I’m back from a girlfriend getaway in paradise. Traveling with a best friend off the beaten path of marriage awakened joy in me and soothed my soul, but it also left me wondering: Why can’t I capture that sense of fun and wonder in everyday life? Why do I feel so stuck here in Boston, yet I was free as a bird in Mexico?
One idea: I took off my wedding ring while traveling.
I think my naked ring finger gave rise to more open responses and deeper interactions than I would have otherwise experienced.
One afternoon my (single) traveling companion, Maddie, a 35-year-old dear college friend who lives in Los Angeles, pointed out something peculiar in the heavy surf. As we watched, a lone snorkeler emerged onto the beach holding a spear and a wire laden with fish. We dropped our beach novels, marched over to investigate, and found a young Mexican man pleased to show us his catch of red snapper, octopus, and lobster.
In bits of English and Spanish, we learned they were snacks for a gathering of friends at a nearby cabana that evening. He told us if we brought some beer, we were welcome to hang out and share. Quite a tempting offer.
Unfortunately, we had other plans. But if we had taken him up on his offer I think we would have enjoyed a relaxed evening on the beach with some new friends. If we don’t travel for this kind of experience, why travel at all? But were a ring on my finger, would the same offer have been made?
When I recently put this question to a few friends, I was blown away by the variety and strength of their feelings on the matter.
Kendra, a 25-year-old engaged Bostonian, admitted things might have been different had I worn my ring. But she can’t imagine taking her diamond off for any reason — not even to wash her hands. She will hide her left hand in her pocket when she sits next to a cute guy on a subway train, however. She even admits to choosing seats that put her in a good flirting position.
What’s the difference between her hiding her diamond and me stowing my band? I suppose a smile on the train doesn’t pose as much opportunity or risk as an evening on the beach. Her target might get off at the next stop—doors open, and he’s gone. No harm, no foul.
Thirty-four-year-old Summer, who is dating again after a divorce, understood my ring removal perfectly: “We don’t want to deny ourselves the breadth of human interaction. We want to invite it all and make choices about what we get, not limit it from the beginning.” Indeed. And never are we more intent on sucking the marrow out of life than when we travel.
In Mexico with Maddie, the plans that kept us from the beachside grill party that evening were to seek out the locals’ salsa night we had heard so much about. We made the right choice. A six-piece band blared salsa music as waves crashed nearby and the moon and stars looked on.
There was no husband to worry about taking care of: no “Honey, can we dance?” or “You feel uncomfortable? Are you okay? You’re going for another drink?” Instead, I focused on letting go of my own inhibitions. Our mission was to have fun.
Walking toward the beach and wooden dance platform with drinks in hand, we whispered an agreement: “If someone asks, we should dance.” We barely hit the sand and a hand was proffered. Before my natural shyness could take hold, I shoved my drink at Maddie, took her hand, and mounted the stage.
What a night. We enjoyed the attentions of many talented partners, and our skills grew by enormous proportion, from salsa novice to turns and dips! Only in the company of a great friend who knows your secret insecurities and who can be your greatest cheerleader can you let loose like this.
But would we have had this opportunity with mates in tow? How about if our get-ups included wedding bands?
Maddie hadn’t had much of a reaction when I told her on our way from the airport that I was removing my ring for the duration of our trip. If anything, she seemed a bit sad for me. She knew Rob and I were going through a rough patch. And of course, those troubles played no small role in my ringless travel curiosity.
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But despite Maddie’s low-key response, removing my band was significant enough that she mentioned it to her running partners back home. She later told about their collective reaction: “whoa.” It seemed they viewed the removal as an invitation for sexual trysts.
While she knew better about me—that sex was not on my agenda—she did remind me of the clichés and assumptions surrounding the man who removes his wedding band. That it will come rolling, telltale-style, out of a wallet or pocket. That you can tell he’s cheating husband by the tan line on his ring finger. That he is out for sex.
She also pointed out that you don’t often hear about women removing their rings. In fact, she said, “It seems like I’ve heard about and even seen women wearing their rings after their husbands pass away.” Neither scenario exactly fits me.
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The aforementioned rough patch in my marriage persists and leaves me feeling stuck and limited. Like an albatross around my neck, the circle of gold around my finger feels like a burden and a curse.
As I write now from my home office, Rob is watching television in the next room, and my wedding band is back on my finger. Even though nothing unseemly happened in Mexico, I feel guilty. To remove it was to violate a promise to him.
But more than guilty, I feel terribly disappointed.
The ring constantly reminds me of a promise and hope that has not been realized. Perhaps the answer to the question of the ring is: if we can get what we want from life only by removing it, we aren’t meant to be wearing it — maybe we aren’t meant to be married — at all.
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Alex Alexander is a writer who focuses on relationships, health and wellness, and love. For more of her relationship content, visit her author profile.
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