The Transition to Marriage Equality: A Ring Study

We have seen amazing progress in marriage equality recently, as Ben and I will soon experience. Despite that progress, same-sex couples still face many growing pains when it comes to exercising their new marriage rights. And just like racism still exists a half century after the Civil Rights Act, homophobia will still linger long after we achieve full marriage equality.

The ring shopping experience

I was reminded of this point while shopping for a wedding band for Ben. Two of my colleagues recommended a jewelry store that they both have purchased items from and had an exemplary experience. So I ventured to the store during my lunch break to see what they could do for me.

When I walked in, a woman in the doorway greeted me and asked if she could help me find something. I told her I needed a wedding ring (turns out I was actually looking for a “wedding band,” not “wedding ring”). She said they had a lot to choose from and asked if I wanted a particular diamond. I explained that it’s for a man that doesn’t wear much jewelry, so I didn’t need a fancy diamond ring. She gave me a confused look and asked, “So you are shopping for yourself?” I told her “no,” I was looking for my future husband. She again looked quizzically but still lead me to a sales person. I had this awkward explanation with that representative and another, despite the whole store (it’s not that large) hearing my previous conversation.

When I finally got to the person showing me the rings, I started to understand that I came to the store a bit unprepared. I didn’t know the different terminology between a ring and a band. I didn’t know what kind of metal I wanted. Nor did I know Ben’s finger size or what kind of style I wanted. I ended up telling the rep to just show me his men’s rings.

While I looked at the different rings, another customer came into the store asking to see wedding rings. A sales rep stepped up and said, “For a MAN!?”  He not only emphasized the last word, he chuckled as if he were a stand up comic helping out his own punch line. I got the impression that he was amused by my three previous attempts to explain that I was looking for a ring for another man. And while I couldn’t tell if he was making fun of his colleagues’ inability to comprehend a man buying a ring for another man or the fact itself, I clearly understood I was the butt of his joke.

The customer paused awkwardly and then said, “no, for a woman.”  The “joke” had obviously fallen flat since the customer wasn’t in the store for my initial interactions. I shot the sales rep a look letting him know I wasn’t amused, and then we both went back to what we were doing previously.

I didn’t end up buying anything that day. I took some pictures of what I wanted and explained that I needed to consult with some of my friends. That was fine with the sales rep who seemed frustrated by my lack of direction. (I fully admit that behavior could annoy the hell out of someone.)

The fallout

When I got back to the office, one of my colleagues who recommended the place asked how it went. I explained to her that I felt pretty unprepared and showed her the pictures of the ring I wanted. As a side note, I mentioned the “joke” from the random sales rep. She didn’t find it funny either. In fact, she found it so unfunny she ended up calling the manager of the store who she knows well. She explained the situation to him and her disappointment with my experience on her recommendation.

Her reaction made me think I should have responded with more than just a glare. But, in my eyes, it wasn’t worth my energy since it wasn’t the first, or likely the last, time that I would hear something homophobic at my expense. The manager of the store, however, was appalled.  He said he understood if I didn’t want to come back; but if I did, he wanted me to ask for him personally.

I was always planning on going back. So when I ventured to the store the next day, I met with the manager, and he went above and beyond the call of duty to make me feel wanted and appreciated. He even showed me rings I hadn’t seen the day before (one of which I ended up getting), gave me a discount on the ring, and to boot gave several packs of cookies to take back to the office.

Still more work to be done

The feeling I left with the second day helped temper the experience I had the first. But the overall situation reminds me that this transition to marriage equality may not be as smooth as we hope. And while we should celebrate the amazing progress we have made as a country, we all need to do our part to help smooth out potential bumps in the road as the transition to marriage equality takes place.