I used to be so proud of my wedding ring. I never took it off, not even in the shower. That little piece of metal validated me. It helped me feel cool and mature, worthy and wanted. I felt like, “Yeah, see this? Someone liked me enough to put a ring on it!”
(Only I got engaged in 2003, which was half a decade before “putting a ring on it” was, like, a thing.)
Now it’s 2019, and my ring has lost its mojo. Maybe it’s that I’m in my late 30s and I feel so much more confident and comfortable in my skin. Or maybe it’s that we’ve been through the pussy hats and the #metoo movement. Or perhaps most of all, it’s that in the course of my years as a couples’ therapist, I’ve seen that a wedding ring means diddly-squat when it comes to honesty and betrayal.
I’ve seen couples in my office just days after an affair has been discovered. One of them is heartbroken with a dash of rage; their world has flipped upside down and the ground has fallen out from underneath. The other is consumed with shame and confusion. Both have rings on their fingers and the partner who strayed had never taken the ring off.
You see, infidelity happens with the ring on.
It offers no protection.
A ring won’t keep you from enjoying the attention of your cute coworker. It won’t prevent you from responding back to that message from your high school sweetheart. It won’t make your neighbor less interested in you and it won’t make that person you just met less likely to sleep with you. It doesn’t work the way you think it will (or should?).
That circle of metal can’t prevent a third person from coming right in between the two of you. The bling on your partner’s hand doesn’t compare to the sparkle in his/her eye when their phone dings with a text from their new friend. A ring on a finger loses its luster when it’s competing with the admiring gaze of another.
From where I sit, wedding rings are pretty meaningless. Yes, the ring shows you took vows, but it says nothing about your level of commitment to those promises. It says someone out there calls you “husband” or “wife,” but it can’t speak to how much of a priority that partnership is to you. It is your feelings and actions that prove whether or not fidelity is important to you.
And so one day, I took my ring off. I put it in the little zipper pocket of my purse.
At first it was just an experiment to see how it felt. I never expected it to feel good, and I never expected it to last longer than a day.
But the longer time went on, the better it felt. It felt like freedom and independence and maybe even feminism.
And it has nothing to do with differences in how I’m being treated. I have received not one ounce more attention from outsiders. I’ve lived lots of years with a ring on and a few weeks without it; there has been absolutely no difference when it comes to being hit on or getting attention.
What also hasn’t changed a bit is my commitment to fidelity. I’m no more likely to be willing to cross the line or break boundaries than I was with the ring on. It’s actually possible I’m feeling even more committed, in that I’m aware I may be perceived as available. I’m ready to say I’m not interested the minute the opportunity presents itself.
What has changed is that I am feeling genuinely independent. I walk through the world outside my home with more levity and yet also more responsibility. I’m defining myself by my own actions, not by my attachments, not by my role as a wife. You see, I am plenty more than my married-dom. I am way bigger than being a partner to a man.
I’ve taken something that used to be public and I made it private, and it feels better this way. Being married isn’t a secret I’m trying to hide, but it’s also not my most defining characteristic.
The cherry on top is that being faithful now feels like an active, conscious choice instead of a side effect of my married circumstance. If the opportunity presents itself, if an attractive man comes on to me, I’m fully prepared to state my commitment to the man I love and respect, to the man I promised my fidelity. And it has nothing to do with the fact that we exchanged rings in a ceremony; it has everything to do with our bond.
I’m a strong woman who is in lifelong partnership with a man who is sometimes awesome and sometimes sucky (as we all are). Each day, I choose to honor the commitment we’ve made. I’ve decided to stop announcing that to the world because it doesn’t need to be announced. It doesn’t define me. It’s for me to know because it’s in my heart.
It’s time we start wearing our fidelity in our hearts, not on our hands.
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