There was no walking down the aisle into wedded bliss for cradle robber Hugh Hefner and goldigger Crystal Harris this past Saturday. Broken engagements are supposed to be a sad occasion, but seriously I have no sympathy for the couple in this case. Call me cynical, but I highly doubt it was true love—even true love can’t transcend a 60 year age difference. Besides, the bride-to-be spent her would-be-wedding day partying it up in Vegas.
According to People.com, Harris was the one to call off her impending nuptials. She told Ryan Seacrest last Wednesday morning that, “For a while, I’d been having second thoughts about everything, so I haven’t really been at peace with myself lately.” (Hmmm, a case of a guilty conscience maybe?)
She continued “I just sat back and thought about it all. Is this what I wanted? And it wasn’t.”
All right, maybe not so much a case of conscience. Maybe instead it was a case of mental clarity—and mathematical biology. She probably finally figured out that at 85, Hefner could potentially be her great-grandfather.
Or perhaps Harris had recently watched Big Daddy (Such a good movie and surprisingly adorable) and had an epiphany after watching the scene where Sonny (Adam Sandler) confronts his ex-girlfriend about leaving him for the “Pepperidge Farm guy.”
“Hey! You just made the biggest mistake of your life, baby. I know you’re gonna be missing me when you have that big, white, wrinkly body on you with his loose skin and old balls… gross! Ugh!”
What 25 year old would look forward to that prospect? Even if her future rich husband may only live for another 5 years?
Regardless of the dynamics or motives behind the broken engagement, it was the catalyst for a debate between my friend and me.
Does she get to keep the ring? Which turned into: Who gets the ring in a broken engagement?
My friend vehemently said you should return the ring no matter what. I disagreed saying it depended on the situation—and who was to blame.
Mutual parting of ways? Then, she should return the ring unless he agreed that she should keep it.
The girl became an uncontrollable, rampaging Bridezilla? Cheated on the groom? Called off the wedding three hours before it was set to take place? She should return the ring.
The guy leaves a girl standing at the altar in front of all her family and friends? Or cheats on his fiancé during his bachelor party? Um, the girl definitely should keep the ring—and should feel free to do whatever she wants to do with it.
Case in point, a Chicago woman is currently suing her ex-fiancé for cheating on her during his Vegas bachelor party. Apparently, he actually believes that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. (Which is stupid since he kept in contact with the woman via text as he allegedly continued to play the smiling bride groom.) However, the bride to be found the incriminating text messages, and when she confronted him, he said he didn’t really want to marry her—a month before their wedding.
Now, it didn’t say in the article whether she kept the ring or not, but I’m pretty sure she did considering she’s now suing him for the non-refundable $62,814 she put down for the wedding and honeymoon that is no longer happening. She cited “Breach of Promise to Marry” as well as severe emotional distress. This is a case where the girl is completely justified in doing whatever she wants to do with the ring.
However, my friend could not be swayed. The ring must be returned. “After all, it’s not like the guy spent only a $100 on the ring.”
A valid point. The “standard rule” is for a guy to spend 2 months of his annual salary on an engagement ring. Funnily enough, this “rule” was apparently set by the De Beers diamond company back in the 1930s as a brilliant marketing campaign to increase the sale of diamonds.
And yet De Beers cannot entirely claim credit for the rise in engagement rings. The sale of diamond rings began to increase a few years before this marketing campaign began according to legal scholar Margaret Brinig (who happens to now be a law professor at Notre Dame—Go Irish!). In her paper “Rings and Promises,” Brinig documents how until the 1930s that a woman jilted by her fiancé could sue for financial compensation under the “Breach of Promise to Marry” action. After all, back in the day, a woman’s chastity determined her value in the marriage market, and a broken engagement could wreak havoc on a girl’s reputation. However, Breach of Promise to Marry lawsuits were beginning to be thrown out of court as in many cases they resulted in the public disclosure of private, embarrassing details. As Brinig wrote, “The trials themselves frequently became public spectacles because of testimony regarding the woman’s previous chastity (or lack of the same).”
Therefore, Brinig puts forth the idea that without the security of Breach of Promise to Marry lawsuits, the engagement ring became a symbol to the girl and her family that the groom was serious and honorable in his intentions—and willing to make a financial commitment before the marriage.
So the engagement ring not only served as a symbol of love and a promise to marry but was a form of collateral for the bride in the case of damage to her reputation—essentially a non-refundable down payment.
Does this justify the girl keeping the ring if the guy screws up today? Perhaps not. After all, times have changed. But it does make one think.
An impromptu poll among my friends showed a split decision on the issue. Some thought the ring should be returned always. Others agreed with me that it depended on the situation and circumstances.
One friend questioned why a girl would want to keep the ring? I’m sure Marilyn Monroe and anybody who has walked through Tiffany’s could think of a few reasons. Pretty, shiny, and expensive immediately come to mind.
In fact, another friend told me a story of a girl who sold her $40,000 engagement ring to pay off her car loans. However, in this case, the girl was legally entitled to the ring as she had married the guy. It didn’t matter that their marriage ended after two months. Once they said “I do,” the ring became unequivocally hers.
And this is where the law comes into play. Yes, there are actually laws and court cases that have set precedent on who gets to keep the ring—which vary from state to state and country to country.
Some states uphold that an engagement ring is an “unconditional gift” and so it doesn’t need to be returned.
Other states meanwhile perceive an engagement ring as an “implied conditional gift” where if the guy breaks the engagement, he doesn’t get the ring back. However, if the girl calls off the wedding then he can request its return.
Michigan happens to be a place where an engagement ring is considered a “conditional gift,” which was upheld in an Oakland County Circuit Court’s decision back in 2001 over who should get a $19,250 engagement ring. Never mind that the engagement broke up in 1996. It still went to court with the judge deciding the ring should be returned on the basis that it was a “conditional gift.” Unlike an unconditional gift such as one received at Christmas or on Valentine’s Day—a “conditional gift” is given under the contemplation of marriage. Once, you become married, the ring is the property of the bride. But if a marriage doesn’t take place, then the ring belongs to the groom. However, if the proposal took place on a holiday or birthday, the line becomes a bit blurry. The engagement ring could be then construed as an unconditional gift and belongs to the girl. So, guys if you have the slightest notion you might get cold feet be sure to propose on a non-holiday.
However, most etiquette websites claim that the “hard and fast rule” is to return the ring no matter what—unless the ring is an heirloom from the bride’s side. And yet, many etiquette sites also acknowledge that not everybody today plays by that rule and will often take into consideration who called off the wedding.
So, what do you think is the appropriate measure? To keep or not to keep?