I had no idea how important wearing rings would be to me until Guo Jian resisted the idea.
After our engagement in his hometown that New Year’s, 2009, I bought him a ring from the jewelry department in a fancy local mall. It was a simple gold band with some silver inlay that he really liked and that suited his skin colouring. He was present to pick it out, of course. He’s way too picky otherwise. It wasn’t cheap either—about $500 Canadian—and so it felt like a really important gesture for me to dig into my small cache of cash and buy it for him to represent our engagement, especially after he had so elaborately proposed.
(Someone told me later that women aren’t supposed to return the engagement ring gesture. Really? How unfair to guys!)
We both agreed that we didn’t need separate, additional wedding rings. I felt it would be a crazy extravagance and, since it’s not a Chinese custom to exchange rings, he hadn’t even considered that there might be two rings required! Needless to say, he was relieved to hear that I was fine with the one.
After we got back to Beijing and the reality of our engagement was present, though, these rings became the target of any as-of-yet-un-dealt-with issues, quite probably stemming from fears of entrapment or judgment error, or of our both soon being officially “taken” and without “freedom” etc., or so the theories of pre-wedding stress profess.
The fighting began when he stopped wearing it all the time. He thought wearing the same ring every day was boring and uncool, in a fashion sense. I mean, he had a ring and wasn’t that enough? He couldn’t understand why the consistent wearing of it was so important to me as a symbol of our love (and impending nuptials) and I couldn’t seem to explain it to him in a way that made him understand. No, I should re-phrase that: I couldn’t seem to explain it to him in a way that made him agree with me.
Every time I saw his naked left hand, I was mad.
The truth is, I didn’t realize it was important to me until he didn’t regard it as important. I guess I latched onto the tradition as something that represented my culture in this plan of ours to get married. And, once latched, I couldn’t release. You see, everything else was about his culture—even the need to marry in the first place—and I just wanted something that was representative of my own.
The Chinese expression “铁心 tiexin” means “determined” or “resolved.” Literally, it’s a compound of two characters: “iron 铁” + “heart 心.” I like that. Every time I use it, I picture my heart solidifying into fierce metal. If you put “铁了心 tie le xin” before a verb, like “我铁了心想让他戴他的戒指 wo tie le xin xiang rang ta dai ta de jiezhi,” it can be translated as, “I was determined to make him wear his ring.”
Yes. My heart had an iron-grip ring of determination around it labelled “imperative ring-wearing” and the more swollen with irritation my heart became, the less I was going to allow that ring to ever come off!
Besides, if I just accepted that we wouldn’t wear rings, it seemed like yet another part of me was being worn down like a stone in this ocean called China. Eventually, I would become sand and slip through my own fingers. Wouldn’t I?
Thus, it became a “deal breaker” for me. For him, it became a constant irritant. What’s more, he seemed to enjoy removing his ring regularly, especially dramatically, and witnessing the impact this had on me.
Once, he tore his ring off his finger while we were arguing about something else in the car. He chucked the ring behind him while driving and it just missed the open back window as it pinged off the glass. Later, he found it in the back seat.
Another time, while in the midst of stressful renovations in our apartment, (which was his parents’ gift to us as a pre-wedding present,) he angrily ripped his ring off his finger and whipped it across the room—a room that was strewn with stacked furniture, renovations materials, plastic sheeting and copious amounts of dust. My heart ached to watch it arc in the air as if in slow motion and then disappear. I heard its gentle tinkle when it landed (or hit debris) but I pictured it lost for good amidst a life in chaos.
That chaos was really us. We were remodeling our love into a marriage and it was messy.
(And, by the way, his Mother eventually found it for him the next day, the symbolism of his needing his mother’s help to locate his wedding ring was not lost on me, either.)
Eventually, he offered a compromise that he would wear his ring whenever he was in a Western country, but that he shouldn’t have to wear it all the time in China—a country that didn’t care about wedding rings.
Again, I was as solid as iron about it. “No ring, no wedding,” I said. Besides, there are lots of Westerners in China, I reminded him, and I wanted him to show others he was proud of his decision to spend his life with me. Without the ring, people might think he was trying to have a double life. He balked at this. I stood my ground.
Eventually, he argued that he didn’t really like the ring that I’d bought him (and he’d picked out.) This pissed me off too, but I told him that if he got a new ring, he’d have to buy it himself but that he’d still have to wear it all the time. “If I find one I really like, I’ll consider it,” he replied.
It was a possible compromise.
We went to a Tibetan jewelry store in the tourist area of the downtown core and he found a more clunky, tougher-looking silver ring with a big, flat white stone that he really liked. It was about $50 but he bought it for himself and I picked out a super cheap equivalent ($5) that was made of stainless steel and a cheap stone but almost matched his. I had previously explained that having matching styles was also part to the Western tradition. If he was replacing his simple band with this clunky, flashing ring with a stone, so should I! He hadn’t noticed me buying that cheap equivalent ring, however.
When I got home, I switched my ring too, showing him my new acquisition, saying I’d switch it according to his switching habits because I personally didn’t care which ring I wore. I remember looking down and admiring my cheap find with a sense of satisfaction and then calmly turning to leave the room.
Well, little did I know his double standards were so stacked upon themselves. He was so angry that I wasn’t wearing the original ring he had “gotten down on one knee to give me” that he came up behind me, physically wrenched the cheap ring off my finger, walked over to our fifth story window, and threw it out into the early summer night. He punctuated this unbelievable act with the statement: “It’s too cheap and doesn’t look like a wedding ring anyway. No one will believe you’re married if you wear that piece of shit.”
…. there’s not much you can do to me that will anger me more than disposing of something that is mine without my permission. I HATE THAT. It wasn’t the first time he’d jealously or angrily thrown something of mine away, either. It was the second time. The first time had come with a “if-you-ever-do-that-again-you-will-regret-it” warning.
So, maturely, I scooped up his new ring that was sitting undefended on the coffee table, rushed to the window closest to me, and chucked it out. “If I can’t wear mine then you can’t wear yours!” I screamed. (It was not my finest moment.)
He immediately disappeared out the door but came back 10 minutes later silently fuming. It was nighttime. It’s hard to find anything in the dark. Especially hastily hurled compromises.
Sleeping in separate rooms, my anger pulsed through me for several hours until I calmed to the realization that two wrongs really didn’t make it right. By the first light of dawn, I went down to look for his ring and actually found it. Turned out he had found mine the night before as well.
It was about this point in my relationship with Guo Jian that I realized he would go to ridiculous lengths to not be controlled. He wanted to get married, but losing his autonomy was not an option. For him, it wasn’t about the ring; it was about my setting an imperative.
So, I backed off. I let him buy me a nicer ring that “matched” (silver + white stone) and I pointedly chose to say nothing when I noticed his naked finger. Before long, it stopped being naked. One day shortly afterwards, he came to me, excited, and said, “You know, it feels really weird not to have a ring on this finger now! I can’t imagine not wearing it!” Then he flashed me a mischievous, dimpled smile.
You see, it has to be his idea.
I just smiled back and nodded. We both knew that the ring war was over.
To this day, he has no idea that I had had to borrow a ladder and climb up on the downstairs store’s rooftop to get his ring back. Funny enough, I don’t need him to know. That morning, I had felt like a superhero for finding it and that was enough for me. I knew then and there that I didn’t need anything from him—not even his wearing of a ring—to be strong enough to get through the hard times.
That didn’t mean that I didn’t want him to wear one as a form of respect for my culture and person; it just meant that I didn’t need him to wear one so that I would feel strong and represented in the partnership. When I reconfirmed to myself that I could hold my ground and also right my own wrongs through action, well, it was enough for me.
And I guess it was enough for him too. We both caved into the other’s demands. I now have two rings, as per his request, and they’re both quality pieces. I mostly wear the original and, funny enough, so does he. Our silver rings with white stones sit in jewelry boxes as memories of that crazy night more than anything else.
White flags of truce.