I’ve never thought to defend Mark Zuckerberg. Farmville made that almost impossible. But I’ll do it this once. This has nothing to do with Facebook’s horrid IPO or its lack of a plan to gin up revenue to support its bloated market capitalization. Instead, I must defend Zuckerberg against a small but vicious pack of hyenas who are accusing him of being a cheapskate.
Intertwined with his company’s public debut, the newly minted billionaire married his longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan. Their ceremony was modest – it involved a backyard wedding at the medical graduate Chen’s home. Cheap Mexican food was served, most likely on paper plates. No honeymoon was embarked on.
But the real headline grabber, picked up by celebrity gossip site TMZ and others, was Zuckerberg’s thrift in the ring department. People who are concerned with such things estimate that the ring Zuckerberg bought for his bride cost a measly $25,000—or a micro-penny swing of Facebook’s share price.
At least one writer, the New York Post’s Rita Delfiner, complained that even Kris Humphries procured a $2 million stone for Kim Kardashian. Delfiner points out, without irony, that the former reality TV couple was only married for 72 days.
Channeling the frustration of women from Montgomery to Manhattan, Delfiner wrote “it looked as if Mrs. Mark Zuckerberg had won the lottery when she married the Facebook boss last weekend—but now she appears to be the unluckiest lucky woman alive.”
Few are crying.
I step up for Zuckerberg because I, too, plan to be up for review. My ring-purchasing prowess on display—most likely on Facebook. I’ll be engaged in the near future, and I’ll have to tackle this ring business. But I’ll admit that the thought of plunking down a large amount of money for a ring makes a part of me want to avoid the whole thing altogether.
Truth is, I’d probably already be married with kids if it weren’t for the engagement ring provision that holds so much cultural cachet in my—and many other men’s—social circle.
All of the guys I know who have gone through the rigmarole of either depleting their savings or going into hock to uphold this feisty tradition (which feminism has done little to dislodge) have told me, with faces communicating defeat, that they were powerless to withstand the pressure of the ring. Worse, the price of it has mysteriously inflated over the generations. An 88 year-old retired professor I sometimes visit with told me that the ring he bought his bride—now 65 years in—looked like something out of Cracker Jack box. But his bride didn’t complain because every other woman of the era was getting the same thing.
This ringflation comes at a time when young women are earning the lion’s share of college degrees and earning more income than men. The engagement ring tradition isn’t keeping up with the changing economic reality.
Marriage rates have declined marginally over the decades. The length of co-habitation is the highest it’s ever been—seventeen months today compared to just a handful a generation or two ago.
But there are still women (and men) who want to get married. And within that group, there is a subgroup of young women who really want to get married and who lament their boyfriends’ procrastination.
Thinking in economic terms, it makes sense that men in marginal relationships or men without great means would avoid the whole thing. I’m sure someone will come along and argue that the engagement ring is a good thing because it helps sift out the weakest relationships. But then there are the guys stuck here with me in the middle to lower-middle class who still face this pressure to perform.
And all this while student loans need paying and well-paying jobs are hard to come by. The women who truly want to get married in a timely fashion could speed up the process by relaxing this ring pressure. A simple “Hey, future husband, don’t worry about that ring. It’s not a big deal.” Women have historically been good at rallying around causes in order to enact social change. But the question is, do they want the ring or do they want the marriage?
—Photo credit: Philip Taylor PT/Flickr