A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace announced today that Prince William won’t be wearing a wedding ring once he’s married. Interesting choice.

On the one hand, he’d probably have to travel very very far (like, Mars?) to find someone who doesn’t know he’s married. So it’s not like he can sidle into any local pub and slyly hit on unsuspecting girls.

Still, it’s the principle of the thing, isn’t it?

A wedding ring indicates that the wearer is married — it’s a matter of tradition and etiquette. It’s true that the male wedding ring is a relatively recent custom (dating to the late 19th century at the earliest, and not really widespread until the 1920s). But now it’s generally assumed that a man without a wedding ring is single. Prince William’s father, Prince Charles, wears a wedding band — so why not Will?

What does it say about his relationship to Kate that she wears a ring while he does not? It’s an uncomfortable relic of what weddings used to symbolize centuries ago: a marriage was an exchange of property, and the ring symbolized a contract. The ring lets the world know that Kate belongs to the Windsors, while William, at least on a symbolic level, remains a free agent.

But then again, part of what we like about the new Royal Couple is their willingness to eschew the traditions and customs that haven’t worked out so well for their parents. They lived together before marriage, they broke up, they took their time deciding to get married.

William won’t be wearing a wedding ring — but so far, he and Kate have proved that they know how to bend the rules to what works best for them as a couple. And that is what will hopefully stand them apart from their predecessors. [People]

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