Why The Ads For Christmas Engagement Rings Make Me Uncomfortable

a-duhhhhhIt’s not even December, but the “aggravating trends in holiday commercials” list is already filling itself out quite nicely, and right behind the chart-topping scourge of twee that is Pomplamoose has to be the surge in ads for diamond merchants like Jared, Zales, and Kay, all of which have decided that the best way for a man to celebrate the season is to put a sparkly ring on his intended’s finger. But all these ads are doing for me, a red-blooded American female, is solidifying my belief that that I never want someone in a relationship with me to feel like they have to “propose.”

I can already hear my mother asking me why I don’t like nice things. Take a look at this current ad for the mall jeweler Zales, and maybe you’ll see what makes me squirm?

Those of you who (like me!) have been engaged and who are straight women have no doubt been asked “how he proposed” by inquiring acquaintances, and those of you who (also like me!) just decided to get married and told inquisitive types that have no doubt been met with a bit of disappointment. Which is why in this montage, the men are all smiling smugly while the women freak out at the sight of the gems proffered them, or even just their boxes. The man acts; the woman reacts. It sets a pattern — and maybe provides some foreshadowing for the wild-eyed craziness that occurs in Bridezilla mode. (Perhaps the element of surprise occasioned by the proposal causes that strand of behavior to hit the ground running?)

Sure, a lot of how one views the decision to get married depends on how one views that old, weather-beaten institution. I have not been married but in my perhaps overly romanticized worldview I see an ideal marriage as a partnership, as a combining of two people who enjoy each other and respect each other and see each other as equals and who want to legally solidify that mutual love and admiration, and perhaps throw a party for a bunch of people they like as a celebration of that fact. But the whole notion of the “proposal” set forth by these ads, and other cultural artifacts celebrating it, is a more civilized/sparkly way of Tarzan forcibly throwing Jane over his shoulder. (Not to mention that in the current moment, the whole idea of the man in the heterosexual relationship being the only one who can afford a gemlike token of the sort offered by these shops is a luxury left to either the financially suicidal or the extremely rich. Although I should probably note that I’m also opposed to gross artifacts like that ring women are supposed to wear on their right hands to indicate that they are “available and happy,” because, yuck.)

This is not to say that I’m begrudging the happiness of people who proposed and were proposed to and were happy. Hey, knock yourselves out! But I think that the three months’ salary that would go toward a bauble would be put to better use when combined with the partner’s income over that same timespan, and put toward something that both people could enjoy — a house, a trip to the south of France, or maybe even the marriage celebration itself. (Oh, how much extra money catering halls charge when you utter the word “wedding” …) And the idea that said treat would be something mutually agreed-upon? Would make it only sweeter.