One Engagement Ring, Three Divorces

(Graphic: Helen Jane Hearn/

Two months salary. A girl’s best friend. A gift that lasts a lifetime. Our family diamond has been called many things, but it will no longer be called an engagement ring. I’m heading to the jeweler’s to pick up the shard of stone that’s been passed down in my family for three generations, sowing havoc and heartache wherever it landed.

Humans have always attributed enormous power to rings. Think of popes, kings, seniors and Lords of — no one ever kissed an earring or bowed to a bracelet. And so, I’m having this ring deconsecrated. It is ready for a new incarnation as a sparkly bauble, no longer a promise of eternal love. After three failed tries, our diamond will be reincarnated as a harmless charm.

The diamond was originally purchased by my father, hastily, in 1964. Not long after he thrust it at my mother, I was born in a manner that had the aunts and uncles counting on their fingers and nodding knowingly.  But despite its rocky start, the marriage endured for 14 excruciatingly painful years.

My parents gave it their best shot, but honestly, they were god-awful at being married. There was so much sarcasm and blame-shifting around that dinner table that it’s a wonder any of us can still put fork to mouth without convulsing in guilt. While my brother and sister and I are certainly grateful that they blindly fell into that marriage trap and conceived the three of us along the way, we were equally grateful when my mother announced that she was calling it a day.

An extremely long, shout-filled, anxiety-laden day.

Although it was a memento of a failed marriage, I still had fond feelings for the ring. Those 14 years weren’t all bad, and god knows I’d seen enough de Beers commercials to know that a diamond is one of the most precious and rare things on earth. And so the ring waited patiently in its red pleather jewelry box for the next opportunity to shine.

That came about 15 years later when I came to the conclusion that marrying my Italian jazz guitarist boyfriend would be a good life decision. We were poor, and so we asked my mother if we could use her engagement ring. She was thrilled to give it another chance.

Let me repeat: my first husband was an Italian jazz guitarist. This marriage mistake falls squarely under the Oprah category of learning to actually LISTEN TO PEOPLE when they tell you who they are. This time the ring (and my husband) kept its promise for only three years.

Still, I maintained my affection for it, and continued to hold the ring in high esteem for both its history and its value. A diamond is the hardest material there is, formed over eons in the depths of the earth. Every thriller I’d ever seen confirmed that diamonds are the perfect investment — easy to conceal, portable, and always maintaining their value. And so the ring went into another pleather-bound jewelry box for another 20 or so years.

In that interim, I married again, this time to a poet. But a poet with a day job, a 401k, and a sense of constancy. He brought with him his own diamond, and infinitely more valuable, a daughter who grew to be a daughter to me as well. After a few years I gave birth to a son. Tomorrow is our 16th anniversary and so far, so good. In fact, I’m a little shocked to realize that our marriage has outlasted that of my parents.

A few years ago, my stepdaughter and her partner decided to tie the knot, and I offered them the diamond to use as their engagement ring. They had known one another since middle school and had been together as a couple for seven or eight years. They seemed like a solid bet. The wedding was a fairy tale affair at the family farm, and the diamond sparkled mightily in its new setting.

That understanding has freed me to love our diamond for what it is: a bit of darkness made clear by the forces of time, pressure and craft.

They’re mopping up the remains of the marriage now. The house they shared was sold last week, and the divorce will be final in a month or so. This time the stone kept its promise for exactly one year.


My stepdaughter took the ring to the jeweler and got a few bucks for its gold. I asked if she would return the diamond to me, and she kindly agreed. I know she could have used the money, but despite everything that has happened, I couldn’t bring myself to let the stone be sold out of the family.

Even so, my feelings about the stone’s earthly value are completely altered. They shifted fairly recently, when one day I realized that Walmart is loaded with diamonds. As is JC Penney, Kmart and Kohls. In fact, nearly every department store in the country, large and small, features row after row of diamond jewelry, sparkling sweetly under halogen lights. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of bits of compressed carbon. How could I continue to see them as rare or special? A Huffington Post piece, “Diamonds are Bullshit,” explains the intense marketing that forges these fairly commonplace stones into tiny symbols of success.

That understanding has freed me to love my diamond for what it is: a bit of darkness made clear by the forces of time, pressure and craft.  And while I appreciate the years it took to form, it is no more than I appreciate the years that created my granite countertop. I appreciate the art of the stonecutter, but no more than I appreciate the art of the woman who polished the screen of my iPad. What I truly value now is the stone’s personal history.

This diamond stands for hope. Persistence. Foolish chances and passion’s dance. No more the stuff of engagement promises, but a beautiful lesson and a treasured memory of my family history.

I may have broken with tradition, but I can never divorce myself from the woman I once was, the daughter I love, and the mother who gave me life. I’ll wear it in honor of the three of us.

(Plus it’s a fabulous way to keep it close. I’m thinking that if our son ever decides to marry a girl that I HATE, I may offer it to them for use as an engagement ring.)

I’m wearing my beautiful bauble now. The jeweler gave it a simple white gold bezel (he refused to do it in silver as I requested!) on a small round clip that I can add to just about anything. He asked if I had a gold chain to hang it on, and I said, “Yes, of course,” although I do not. I was a little afraid to tell him that the moment I saw it, I knew it belonged on a black leather cord — cheap, common and a little dangerous. Just like our family’s womenfolk. And just like our diamond.

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One Response

  1. Connie DeLeon

    I enjoyed your story very much. Thank you for that. I have a promise ring myself that is not worth much in $ but to me it is very special.


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