Call me old fashioned, and despite how I might have come across in my article The Cult of Marriage, I do actually want to get married someday. Just please don’t tell my mom I ever admitted to this because she is desperate for that someday to be tomorrow, and I don’t want to do anything to encourage her. That said, I really wonder if I can do it without having to give into one of the cultural practices in America I despise most: buying a diamond engagement ring. The idea of an engagement ring itself, I’m fine with. I get and appreciate the symbolism of it. It’s really just the natural diamond aspect that gets me.
Let me quickly state that I do not have anything against people who like this tradition or who have practiced it, including my parents, my sister and countless close friends. And I get that this is viewed by many people as something truly and deeply traditional, but that’s where my issues with diamond engagement rings begin.
The mostly American act of using a diamond engagement ring to ask someone to marry them isn’t traditional at all. What it is is a commercially manufactured practice. Prior to 1938, it was an occasional occurrence that someone would use a ring of any kind to ask someone to marry them. However, that all changed when the De Beers diamond company, in an attempt to reverse the falling market value of diamonds, came up with the idea of associating the rock with love. The “Diamonds Are Forever” campaign (perhaps you’ve heard of it) targeted both men and women and De Beers was able to make the diamond be seen as the only way to conclude a successful courtship. Diamonds quickly became a “necessary luxury” and a new societal standard that quickly took on the illusion of a cultural tradition was born. These ads have since been called the “greatest marketing campaign of all time.”
Add to this the fact that diamonds, are, in reality, not rare and shouldn’t actually be all that expensive, and I really have no interest in perpetuating this marketing gimmick. New diamond mines are being found all the time and more and more diamonds are constantly entering the market. The only reason they do not flood the market is because De Beers has created what is probably the most successful monopoly of the 20th century and owns just about every diamond mine in the world. With their almost complete lock on the diamond supply, they heavily restrict how many diamonds hit the market at a time. That’s right, somewhere in the world right now there is a giant room full of diamonds being kept off the market for the sole purpose of keeping the supply down so the prices stay artificially high.
And just to top all this ridiculousness off, this essentially worthless and useless piece of compressed carbon has caused so much misery and suffering in the world in the form of “blood diamonds” a.k.a. conflict diamonds. Many warring factions in Africa have found themselves at one time or another in control of one of the many diamond mines on the continent. They would sell these artificially valuable diamonds to dealers around the world to finance their bloody wars. While efforts have been made to curtail this, it’s hard to say how successful they are, but regardless, so much damage has already been done.
So I think I have some very good practical and even ethical reasons for not ever wanting to buy a diamond ring, but I also have some personal reasons, too. I genuinely resent the idea of having my love for my future wife measured by the size, cut, color and clarity of the piece of compressed carbon I bought her, and the sight of women jutting their fingers out for onlookers to stare at their rings actually sends chills through me. Sorry, it just does.
But with all this being said, it still comes back to one question: Can I get married without having to give in? What percentage of woman out there are willing to give up this “tradition” and face having to respond a hundred times over to their friends’ and family’s demands to “Let me see it!” with “He didn’t get me one.” I mean, I cannot blame a woman if she does not want to deal with the quizzical faces and endless questions that will all be laced with idea there’s something wrong with me or her or both. Or implications that we are poor, or I don’t love her enough or that we’re some kind of insanely alternative couple.
I’m also sympathetic to the fact that being proposed to with a diamond ring is something that gets deeply ingrained in women in our culture from a very young age and is something many have perhaps fantasized about regularly throughout their lives. I’m sure many dream of the day when they can show off their ring, put a picture of it up on Facebook or Instagram and will welcome any chance to show it to anyone willing to look. So while I think my dream woman would be someone who viewed diamonds the same way I do (because, like I said of Louis Vuitton hand bags in my Red Flags article, I think something like this can be indicative of a person’s stance on things like materialism and social status), I also concede a person’s desire or “need” to have a diamond ring might be outside of their control because De Beers’ indoctrination has been so thorough and complete in American society.
So, how about it, ladies? Would you be willing to get married without receiving a diamond ring or is that too big of a red flag for you? Are you willing to face the judgment, and awkward conversations that are sure to follow? Is this something you have truly ever considered, or is the idea of not receiving a ring something you consider outside of the realm of possibility?
Sidebar: One of our editors, Paul, raised a good point about all the other traditions that go into weddings like who pays or traditions related to other cultures like dowries and such. I’m open to a lot of things tradition related when it comes to weddings and my issue with diamonds isn’t the cost per se, it’s that it and everything surrounding diamonds and their value is made up (fake diamonds are actually the exact same thing but a fraction of the cost because of social stigmas). Other traditions at least come from something other than a company set to profit off it.