Breaking off the engagement: Would you give the ring back?

BlogHer Original Post

Ah, the holidays. In addition to all the general merriment and gift giving, it's also a popular season for diamond rings and bended knees. (In fact, this New York Times article says, "while only about 7 percent of American couples choose to marry in December, 19 percent of couples become engaged during the holidays.") But on the flip side of that, this time of year also has the highest occurrence of breakups. According to the January '08 issue of Shape magazine, 56 percent of breakups occur between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day than during any other time of year.

So why is this? Does the feeling of discontentment start once you realize the person you're with isn't someone you'd want to take home to meet the family? Might it have something to do with seasonal affective disorder (a dark attitude caused by an extended period of less-than-stellar weather)? Maybe your guy buys himself expensive toys all year long but presents you with a Christmas gift that's a little short of spectacular. Or perhaps you caught him being too friendly with an attractive co-worker at his office holiday party.

Obviously, a winter breakup can be caused by any number of factors. But whatever the reason, inevitably there will be certain things you'll have to deal with and get through. And if the breakup involves ending an engagement, you'll likely be faced with the decision of what to do with the ring. Do you keep it? Give it back?

Melissa Anderson Sweazy shares a quote by Emily Post "on the etiquette of what to do with the ring after the big day has been called off."

If an engagement is broken, the bride should immediately return the ring to her former fiancé. The only “but” in this case is if the ring is a family heirloom of the bride’s. She should then keep the ring. Some argue that the ring should not be returned to the fiancé if he was the one to initiate the break-up — rather than a mutual decision to call it quits. It makes more sense to return it. Why keep a painful reminder of the end of an engagement just to be spiteful? It’s better to take the high road and move on. The bride should also return any other presents of value her fiancé has given her, and he should return her gifts as well.

For me, I think it would depend on the situation. Even though some people think women should return the ring in every circumstance, regardless of who was at fault or if there was cheating involved, I bet that's easier said than done. If you've been hurt, you might feel like causing some hurt yourself -- even if it involves the wallet rather than the heart. But if the breakup was a mutual decision and things ended more amicably, sure, there's no reason to hold on to something that the other person probably spent quite a bit of money on.

At the Huffington Post, Nina Kotick answers the question, "If the ring fits...does an engagement ring have to be returned?"

Just last week, my oldest friend broke off her engagement. Without too many specifics, they had been together for many years, engaged for two. They lived in her home, both are high-powered and successful in their work, and both are intricately involved in the other's life. He moved out. Next, he asked for her engagement ring back. Her instinct was to say no. After all, wasn't it a gift? And hadn't she said yes to the proposal? Hadn't she already owned it for two years? She was out of pocket for the wedding dress, and many wedding day deposits - would he reimburse her for those? Shouldn't there be an offset of all the costs? How about the opportunity cost of her time betrothed to him? How about the fact that he had cheated on her? He caused the break-up, not her. So as you can imagine, I had an earful. And she asked for my guidance.

Nina goes on to give legal advice for other people in this situation. (As it turns out, the answer depends on where you live.)

Delilah asks if someone would buy a used wedding ring if they knew there was a sad story involved. (I don't think rings are cursed with bad karma, so I don't see any reason not to save money by buying a pre-owned ring.)

Last week [my friend] called me to tell me she sold her engagement ring (from a past relationship) on ebay. She made a few bucks off it. [...] I think it is pretty wise and thrifty to buy a used ring. I wouldn't mind. Then I started thinking about the story behind the ring. Jen dated the guy who gave her the ring for a long time -- years. She waited a long time for that ring. The guy finally bought her a ring but they never set a date. She had picked out a few but for dumb reasons those dates didn't work out. [...] Those two were never meant to be. Pretty quick after she found out her fiance had a girlfriend on the side she started dating this other guy. Let me tell you....two men could not be so different. Well, to make a long story short, she married the new guy. I've heard her say her ex did her a favor by cheating on her because if he hadn't she wouldn't have ended up with Neil. But I am really off track here....would you want a ring that had such a horrible story behind it? I guess you wouldn't know the story but you have to know if someone is selling an engagement ring there has to be a breakup story involved. At least this one had a happy ending.

When an engagement is broken, the ring isn't the only thing on a person's mind, as Bad4shidduchim illustrates.

Another broken engagement. What’s there to say? It makes me wonder. [...]

Why? Why do people commit and then break up? Do they think they know what they want, and then discover otherwise? It’s a troubling thought. Should you set exact specifications for a spouse, to ensure that you never fall for a charmer? I mean, if you don’t know ‘what your looking for’, how do you know when someone nice and likable is definitely and absolutely not what you’re looking for?

How do you know which things are really important and which you can let slide? [...]

“He/she is not for me.” At which point in the process does this suddenly become sharply, glaringly, obvious?

Does something happen during the engagement process specifically that highlights this for people?

Little Miss Law shares the story of her broken engagement. They were in the thick of wedding plans when she started to get cold feet. Then those cold feet become "freezing." And then "hypothermic."

I eventually realized that this was a heck of a lot more than pre-wedding jitters…I had an overwhelming sense that it just wasn’t right. Not then, not in ten years, not in sixty years. But this realization took me months and lots of tears and angst to come to, because I did love him. I just had to follow my heart.

In the aftermath of my broken engagement, I realized that as alone as I felt during all the inner turmoil leading up to it, I was never really alone. My family and friends came through for me in an incredible way. And I found out that there were many, many women out there who had gone through the same thing. I found message boards and websites…I even found a terrific book called There Goes the Bride. [...]

Even though the last year has been difficult, I don’t feel cursed at all. In fact, I feel incredibly blessed — to have had the presence of mind to do what felt right, rather than walking down a path simply because I was afraid to turn back.

On a lighter note, maybe if these women had made "engagement chicken" for their men, they wouldn't be having this problem in the first place. Iconoclastic shares the story and the recipe.

I really thought I had heard every urban legend there was to theoretically “trap-me-a-man” but this one may top the cake.

Glamour.com published a recipe on how to make Engagement Chicken. The story all starts 22 years ago when an editor passed the recipe on to her assistant, who the made it for her boyfriend, and was engaged in less than a month. Wow! It must have been the chicken! The chicken has reportedly inspired weddings throughout the magazines history – and the women at Glamour were kind enough to share it with us.

And of course this conversation wouldn't be complete unless we included a list of the joys of being single during the Christmas season (this list would have fit in quite well with my recent being single during the holidays post). Here's one of the examples from Lisa Steadman:

Joy #5: Rejoice. Renew. Reflect.

The holidays are the perfect time to take stock of your life as it is and to make any changes for the coming year. And the beauty of being single is that all of the choices are up to you so you get to be incredibly selfish! Really spend some time this holiday season thinking about what you want for your fabulous life. Looking to make a career change? Make it happen! Want to go back to school? Go for it! Serious about finding the love of your life? Enlist the help of friends and experts and make 2007 the best year possible. You deserve it!

What about you? Have you ever found yourself in this situation? Did you (or would you) give the ring back?

(Contributing editor Zandria also blogs at Keep Up With Me.)

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