It’s January 2019 in Baltimore; it’s cold and rainy, but I can remember no snow on the ground. It’s the day after an audition, and despite the bottle of wine my friend and I consumed together the night before, I’m still up early. After listening to The Daily podcast from the New York Times, a ritual of mine since 2016, and consuming my first cup of coffee from a cobber-adorned Concordia College mug, my friend is still asleep. I open up Netflix on my computer and watch an episode of Adam Ruins Everything about marriage. By the time my friend awakens, I’m ready to rant.
Even then, I knew I would eventually like to be married to somebody. Still, the whole business just smelled like a scam, and it was enormously affirming for both of us to have the wedding industry exposed by Adam. Because gender roles are thoroughly ingrained in our culture, getting married is still a bigger deal for women than it is for men. As children, my friends and I surfed the David’s Bridal website and created our dream weddings. To this day, I have a wedding ideas Pinterest page that my friend and I have added to over the years. It’s less Tangled-themed than it once was but still lightly Rapunzel-adjacent. It’s a beautiful (fake) wedding.
When American couples get engaged, the woman with perfectly manicured nails usually creates the social media post. It will probably be her most-liked post ever, at least until she has the wedding and then a baby. She could get the best promotion known to humankind or find the cure to all cancers, and that ring on her finger would still be the most celebrated milestone of her life.
Until the sexual revolution and feminist movement of the mid-20th century, a traditional American woman’s job was to get married and raise kids. Maintain the house and the children, and serve your husband unquestioningly. It makes sense that weddings primarily focused on the bride because marriage was the pinnacle of a woman’s life. It was the fulfillment of her purpose. Many women today continue to make motherhood the primary focus in their lives as stay-at-home moms and don’t get me wrong, I respect that because that is their choice– hopefully, no one forced them into this role. American women have many options at their disposal today, and I celebrate women who choose to be stay-at-home moms– they are empowered in their decision. There are so many pros and cons to having one parent stay home. The burden of that choice in heterosexual marriages often still falls on the woman, but again, more on that later. I can’t espouse all my opinions on feminism all at once, nor can I fully comment because I am not married, nor do I have children.
Despite a shift in gender norms, I still notice that in the weddings of heterosexual couples, there is much more emphasis placed on the importance of marriage in the bride’s life. Listen– that Pinterest board is waiting if I get married. I want to look ridiculously hot and take that ring photo, as long as my nails don’t look too crusty. My hair and makeup will be flawless, my bachelorette party fabulous, and the flowers will be pristine. I love a party– despite my commentary about the culture of weddings, do you really think I’d miss out on that if I could help it? Maybe I’ll be more emotionally invested in the wedding itself, but I’d like the marriage to be equally crucial for both of us.
Before you get too angry with me, I want to be clear that I’m not saying that getting married is stupid or overrated. Marriage is an incredible milestone and a celebration of a union, an equal partnership, between two individuals who want to build a life together. That is something to be celebrated. I am, however, advocating for two equal voices in a marriage that each bring something to the table– maybe more like two puzzle pieces fitting together than one person completely giving themselves over to the other person’s wants and needs—in other words, an actual union.
That’s not what was happening for our Frauenbild in 1840. She basically sings a hymn to her ring–an intentional choice on Schumann’s part–and vows to give herself over entirely to her husband. Yuck. BUT AGAIN, I’m not here to completely write off ol’ Robby or even Adelbert (ol’ Bert? What do you think?) because modern gender roles are entirely different from those in the 1800s. I can’t expect radical feminism from these guys. Anyway, she sings this hymn to her ring because she is a virginal woman who puts God first and her husband second, and becoming a wife is the premiere joy and duty of her life.
Listen, there’s some nice stuff in here. The beautiful ring reminds us of the love our protagonist shares with her future husband, the open celebration and acknowledgment of their intense feelings for one another. Love is beautiful, and an intention to stand by someone even after the honeymoon phase is admirable–something I think most of us, deep down, seek to have in our lives. But if our Frauenbild is a modern woman, this is just one significant milestone in her life and equally important to the man in question. She doesn’t serve him or cease to exist outside of him. Instead, she is enhanced and supported by his devotion, as he is by hers. Together.
Edit: this is a work of fiction and I am NOT ENGAGED!!! This is purely imaginative!!!
Four rings adorn my fingers. I close my eyes and imagine there are five. Picturing my dry, winter-worn hands and stubby fingernails, I gaze at my right hand. The first, a ruby class ring, catches the light and draws fellow graduates into my sphere. The second, an old costume ring representing my birthstone, glistens in wintry blue. On my left hand, I notice the third ring, an understated opal reminding me of my Grandma, which nestles on the fourth– a ring from one of my best friends. It simply says, “I am enough.”
There is a fifth ring curled up against those words. I know I am enough, and someone else thought so, too. It’s affirming, somehow–external validation and all. I am the same person, whether the ring is snugly fitted on my finger or sitting on a bedside table. It sparkles in every light; it weighs magnificently on my finger, golden and perfect. I’m proud to wear it, happy to show it off, and delighted to add it to the collection.
Welcome to the party, little ring. I didn’t become a whole person when I slipped on this precious ring. It’s merely another rung in my journey. Each of my rings reminds me of something I cherish: my education, my favorite color, my family, and my personal growth. And now, a new ring. This ring reminds me of the love I share, the union I’ve formed with another person—what a lovely reminder to have.