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Must She Do Everything? She Proposed. He Said Yes. Now What About A Ring?

A conflicted feminist proposes to her man but still wants a ring.  (Counselman Collection/flickr)MoreCloseclosemore
A conflicted feminist proposes to her man but still wants a ring. (Counselman Collection/flickr)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions via email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,

Steve

Dear Steve,

We’re engaged. I flipped the script and proposed to him with a white gold ring. Hooray for empowerment!

Here’s the story:

We had been dating five years, and the topic of marriage was a touchy one. He agreed several times that we were engagement-bound, but even still, we fought about it because I felt he was dragging his feet, and he felt I was putting too much pressure on him to propose. Anyway, I knew he was never going to propose (major follow-through issues), so I decided to break up with him...only I didn't want to, and instead, I proposed. He confirmed he did not have a plan in place to propose any time soon.

Imagine how happy I was when he said yes! We began planning our wedding immediately, and it’s in six months. He's not super-involved in the planning, but will participate when asked. Everything is pretty much set except the honeymoon location.

Here’s my problem: When I was planning to propose, I made my peace with the fact that it meant I was sacrificing my chance to have an engagement ring. I didn't love it, but I accepted it. Only, he said the next day that he wanted to buy me a ring. We even looked at them together online. It’s been four months, and I know in my heart that he definitely will not get me a ring (like I knew he wouldn't propose).

The thing is, now that it was dangled in front of me, I really want one. I want an engagement ring before the wedding takes place in six months. I can't stop thinking about it, and it makes me so angry that I don't trust myself to talk to him about it. I don't need a diamond, but I want him to make some romantic effort in our relationship. I’m also deeply ashamed of how badly I want this. (I'm a feminist! Diamond engagement rings are an invention of the De Beers company! etc.)

I don't trust my own feelings, but I am also deeply, viscerally hurt when I think about the situation. Am I wrong to be upset? Let's assume that he isn't going to get a ring on his own. Should I deal with it and move on, or is it worth considering ending the engagement?

Signed,

No Rock but a Hard Place

PHOTO

Dear No Rock,

I don’t think it’s really about the ring. I think it’s about the larger dynamic of the relationship, in which you take all the initiative and your fiancé will only “participate when asked.” Let me be the first to emphasize that marriage is too complicated and co-mutual a process for this kind of imbalance. Yes, of course, every relationship has a different set of power dynamics. For complicated but valid reasons, some people are simply more passive and/or ambivalent about commitment. They have to be dragged.

But at a certain point, the process of marriage (or any form of long-term commitment) requires more than solicited participation. Otherwise, I fear, you’ll be facing the same set of frustrations down the road — only this time about issues such as when to buy a home and whether to start a family and how to keep your marriage passionate and engaged. This, I suspect, is why you were ready to break up — because a part of you knew you were doing too much work to move the relationship to the place you needed it to be.

Your guy’s behavior around the engagement ring is just a reminder of the painful truth that this relationship isn’t giving you what you truly want, which is, to quote your own words, for “him to make some romantic effort in our relationship.” There’s nothing “anti-feminist” about wanting this. All human beings need to feel loved and desired, in particular by the person they choose to marry and/or make a life with.

It may sound like I’m suggesting here that you pull the plug on this engagement. I’m not. What I saying is that you tell your fiancé exactly how you feel. And not just about the ring he promised to get you, but about your deeper frustrations and fears, which have to do with whether he can make you feel truly secure and cherished, and whether he can be an active participant in the love you’re building.

Your guy’s behavior around the engagement ring is just a reminder of the painful truth that this relationship isn’t giving you what you truly want, which is, to quote your own words, for 'him to make some romantic effort in our relationship.'

That’s a scary thing to do, No Rock, but it’s absolutely essential that you express these feelings now, before you walk down the aisle and make a promise in front of all your people. You need to tell your betrothed the whole truth and give him a chance to react. And you have to be prepared to listen to what he has to say, which may challenge your version of the narrative. Your enthusiasm, for instance, may register to him as neediness and inhibit his more cautious sense of initiative.

What’s clear from your letter is that the two of you are swallowing too many vital feelings. And that, more than anything, needs to change. If you want him to give you that engagement ring (and what it represents), you need to be able to tell him that. If he feels resentful of emotional expectations that he’s frightened he can’t fulfill, he needs to be able to tell you that. But the prevailing pattern — he promises then withholds; you get sad then angry then suppress — is a recipe for disaster.

The risk in all this is that you’ll discover that you may have to turn away from a man who, despite his flaws, you clearly love. Then again, after more than five years of your pushing for more, your fiancé may need to realize that you’re prepared to walk away and go in search of someone who can do more than “participate when asked.”

Given how serious your misgivings are, and the stakes on both sides, I strongly suggest that you consider some sort of counseling — the goal of which shouldn’t be to “work things out” and proceed to the altar, but to provide a safe space where the two of you can sort through some of these complicated feelings without falling into old roles and patterns.

I’ll be thinking about you and hoping you find the happiness you deserve.

Onward, together,

Steve

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.

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