Ex-fiance Won’t Return the Ring


Dear Robin:

My son and 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.

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.  Apparently she and her family seem to think they are in the right here and have said the ring was a gift and she doesn’t have to return it.

How do I get my son’s 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.

First, I must remind you 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: I Ain’t Yer Lawyer

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 poor, pushy Theresa.  Luckily and like you, your son lives in New Mexico (in your house, I’m betting).  In your state 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.  I think.

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.  Sorry, but I say this with love and with the knowledge he can change.  In order for him to change, you need to change as well.  Sorry Mom, but I think you may be partly to blame for his “Mommy fix it for me” way of thinking.


In the interests of time and out of pure laziness and because I’m slightly grumpy this morning, I’ll use your own words against you.  Mr. Patience and Understanding hates it when I do that.

a. “…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 marriage 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.

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

b. “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.  Dead people don’t own stuff.  You can’t “let” John decide to whom he gives the ring.


If John wants to pop that baby in Cinnamon’s thong at the strip club, that’s his prerogative.  Your mom willed it to him and it is his to do with as he pleases.

Although I understand your reticence regarding letting John take possession of the ring, I think you must.  The benefit to you will be letting go of your need-to-control-based feeling you should be instrumental in John’s decision-making when he selects a spouse.


(Happy Cinco de Mayo!)

The benefit to John is he will learn how to take care of something valuable and as a result hopefully become more circumspect in whom he chooses to give the ring to next  time.

c. “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?

John is a capable young man.  You said he was in the top of his class and was admitted to a very prestigious residency program.  He leans on you because you let him, and I daresay you enjoy it.  It’s not healthy for you or your son.  It’s a little bit cray-cray so knock it off.


John is your only child and now that he is considering marriage and starting a family of his own, 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 exactly 5 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.


d. “How do I get my son’s 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.

Mad Mom, 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 adopting a dog?  You need to focus your maternal instincts in another direction.


Best of luck and please let me know what happens.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jennifer Gulbrandsen

    She’s going to be a nightmare for whomever marries lil’ Johnny Boy.

  2. Assa

    Anyone with a functional moral compass would return a family heirloom. Who would want to keep it, anyway ( besides a bitter shrew)? Pffftt.

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