An Enduring Commitment, Wedding Ring or Not

I don’t wear my wedding ring anymore. I haven’t for the last 20 or so years. I’m not divorced, nor do I plan to be anytime soon. After 47 years, I haven’t outgrown my marriage but I have outgrown my ring.

No amount of exercise reverses the flabbiness in my fingers. My gold band, size 7.5, now fits loosely on my pinkie, an odd and unwelcome placement.

With each anniversary, my ring-less hand looks barer. My husband Steve’s gold wedding band doesn’t fit anymore, either, even though he’s tall and trim. I never really worried about what other women might have thought about his marital status. Should I have?

“Do you miss wearing a ring?” I asked him.

“I haven’t thought about it,” he said.

For 10 years I’ve given blatant hints that I’d like a new wedding band for my birthday. Every year Steve shows up with chocolates. Why isn’t he listening?

I express growing annoyance to friends. Their advice: “Buy your ownring!”

Perhaps Carl Jung was right. He theorized that a wedding ring symbolized the self, the unification between the androgynous parts of our psyche into the highest state of being.

No one questions why I stopped wearing my ring, but they gasp when I tell them how long I’ve been married. I joke I was a child bride. I was 23 in 1975; Steve was 27.

We bought our rings at a small jeweler on Christopher Street in Manhattan’s West Village. I selected a yellow, pink, and white gold band fused together as one. In Judaism, it’s a symbol of honesty, purity, and a binding act. My husband chose a thick, gaudier design. We were young, gold was cheap; we believed our rings were as unique as our passion.

On mine, he inscribed, “I love you U-Bet.” On our third date, I’d shown him how to make egg creams — only with authentic Brooklyn-made U-Bet chocolate syrup. A sweet sentiment with a double entendre.

Wedding rings stem back to the ancient Egyptians who believed that there was a vena amoris, Latin for vein of love, in the left hand’s fourth finger with a direct route to the heart.

There is no evidence in the Bible linking wedding rings to religious significance. Greeks believed the circle was a perfect shape, a metaphor for timelessness. Jews have been united in seamless, unadorned wedding rings since medieval times.

My mother, a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Poland, had an impromptu wedding in her family’s Jersey City, N.J., living room. For all I knew she was married with a paper ring cutout. She grew up in an orphanage in Jersey City, N.J., until her teens when she moved back with her mother. She married into the middle class when she met my father, the son of a widowed Prussian immigrant, on a public tennis court in Brooklyn.

Their first born, my brother, got engaged in dental school. My mother gave him her small diamond ring, which she received from her mother, as a “loan,” telling him, “When you’re successful you’ll buy your wife a ring of her own.”

He never returned it. Decades later my mother treated herself to a bigger diamond than the one she’d regretfully given away.

I never had a solitaire diamond. Steve was on a budget and gave me an aquamarine, set in a cocktail ring setting, which was popular in the 1950s but not my style. Referred to as the breath stone, aquamarine symbolized tranquillity, youthful vitality, and hope.

My husband and I met on a blind date in August 1974. He taught me to cook and introduced me to foreign films. I fell in love watching him order espresso after dinner.

One afternoon, while out with married friends, we couldn’t stop smooching. Our friend remarked, “If I had a nickel for every kiss, I’d be rich. When are you getting married already?”

That night, Steve asked, “Do you think we should?”

I nodded. “You?”

It was quotidian, unromantic. We kissed enough for a roll full of nickels.

A photo of the writer and her husband on their wedding day in 1975.Credit…Desiree Rios/The New York Times

At the wedding, on Aug. 17, 1975, my brother Jay, the eldest of two older brothers, bribed his 5-year-old son, our ring bearer, urging him down the aisle. When he reached the huppah he turned around and shouted, “Daddy! I did it!”

Unlike modern Western world customs, the ring was traditionally placed on the bride’s right index finger, dating back to the way ancient Jewish and Roman oaths were pledged. We’d done it wrong!

Take this ring till death do us part.

I took it. I can no longer wear it.

I’ve always loved my wedding ring, but eventually stashed my aquamarine engagement ring in my jewelry box, nearly forgetting about it. During pregnancy, my wedding band felt tight. I used soap to ease it off. My friend Danny, a diamond dealer, claims the best method is Windex. Years ago I had it stretched. Now I ask Danny to stretch it again. He warns, “There’s a risk of the band cracking if I try.”

The more I pine for a ring, my husband remains nonplused.

I probe again, “Why don’t you wear a ring?”

This time he contemplates. “I don’t have to wear one to prove how much I love you. Plus, you weren’t wearing yours.”

I glance down at my hands, which have begun to look like my mother’s. She complained they were short and stubby. Why hadn’t she waited to give me her diamond? Would she have?

“If you give a diamond to a son, and that marriage ends in divorce, the diamond disappears from the family line,” Danny, my diamond dealer friend, said. “But a daughter will always have it to pass on.” We have one daughter, now 27.

The only piece of jewelry I wear is a heart necklace my mother gave me. After she died, in 2009, I inherited her replacement diamond ring. Danny examined it through a special eyeglass. The three-carat ring stone has a flaw, not visible to the naked eye. I have flaws, too, some apparent.

Two simple thin bands of 18-carat yellow gold bookend the center diamond, perched high as if standing on tiptoes. Danny deems the modern three-piece setting very 1980s. I think it’s showy. But I have an epiphany: the two plain bands, worn together without the center diamond, have a similarity to my original one.

Danny measures my finger, confident he could stretch it to my current size, 7.75.

“Wedding rings are personal and sentimental,” he said. “Most couples buy their own. Diamonds are different.”

Several months ago, Danny removed my mother’s bands from a tiny plastic bag in the lobby of our Greenwich Village building. Professionally cleaned, shinier than ever. I turn to Steve and say, “You should put them on my finger.”

They fit perfectly. I never would have wanted a hand-me-down ring when I said “I do.” But now I feel remarkably reconnected to my mother in the perpetual circle she never took off — until I removed it from her finger in her advanced stages of dementia, 20 years after my father died shy of their 50th anniversary. I wore it on the plane from Florida to New York; the next day I put it in my safe deposit box, where it hid from the world for a decade. My mother’s diamond ring remains there.

Not wearing a ring hasn’t made me any less married, or less in love with my husband. In spite of our longevity and happiness, there have been times we’ve fought, slammed doors, contemplated not coming back, and apologized for spewing mean barbs at each other. Nowadays, when we hold hands, he can feel my enduring circle. After all these years, we know that no marriage is perfect or timeless.

Suddenly my husband decides to have his wedding ring stretched. Without realizing it, we have renewed our vows as unconventionally as the way we got engaged.

“It feels heavy on my hand,” he said, fiddling with it.

“Mine felt odd for a day — I don’t notice it anymore,” I said. Except to glance down, admiring its simple beauty and all that it represents.

At first, he takes his on and off, like changing outfits. Then it becomes a permanent part of him again. Ringed or not, I know he’s there. “U-Bet.”

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