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The Wedding Ring Blues: What Do You Wear on That Finger After Divorce?

A few months after her 29-year marriage ended, Jeannie Ralston decided it was time to fill the void on the ring finger of her left hand. But with what?

Every time I looked at it, the unadorned finger on my left hand made me sad. For more than 29 years (except for a strange gap of a few months), a silver band had encircled the third finger, the ring finger. But since I put my wedding ring away three months ago, it’s been strikingly bare, with my left hand only sporting the oval ring I’d bought in Turkey fashioned from an Arabic signet.

On NextTribe’s recent trip to San Miguel de Allende, I decided it was time to do something about that. It seemed the perfect place to make this symbolic change. San Miguel is filled with jewelry shops selling gorgeous silver pieces, and the city has special meaning because my husband and I and our two sons spent four splendid years there.

The Ceremony

In addition, on this recent visit, I had made a step toward healing through a ceremonial gesture. On every trip to San Miguel during the Dias de los Muertos festival, we make an altar honoring loved ones who have died. This process includes posting photos of those who have passed, plus mementos associated with that person (or sometimes a pet).

I talked about the marriage that had died this year and how I’d sort of assumed it would last my whole life.

This year, I decided to also place on the altar a wedding photo, ripped down the middle, with my wedding ring beside it. Part of the tradition on the Dias de los Muertos trip is to spend an evening when each NextTribe traveler can talk about who they placed on the altar. I’ve always found it to be cathartic, and from feedback, it seems past guests have felt the same.

I started out talking about my father who died four years ago and whose photo was prominently displayed, along with two items I always identify with him—a bottle of wine and Oreo cookies. Then, I talked about the marriage that had died this year and how I’d sort of assumed it would last my whole life. I got teary, unsurprisingly, but was able to express gratitude for the life and family I had built with my husband.

The ritual gave me some measure of closure, and on our last day in San Miguel, I decided it was time to fill the void on that finger.

Read More: Now That It’s Official, Is There Any Good Way to Mark a “Divorce Day?”

Not an Ordinary Wedding Ring

The silver band I placed on the altar wasn’t my original wedding ring. My husband and I had purchased simple silver rings before getting married. Mine was a piece by the jewelry artist Lisa Jenks, that featured engravings in a somewhat primitive motif.

I had no interest in a fancy or flashy ring. I had been engaged before, in my 20s, and my fiancé had given me a very nice diamond ring. Over the course of our two-year engagement (long engagements are never a good sign, I believe now), I wrote a story about the diamond district in New York City. I learned how overly hyped the diamond engagement ring thing was, and how, essentially, diamonds have value based almost solely on good marketing by DeBeers, the major diamond dealer out of the Netherlands.

So after I broke that engagement (returning the ring, by the way) and ended up marrying my husband, I was adamant that I didn’t want a diamond or anything bling-y.

An Omen?

My Lisa Jenks silver band served well for almost 25 years, the engravings were worn smooth in places.

The first thing I noticed was the white mark where the ring had blocked the sun all summer…for so many summers.

Then two months before our 25th anniversary, I lost the ring. I still have never figured out where or how. I was worried that it was a bad omen. But then my husband suggested we renew our vows for our 25th in a simple ceremony. We bought a new ring–again silver, with 5 grooves circling the band. We said that each groove represented five years of togetherness.

I wore that ring for more than four years, even after we decided to divorce early last summer. I even had it on in late August when I returned to my former home to pick up some of my things. I hadn’t seen my husband in months, and when I saw that he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring, I felt a bit bereft. Through all his extensive traveling, I felt comforted knowing he had that ring on to connect us. Now, with my ring still on, I felt more than a little foolish.  I surreptitiously slipped it off and put it in my purse, not wanting him to see it and think I hadn’t accepted our parting. After I took it off, the first thing I noticed was the white mark where the ring had blocked the sun all summer…for so many summers.

The Wedding Ring Replacement

On my last day in San Miguel, I headed out on a shopping trip with Carol, one of the travelers who I’ve known for years. As a writer and poet, Carol is a sensitive soul, with deep wells of empathy and insight. And she certainly understands being alone after a long marriage, having lost her husband in a kayaking accident 10 years ago.

Are there any guidelines on what you’re supposed to wear in place of your wedding band?

I started at my favorite jewelry store, though I didn’t have any idea what I was after. Are there any guidelines on what you’re supposed to wear in place of your wedding band? I decided I would know it if I saw it, and after much trying on and contemplation, I had narrowed the options to two rings.

One was a jaunty number with the two ends sporting three balls that sat at the top of my finger. The other one was more showy and elegant—a triangular amethyst stone set in silver.

I kept switching them out to see which one spoke to me more strongly. The jaunty one was significantly cheaper, so I almost decided on it, thinking I should save some money for my solo life ahead. Carol liked them both.

I had almost convinced myself to take the cheaper one, but then I thought about the significance of purple. My husband and I had started the first commercial lavender farm in Texas, and the amethyst was the perfect shade to represent that exciting stage of my life. Plus, with the pointy end of the ring worn toward my fingernail, the shape was like an arrow launching upward, which is the direction I intend to go.

“I’ll take them both,” I blurted, and quickly gave the clerk my credit card before I changed my mind. Carol, who had found her own ring to buy, approved. “Why not? This isn’t just any jewelry purchase.”

The Release

When I walked out of the store wearing both—the amethyst on my ring finger and the silver balls on my index finger—I felt heat in my chest and my eyes stinging. I looked at Carol, who was beaming with happiness over her purchase. She saw my face and her smile dropped.

I felt suddenly lonely, truly on my own.

“I think I’m going to cry,” I said, my voice cracking. And then I did. I hugged Carol, whose arms circled me tightly. She patted my back, and I let the tears flow. I didn’t think I would feel this way, but this step felt so final. I felt suddenly lonely, truly on my own after all these years of relying on and supporting my husband.

“It’s good to let it out,” Carol was whispering. “You’ve gone through a major loss.”

I released Carol and looked up at the striking parroquia in San Miguel’s main square a few blocks away. Its beauty has always lifted me. I wiped my tears and smiled. “I’m fine,” I said. “Or I will be fine.” We started walking along the cobblestone street, back toward the hotel, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off my sparkly left hand and wondered with a hint of excitement what these rings might come to symbolize in the future.

Read More: The Rising “Gray” Divorce Rate: What’s Behind The Shocking Epidemic

By Jeannie Ralston


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