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Beth Bernstein Headshot

I'm Worth It

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Unlike Mae West, who famously said, "I have always felt a gift diamond shines so much better than one you buy for yourself," I believe that all jewelry a woman purchases for herself shines just as brightly and suggests that she is independent and self-sufficient.

As a single, middle-aged woman, I have learned that there is a special feeling that comes with having the freedom and confidence to go into a store and buy your own ring.

For much of my life, I've been in long-term relationships or spent extensive stretches bouncing back from said relationships. During that time, I've been given my fair share of jewelry that ranged from sweet, girly pavé hearts of all sizes to hard-edged skull and crossbones concoctions. I found that the guys with whom I was involved were buying adornments for how they envisioned me -- not for who I was.

There were other scenarios, too, such as having to relive my first 10-year-old boyfriend taking back his ring after turning my finger green when my boyfriend at 30 re-gifted a similar turquoise and silver band that his college girlfriend had given to him. I realized I was not only choosing similar men throughout my life, but they were also giving me similar types of jewelry.

I've dated guys who 'didn't get the point of diamonds' but were head over heels for CZ and thought that faux was fabulous -- even upon turning my neck an interesting tint of orange. I had earrings that weighed as heavy on my lobes as ill-fated romances on my heart. There were whimsical charms that were fun in the beginning, but, like the rest of these pieces, had about the same endurance as the relationships they represented.

While in my forties, as a still-single jewelry reporter and designer, I learned that it might be easier to find the right ring than the right man, and I moved on from perusing to purchasing.

After wrestling with attraction-verses-affordability and desire-verses-debt, I made some trade-offs with my yearly budget and took on more freelance work on weekends instead of going out with emotionally stunted men. I cleared out all the pieces and relationships that no longer worked for me.

For years, like most women, I was okay with buying designer fashion, handbags and shoes but was conditioned to feel guilty about purchasing fine gems. Like Mae West, I had believed that jewelry -- especially diamonds -- must be purchased for a woman by a man. I would plunk down my credit card for Prada handbags and boots, Loro Piana cashmere sweaters and Jill Sanders clothes. So why was I feeling so guilty about buying myself jewelry?

I remember my Sweet Sixteen. I had my eye on a sapphire pendant with tiny diamond accents. I brought my father to see it. "This is the type of jewelry that your husband will buy for you," he said. He presented me with a sterling silver Elsa Peretti cuff from Tiffany & Co. instead. I loved it and still have it, but the message I heard was "you're sterling until some man deems you gold or platinum."

Challenging what I was taught to believe, I invested in a platinum eternity band with round diamonds set in a pattern of marquis and square shapes. Before long, I decided it needed a mate. Soon after, there was a family of seven antique, thin geometric motifs in platinum with small diamonds, which I wear on my right index finger. Soon after I started wearing them, I interviewed a Manhattan matchmaker for an article and she told me, "you can't go out with a finger full of wedding and anniversary bands when you are trying to date. Men get confused. They don't remember which finger. They will think you are married or engaged. Or worse yet, they will think you have money to buy your own jewelry."

Sure enough, a guy came over to me in a restaurant, pointed to my finger and asked, "Is that how many times you've been married?"

"No," I shot back, "it's all the times I haven't."

He told me I was witty, handed me a napkin with his phone number and said to call him when I didn't want to get hitched again. As intriguing as it seemed, I wasn't in the market for an unavailable man when there were so many eligible pieces of jewelry to be found.

Since then, I have bought myself a gorgeous wide, lacy gold band for my right hand -- a fiftieth birthday present to myself -- and an antique Edwardian necklace for my fifty-first. I have realized that I am comfortable in my personal style, work hard, and I'm worth it.

Every time I put on the ring and the necklace I get a lift. And I know I will continue to buy my own jewelry in the same way I learned to kill my own spiders, build my own shelves and master the fine art of changing air conditioning filters. Yet it would still be nice to hear someone say let me help you with the clasp.