If you’ve ever spent an afternoon in a jewellery store looking for rings, you’ll know that the process follows a familiar pattern. First the salesperson will ask what you’re shopping for; you’ll reply “wedding bands” and the conversation will immediately shift. Smiles all around, congratulations, “When’s the big day?” Then you’ll be showed a series of unnervingly similar rings, differing in imperceptible millimetres of thickness or thinness until you finally choose one based on…what exactly? The fact is, a few hours into the exercise, it becomes hard to discern the relative aesthetic merits of each subsequent $1,500 metaphor.
And yet, when I experienced it earlier this spring, I found something refreshing in this ritual. There’s a kind of frankness to it that you don’t always get in day-to-day life. The clerk behind the glass display case isn’t just asking what size your finger is or what colour gold you prefer. She’s asking you to project 50 years into the future on that bare space below your knuckle, and to really think about the person you want to become. That is, she’s asking you outright to consider the one question we’re always asking ourselves — but rarely get asked so explicitly in return: “What’s next?”
This question isn’t particular to the Wedding-Industrial Complex, but I’ve found this year that wading even lightly into the decision-making warren of catering and flowers and rings and music has been an important intellectual exercise. (We’ll leave feelings and romance for another hypothetical column.) Why, I wonder, do we tend to limit most of our big introspection to these touchstone moments? Life events, like getting married, can be useful in building momentum — but why don’t we think about momentum more frequently, more openly?
Editing this issue of The Book for Men in between wedding errands, I discovered that, for some men, the question of “What’s next?” is almost always on their lips. Don Cheadle, our cover star, is one of the hardest working actors in show business, not content to settle for a recurring gig in a superhero franchise when he also wants to write and direct a Miles Davis biopic. Grant van Gameren became one of the biggest restaurateurs in the country by relentlessly, breathlessly, opening restaurant after restaurant. And the automotive, horological, and fashion designers whose work we profile are constantly pursuing cutting-edge styles and techniques. For all of them, “What’s next” is the only question that matters. It’s almost a rallying cry: to innovate, push boundaries, change the game, be heard.
For the rest of us, sometimes you may need a jewellery salesperson to ask you first. But even as you buy the rings and choose the flowers and say the vows, the important thing is to never stop asking the question.