We’d been married seven months when Steve told me that he’d changed his mind—decided marriage wasn’t for him. I heard the words but I didn’t understand a thing. Our Ketubah had recently been framed and hung on the wall above our fireplace, and we were settling into married life contentedly, I’d thought; even actively trying for a baby. Every morning, I slipped my engagement ring and wedding band onto my finger, proud to call myself Steve’s wife.
The act of the groom placing the wedding band on his new wife’s finger is an important one in Judaism—perhaps the most important of the wedding. It is the moment betrothal occurs. As far as symbols go, the wedding band has real gravitas. Now, in this crisis, the rings I wore became tangible reminders of the fact that, despite my husband’s apparent panic attack, something meaningful had taken place seven months earlier. In the surreal mess of days that followed Steve’s announcement, I kept putting them on every morning, a daily ritual that brought me comfort.
Lost as I was, the rings created a feeling of safety—for a while. They became symbols of dedication. At some point, Steve suggested I sell them to help me out financially, since he wanted a separation. I couldn’t imagine such a thing. In my job as an elementary school teacher, my third-graders continued to call me “Mrs”, but whenever I heard them say it, I felt a twinge of angst and confusion.
For months, I existed in a state of shock, denial, and bargaining. Steve and I talked, we emailed; I tried to understand. His ideas about what he wanted from his life had changed—marriage and children had suddenly become life choices he wasn’t interested in pursuing. When we’d first started dating, Steve told me he’d been engaged several times, but that each time he had called it off. Maybe that should have been a red flag, but I trusted him when he said that this time was different—after all, he was older now, at 48, and what we had felt right. I think Steve believed that it was different this time, too, but for reasons I may never understand, he decided that he couldn’t be married.
One evening in late summer, I received an email from Steve where he once again reiterated his stance, but this time something felt different to me. I’d heard his words often enough that they were starting to sink in. The tone and wording of his email—direct, brisk and businesslike, helped me realize, finally, that our marriage was really over.
Now my rings became a reminder not of holding hands with the man I loved in front of 200 people, in a joyful, jubilant ceremony, but of how he’d walked away from his commitment. Putting them on in the morning would often trigger tears. I started to feel like a fraud, walking around wearing rings that represented a marriage that had been so abruptly ended. Meanwhile, emails from Steve were replaced by emails from the Jewish Court, and then by emails from lawyers. The rings had to come off.
It felt strange to walk around without them; my left hand felt naked all of a sudden. Heading into the world ring-less felt like a public announcement that our marriage had failed—and that I was single. But I didn’t feel single at all. I felt like the newlywed I was, a wife still very much in love with her husband. Single with the bare hand to prove it didn’t feel right, but neither did wearing the rings.
After a few weeks, it occurred to me that there was a solution—not to my broken marriage, but to the sadness I felt every time I looked at my bare left hand. I decided to buy myself a new ring. Walking into my local jewelry shop with money I’d recently earned from a book of my poems, I walked past a happy-looking couple at the counter, picking out an engagement ring. A wave of grief hit me, but I swallowed hard and started looking for my new ring.
After some searching, I found a small dark sapphire stone that suited my mood. Striking, and with a vintage setting, it felt very “me.” The ring in the display case fit well, so it wasn’t necessary to order my size—I could walk away with it that day. When the sales attendant rang up my purchase, she asked what the occasion was. I told her I was treating myself to a new ring because I had recently stopped wearing my engagement ring and wedding band. She nodded her head as though she’d heard this before.
Falling out of love with the man you had committed to for life, especially after less than a year of marriage, is an onerous task. At times it feels impossible. But in this surreal space between marriage and divorce, I find myself needing to do things that I never could have dreamed I’d be doing less than a year after getting married. Putting away my rings was just one of them.
When I look at the sapphire on my left hand, I allow myself to feel a little pride—about the strength that I’m channeling from within, and about the fact that my first published book of poetry paid for this stone. I’m heading into uncharted waters with something beautiful on my finger, something valuable and permanent that reminds me, simply, of my commitment to myself.