In that moment, we were doomed. Fate decided that wedding rings weren’t for us. The room erupted with laughter. My husband Phil was trying to jam a very small band of titanium onto his finger. Being the film fanatic that he is, he had to have a movie ring. So he went for a replica ring of the one in the movie 'The Abyss', the one that saves the main character’s life in dramatic fashion. With an almighty push, it was on. 'That might never come off!' the officiant giggled. It would be a perfect advert for her services. A lifetime of married bliss.
I at least checked my size before ordering online. After hours of trawling the internet, I found a perfect fit for £10 in a discount jewellery store – silver shaped into two feathers to wrap around my finger. I had wanted something more unusual than the plain band, and our wedding was happening at the oldest aviary in the United States. Hell, we had even invited a great horned owl to meet the guests. 'Bird' well and truly was the word.
As I didn’t really know many of our guests that well, we decided early on that our wedding would tell the story of 'us' and give people a flavour of my personality. Funnily enough, we scripted a video to show our guests that told a fictional story of our rings going missing. Our friend Henry, the most delightful ham on the planet, acted out the saga while telling the guests about our history. How we met, how we started our long-distance relationship, taking everyone right up to that moment when the wedding was about to begin.
Afterwards, the ring did come off and Phil always intended to replace it. In the early days I wanted to keep the tradition, and make sure he did too. People who didn’t wear theirs were surely up to something, I thought. Either up to something or just not bothered any more. We were married when I was only 22. We were living in Utah where I was practically entering old maid territory, so it was a comfort to be part of the club. However, as our post-marital money worries subsided my waistline and fingers expanded. The resulting discomfort broke my habit of wearing the ring daily.
Then my clumsiness started to come into play as another reason to ditch it. Phil had become the keeper of the ring and was much more in tune with its whereabouts. On the rare occasion I washed the dishes I’d yank it off in annoyance, and too often came close to being the cliché wife who drops her ring down the sink. I’ve never really been much of a jewellery wearer. A hoarder yes, I cannot pass up bargains let alone shiny, pretty ones. Actually wearing it requires organisational skills that I just do not have. Like socks, I have many earrings but no pairs. When I do have pairs of studs, one ends up getting stood on and bent out of shape. Necklaces don’t make it out the door around my neck either. I can barely get clothes together on time to leave the house, never mind coordinating non-functional pieces of decoration to throw on top of them.
What I’ve found interesting about ring politics is the reactions of others when they have the realisation that you are not playing the game. I’ll never forget the sincere look of concern in my mother’s eyes as she asked me whether Phil and I were having trouble with our marriage, gesturing towards my naked finger. Our culture tells us that if a married man or woman takes off their ring it is the marker of evil deeds or deep sorrow. As amusing as I found the situation, I can’t blame her for being worried. It’s a deeply ingrained tradition, like taking your husband’s surname. Although not wearing rings is normal to us, would I make that same assumption about the quality of others' marriages should they do the same? When I don’t see a ring, I subconsciously note that someone isn’t married and when I do I’ve been known to wonder what their spouse is like, how long they’ve been married, etc. So should I be offended when people draw conclusions from my own bare finger?
Last year I ran into a situation where I regretted not having the small metal status symbol on display. I was sitting on the window seat of the train, and an overly-interested stranger sat next to me. He proceeded to attempt to woo me on my quiet journey to work; blurting out compliments, asking where I worked and when I got off. I calmly tried to ignore him, considered calling someone just to not have to listen to him, then shrunk ever further into the window to find personal space. Maybe if I had a wedding ring on I could flash it and this would all be over, I thought. This theory was disproved when I mentioned my husband and he kept going.
The thought was still there though, that this thing I had disregarded for so long could be valuable in such a crucial moment – a talisman with the power to reject unwanted advances. I came to the conclusion that the right to call myself a feminist would end the day I wore a ring solely for this purpose. Needing it as a declaration that I could not indulge a new suitor because I was already owned by another was a miserable thought indeed.
During the Boxing Day sales my wanton consumerism got the better of me, and I bought a new temporary ring to see whether the tradition could be resurrected. Four years down the line the feathers one was now unbearably small. The new ring was cheap, so not a major loss if I changed my mind, and adjustable so the fit shouldn’t have been problematic. True to my previous criteria, it was individual – this time gold intertwined branches with delicate leaves. After wearing it for a few hours I thought: 'Yeah, I can do this. This is nice'. Fast forward to my arrival at the office, I’m taking my coat off and it catches. It pings off. My colleague gasps. I turn and look at her desk, and her bowl of salad. Relief! The ring is next to the bowl and not in it. Confirmation that plain rings are chosen for practical reasons and therefore more likely to prevail.
This incident could be a good or bad omen, I’m not entirely sure. Ultimately, I should not worry myself with what others think and do what I do best. Casually forget the ring and get on with my marriage. Everything we had to do to be together and stay together is far more symbolic than two pieces of metal.
Michelle Fisher was a delegate at a recent Young Scotland Programme