Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I recently proposed to my girlfriend after many years of dating. When we first got together, we agreed that a wedding and marriage weren’t necessarily priorities. I appreciated that we shared a nontraditional approach — neither of us wanted society to pressure or dictate our decisions. But as years passed, it became clear that neither of us wanted to ever be with anyone else, so for reasons both romantic and practical, we decided to get married.
I proposed on one knee and presented her with a beautiful but simple ring: a white gold band, and a modest round diamond. Nothing flashy, which fits her low-key ways, she’s never been much for jewelry. I loved the feeling of putting that ring on her finger.
The problem is, the ring didn’t stay on her finger. Almost immediately, she took it off. Since then, she’s only worn it for what she calls “special occasions,” like date nights. She says she’s not a jewelry person. She offered to wear it on a chain around her neck. To me that just isn’t the same. She also recently said she doesn’t plan to change her last name. I was surprised to find this bothered me, but it did. Without a ring and name change, what are we even doing? I feel like she isn’t taking this marriage seriously and we aren’t even married yet. Advice?
While no one can claim with a straight face to be an expert in marriage, people who’ve been at it a while with some success will generally agree that compromise and communication are foundational to a successful union. While your partner’s offer to wear the ring on a necklace might feel to you like she’s shirking an important ring-wearing tradition, consider this from her perspective: she went through much of her life never envisioning marriage in the first place, so wearing a ring on a chain feels like a meet-in-the-middle idea.
As for name changing, well, that’s a deeply personal decision too, and there are also opportunities for compromise. For instance, she could change it legally but continue to go by her maiden name. Or, less common but not unheard of, you could change your name just as easily. How does that option make you feel? Antsy? Unsure? Weird? I’m sure she’s working through very similar emotions while simultaneously trying to respond to and manage your hopes and expectations.
But the bottom line is this: so many important decisions will face you as a couple in the days and years to come. What’s your approach to money management and household finances? What about your philosophy on work and retirement? Do you plan to have kids? Where do you see yourselves living over the coming years? These big issues and others will need to be addressed, and if you can’t get past a disconnect about symbolic jewelry and last names, your problems may be larger than you realized.
For someone who professes such a nontraditional outlook on marriage, you sure are digging in and freaking out over some pretty aged marriage traditions: ring remains on finger, marriage not official without a wedding, bride’s last name must change. This whole episode has you questioning your partner’s commitment after she literally just made the ultimate traditional marriage commitment to you!
Look, I appreciate romantic — I love you forever! And I appreciate practical — I love you tax breaks! So you and your partner getting a marriage license and even having a wedding to celebrate with friends and family is great, even for a couple that once upon a time really didn’t want to make a big deal about all of that traditional marriage mess.
You remember those two crazy kids, don’t you? Well, what the heck happened to you? Going through all of the things that you and your partner said you weren’t going to go through has thrown everything out of whack. You are now a traditionalist. Your wife(!) is now upset that you’re so damn serious about everything you both swore you weren’t going to be serious about.
Think back on the simpler times when you both were perfectly happy and confident in the relationship moving forward forever without a ring, a ceremony or a notarized piece of paper. The truly important things in your lasting relationship remain the same as ever: love, commitment, working together, and taking care of one another. Get back in that space ASAP and apologize for getting caught up in being a groomzilla.