When I was a little kid, I dreamt of getting married. Epic venue, white dress, adoring fans, Leonardo DiCaprio. In hindsight, I may actually just have wanted to be Claire Danes in Romeo & Juliet.
It wasn’t actually until I began to see one friend’s parents after another go through divorce that I began to question the origins of marriage and many of its corresponding traditions.
Despite my doubts, I didn’t actually come face to face with this internal conflict until my boyfriend of five years and I began to discuss the next steps of our relationship. I loved him, but I struggled with the pageantry of “officiating” relationships and their unfortunate roots in inequality.
Fraught history aside, what actually irked me more than anything was the one-sided nature of engagement rings themselves. The fact that the power and initiative rested with just one partner rubbed me the wrong way. If my partner is the giver, I am, by fault, the receiver – which doesn’t really set us up for a future of equality. I’m in charge of my life, I’m in charge of a company – why should I take a passive role when it comes to my engagement?
On top of that, there are roughly a million ways that marriage exacerbates outdated sexist traditions. Whether it was your family quite literally putting a price on you via a dowry or bride price or being treated as tool for political negotiations, I knew that simply mimicking an outdated ritual could prove problematic for me.
Thankfully, my partner wasn’t committed to the idea of a repeating old traditions either. Not only was he less than thrilled about shouldering the burden of a “three month’s salary” purchase, but he also struggled with the notion of rings acting more as symbols of wealth than affection. If this gesture was meant to symbolize our knowledge of and love for one another, he wanted it to hold a more special meaning.
After many long chats, we eventually agreed that a ring wouldn’t work for us.
Jump to a few months later, when I opened the front door of our apartment to find my boyfriend sitting at his keyboard surrounded by candles. There were flowers. There was wine. There were waffles (#key). He started to play “Our House” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on the piano and proceeded to get down on one knee. Before I knew it, he was reaching under the couch and pulling out a 28-inch tempered steel Japanese sword in a blood-red scabbard.
Odd for some, maybe – but as someone who constantly envisions herself as a warrior (at the gym, while traveling, in my company, while watching Game of Thrones, on our recent trip to Croatia), it suited my personality more than any other object I can imagine. I’ve also been low key fascinated by Japanese culture for ages, so the specifics of the gift made a lot of sense for me. I was both surprised and comforted. Sure, the traditions of marriage weren’t something I was exactly gung-ho about, but spending the rest of my life with someone who understood my personality well enough to pick the perfect gift to mark the pageantry of the proposal? That, I could get behind.
Would I spend the rest of my days with him?, he asked.
I nodded. Yes.
I have no use for a ring. But a sword? Don’t get me started. Sure, this thing isn’t sharpened, but I’m pretty sure it would still make a dent if I needed it to. Worse case scenario, I just keep using it to aid my 5’2” self when knocking things off of high shelves or reaching my phone when I don’t have the energy to get out of bed. (I’m basically a knight.)
Our parents and close friends were thrilled on the whole, but that isn't to say that I haven't heard the expected, "Wait, no ring?”and “Are you crazy?” from my dear Jewish grandmother and "But, you want a ring, right?" from my closest friends. Not to mention the constant eyes that dart down to my finger when the topic comes up. Overall, though, once they realize that I’m happy, those who love me are happy – so it’s been a really positive experience (and fantastic conversation point) overall.
When it comes down to it, I want my symbol of commitment to reflect my reasons for commitment. I am devoted to a partner who supports me, who listens to my concerns, who makes me stronger, who encourages me to be independent and loves me for it. Sure, in the end, getting attached to any object is a little silly, but can anyone really argue with a sword?
Not this human.
Alexandra Fine is CEO of Dame Products, a company that translates the nuances of our sexualities into human-friendly toys for sex. Fine aims to start necessary conversations, to listen rather than to assume, and to create products that enhance intimacy.