On our wedding day, Jim and I both cheated. We conspired and fooled the priest, our bridal party and all of our guests in one tiny aspect of the marriage: our gold wedding bands were phony.
Junk. Spray-on gold. Pure 14-karat chintz. It’s not that we couldn’t afford real gold bands. We had simply run out of time to choose them.
Jim and I had a long-distance relationship. While Cleveland was home for both of us, he lived in Atlanta — and was moving with his job to New York City — and I lived in Washington, D.C. We saw each other only on weekends, and once we got engaged, that time was devoted to planning a wedding and a life together.
We shopped for an apartment in New York, often trudging to 10 open houses on a Sunday afternoon. The one-bedroom apartment we bought needed a major renovation, which we wanted done before getting married. Renovating, I quickly learned, requires a hundred decisions, big and small. Jim and I became regulars at Home Depot. We picked kitchen cabinets and medicine cabinets. We gazed up at ceiling fans, and we gazed down at floor tile. Mostly, our preferences lined up. Like me, Jim cared about style and quality while remaining cost-conscious.
Simultaneously, I handled the wedding plans, my to-do list gaining power as my master, strengthening its grip on my time: Now dresses. Now invitations. Now flowers.
“Have you decided on a style for a wedding band?” Jim asked on the phone.
I had not. “What about you?”
We would get to this item, of course. You can’t get married without wedding bands. I also faced the task of registering. Ugh. I found the aisles of kitchen, bedroom and bathroom wares beyond overwhelming. Did we need a roaster? How about a toaster? What style of fork did I want to eat with for the rest of my life?
On the weekends, Jim and I squeezed in visits to jewelers, perusing rows of rings arranged neatly on black velvet. Yellow gold. White gold. Platinum. Thin. Thick. Thicker. Shiny. Brushed. Matte. Neither of us could determine exactly what we wanted. Amid everything else, we lacked the capacity to make another decision, and since this one involved something more special than a light fixture, we didn’t want to rush it. I wasn’t glad for our ambivalence, but I was glad we shared it. We would try again later.
Months had elapsed. Our apartment was coming together. Key elements of the wedding had settled into place. Honeymoon plans for Hawaii were booked. Jim and I had closed up shop in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. — now he was living in New York and I was in Cleveland.
“We need wedding bands,” I reminded him. Our nuptials were just two months away.
“Right,” he said anxiously. “I know.”
I can’t recall exactly how our phone conversations evolved, but one night we agreed on a plan that initially may have seemed like a joke. The next day, feeling hopeful, I headed to a little store
walloped by a thundershower of accessories. Every inch of space was saturated with something: shiny Mardi Gras beads in green, gold and purple; jewelry with imitation gemstones; Hello Kitty purses; toe rings; legions of barrettes in every color; personalized license plate key chains; glittery shoelaces; socks with pompoms.
Amid the cacophony, I spotted a quiet yellow-gold band. It happened to be the ideal size for my ring finger, an appealing width, and in its simplicity, complemented my engagement diamond. Its finish looked remarkably like genuine gold. I stared at the band on my finger, pleased, satisfied. It was perfect for the job.
The cashier dropped it in a white plastic bag and, for $3, I secured the ring with which I would be wed, leaving Parmatown Mall relieved and happy. In New York, Jim found his own golden band — equally realistic looking — at a comparable shop for $5.
At our traditional August wedding in Cleveland, we had more than 300 guests for a three-course dinner in an elegant ballroom, a pricey five-man Ukrainian band and a lavish dessert spread. Yet our wedding rings were cheap imposters. I enjoyed the irony, and I loved that Jim and I bent the rules together. Partners in subterfuge.
After our honeymoon, once we had settled into our new home, we spent a Saturday afternoon shopping for wedding bands in Manhattan’s Diamond District, a little neighborhood with dozens of side-by-side jewelry stores. This time, the experience was leisurely. I smiled as each jeweler asked when we were getting married. They were perplexed hearing that we had reversed the process.
We felt relaxed, determining what we wanted rather easily. We made our purchase, waiting while our rings were inscribed. It was nice to finally slide a real gold band onto my finger. I liked its weight and the assurance that it would endure.
Although our starter rings had grown tarnished, I decided to keep them. They are, after all, the bands with which we were married. These first rings will always remind me of Jim and my joint ability to be resourceful, to do things our way apart from the crowd, and to maintain a sense of humor. Twenty years later, all of that in our marriage is still worth more than gold.