Diamonds: Keeping the Commitment Through Material Goods

By Ed Dryer

To have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.  Until death till we part.  Pretty heavy stuff, no?  You wouldn’t think that the divorce rate of the United States would be at 50% with vows like those, but I digress.  In modern society, the dissolution of marriage has become a routine legal process and there are an uncanny number of systems in place to divide assets and responsibilities when a marriage does fall apart.  ‘Modern’ is a pretty important adjective in this context.  In 2011, at least in the United States, people have it pretty great.  Our life expectancy is into the 70s, food is plentiful and the chance of being gunned down by highwaymen or eaten by a mountain lion is pretty nonexistent.  There is genetic testing to determine paternity and a judicial system that can settle disputes and do a reasonable job of tracking down people that violate their commitments.  As little as 150 years ago, life expectancy was in the late 30’s or very early 40’s, food was scarce, and I don’t even want to get into the odds of being shot by highwaymen or Mother Nature’s frag count.  The extent of the law was mostly limited to the local sheriff’s pistol and as long as there wasn’t interracial hanky panky (and that’s a whole different sitaution) only mothers truly knew who the babydaddy was.  Human beings, being smart and adaptive little monkeys, came up with many different methods to reinforce the stability of marriage and fidelity that didn’t involve an angry father and uncle burying a husband in a shallow grave a safe distance from the water supply.

Depending on the specific society you look at throughout the world, the possibilities are varied and not exclusive.  There is the dowry, which functions as a makeshift insurance policy for the wife.  Property, land or money would be set aside when the engagement or marriage began, which would be inherited by the groom upon the birth of a male child or other conditions.  In the event of the breaking of the marriage, the dowry could be used to provide for the wife (and sometimes children) who may have had no other capacity to provide for themselves.  There is also the bride price, which the groom or his family paid to the family of the bride to compensate them for the loss of her contributions to her family.  In situations where both families were of means, such as merchants or royalties, both dowries and bride prices were paid, which served to help further bind the families into a business transaction.

In case your brain is spinning and you’re wondering why all of this is important, take a moment to breathe and think about how wealth was represented before there was common currency.  If you said, precious metals and gemstones, you get a gold star.  Yes, there were many arrangements made that involved land, livestock or a family home, but gold, silver and gems were perfect for people on the move.  Such items were small enough to be kept on your person and could be liquidated easily if necessary.  As generations passed, the exchange of material possessions didn’t fade, they just became significantly more ceremonial and compact.  And due to some downright brilliant (in a mustached villain like way) marketing done in the early 20th century the trend continues today.

It’s a certainty that the debates about whether engagement rings are just a quaint memory of times where life was harder and shorter or a small golden shackle used to oppress women’s independence will rage until the stars go dark.  Does the size of the rock really reflect how much he loves her?  Should the engagement diamond merely be a small seed that is intended to bloom into a diamond array that would make a Bond villain drool?  Why should women be the only ones to have left ring finger bling?  There are so many questions and the answers are infinite. Luckily, you’re tuned in to the right channel to learn more.  Tomorrow, we’ll dig deeper into the diamond economy and the many costs that are paid to acquire that 1 carat VVS-1 D stone.  What you don’t know could have killed a few people.

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