I don't expect society to see it my way about marriage anytime soon—that it's a weirdly patriarchal institution, grounded in sexism, that keeps everyone from getting their bone on—but at least hear me out on the engagement ring.
The crown jewel of the wedding-industrial complex, the engagement ring is a tradition that should die, and I urge you: If you're thinking of getting engaged anytime soon, become a trend-setter on this.
The engagement ring began as collateral in case the guy didn't show up at the wedding, the idea being that at least the poor jilted girl at least had a fancy jewel to pawn. Then the diamond company De Beers got ahold of it, and suddenly it became a rite of passage. Now every young couple, just starting out, likely without a lot of spare money, must first waste a few grand on this weird, totally vapid bauble.
Speaking of De Beers, and in the wake of Nelson Mandela's death, let's connect some dots. One of the primary reasons the South African apartheid regime grew into the great racist scourge that it did was because of the Western appetite for diamonds, largely spurred by the company De Beers. Keeping native South Africans impoverished for cheap labor was the central goal of the South African/De Beers government. We've all heard about "blood diamonds," but the truth is the so-called "Kimberley Process" to keep conflict diamonds out of stores is a joke. As the journalist Jason Miklian exposed in an article last year in "Foreign Policy," the international diamond gemstone trade has all the moral integrity of a swap meet for meth-heads and pedophiles.
At least diamonds have very real industrial uses though (only 20 percent become gemstones). The other part of your engagement ring, the gold, has virtually no practical use. Its only function is as a BS adornment that causes enormous environmental destruction during the mining process. It requires cyanide, releases mercury into the air, and produces tens of tons of waste rock per 18-karat ring. At least diamonds can cut through stuff. Going to the ends of the earth to dig up gold makes about as much sense as harvesting Scott Bakula's semen. Sure, it's rare because there's only one Scott Bakula, star of "Quantum Leap," but so what?
Most importantly, though, is there a more ostentatious and absurd status symbol than the "size of the rock"? Ladies, are you not horrified that a measure of your partner's worth is supposedly how large a diamond he can afford? I don't sit in judgment of all the people, including many of my friends, who wear them. Hell, a few years ago I might have been in that position myself.
All I'm saying here is that this is the perfect tradition to put to bed, make the world an incrementally better place, and save a ton of money you can spend early in your marriage on travel, a big-screen TV, or a vial of Scott Bakula's semen. You know, stuff you can actually bond over.
RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."
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