Laaaaaaadies! How about diamonds, amirite? Diamonds!!! I know we all think we love diamonds because we're ladies and they're diamonds and they're sparkly and we're hypnotized by shiny objects (actually, my husband proposed by flashing the back of a Coldplay CD at me!). But, as it turns out, we didn't always have such an uncomplicated, crow-like fascination with fancy jewels. In the beginning, diamonds were just collateral for your precious, priceless virginity. Romantic!
There's a super-interesting post over at the Atlantic today about the economic and social origins of the diamond engagement ring. It all hinges on an old-timey law called "Breach of Promise to Marry," which gave women some legal recourse should they be "sullied" (i.e. MEGA-BANGED) and then abandoned before their wedding day. But by the mid-1940s, lots of states had struck down "Breach of Promise to Marry," leaving women with no options should their fiances pull the old hump-'n'-dash. And that, theoretically, is where diamond rings come in:
An engaged couple aren't all that different from a borrower and a lender. The woman is lending her hand in marriage to the man, who promises to tie the knot at a later date. In the days of Breach of Promise, the woman would do this on an unsecured basis — that is, the man didn't have to pledge any collateral — because the law provided her something akin to bankruptcy protection. Put simply, if the man didn't fulfill his obligation to marry, the woman had legal recourse. This calculus changed once the law changed. Suddenly, women wanted an upfront financial assurance from their men. Basically, collateral.
Cool, right? (Of course the otherwise totally legit Atlantic article can't resist closing on a hurrrr-ladies-LUV-diamonds note, saying: "It's anachronistic. But don't try telling your girlfriend that." Oh, girlfriends! Because we're all crazed harpies and JEWELS ARE OUR FOOD! Chocolate chocolate chocolate, my vibrator, etc. Sigh. So close.)
Engagement rings don't carry the same cultural baggage now that women have jobs and money and independence and the right to whore around as much as we want while still retaining our status as valuable human beings (you know, for the most part). But back in the day a diamond ring was basically a billboard that said: "Dear Carol, I am going to put my penis in you now, but if I break up with you later, don't worry—you might be alone forever but you'll always have this gaudy and arbitarily expensive rock. Love, Kevin." WIN-WIN.