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Going-steady rings should be reinstituted

By Sean Vivier
On November 20, 2003

There's possibly nothing more embarrassing, at least to me, than asking out someone who already has a boyfriend. I'm sure others share the same concern. Even if you talk to her every day, there's no guarantee you'll know whether she's attached. You certainly can't just ask her. Oh sure, she might happen to mention that she has one or that she's single... if you're lucky. Mostly, we're working blind. Take one extreme case. I was actually opening my mouth to ask a woman out when she first mentioned the existence of her boyfriend. I was saved from social disaster by mere seconds.After asking out a girl that's attached, you make yourself vulnerable and she doesn't even have to let you know whether she returns any interest. The entire dynamics of the relationship change and it's sometimes hard to even talk to her after that. There's no reason to face all that awkwardness when you don't even stand a chance. It's bad enough when you risk alienating a woman who's single. We need some way, some symbol, to tell whether she's taken.As I tried to think of a solution, I looked back at precedents. The sign could be as simple as hanging flowers in a windowsill to let passersby know that an eligible woman resides within. Salishan Indian women painted their faces red to encourage suitors. In our own culture, a wedding ring is a very clear warning that a man or woman is spoken for. Sure, it once had possessive undertones. However, today it carries more a sense of commitment.Then I realized that we already had a solution. It's simply gone into disuse. We can bring back the going-steady ring. You remember the going-steady ring, don't you? Just go back a generation or so, when giving a girl your ring or your pin meant to tell everyone else you were going out. I like the ring better, because it's more visible and rings already have meaning in our society. This isn't just for the ladies, either. Men should wear them, too. The practice came to be in a time when only men could pursue women, not vice versa. In this more enlightened age, women have just as much right to know if they can invest any emotional energy on a man or if he's unavailable.To distinguish them from wedding rings, these going-steady rings can be worn on a chain about the neck, Frodo-style. This will be a relatively new custom, which allows us to make plenty of room for individual tastes. That goes especially for ring designs. I personally could see myself giving a ring with a Gaelic pattern. I might also like an ourobouros, the serpent biting its own tail. Perhaps I could even go for a double ourobouros, twined like the snakes on the staff of the Greek god of healing, Aesclepius. I already mentioned the one ring motif. I could see it hanging on a simple leather cord.Others will have their own preferences. It could be shaped as three strands in a braid. Maybe an etching of something long and sinuous, like a Chinese dragon, on one. Maybe fire or thorns and vines or that barbed design on so many tattoo. Maybe some kind of inscription on the inside. It could be something from a favorite poem or perhaps even appropriate Japanese calligraphy. Some people might even like a simple, smooth ring. Chains could be links or simple twine. I'm sure you can think of something on your own.Gone will be the days of wondering if you can approach that gorgeous creature. It can also make it easier to tell your own status at the start of a relationship. Not sure if you should call her your girlfriend yet? Well, if she's willing to wear your ring, it's a fair bet that you can. Then, at the end, if you can't find the words to tell her it's over, handing back her ring says it all.The simple act of giving and taking rings could make our mating rituals so much easier. It also removes a great deal of confusion in the realm of courtship. What's more, there's absolutely nothing to stop us from putting it in practice. So why not bring it back? Won't you help me revive this tradition? Give your significant other your ring today.

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