Tuesday, November 9, 2010

...On Rings and Bling and Real Things

Celebrity status is habitually defined by its influence on society's average Joe. The lower echelons deify the upper, and the upper echelons dutifully perform for continued deification. Vicious cycle and tax bracket differentials aside, who doesn’t welcome a little adoration now and again? Still, it amazes me how obnoxiously we follow our celebrities. I have no idea why I’m amazed by this given the human herd mentality, but I am. We ogle paparazzi shots, maliciously gossip over tabloid fodder and Twitter profusely about celebrities – their lives, their loves, their families, fashions and foibles. But, there’s a problem with this superfluous adulation. It fosters totally unrealistic, real-world expectations. We want what they got whether we can afford it or not. (Hmmm…shades of Obamanomics, but that’s a whole other topic.)

Recent case in point: St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, Brad Penny proposed to his Dancing With The Stars girlfriend, Karina Smirnoff. She’s a professional dancer on the highest ranked popularity contest in the country. He’s got a multi-million dollar contract so, of course, he can afford to drop $95K on a platinum-set boulder. While I sincerely wish the couple a lifetime of happiness (really, I do), it galls me that Smirnoff is sporting ice worth half my mortgage value. (Notice, I said mortgage value, not home value.)  I suppose that’s my fault for marrying poor and divorcing poorer. Twice.

But I digress. Here’s my real beef. How many OMG-tweeting girls out there just itching for a hitching will be dropping Karina’s bling as a most unsubtle hint to their steady beaus? How many of those hapless, shell-shocked guys will be shuttling their IRAs into off-shore accounts and heading for the far reaches of the galaxy to avoid their over-expectant girlfriends?  Worse yet, how many of these poor schmoes will plunge themselves into lifelong financial ruin in a futile attempt not to disappoint their bridezilla-to-be?

Exactly what expectations are being established between a couple – blatantly or subliminally, celebrity or not – when two bedrooms and a bath are weighing down her left hand and his wallet?  First comes the overpriced ring, then the over-the-top wedding, then the overinflated mortgage followed by the overindulged 2.3 kids…and a dog. All that’s the “for better” stuff. What will you expect from him – from each other – when the “or for worse” stuff arrives? Hmmm?

Since the early 1200's, Western tradition dictates that a man offer a gift, often a ring, to a woman in exchange for her promise to marry him. Nice tradition for claiming property and only slightly less proprietary than the feudal bride price. Reminds me of branding cattle. Anyway, according to my web search, this whole ring thing began in Rome. Not until the late 19th century were gem-bearing rings popularized as contractual engagment symbols. Diamonds didn’t outgun other gems until the 1930’s when they were purchased, primarily, as depression-era investments.  The family dower, if you will.  Before that, engagement gifts were exchanged by both parties and could have been anything; jewelry, cutlery, or even a pair of blue satin Manolos.

Puritanical lovebirds opted for a sewing thimble as the betrothal gift of choice. How romantic and practical, too! Branding by subservience! Historically, premarital expectations were established by religious dogma and were, well, reasonable. My feminist friends are probably dry-heaving about now, but remember; life, love and relationships were much, much different before diamonds were a girl’s best friend.

Look, kiddies, take it from one who knows. Marriage is hard enough without burdening entry into the union with undue debt, especially now.

My recommendation?  Celebs, since you are forced role models, be so in all aspects of life, not just on the ball field or dance floor. Stinking rich or not, at least try. Commoners, forego the celebrity-sized expense and keep your two bedrooms and a bath. Settle for a carport and drop a garage’s worth on her finger to start. You can always upgrade to the condo-sized rock later after you can actually afford a stone equal in value to real estate. Come to think of it, in today’s post-meltdown economy, that doesn’t really amount to much, does it.

Try this.  If your paramour truly-ooley is “The One”, recycle grandma’s diamonds. It’s an ecologically sound option.  It's far less costly. And you have no politically incorrect, “conflict diamond” consternation. All of grandma's gems were conflict-born and the statute of limitations has expired. Besides, it just might instill a deeper sense of commitment between the two of you because of its family heirloom status.

If it seems like this hopeful romantic is waxing romantically ambivalent, I am. Still, I suppose something precious should be exchanged when popping the question. Truth be told, I really do prefer jewelry. Face it, chicks like bling and I am a chick.  Jewelry is a nice deal sealer. But remember: Bling is pretty. Bling is shiny. Bling temporarily blinds us to the true reality of marriage.