My husband asked me to marry him when we were still in college. He was working at the college’s library in a work-study program. I worked part-time for minimum wage. Both of us were broke, paying tuition with loans we are still paying off nearly 20 years later. We got help from our parents, too. Our dates were mostly walks, rented movies, home cooking, and snuggling until 4:00am. Now, our dates are walks, rented movies, home cooking, and falling asleep at 9:30.
He didn’t have a ring to present to me when he proposed, but I didn’t care. It was almost an afterthought: “Oh. Maybe we should look for an engagement ring?” I knew his financial situation and he knew mine, so there were no grand expectations. We were on the verge of graduating and obtaining jobs that would theoretically pay better, but who wants to start off married life in debt for a chunk of shiny carbon? We’d need to pool our resources to rent an apartment, keep two cars running, pay bills. Eat.
One weekend, he announced he was traveling home and would be back with a surprise. He had been hinting about looking for a ring, but I wasn’t sure how he’d make it happen. Late on a Sunday night, he appeared at my workplace with a small black velvet box. “My sister helped me pick it out!” he said, proudly. I opened the box.
Inside was a gold ring set with a dainty, humble quarter-carat solitaire diamond. Against the black night of the velvet box lining, it was a supernova. He explained he cashed in savings bonds from his grandparents to buy it. I knew the savings bonds weren’t intended to buy a girl he had only dated six months a diamond and suddenly I felt the enormity of his sacrifice. I felt small. I felt like I was holding the crown jewels.
How many men spend nearly every penny they have to buy an engagement ring? 100% of his fortune was inside that box. After he plucked it out and slid it on my finger, I realized we were his fortune. Maybe it was foolish, but it wasn’t as if he didn’t have future prospects. His grand, unexpected gesture showed confidence in our future—and in himself.
When I got pregnant with our first child, my fingers began to swell so I took off the ring and put it on a chain to wear around my neck. It rested on my expanding chest, nearer to my heart in every way. After our daughter was born and I looked less like a balloon animal, I slid the ring back onto my finger. I repeated this ritual with subsequent pregnancies, moving it from finger to heart to finger to heart. It’s never been lost, it’s never been flung, it’s never been a source of regret or embarrassment even at our lowest lows, even on our darkest black velvet nights.
We could upgrade but we haven’t. There’s the kid in braces. Tuition. College soon. We are mindful of these things and mindful we will have to help our kids longer into adulthood than we were helped. It’s just the way it is today. But if one of them comes home and says they are in love with someone good—where are my savings bonds, where is my old piggy bank? I will do my best to help him do it on his own. Cash those in, baby. Your fortune is worth it.