THE IRONY IS my husband probably lost his wedding ring doing housework.

I’m sure it’ll turn up one day behind the headboard or wedged in the couch cushions, though he scoured those spots first once he discovered the strip of pale flesh where the titanium ought to be. Titanium was his master stroke when we picked out our rings: Manfully gray, yes, but also, corrosion-resistant, nontoxic, lightweight, and strong. As a symbol of lifelong commitment we could hardly have invented better.

Weirdly, the week his ring went AWOL, mine began to chafe. First time ever. Reluctantly I strung it on a chain around my neck, oiled the nasty red rash where the gold used to be, and stopped pondering symbolism. Because the coincidence left me rattled. If our wedding bands stood for eternal love, what did it mean when one disappeared and the other became an irritant?

“It means we’ve been married 13 years,” Tom said. Long enough for human error to kick in and body chemistry to evolve. It means we’ve been married 13 years! I thought desperately. Long enough for love to get…lost? Itchy?

“You know I’ve never been a jewelry guy, Kath,” he said. “Maybe we don’t need rings to prove we’re committed.”

I stand conflicted on this point myself. On the one hand, so to speak, a fat rock on a woman’s finger generally puts me in mind of a cattle brand. The fatter the rock, the bigger the rancher. A badge of ownership expressed in the most flagrantly material way, suggesting marriage as the business transaction it used to be in the millennia before moderns invented marrying for love. Ick.

On the other hand—the left one— I want a ring on my man’s finger. When a husband travels alone as much as mine must, a wife’s shorthand shout-out to all the single ladies makes simple branding sense. Perhaps I was underestimating badges of ownership.

“I’ve got it!” he announced coming in from work one evening. “A tattoo!” All the better that the bony finger is a particularly painful-to-tat part of the body, prone to fading and thus requiring regular touch-ups. A ring of ink would circumvent Tom’s aversion to jewelry, accommodate his guitar habit, and never go missing. He could do all the housework he wanted!

“You sure about this?” a colleague cautioned. “It’s so…permanent.” Uh… yeah. Permanent plus beautiful with occasional periods of blinding pain. Sounds like marriage to me.

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On our way to discuss the ring dilemma over dinner in Belltown, the plot abruptly thickened. For there in a jewelry store window gleamed the sparkling wedding ring of my dreams. As symbolically unsettling truths go, it was clearly time to own mine: I’ve never loved my ring. We’d found it in a panic at T minus two weeks till nuptials, and what then struck me as simple and sweet had somehow turned generic and featureless. Now throw in toxic. This new one was perfect: no fat rock, nobody’s cattle brand. Just way more me. And as beautiful as us.

But not the one he slipped onto my finger on the day he promised to love me forever. Wouldn’t a new wedding band compromise that promise? Shouldn’t a ring remain as steadfast as the commitment it stands for? As unchanging as the partner? Of course, women change out their wedding rings all the time. Probably half of my friends are wearing different rings today than the ones they got married with. Our jeweler that night told us she has clients who replace their rings every three years. “Lesser women,” I heard myself snark. Materialistic women. Women for whom the ring is more important than the marriage.

“Wait a sec,” my husband interjected. “In asking a little band of metal to carry all this meaning, aren’t you the one making the ring more important than the marriage?”

Pause.

Okay, the fact that he’s wiser than me is why I fell for him in the first place. Marriage is only as strong as its capacity to adapt, after all. Maybe I’ve been focusing on the wrong symbol all along. Maybe brand new rings—one more fitting for me, one more fitted for him—would provide the most fit symbol of marriage yet: of the new beginning lying ever in wait beneath the surface of any old union.

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