Engagement Broken: What About the Ring?

Readers: apologies for the re-run but Mama is on book deadline.  This is a good one so don’t miss it, PLUS we have an update from the letter writer at the end!  

Dear Robin:

My son (only child) John dated Theresa for three years while he was in medical school. She began to put a good deal of pressure on him to get married and 6 months ago he caved in and they became engaged.

Against my better judgment, I let him propose with my mother’s ring (my mother left it to him for this purpose in her will but I have always held onto it for safe keeping). I say “against my better judgment” because I just didn’t think his heart was in this engagement.

As it turns out I was right, and after a lot of thought and time with a therapist my son has decided to end the engagement.

The problem? Theresa is refusing to return the ring. She claims the ring was a gift and she doesn’t have to return it.  

John doesn’t want to deal with this so I have tried emailing/calling/texting her and calling her parents to persuade her to return this family heirloom with no success. 

How do I get the ring back so he can propose to the right girl with it as his grandmother intended? It is very valuable and has much sentimental value.

Mad Mom in New Mexico

Dear Mad Mom:

Did you write this email before or after you cooked your son’s breakfast, folded his laundry and wiped his poopy bottom?

There are two issues here, only one of which was raised by you directly and I’ll answer that one first because it’s so easy.

By the way, I am not giving you legal advice. I am simply reporting what the internets told me about this subject. Please see my super-awesome and potentially worthless disclaimer here: I Ain’t Yer Lawyer, Fool!

Problem # 1: Who Keeps the Ring?

In some states the ring can be retained by the person who was dumped, which in this case is our pushy little Wants-a-Doctor-for-a-Husband Theresa.  

Luckily your son lives in New Mexico, probably in your house.  

In New Mexico the giver of the ring retains ownership if the wedding is called off, regardless of the circumstances. Yes it was a gift, but it was what we fancy lawyer-types call a “conditional gift,” meaning you only get the gift if the condition (a marriage) is met.

Dr. John needs to send a letter via registered mail to your ex-future-ex-daughter-in-law advising she is violating New Mexico law and if the ring isn’t returned immediately he will be pursuing her via legal action. He can also call the police or sheriff to help get the ring back, although whether or not they will help him is another issue entirely.

Problem solved!

Sort of.

Not really.

I’d say there is a much larger issue looming here.

Problem #2: Why is Johnny Such a Wimp?

This ring incident is a compelling illustration of just how much of a pussy your 30-year-old kid is. In order for him to de-pussify himself and become an adult, you both have some changing to do.

Sorry Mom, but clearly you share responsibility for John’s “Mommy fix it for me” way of thinking.

To make my point I’ll use your own words against you. Mr. Patience and Understanding hates it when I do that!

 …6 months ago he caved in and they became engaged.

Wow – this is a real red flag. John sounds like he is easily pushed around. I’m glad he got some counseling and called off the wedding because that takes real guts.

Unfortunately, you told me you were the one who pressured him into counseling and in fact he used your therapist. Sigh.

Dr. John needs to learn how to to think and act on his own. The only way that will happen is if you butt out of situations like these.

Against my better judgment, I let him propose with my mother’s ring.

Once again, I’m not giving you legal advice, but that isn’t your mother’s ring.

Make no bones about it, dead people don’t own stuff.  You can’t “let” John decide to whom he gives the ring.

If John wants to pop that ring into Cinnamon’s thong at the local strip club, that’s his prerogative because he owns it and therefore it is his to do with as he pleases.

Once the ring is returned John should retain possession of it, not you.  

John doesn’t want to deal with this so I have tried emailing/calling/texting her and calling her parents to persuade her to return this family heirloom.

For Christ’s sake Mom, seriously? How is John going to manage a career in medicine if he can’t even deal with romantic and personal property-based conflict without asking his mommy to do the heavy lifting?  

This relationship is not healthy for either of you so figure out how to move from the parent/dependent child mode into the parent/independent child way of thinking.

John is your only child and now that he is considering marriage and starting a family of his own, I think you are threatened and saddened by his independence and your resulting perceived irrelevance.

Oh honey, I can relate. I’m planning a major mental breakdown in 4 years when my son leaves for college. I get it, and I also understand how easy it is to do everything for your kid. I am so deeply guilty of this same phenomenon and it is a struggle every day to make my child do more for himself and stop fixing, analyzing and planning his every move.

I hope you take this in the sprint in which it’s offered, but you have done me and my son an enormous service by sending me this problem. Every time I am tempted to make his bed, do his homework or handle a conflict with a teacher or friend, I will remember your letter.  This is what happens when you coddle a child well into adulthood.

How do I get the ring back so he can propose to the right girl with it as his grandmother intended?

If you’ve read this far you know what I’m about to say: tell John this is his issue to deal with and wash your hands of it.

Go forth, cut the cord and make Johnny deal with his own mess. He’s a grownup and you need to treat him like one. He’s far too old for you to be solving his personal problems.

As for you, have you considered a pet? You need to focus your maternal instincts in another direction.  

This is Archie.  Would you like to adopt him?


Best of luck and please let me know what happens.



I followed up with Mad Mom in New Mexico and you’ll be glad to know the ring was returned and Mom and John have been working on making their relationship less dependency-driven.  That’s the good news!

The bad news?  

The dog returned to his vomit.

John and Theresa got engaged again so the ring is back on her finger.  I look forward to getting a letter from him after their marriage in August asking about annulments in New Mexico.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Seen it All

    Laughing so hard because I know you’ll love this: have you heard the one about the Portland woman who got dumped by her fiancé for the millionth time and when he asked for the ring back that came from his grandmother she lied and said it was stolen?

    I think she pawned it. Wonder if he ever found out? She bragged about it. Like, a lot. Are you sure this letter wasn’t local?

Comments are closed.