So, what happens to the ring when the wedding is called off? This is something that comes in conversation all the time, but what's the actual rule about that? We will leave the legal ramifications up to the lawyers, instead, we'll focus on the ethical question. What does proper etiquette dictate? Miss Manners says the ring should always be returned. Others disagree. We also disagree with Miss Manners. Our take: it completely depends on how the engagement ends.
A man, who we'll call Jon, proposes to the love of his life, Wendy, and he gives her a beautiful ring with a nice, fat diamond right in the middle. He's spent a couple months' salary on it and has been eating ramen for weeks to make it work. His sweetheart enthusiastically says "YES" and they call their parents and start planning the wedding. From there, sadly, things only go downhill. They fight all the time about everything. They ultimately decide together that they had better call off the wedding before they get in too deep. What happens to the ring? Ethically, Wendy really should give the ring back to Jon. They mutually decided to end things and Wendy shouldn't punish Jon by keeping what amounts to his two months of salary
But what if Jon proposes to Wendy and once again she says "yes." But instead of mutually calling it off, Wendy finds herself doubting Jon's ability to ever stop playing video games and "get serious" about life. In a burst of tears and emotion, she breaks it off. Jon is stunned, he had never been happier. Weakened by months of eating nothing but ramen, Jon has a breakdown and moves to Honduras to "get away from it all." He could use that money from the ring, so what happens? Etiquette dictates that ring is returned to Jon. It was Wendy's decision to end it, she doesn't get to profit from the decision.
In another situation, Jon proposes, Wendy accepts, phone calls, planning, yada, yada... But this time Wendy falls madly in love with the wedding planner and they begin a torrid affair. After a particularly long day a work, Jon decides to surprise Wendy with some Indian takeout and when he walks in the door to her apartment, he sees, to his horror, Wendy and the wedding planner doing things that only R Kelly sings about. Once again, we say Wendy will have to give back the ring to finance Jon's trip to Honduras to mend his shattered heart.
The next scenario is the opposite of the above. Jon and Wendy get engaged, but this time Jon falls madly in love with the wedding planner and they make plans to run away together. Wendy sees an email from a real estate agent in Honduras and freaks out, calling off the engagement and lighting Jon's favorite shirt on fire in the front yard. Even though Wendy ended the engagement, she gets to keep the ring. Jon's immoral action means he loses out and he's lucky she doesn't do worse, which could be justified.
In the final scenario, Jon and Wendy get engaged and this time Jon gets the cold feet. He is worried Wendy will never get over her college boyfriend, the star baseball player who plays professionally now. Jon is jealous and can't let it go. He ends the engagement and takes off for Honduras to "clear his head." Jon is responsible ending the engagement, so Wendy gets to keep the ring.
Of course, diamonds lose anywhere from half to two-thirds or more of their value after they are purchased. Diamond retailers sometimes mark them up 200% and wholesalers will only buy them back for far less than the market value. So no matter what happens, really, poor Jon loses. At least he gets to check out Honduras for a little while.
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