Ring-fenced by tradition
Joonji Mdyogolo didn’t think she valued her wedding ring that much – until she lost it
Ilost my wedding band barely seven months after I got it. After all that fanfare and all those scattered petals. When we bought it, my instruction was: “Nothing fancy, in case I lose it.” My primary concerns were practicality and budget. I wear no jewellery because I’ve never been able to keep it for that long. So I got a slim band with curvy edges in rose gold – to blend in with my skin tone. There was a last-minute splurge when my husband-to-be suggested I get a small diamond added to it. Then he had some words inscribed underneath as a surprise.
So understated was the result, though, that, even with the sparkle, my six-year-old niece’s only response was “It’s so small”, before shifting back to the more important business of sketching and colouring stick figures on a page. I also let my ring hang loose (which is probably why it got lost).
I liked the idea of easy on, easy off, and that I could switch it up from one finger to the next. It wasn’t to be the defining feature of my finger, and therefore, by extension, not the thing that defined me. So I’m surprised how sad it’s disappearance has made me, when the basic reason behind my choosing it was so that I didn’t have to miss it.
I thought I was immune to the Wedding Industrial Complex – being caught up in the crazy vortex of rings, flowers, dresses and debt that has made weddings and the concept of marriage not only a lucrative business, but one of the most stressful times in a woman’s life.
I was counting myself above the women who are enthralled by the size of their rocks, the length of their train and tiers of their cake, who war with their bridesmaids – which is why I opted to have none – while the bridesmaids gossip behind their backs in retaliation.
I saw myself as unaffected by the emotional manipulation evident in many wedding websites: “Your wedding is one of the most important days of your life, so you want it to be perfect.” But actually, I’m no different than any other woman – in the end I’m beholden to the meanings behind every symbol of marriage.
It’s the same feeling I was left with after my traditional ceremony. So pared down was the lobola (I call it lobola-lite) and celebration thereafter that it must have offended one friend because I got a lecture on its unAfricaness.
“Whose African culture?” I wanted to ask, but by then I’d got into enough wedding scuffles with female friends to take on another one just two months before the big day.
The dictates of my girlfriend I could brush off, but not so easily the emotions (positive and negative) that came up with the actual lobola. The idea that an agreement was being hatched on my future without my being present was unsettling.
Simultaneously, though, it was wonderful to experience the power of the ritual to meld together families as culturally different as ours. What in my expediency I saw as a quick nod to the elders – a swift tick on the box of tradition – actually ran much deeper.
What I am, you see, is “fauxmbivalent”, as described by Phoebe Maltz Bovy in her insightful article in The Atlantic titled “An Ironic, low-key, unconventional wedding is still a wedding”.
Uncomfortable with wanting the “traditional trappings of marriage”, we water it down, especially the patriarchal paraphernalia – the engagement rings, “so often perceived as the ultimate symbol in wedding narcissism”; the lobola; the act of being “given away”; and the virginal, princessy frilly sweetheart dress.
I hated, for example, calling myself a fiancée because it sounded oldfashioned, like I was in waiting.
There is a lot of crap to getting married, no doubt, much of which needs to be stopped. But as Bovy points out, “fauxbivalence loses me, however, when it amounts to refusal to accept a basic fact about weddings, which is that they acknowledge the universal in the particular”.
The point she’s making is that no matter how alternative, feminist or progressive your nuptials, you have bought into the “public sanctification of an intimate relationship”, something humans have been doing since way before you were born.
And it’s snobbish and foolish to think otherwise. Just as absurd as it is to buy a piece of jewellery you half expect to lose, and still wear it loose. I am that woman who bought into marriage and, in fact, I insisted on it. So if you do find my ring, won’t you be so kind as to tell me. It’s gold, with a small diamond burrowed deep and a simple inscription that reads: “Love, Marcus. 29 December 2013.”