When we were young mothers I was visiting my friend Martina's house. The children were playing quietly in the other room when I noticed a small Polaroid photograph stuck to the wall by her bed. In the picture, her husband, a tall, muscular carpenter had his large around her slender shoulders. He was pulling her into him, in embrace. Martina smiled, as I pointed it out. "I like that picture," she admitted. "It was taken when we were at a bar, and I was feeling uncomfortable and far from home. One of the men there had yelled over to Jim, 'Hey, is that your old lady?' and he had replied, 'No. This is my beautiful wife." I smiled in agreement.

"It is a nice picture." I carried her story in my heart as the ultimate romantic story. For reasons I can hardly explain, it seemed much more cherry to me than Cinderella (saved from drudgery and ill education by nothing more than her face.) It touched me deeper than the tangled lost loves on soap operas, where new relationships were revealed daily. It seemed more telling than Jasmine and Aladdin on the flying carpet or Beauty and the Beast, in either case our feminine heroine has to see through a lot of grit to find her prince. Martina's story already had a handsome man, one not afraid to make public legal statement about his feelings and marry her, and be proud of their connection. He didn't call her a "ball and chain," like my second husband did. Ok, maybe I deserved that, it wasn't romantic though.

Fantasy is based on romance not reality. I daydreamed a lot through my twenties and early thirties of the man who might one day say, "No, that's my beautiful wife." Believe it or not, in my 30th year, a man did ask me to get married. I was quite excited to quit my job and settle down to mothering. At thirty, I wasn't young, yet I still had a few preconceived notions. I liked the idea of having an engagement ring to symbolize our commitment. I had never been much enamored of diamonds so I mentioned to my finance a ruby ring would nicely complement the ring I wore every day already.

Imagine my surprise when he responded in anger that I wanted to the ring just to show off to my friends. He accused me of caring more about an object than him. I reminded him, I hadn't made up the tradition, and conceded that if he found it offensive to discuss such a purchase we weren't ready to be engaged. A misunderstanding ensued, from that point on I considered us dating, not engaged. He on the other hand, considered us engaged without necessity of ring. I wasn't sure how he misconstrued my perfectly clear English until the end of our relationship when he was diagnosed as a narcissist.

So I castigated myself for wanting something as silly and traditional as a ring for no other reason than tradition. I reminded myself being loved and cared for actually WAS more important than a symbol. The funny thing is, now that I am older, I realize a man who really loved me would have indulged me. It's not about the money. You can find a lab created ruby for under a hundred dollars, a fake one for less than fifty. So no man should stand on issue that it's about the money, if it's not. He wasn't only cheap he was hurtful and mean spirited to suggest I was being awful about the ring, when as I pointed out, I didn't invent the tradition of a ring, I merely observed it. As the person with the more exotic viewpoint, he really should have brought it up himself, as in, "You know baby, I'm not crazy about the symbolism of engagement rings, is there something else we could do to replace that tired old tradition?" While I may have disagreed, at least I wouldn't have felt acid washed of my dream.

My second husband knew about the engagement ring fiasco. He also knew I didn't care for diamonds, or even the traditional solitaire setting. I did office work at the time, and the single set stone seemed to catch to easily on files and things. One day at the mall my second husband amazed me, and brought me to tears by getting down on one knee and presenting me with a simple gold ring with tiny diamond chips set flush into it as an engagement ring. "I know you said you didn't care for them," he said as he presented it, "but I think you're worth it." It was sweet, stunning and entirely unexpected.

I still have that ring.

I was shocked after his dramatic proposal how fast his slide into domestic discontent happened. Not a month after we said I do, he described me at church to an older member as his "ball and chain." He thought it was funny. I thought it was Ouch! I couldn't imagine what I had done to make him feel so tethered. I never asked him where the money went, didn't presume to give him advice. As a proper Christian wife I was submissive, which certainly made for a pleasant household. I asked him on the way home to please not refer to me that way in public, so he stopped, at my request. Which was respectful, and yet a far cry from the man who un-prompted refers to you as his "beautiful wife" to an acquaintance in a bar.

Now I am older. With two divorces under my belt I don't harbor fantasies of being asked again to get married. Even if I was asked, I might have to say "no," since whatever marriage is, I am clearly disgustingly bad at it. I was causally perusing the Christian Science Monitor when I saw a picture of a bride in China. She is older than the average American bride, and lithe and elegantly dressed. She stands in a Western style white wedding dress, a feathered tiara on her head, her groom beside her in a carriage drawn by a single white horse. I had to smile at the man so besotted by her, so in love, as to spend the money for that wonderful picture – as I have to doubt they own that gig.