At your average traditional wedding, the bands that the bride and groom exchange are described as symbols of "an unbroken circle of love."
Chad Meyer, a 41-year-old CFO at a financial-services company in Chicago, has a different perspective on the ritual. "I see it as suffocating," he says, "like, 'I have this on my finger because the other person owns me.'"
As a full-time forgoer of the ring, Meyer is in the minority among his friends and colleagues. They take their rings off only sometimes. One married friend of Meyer's pockets his before walking into bars, usually making a joke like "I'd better get this off" or "Watch me lose this." Another waits until a pretty woman approaches him to ditch his—a feat he can manage even when he's holding a drink. "Did you see me get that off with one hand?" he brags after the woman is out of earshot.
Meyer maintains that his insistence on going bare-handed has nothing to do with attracting the opposite sex, sticking with his philosophical argument that the ring is a discomfiting symbol of possession.
"Male culture has this assumption that it's better to keep your freedom," says Dr. Shelley Green, a marriage and family therapist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "Not wearing a ring is a way for men to stake their claim on their independence. That doesn't have to mean they want to be unfaithful at all."
Okay. But if a man came home one day and his wife—on her way out the door wearing a miniskirt, heels, and no ring—said, "I'm just staking my claim on my independence. Why does everyone have to think that I belong to you?" what would he think?
Besides, right now there are married men in bars across the country using ringless hands to help them solicit extramarital sex; they're not doing the guys who claim to shun the band for spiritual reasons any favors. Hillary, 32, who works for a luxury e-retailer in San Francisco, once met a guy in a Marina-district bar who'd been married for less than a year; she didn't know that at the time because he wasn't wearing his ring. The next time she saw him, he was wearing a band on his right hand. "It was bizarre," Hillary says. "I guess he thought he would slowly introduce it." Liz, a 36-year-old who works in finance on the West Coast, saw a guy at a bar in New York slide his ring off before he sidled up to her. They spent the evening talking, but when he asked her to come home with him, she refused.
The price that married guys pay for trying to live this paradox varies. Awi Salomon, a 28-year-old newlywed in New York, says that at first his wife didn't mind that he wouldn't wear his ring. (Salomon's excuse is that his dad doesn't, so he feels like he shouldn't have to either.) Then his wife's family and friends pointed out that this was, in effect, denying her existence. She decided to use her maiden name professionally, which pisses Salomon off. And when Lesley McAllister, a 29-year-old attorney in New York, learned that her husband wouldn't be wearing a band (he even bet the best man $50 he could get away with it), she opted out of buying him one just for the ceremony. Instead, she got herself a diamond-studded unbroken circle of love rather than a plain gold one—on him.