I’m the type of person that needs a reason for everything. The reason doesn’t always have to be pragmatic. It’s okay if the reason is rooted in tradition, culture, or religion, so long as I know what the roots are. From there, I can at least make an informed opinion on whether or not I agree. Even a cursory look into some age-old traditions that us Americans take for granted will lead you to some dubious history. If you don’t believe me, really take a look at Columbus Day and the history of Thanksgiving. You might learn some stuff you wish you didn’t learn.
Before I get into this, I’m going to say upfront that I’m not knocking anyone for wearing a wedding band. The whole reason I’m writing about this is because I’m genuinely trying to sort out if this is something I want to integrate into my life. Everything means something different to every individual and this is my journey to try and ascribe my meaning to wearing a wedding ring.
Anywho, as our big day approaches, it becomes time for me to choose to choose a wedding band. This band will be something I will have to wear for the rest of my life. Or, at least that’s was tradition dictates. Who’s tradition, though? Every source I looked up seem to concur that the earliest example of this tradition was in Ancient Egypt, ~4800 years ago. It then began to proliferate from there as Romans and Judeo-Christians traditions adopted it centuries after. If you want to read a brief history on wedding bands, you can go here.
It seemed to me that I may find some answers within religion. I was raised as a Muslim and my wife-to-be was raised Roman Catholic. That said, I started with Judaism because it is the oldest of the monotheistic religions. Surprisingly enough, neither the Kabbalah nor the Talmud require it. Any gift can be given the day of so long that it is a personal belonging of the gifter, and has a value over a certain amount. Over the years, it just became more customary for this gift to be a ring. If a Jew wants to wear a wedding ring, it has to be simple, with no jewels or engravings. For why this is and more about Jewish wedding ring tradition, check this out.
Going over to Christianity, we find that it is has been tradition for a long time, but was not really adopted until the 9th century or so. Here’s a snippet from the article I linked above:
It was not until about 860 that the Christians used the ring in marriage ceremonies; even then, it was not the simple plain band as we know it. It usually was highly decorated with engraved doves, lyres, or two linked hands. The Church discouraged such rings as ‘heathenish’ and, around the 13th century, wedding and betrothal rings were considerably simplified, and given a more spiritual look which was very aptly expressed by a Bishop when he dubbed it a “symbol of the union of hearts.”
So this leads me to believe that wedding bands are not inherent within Christian theology at all. If it’s something adopted almost a millennium after Jesus was said to have lived, I don’t think anyone can say that wedding rings are a requirement under Christianity. I’m not too surprised here since Jesus was Jewish and I would have assumed He followed the Jewish customary traditions of the time.
If we move to Islam, which is the religion that I was raised in, no males are allowed to wear any gold rings, for any reason. It is haram and not permissible under Shariah Law. You may wear silver rings, and it must be simple. Here’s the kicker though, it cannot be considered a wedding band for religious purposes. This is where it gets kind of hazy. Islam has something called bid’ah, which are “forbidden innovations.” Before people get up in arms about me double-talking in Arabic, this basically means that any religious norm or custom that is foreign or counter-intuitive to Islam are forbidden. So taking communion or believing in multiple gods would be going against being a good Muslim. Nothing too egregious here. However, the loophole is if the ring holds some sort of cultural importance. If the ring is tied to some cultural tradition that isn’t religious in nature, then it’s fine. For example, heirlooms like rings passed down traditionally on the day of the wedding would be acceptable. At that point, it holds some cultural importance and it isn’t necessarily a borrowed or foreign custom. So that kind of leaves me where I started, since if I decide to wear a wedding band, I wasn’t planning on it having any religious meaning for me anyway. I’ve mentioned on the podcast multiple times that although I was raised in Islam, I don’t practice currently. I still wanted to do my due diligence regardless.
Looking at the cultural aspect of it, I can’t think of a single family member, extended or otherwise, that wears a wedding ring. My parents never wore wedding rings. Indonesians generally don’t wear wedding rings although you see it occasionally. In light of what I’ve learned about Islamic tradition and given that Indonesia is 90%+ Muslim, it’s starting to make sense. This is why I’m stuck having to figure this out on my own, it’s not something that comes up in my family.
I can’t seem to find any reference to wedding rings having any significance outside of religious or traditional symbolism (at least in any way that would be relevant to me). Since no answers have been revealed to me on either of those ends, it seems to me that this dilemma comes down to my personal conviction.
After much thought and discussion with others, I’ve come up with a few reasons that I can’t buy into, and only a couple that I can. Here are a few:
Reasons I CAN’T buy into:
It’s tradition/religious. Meh, not quite sure that’s exactly the case as I’ve elaborated above. Furthermore, I don’t think people really want to use historical reasons for their wedding bands anymore. You don’t have to search far before you find references to “ownership” of the wife and the other incredibly chauvinistic and antiquated meanings that the ring historically entails. I purposefully did not go into depth on this aspect of it because of this reason. Plus, it doesn’t hold any traditional value in my personal family, so I can’t find it within myself to do it just because it’s a commonplace tradition. It will help to let people know that you’re married. I have no issues telling people that I’m married. If another woman wants to become romantically involved with me, it’s my responsibility to let her know that I’m not available. If you have an affair, does it really matter if your ring was on or off? I honestly don’t understand this idea that going out without your wedding ring means you’re any less married. Your fidelity is your personal responsibility. Own it. A wedding band is to serve as a reminder. I really don’t like this reason at all if I’m honest. I don’t use anything right now and I seem to have no problems with staying faithful. I must have incredible memory. Joking aside, I think that I just don’t like the idea that someone needs to be reminded that they’re married. It’s like taking any other oath. You’re volunteering your love and commitment. As in, you’re doing it out of your own free will. It kind of defeats the purpose if you need to be reminded. If you’re dealing with an arranged marriage, then that’s a whole different ballgame which is too complex to even touch in this article. It’s a symbol of your commitment to unity with your partner. This one is okay but I just can’t quite bring myself to fully buy into it. Ultimately, your actions are the symbols of your commitment. When you look at it that way, the ring itself as a physical manifestation of these sentiments seems to fall short. To draw an analogy, I’m sure it takes little effort for anyone to think of a person they know who is a complete dickhead but has something like a crucifix or an ankh or whatever somewhere on their person. The symbol means absolutely nothing without the accompanying attitude. That begs the question, “why have the symbol at all?”
Reasons I CAN buy into:
It’s a symbol of pride for your relationship with your partner. This is the only reason I’ve come across that I find acceptable. And I have to admit that I really like it. It’s akin to wearing the apparel to your favorite sports team or band. You just want to show off that you’re really into someone or something. In this case, it’s for your partner and the relationship you have built. I find this reason to be quite charming and endearing, as well as genuine. Another way to look at this is that it is an outward expression of your belief in the institution of marriage, which is also fine in my eyes.
Your partner wants you to wear it. There are 2 sides to this. If it’s something that is incredibly important to your partner and he/she really wants you to wear one, then I think it would be in your best interest to wear it, even if it doesn’t have any personal significance to you. This is part of the compromise that comes with marriage. However, that person needs to understand that you can never ascribe the same meaning to it as they do. It would be important to you only because they find it important. At that point, both parties just need to be happy with the final decision.
I know I’m in the minority and I’m sure this article has ruffled some feathers, but the real purpose of the post is to share some history with all of you and give some insight as to what it’s like being of a non-mainstream background. Conundrums like this have existed for me throughout my life and while I don’t feel like I struggle with it, I do see that most people are fortunate enough to not even have to think about stuff like this. Most people don’t even have it on their radar, and others simply take their traditions for granted.
Indonesian culture and American culture aren’t always easily integrated. Hell, that’s why they call it westernization right? The East has always been stigmatized for not doing things like the western world. Truth of the matter is, I know this is an ongoing thing for a lot of Asian-Americans. Do I default to my Asian roots, or do I defer to the American society in which I was raised? Some pick and choose based on convenience, and others (like me) have to dig deeper to find meaning.
Back to the question at hand, I know I’ll have a ring for at least the ceremony, but I haven’t really found much personal purpose beyond that. I might wear it the rest of my life, or I might even take it off before the reception. So, it’s still up in the air for me. I’m not married yet, so maybe I’ll be able to come up with a new reason through the actual wedding to help lock it down. I just have to continue to keep an open mind, in the same way as when I was doing this research. I know this is a bit of a crappy ending for this post, but I have to be intellectually honest.
If you think of any other reasons to wear a ring or any reasons that you wear a ring that I didn’t mention, be sure to comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope reading this article was as enlightening for you as it was for me in researching for it.