The Meaning of a Naked Finger

I have a friend who has had affairs with a lot of married men, and she says the reason she even talked to them in the first place was because not one wore a wedding ring. Later, after she’d slept with them, they’d tell her they were married, and when she asked why they didn’t wear rings, they all gave the same explanation: “I just don’t like jewelry.” When she told me this, she shook her head wryly and said, “All those married women out there whose husbands aren’t wearing rings should be worried. It’s never an innocent choice.”

But men who choose to go bandless insist they are doing it for a more innocuous reason than adulterous intentions: an unwillingness to be publicly defined by their marital state. They want to be seen as people before they are seen as married, which presumes that one cannot be both.

“Once you’re labeled a married man,” says my friend Julian, 36, a commercial director and Nakedfinger (or NF) who’s been married twelve years, “you’re deprived of the attention of numerous people who might have been interested in you. They fill in all these blanks before you can establish what you’re about. You become a stereotype. If you act removed, then you’re whipped, and if you’re friendly, even innocently, then they think you’re looking to cheat.” For the record, he says he hasn’t, though I’m not sure I believe him.

Unlike many NFs, he wears a sterling-silver ring on the third finger of his left hand. When I first saw it I assumed it was a wedding band that had magically migrated for the evening. “I’m not anti-jewelry,” he says. “I just hate the look of a wedding ring. It reminds me of a gay priest or a Banana Republic ad. It’s very bourgeois.”

After half an hour of these varied rationalizations, he begins to sound like George Bush coming up with justifications for the war in Iraq. Let’s call a spade a spade. Isn’t the main reason all these guys go ringless so that they can flirt with unwitting single women? David, a 32-year-old trader and NF, says he often gets attention from women who assume he’s single. “I like messing around with that a little bit, where you can flirt a little and not mention that you’re married. My wife doesn’t care. She’s usually at the same party chatting it up with some guy without even realizing she’s being hit on.”

My husband, Jake, for his part, says he gets more attention now that he wears a band. He doesn’t think it’s the ring so much as his attitude; he’s not looking, so he seems more confident. One woman chatted him up at a weekly music show he goes to. “I saw you here last week with a woman,” she said.

“That was my wife,” he said, raising his hand. She didn’t bat an eye; she just kept chatting, telling him where she lived and walking him all the way to the subway.

But lest single women get a bad name, most of the bachelorettes I know have no interest in sleeping with married men. They find NFs infuriating—precisely because they sell a false bill. I have a girlfriend who often gets in conversations with men at parties, only to have them tell her half an hour later that they’re married. She hates being misled when she could have spent her time talking to someone single. A $800 platinum band might be uncomfortable at the gym, but if all the married guys out there dusted theirs off and slipped them on for holiday parties this season, thousands of single women would be spared unnecessary confusion.

There is, however, one class of married man that should be exempt from any sort of band-wearing, free to mislead and philander as they wish: guys who were strong-armed into buying expensive engagement rings for their wives. In an era when women’s earning potential is nearly the same as men’s, I find it disgusting that so many women still insist on being bought. They want to have it both ways: earn equally but then trade sex for money. I have less respect for them than I do for prostitutes, who have integrity. I only hope these women’s husbands cheat viciously, humiliate them, and leave them. But sadly, in this day and age, divorce is the best thing they can hope for. It used to be “Marry for money, and you earn every cent,” but these days it’s more like “Marry for money, and when you divorce, you’ll be set for life.”

The Meaning of a Naked Finger