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Treasure beyond diamonds

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An engagement ring is an expensive, seemingly indestructible version of those red tags taped to furniture that say: Sold. Move on, prospective buyer. This one's taken.

At 20 I knew I'd never wear one. I wish I'd stuck to my guns.

A sorority may be an unlikely place to develop an aversion to engagement rings. In fact, I may have been the only sorority girl on the planet turned off by ritualized diamond envy. Sorority girls would gather in a circle, sing the sweetheart song and pass around a lighted taper adorned with baby's breath and roses. No one knew who was engaged until the bride-to-be revealed herself by blowing out the candle. Squeals, gasps and tears followed.

"Ahhhhh! Let me see the it!" the sisters would say, and the future bride would extend her hand to all who gathered to see the ring.

After she left, the comments really got rolling:

"Did you see the size of Susana's ring?"

"Yeah, what do you think? More than a carat?"

"It's sure bigger than Mary's. Hers was so small you needed a microscope to see it."

"I don't like pear-shaped. I wouldn't want one like that."

"She says the wedding band has diamonds on it too. Geez, that guy must be loaded."

I don't remember anyone asking important questions like, "Do they love each other?"

A few years later, I caved, and one of those rings ended up on my hand. I told him I didn't want an engagement ring, but he wanted to give it to me so badly.

"We're going to be married," he said, like a 5-year-old bringing daisies to the little girl across the street. "I want to buy you a ring."

I could have gotten engaged without the ring, but I had to admit, the diamonds were attractive. Those sparkling facets wink at you. They beckon, tempt and eventually seduce you.

He had asked me to marry him four times before I said yes. When I finally did agree, I meant it. Who knew he would turn out to be the one who was just pretending.

In those first romantic evenings he told me, "Don't worry, if we run out of cash, there's always credit." Why did I think that was funny? Why did I think he was kidding? He used fake money to pay for a real ring, all part of his fantasy world.

Giving me a chip of the world's hardest substance did not strengthen his spine. One day he realized this might be real life, a place he could not reside. He broke off the engagement just as I was starting to believe in the fantasy.

I did finally get married years later to another man, one who owned a plane and a Porsche. Credit was not an issue.

He told me that he loved me and wanted to be with me. I didn't love him, but I'd loved the man who bought me the engagement ring years before and look where that got me. No, love was a mistake, one that I was never going to make again.

"I don't want an engagement ring," I told him.

"Good, because I wasn't going to buy you one anyway," he said. "It's a waste of money. We should just take a trip instead."

That seemed reasonable. Except that we were going to spend money on trips anyway, trips to exotic destinations all over the world. We would spend money on anything that mattered to him — boats, planes, cars, vacations.

It wasn't about money. It was about what he valued. And I wasn't valuable enough for anything as superfluous as a diamond. I left him on another continent.

Years later I lived with a much nicer man. There was never any ring, but sometimes he would bring me flowers for no particular reason. Or he'd walk by and just stop to kiss me on the cheek.

Now I have a new boyfriend who sometimes will just stop and wrap me up in his arms.

I think, finally, I'm getting closer to what I was hoping for in that sorority house — someone who would answer yes to all the questions I couldn't give voice to when I was 20.

Will he be good to her? Will he be a reliable and loving partner? Will he encourage her to find her way in the world? Will he love her through her strengths and weaknesses? Will he see her as the full creation that she is, and not just what she can do for him? Will he know that she is precious beyond any diamond?

Lilli Cloud is a writer and marketing consultant in Los Angeles. L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at home@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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