Till tenure do us part?
February 6, 2008 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Throughout my college career, I could probably count on one hand the number of professors I've seen who wear wedding rings, and this includes professors who mention their spouses. Is this just coincidence, or is there something to it?

I'll [hopefully] be graduating college at the end of this semester. One thing I've noticed during my four years of college is that very few of the professors I've had have worn wedding rings. I'm sure some of the professors I've had haven't been married; however, a good number of them mention their husband or wife during the course of a semester, and yet I've seen maybe two or three of them wearing any sort of rings--wedding rings included. This isn't a case of just one school, either; I'm on my fourth school (yes, fourth; I've transferred a few times), and I've noticed it at each of the four. Is this just a coincidence, as I suspect, or is there some unspoken rule in academia about wearing a wedding ring? This can be filed under ObservationFilter or CuriosityFilter, I suppose.
posted by phaded to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm an academic, and as far as I know there's no unspoken rule. (I do think there are a relatively high proportion of academic couples who are together for life but don't actually marry; such people might use "husband" or "wife" as an imprecise shorthand. Maaaybe that's what's going on?)
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:15 PM on February 6, 2008

That is, a high proportion relative to the proportion of the general public who are in that situation. Not that the proportion is high full stop.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:16 PM on February 6, 2008

I'm steeped in it, and don't think there's any unspoken rule (of course, if it's unspoken . . .). I would imagine that there is a slightly higher proportion of untraditional relationships among academics; among marrieds, probably slightly lower tendency to exhibit signs of it. But not much more than this; it's just being slightly adrift from convention in general. I think if you could plot the absence of wedding rings against the absence of neckties, or the presence of turtlenecks/berets/NYRBs, and have a pretty nice display. In terms of the graph, not how we academics actually look, mind you.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:24 PM on February 6, 2008

Critical of materialism/patriarchy/conformity?

Too poor to buy jewelry?

Bloated in late middle age?

Always misplacing things?
posted by billtron at 7:28 PM on February 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Confirmation bias on your part? Or maybe the academics that you're exposed to have a more nuanced understanding of marriage than the average person.
posted by Skwirl at 7:31 PM on February 6, 2008

Once we get to the bar, *then* we take off our wedding rings. Just like anyone else.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:41 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, as in most professions, "husband" or "wife" is often shorthand for "ex-wife" or "ex-husband." Check it out.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:42 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are most of your professors men? My dad (British, physicist) has never worn a wedding ring, and my understanding is that it isn't uncommon for men to opt out -- it was weird to me when we moved here to see how many American men wore wedding rings. So if your profs are male, or disproportionately foreign-born/-married (both of which seem statistically likely in academia), that might make a difference (if it's not just confirmation bias).
posted by obliquicity at 7:50 PM on February 6, 2008

Yeah, lots of 'nontraditional' relationships in (science, at least) academia.

Lots of professors are wed to their work and either never ended up in a long term relationship or ended up never fixing one going bad.

Then again, I know lots of PI's (principle investigators - ie., tenured faculty) who are married (sometimes to each other) and wear their wedding bands.

Which field of academia are you in?

Are you noticing this in female or male professors? Creepy professors who like attention from the undergrads?

In the wet sciences, many of my married (female) co-workers will routinely not wear their wedding bands because they don and doff latex/nitrile gloves day-in/day-out and the big-ol'
rock slices through the gloves like, well, a diamond through thin plastic.
posted by porpoise at 7:50 PM on February 6, 2008

A reasonable number of people I work with don't wear rings all the time because we do lab work and they're annoying under gloves. I'd agree with the more non-traditional relationship thing too although it's still not terribly high overall. Either way I'm sure there are still more wedding-ringed people in the academic circles I work in than not, so it's either specific to your location/subject area or confirmation bias is playing a part.
posted by shelleycat at 7:53 PM on February 6, 2008

Agreed about the no-rings-in-wet-labs observations - they're just too much bother when you live in latex gloves. Also, academics tend to march to a somewhat different drummer and may simply not see the point of spending money on a purely symbolic thing like a ring.

I'm not in academia any more but both of these reasons are true for me, for an n = 1 data point.
posted by Quietgal at 7:59 PM on February 6, 2008

Response by poster: Interesting stuff. Thanks guys. Like I said, I figure it's just a coincidence; I just think it's an odd coincidence, and wondered if there was something more to it.

A couple follow-up answers to questions you guys had:

-I've noticed this with both male and female professors; I'd say I've had slightly more female professors than male.
-I'm an English major, but I was previously a liberal arts major, so I've noticed this with professors across a host of disciplines.
posted by phaded at 8:45 PM on February 6, 2008

There are ethical issues with the diamond trade as well that I think would be more of a concern with faculty types.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 8:51 PM on February 6, 2008

Off the wall theory time: My parents are teachers, so not altogether unlike professors, and were hippies back in the day when they got married. Their rings from the time were pretty cheap given their financial status, and so both of them have since broken. They keep them in my mom's jewelry box and have never replaced them, I think partially out of sentimentality for the old ones.

So maybe the old hippies' cheapo rings broke?
posted by wuzandfuzz at 8:56 PM on February 6, 2008

I don't work in academia but wanted to comment. I am married and never wear my wedding ring. My husband never wears his either. My parents don't wear theirs either. The thing that I find weird about it is how many people have commented on me not wearing a wedding ring. I remember one woman in particular kept going on and on about it until I finally said, "I just don't need a ring on my finger to remind me that I'm married." That finally shut her up but I do find it odd that some people find a married person not wearing a ring to be disconcerting for some reason. (Clarification: I'm not implying that phaded has a problem with it. I am talking about people I've come in contact with that clearly had a problem with it.)
posted by GlowWyrm at 9:45 PM on February 6, 2008

I'm not a prof but I did used to teach, and I would take off my wedding band when lecturing just because I had a tendency to play with it.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:17 PM on February 6, 2008

My boss (a professor of medicine) is happily married with children, but doesn't wear a ring. He said that ring-on, ring-off for washing hands got tedious after a while.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 5:25 AM on February 7, 2008

I'm a college professor who is in a completely committed relationship, with an awesome six month old daughter - we are not married and don't into to get married. For what its worth. I also do not refer to my S/O as my wife in general.
posted by idzyn at 6:52 AM on February 7, 2008

Another random explanation anecdote: When we got married, my husband wore his wedding ring on his middle finger because it was too big. Then, his ring size went up and he couldn't take it off his middle finger. There it stayed for about 15 years, and plenty of people probably didn't process it as a wedding ring at all.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:54 AM on February 7, 2008

nth rings in a wet lab under gloves. I'm forever itching with latex, ring, finger reaction when I wear mine. I reserve it for weekends. I can't wear make-up for a similar reason, especially eye-makeup:it messes up scopes.

Empirical observation on ring wearing: it runs 50/50 in my lab
posted by francesca too at 8:04 AM on February 7, 2008

I haven't encountered the same thing. Generally, I've noticed that the professors I've had who refer to their spouses wear a ring (I have that unfortunate habit of instinctively looking to the hand when someone talks about a spouse). As a matter of fact, one of my professors got married during this past semester and after the wedding, he started wearing a really nice gold ring where there was none before. Then again, I rarely take science lab courses. I would still say this falls under confirmation bias.
posted by sian at 8:25 AM on February 7, 2008

I am a married male professor, and I never wear my ring. And, if it comes up, I don't hesitate to mention to mention to my students that I'm married or have a toddler (for example, when they inquire why I didn't come out for the bar night), but don't just offer that information for the sake of it (e.g., I never introduce myself to a new class as "hi, i'm your professor, I'm married and have a toddler"). I only share information about my personal life on a need-to-know basis.

The reason for not wearing the ring? A few (in no particular order):

1) As GlowWyrm put it: "I just don't need a ring on my finger to remind me that I'm married."

2) My wife and I can't stand those people that get engaged and want to show off their rings to every person out there as if the ring is the whole reason they wanted to get engaged to begin with. So, there is some reaction to the value/importance the society gives to "rings".

3) Our bias against anything that is ceremonial: We got married in a court house, did not wear anything special, did not attend our graduation ceremonies, and don't buy each other anything for valentines, birthdays, or Christmas.

4) Not being used to it: The few times I wear my ring, I find myself obsessed and playing with it all day, and found that it kind of distracts me. Since I don't find any value in wearing it (see items 1-3 above), why bother?

Having given all these reasons, I'll reverse the question: why do you think that all married people must wear their rings? Do they have a societal obligation to let everyone know that they are 'taken'?
posted by tuxster at 1:44 PM on February 7, 2008

In academia, also married once, Justice of the Peace type ceremony, ring came from a gumball machine and turned my finger green. Sometimes a ring around your finger is annoying and sometimes it's f'ing dangerous.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:17 PM on February 8, 2008

Response by poster: tuxster: "Having given all these reasons, I'll reverse the question: why do you think that all married people must wear their rings? Do they have a societal obligation to let everyone know that they are 'taken'?"

No, I certainly don't think that at all, and I apologize if I came off as believing that. I just found it curious that in my experience, a higher percentage of married (as far as I know) professors don't wear wedding rings compared with married people I know who are not professors, and I was wondering if there was some reason for this or if it was just coincidental.
posted by phaded at 8:50 PM on February 11, 2008

Having given all these reasons, I'll reverse the question: why do you think that all married people must wear their rings? Do they have a societal obligation to let everyone know that they are 'taken'?

Hate to derail but, there is no better touchstone as I go through my day than the tried and true simple symbolic marker of commitment in the form of my plain gold band (no, not the Bridezilla bling the show-offs wave around). It's about so much more than not being available. It's talismanic, ancient, spiritual and public -- believe me, a ceremony and a symbol to commemorate love and hope, that's only a good thing.

Oh, and I wear my parents' plain gold bands on a chain around my neck, and I play and twirl and slip their rings on my fingers a dozen times a day. They're gone, but those rings connect me to them and their love for each other ... and me.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:17 PM on April 14, 2008

« Older How to get a new cable soldered onto my mic?   |   I feel weird about this employment background... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.