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I fought with a priest over the meaning of 'commitment'

By Jessica Wakeman, The Frisky
Her live-in boyfriend isn't committed to her until he gives her an engagement ring, a priest tells a young woman.
Her live-in boyfriend isn't committed to her until he gives her an engagement ring, a priest tells a young woman.
  • To some, a ring is the only way to prove a true commitment
  • Being engaged does not always mean a relationship will work out
  • "Commitment" means different things to different people, including priests
  • Weddings
  • Marriage
  • Religion

(The Frisky) -- There are a few people who really, really, really want to see me engaged: me (obviously); my boyfriend, who is saving money for an engagement ring; my mother (who, every time she sees him, offers to help him pick the aforementioned ring out); and a Roman Catholic priest whom I was seated next to at my girlfriend's wedding.

Now, guess which person made me burst into tears one Saturday night in August, snatch my purse, and storm off in a blind rage?

My mama raised me right: When I was seated next to a stranger at my girlfriend's wedding, I was polite as could be. We clinked champagne glasses during the toast. We told each other "bon appetit" when each course of the incredible Italian dinner appeared.

We chatted about each other's travels in Europe. Father D. happened to be a priest, too, as well as a fellow wedding guest -- and a worldly, well-educated, interesting priest at that.

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Every half hour or so, my dining companion and I were interrupted. Whenever the waiters set down a primo piatti or a palette-cleansing sorbet at the empty seat beside me, I piped up, "I'm sorry, that seat is vacant. My date couldn't make it."

Finally, Father D. asked, "Where's your date?"

My boyfriend had a last-minute business trip to San Francisco, I told him.

"Where does he live?" Father D. inquired.

"We live together in New Jersey," I answered.


What happened next, I am still struggling to wrap my brain around.

"Are you planning to get married?" he asked.

"We are," I said. "I know he's saving money to buy a ring. He's started his own company, though, so it may not be for a while."

"You've got to get that commitment from him," Father D. told me.

"We have a commitment," I said. "We've known each other is 'the one' pretty much since we met. We're absolutely committed to being together and having kids."

He shook his head. "Not like a ring is a commitment. A ring means something: it means the man is serious."

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Oh, if only my friend Amelia -- who had her own broken engagement story -- could have popped up from underneath Table 5 to also explain that an engagement ring doesn't necessarily mean wedding bells or happily-ever-after.

"I'm sure I'm getting a ring," I told Father D. "I know he wants to buy one, but I also know he doesn't have the money right now to get one. I don't think the ring really matters. We have an emotional commitment to each other."

"When you have a ring, you'll know," Father D. said.

"I do know." God, I wanted to scream at him. "Do you really think purchasing a ring actually means something? A $10,000 ring means he's serious about me? What if he buys a $500 ring at a vintage shop? Does that still mean he's not really making a commitment because he hasn't put a huge financial investment into it?"

"It's not about the price of the ring," the priest went on. "Men really need to make that commitment. It symbolizes something. Remember, men are the accelerator and women are the brakes."

I'm not stupid. I can read between the lines of what "Men are the accelerator and women are the brakes" means. "Are you saying this because we're living together and we're unmarried?" I asked, and thinking to myself, And we're sleeping together?

"I think you need to watch out for yourself," he said.

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"I am in love and I am living with someone who is in love with me, too. We've told each other we are committed to each other and that's what matters. If you say the price of the ring is not important, why does the ring matter at all?" I hissed. "It doesn't. It's just a gift. We are going to get married, but I don't need a piece of jewelry to validate my relationship with him."

"I've seen girls like you before," he told me. "A few years go by and there's still no engagement and then they're left asking themselves what happened."

That was it. "With all due respect, you don't know me," I glowered. "You don't know anything about me, or about us. You're just stereotyping me and you're stereotyping a person you've never even met." I stood up abruptly and grabbed my purse off my boyfriend's empty seat. "I can't have this conversation with you anymore," I told him, and stalked off.

Hot tears pricked my eyes as I headed to a table of desserts, and stabbed at Italian pastries with my fork. I was livid.

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The fire in my belly died after a good night's sleep, but there is still a bitter rock of anger wedged in.

How dare someone tell me what a commitment is? How dare someone suggest my boyfriend's word is worth nothing without a ring? How dare someone tell me my relationship and my love are not valid enough until we buy into some symbol that society tells us we need (which, I might add, we are already planning on buying into anyway)?

In the hours that the reception continued, I kicked off my five-and-a-half inch heels to do the twist and I hooted as the groom groped around for my friend's garter. But my head wasn't there.

My sweet David was on my mind, three thousand miles away in California and ignorant to the fact that his commitment to me and my commitment to him are apparently not "real." My best friend was in my head, as was her lesbian relationship with a girlfriend whom she cannot legally marry in most states in America because of pure bigotry.

How dare anyone imply our love means nothing unless we do what you tell us to do?

What kills me is that I could see at this wedding the way people acted around Father D. He is considered a trusted member in this community. But he looked at my empty ring finger and believed he knew all there was to know about me.

I can't honestly say that I think Father D. meant no harm, because I don't think anyone would say those things -- cast those judgments -- on a complete stranger unless they were trying to get a reaction.

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Sometimes being someone who gets fixated on things is frustrating. But you know what? This time I intend to use my obsessive personality to teach someone a lesson:

Father D., twenty-some-odd years from now, you will get an envelope from me. It will have a photo of me and the man I love, as many children as we are blessed with, and as many cats we can own without attracting the attention of the Health Department.

And there will be a letter from me that says: "I told you so."

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