoline fire of a 3 week old romantic relationship but solidity, dependability, and the rootedness of companionship. And our familiarity allows a deep understanding. Sometimes he anticipates what I will need before I do. He is incredibly supportive of me, reading all of my writing (exhausting work), gifting me with child-free time so I can work on my Self or one of my projects, always checking in and asking questions. These are things that feed me, and he knows this. We are different from each other in superficial ways, friends have even told me they were surprised by him after knowing me. Those polarities, however, give each of us our own spheres of self-hood as well as complementarity. We fill in each other’s’ gaps instead of reinforce them. I rarely post about my partner on social media, preferring to give him the respect of privacy, and keeping what is most dear to me unappropriated and for my Self. He is not my other half, as I have always been a Whole, but he is one of my dearest friends and my life partner. (What was that about marriage problems?)
I have an engagement ring and wedding band. It is an antique looking white gold set with a tear drop diamond. I stopped wearing these in graduate school, out of ethical concerns for how diamonds are harvested. I did not want to participate in confirming and perpetuating use of that stone as standard, which felt extravagant and unnecessary. Further, diamonds don’t serve well when worn in healthcare, my professional field of training: They can cut a patient or a medical glove and have tiny, multifaceted surfaces, great for collecting and transferring germs. Instead, for years I wore 2 simple gold bands. In late 2017, early 2018, I stopped wearing the rings altogether, in rebellion on the standard social cueing, an artistic, social, and political statement. (Today, I wear a moon ring on my right middle finger, half-jokingly married to the moon in an orthodox tradition.)
It is not that I am bothered by the quick conclusions stemming from my doffing of my wedding ring, so much as it is that assumptions are made at all based on arbitrary social cueing. People want to be able to make quick decisions and assumptions, always, for everything. However, I don’t, and instead, I want to challenge this tendency. I want things thought of, processed, and slow. I don’t wear a ring, in part, for this reason – that definitions of my relationship status and all the interconnected components are life are so quickly made by a piece of clothing, a definition of me that hinges on my relationship to a partner, specifically a man. I am my own person and not some “other half”.
What assumptions are made by me being married or not? Any why? It is cheap, easy thinking, which I abhor. I understand that stereotype and bias come from the evolutionary need for categorization and quick decision. In-group/out-group binary thinking made survival easier. However, I am not one for quick assumptions and orient toward both/and thinking and complex, nuanced thinking and analysis. I like to spend time with ideas, people, feelings, savoring and learning from their identity instead of quick dismissal based on my filters. This is my word-weaver, creative mind working the slow medicine of social change for issues large and small. Notice my lack of a ring? – let’s talk about the political and patriarchal model of marriage, let’s talk about how we define love in our culture, let’s talk about the ecological harm of our clothing and signaling choices. Let’s talk……that is what my signaling is meant for, rings and beyond – personal consideration and collaborative learning and reflection.
Questions for the reader (for personal consideration and collaborative learning and reflection; there are no right or wrong answers):
- What assumptions do you make about people regarding their supposed signaling? What does that indicate about your bias? (ex. do you assume if somewhere is wearing a wedding ring, they are more “stable” or that they are heterosexual? Related: does wearing rings reinforce a heteronormative narrative?)
- How do you use dress or other cueing for social signaling? Do you feel restricted by the implications of those signals? If so, how have you challenged those restrictions? Do you feel fearful when challenging these restrictions?
- Do you recognize how dress and signaling can not only be an art form but also be deeply political? Particularly for marginalized peoples? Ex. The right to reclaim traditional wear; the right to be Seen as a queer person in fully bright, shiny, standout-ish dress; the right to wear what one loves if they have a body of size; the right to wear your hair in “natural” styles (such as an afro or locks). The body is political whenever one chooses to go against the assumptions of an overculture.
- If you are married and don’t wear rings, did you still feel a need for an outward symbol of commitment (ex. tattoo)? Was that symbol for you or did you feel the need for signaling based on cultural expectations?
For additional perspectives on why not to wear a wedding ring:
Blog written by AM, perfectly imperfect and with no claim to having it “all figured out”. We are all on our own journeys, autonomous and singular, and yet, walking each other home. This material is copyright protected, please cite accordingly. For questions or collaborative opportunities, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org