Marrying young means changing fast while trying to stay together.
“I think you’ll like this band,” the salesperson suggested, pointing to a glistening, silver-toned ring. “You can get it resized throughout the years.”
As a 20-year-old college junior with no significant income, I’d never bought expensive jewelry before. Still, I liked the idea of a ring that could literally grow with my fiance and me in the coming decades of matrimony. I handed over my debit card and signed the bill for $500.
Weeks later, as I slid the perfectly polished ring on my groom’s finger and vowed for better or worse, I thought I knew what we were getting into. I accepted there would be unknowable challenges to come, but I was confident those were all surmountable with determination and love. Like the ring on his finger, I believed we would grow and adapt.
There was just one key detail missing from the sales pitch at the jewelry store: The ring I purchased tarnishes easily.
Probably like most young people who have one foot in the real world and one still in the comforts of pre-adult life, I idealized marriage. Although my husband and I were both in school and working, I was excited to decorate our one-bedroom apartment in the style of my favorite magazines. I was confident I would have a home-cooked dinner on the table every night. There we would happily live, setting an example for our friends about the joys of marriage.
But as we returned from our honeymoon and resumed our busy lives, the shine began to wear. Limited by money, the decor was never quite as I imagined. With both of us going in different directions for work and studies, we rarely sat down to dinner together. My husband was doing all he could, but a lot of his attention rightfully went to his doctoral program and earning money to help pay bills. I started to harbor resentment. Was it a mistake getting married so young? Were the tradeoffs worth it?
Midway through that first year, I told my mom I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision by getting married when I did. I was still committed to the relationship and in love with my husband—but marriage wasn’t what I had naively imagined. I expected my confession to elicit the compassion I’d known my mom to indiscriminately dispense my entire life. Instead, she gave me a speech stripped from the script of a coach. “Suck it up and stick it out for at least a year,” she said.
Jolted by the reality check, I realized I needed to change my attitude. No, my husband and I weren’t going to be living a fairytale. Still, the fundamental reason we decided to marry remained valid: We wanted to spend our lives together.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long before summer granted us the chance to focus on our relationship without the distraction of classes. On the first night after the festivities of my graduation wound down, we celebrated privately by taking his parents’ boat out to the lake for fishing and uninterrupted conversation. It was exactly the evening we needed. And then, as he went to pull up the anchor, the ring slipped from his finger. Just like that, the expensive wedding band I dreamed would last 70 years or more was lost forever in the murky water.
First thing the next morning, we went to Walmart and purchased a cheap band that looked as similar to the original as possible—the difference being about $480 dollars. This, I knew, would scratch and tarnish. It couldn’t be resized. It wouldn’t last forever. But it would carry us through to the next stage, when we might again be able to afford a quality ring.
As expected, the next years were challenging. I was stressed by my first full-time job. He was still focused on school, with the unpredictable hours of a doctoral student. Money was as tight as ever. Many of our friends had moved away. Issues with extended family put a strain on our relationship in a way we never could have predicted.
Yet, strangely, the cheap ring proved to be less easily dented than the first. With it on, he graduated. We moved to a new state. When we began to feel comfortable there, we moved again for work. We confronted the messy parts of our relationship and found ways to grow stronger.
Just like the new ring, our relationship was stripped down to the basics. We learned how to rely on each other through hardships. I abandoned my attempt to impress anyone but him. And I changed my perspective: I knew the marriage wouldn’t always shine, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t strong.
On my 24 birthday, I went into another jewelry store and bought my husband a titanium ring. The band had lines etched into it, a departure from the smooth rings he’d worn before. It wasn’t glossy and it couldn’t be resized. But it was virtually impossible to break. “The kind of ring for a
workman,” in the words of the salesperson.
As I paid for my husband’s third wedding band in little more than as many years, I knew it was just as much a gift for me as for him. Unlike the easily tarnished first ring and the cheap but practical second one, this ring is truly the best symbol of us — one that represents the solid foundation we fought to lay in the first years of our young marriage, and the strength we developed along the way.