Friday, 9 July 2010

All That Glitters....

Screaming young ladies (and I even think I heard some men) ran to the front of the stage, poised with camera phones and digital cameras. Flashes of light were not comparative to the white of my smile and the excitement in my hubby’s eyes. Right then, I was living the dream, the Hollywood moment, the pinnacle point of all relationships…proposal.

With my ‘yes’, firmly announced to a room full of Christmas dinner guests, facebook status updated, text messages sent and screaming phone calls, the night of nights ended.

I slept that night with my hand elevated in the air, waking up sporadically to check if the cool precious yellow metal was really embracing my finger. And then the following day, a tirade of requests and sometimes demands to see the almighty ring came. There were nods of approval and smiles of silent disapproval. I struggled to understand why I cared about what people thought about my beloveds’ gift? What is that makes a proposal particularly the engagement ring, a point for public interest and discussion? These memories were hoisted to the forefront of my mind as a result of a conversation I had with my gorgeous girlfriends. The question rang around my mind with the rhythm and depth of a Bob Marley song: what’s in an engagement ring anyway?

Engagement rings are relatively a new concept; giving them as a sign of proposal only became standard practice in the 19th Century. Before then, people gave betrothal gifts as a promise of marriage. These gifts were often as simple as thimble, a gift most modern wives would use as a combat tool upon its presentation. Diamond rings weren’t widely introduced till the 1930s and that was due to some clever marketing strategies by De Beers (world renowned diamond miners).

These diamond mongers colluded with Hollywood movie weavers to feature the glimmering gemstone as the ultimate gift a man can give. Not satisfied with their subtle manipulation of film addicts, they also spoke to fashion designers to encourage them to speak about trends heading towards diamonds. So, there you have it. An age old trend was set; love drunken men working overtime for the polished rocks of the fat cat sunning himself in Monaco. All this and more makes me question the pressure that is put on men to scrimp and save to purchase a bedazzling ring.

I once heard someone say that a man ought to spend the equivalent of two to three months of his annual salary on an engagement ring. The sentence carried so much weight yet it was delivered so casually. I didn’t dare challenge it, since the person speaking virtually wrote my pay cheque. Had I been the man to purchase the ring, my wife to be would be getting a packet of Haribo Starmix rings based on my cashew nut salary. I digress. The point is, why should it matter how much is spent?

The way I see it, if a man decides to spend all his savings plus his overtime and that bit of cash he ‘borrowed’ from Grandma Jo on an engagement then, that is his decision. It is not anyone’s place to tell him otherwise, even if that is a Starmix ring. Surely, an engagement ring is an expression of your beloveds love and promise to you. It is not a showpiece for all to see. The actual proposal and the eventual marriage are better signs of a commitment. They are not comparative to the size or presence of crystallized carbon on your finger.

I get concerned when I hear young women pull out their criteria for their engagement ring. I raise my hands in surrender, that I too have been guilty of having such criterion. I soon realized that a man needs to be a man and insisting that my best friend goes along with him to select my ring, just doesn’t cut it. Sure, it’s great to have an idea of what you want but for me, it disturbs the dynamic when you make a ‘request’ like that.

Let’s not forget the value of the man; he has his own thoughts and desires. As much as the ring will belong to the wife-to-be, I believe it is also a public symbol of the husband-to-be. Indubitably, it ought to represent him as well since its cost is coming out of his pocket.

I also question being bought an eye blinder as I would struggle to justify carrying that amount of cash on my finger. I don’t doubt my self worth however, in the long term that cash could be better spent on a home, home improvements, accounts for the children, a business or just becoming debt free. Then again, you could take the ring as a deposit for: the hours of housework, the meals cooked and the ignored headaches that a future husband would receive. We could see it as a trade off especially, since very few people have a formal engagement ceremony where a dowry is paid.

I remember being seated with girlish nappy pig tails in my hair, flicking through the Argos catalogue with eager anticipation. Looking past the garden utensils and trampoline pages, finding solace on the intricate jewelry pages. Sure ‘Elizabeth Duke’ with its plum plastic boxes and faux velvet cushions, isn’t the cutting edge of jewelry couture but it fueled the dream nevertheless. I was never taken by diamonds, sure they sparkled but I wanted something unique and my hubby delivered excellently.

I was presented with a wonderfully crafted ring which truly represented my hubby. I know that my hubby didn’t sweat blood over it but, the fact he took his time to select the ring he felt most appropriate, matters so much. The fact that he was so eager to make his promise public, that he proposed with a ring a size too big because he couldn’t wait till my ring size arrived in the store; mattered even more. I’m grateful that we used our finances to fund our first year of marriage, agreeing to ‘upgrade’ ourselves on our 5 year anniversary.

This is for the men, an attempt to free you from the diamond hungering women that surround you. Allowing you to make the decision on how to express your promise to your beloved; Elizabeth Duke or Fraser Hart, the choice is finally yours. Sure you can ask her for suggestions but, remember that this is a symbol of you as well as of her. Don’t empty your bank account for the engagement ring unless you have millions to donate.

A true ‘new wife of old’ would have greater appreciation for an equipped home than for metal enveloping her finger. The truth stands that the size of a diamond or gemstone is NOT relative to the amount of love and commitment a man has for you. Contrary to popular belief, diamonds are only a girl’s best friend until there is trouble in marital paradise. That little transparent rhombus polished rock, gives little comfort for an aching heart.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

‘...and welcome to Britain’s Worst Wife.’

I sat for a few moments, utterly puzzled. I felt the same way when I watched Jerry Springer for the first time, wondering if people like ‘Shaneqwa’ really existed. You know the type of guest that felt bold enough to engage in a full scale girl brawl, knowing that they’d failed to secure their wigs with hair grips and glue.

The semi-balding presenter spoke with the kind of delight villains in superhero movies had, when explaining their evil plans. Husbands around the UK had nominated their wives for the accolade and the ‘lucky’ nominees had agreed to be part of the programme!

‘...those are grounds for divorce!’

My hubby shouted in utter disgust, as scenes of what possibly could have been ‘Britain’s Dirtiest Home’ were shown. Kilimanjaro sized mounds of dishes, coffee cups which frothed with mould; the nominee had simply refused to clean and rarely cooked. She even sent her children to bed in their school uniform so, that she did not have to get them ready in the morning! To think that I had felt guilty earlier about the paper carpet and the cookie crumbs I had created. Those ghastly scenes made me feel as clean as Mary Poppins.

‘Grounds for divorce’…I repeated the phrase. I rationalised that my hubby could only be joking because we both know that I am a far cry from the wives on Wisteria Lane. Sometimes the laundry basket competes with Mount Everest and a pile of correspondence often becomes a game of featherweight Jenga. Besides, we had made the vow ‘till death do us part’ and something as trivial as a dirty laundry couldn’t break us...would it?

What does that mean – ‘till death do us part’? What does it mean today? In a time when sportsmen and musicians are stripped of titles they’ve worked their entire lives for, is this vow still valid? The football industry appears to be awash with scandals and the media fuel their indignity with infidelity and divorce rumours. Someone needs to tell the WAGS* that they need to find strength in a higher power because it’s too much of a trend to be a pure coincidence. In some parts of the world where Zebras and Zulus are plenty (mentioning no names) they would have been whisked off to all sorts of priests and pastors for ‘deliverance’.
Philosophically it could be said that ‘death’ does not necessarily mean till you are six foot under. It could be from the moment a couple realise that their lives are on two different paths wanting different things. Until all signs of intimacy have disappeared and ‘Hussein’ the security guard at work knows more about your next step than your beloved.

Intimacy – the ability to step into each other’s soul, walk around their thought world and leave everything intact. In the words of those giant Smurf things in Avatar it’s the ability to ‘see you’. Its decline and sometimes unfortunate death can be a result of several things; overbearing personalities, infidelity, lack of trust...the list is endless. A marriage without this Columbus like exploration of souls is like KFC chips - tasteless and dry. The depth of conversation can determine the level of intimacy in any relationship. This can’t be taken as a golden rule as there are plenty of couples that do a lot of talking...talking about everything and anything else other than what lies beneath the expensive cologne and bronzing powder. True intimacy requires open hearts, that does not tie visitors to visas with terms and conditions – ‘don’t go there’... ‘you know I can’t talk about that’...conditions. Though it is hard to keep the barriers of entry open when discoveries have been treated unfairly.

Young in marriage and landing from honeymoon, I use to struggle to understand why people would divorce. But spending time with all sorts of married people – those enduring and those enjoying – my eyes and mind is wider. I have seen that sometimes for someone to step out, someone did not step up. When you have a need that someone is not meeting, it’s like your heart is aching and all that you want to do stop the pain. For that person if that means employing a vampire who sucks their financial line dry (a divorce lawyer), then so be it.

The day Michael Jackson died will go down in history. You’ll remember where you were when you heard the news and the sheer shock that swept through your musical database. I knew exactly where I was and how I stared at the TV screen, begging for Sky News to report that it was all a fabrication. I hung onto every word that the presenter delivered, pleading for her autocue to bear a different story. Not many will forget the day that Michael Jackson died but who will remember the day they heard the death of intimacy in marriage. There are marriages die silently every day; unspoken pains and joys, half smiles instead of full belly laughs, headaches instead of...

Call me old fashioned but, I take my vow literally.

We do what we can to ensure that we are not ‘the marriage walking dead’ and keep hope alive. Marriage is the life sentence in which the prisoners are bound by commitment and love. It is the most sacred form of community service that truly benefits society. It pains me to think of the end of the journey so soon after it has just begun but, I do. I have pictured that on the day our numbers are called, we’ll reminisce on wonderful years gone by and pronounce blessings on our children like the fathers of old. Grey haired and decoratively wrinkled, we’ll cross over to heaven hand in hand. To me that is the aim, the dream, that’s till death do us part.