Should I give back a ring that my ex's mom gave me?
August 16, 2006 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Relationship Etiquette Filter: I had forgotten that I still have a gift that an ex's mom gave to me several years ago. It supposedly had sentimental value, and I feel weird about keeping it. Will I offend by trying to return it? Oh boy, there's way

Okay. Thanks for looking. Some back-story is necessary. I'm a straight male, BTW.

My last girlfriend and I broke up in 2000 after living together for two years, dating for three. The break up wasn't on the best of terms, due more to a slow decline of the relationship rather than any real animosity. From my point of view, there wasn't much left to say to one another, and I continue to feel that way, though I wouldn't wish her squished by a bus or eaten by bears.

Around the midpoint of our relationship (mid '98), I became ill, and was in the hospital and in treatment for quite a while. During that time, my then girlfriend and I watched our parents become quite close (our families spent Thanksgiving together), and her mom was especially kind to me. Christmas '98, my ex's mom gave me a hammered gold and jade ring, with a message that indicated that it had belonged to someone special, and that come what may, she wanted me to have it. The ring wasn't my style, so I never wore it, but I was really moved and put the ring in a safe place.

And forgot about it.

Now, there's a lot of water under the bridge, and I am engaged to someone else, and I feel weird about continuing to have this ring. I don't think it was expensive, really; it's the sentimental value to another that bothers me. My ex told me at one point that the ring had been given to her mother by a (boy?)friend before he died. I feel like this ring really belongs with my ex's mom, or that I should at least make the offer of returning it.

But, I don't want to offend anyone, and the situation presents the additional wrinkle of having to get in touch with my ex to try and get the ring back to her mom. I'm not really eager to have contact with this girl, and I am leery of opening a line of communication that I have had to make an effort to close.

So, MeFi, what should I do? Leave it alone, and accept the gift as it was intended? Risk offending (and encouraging continued contact I don't want) by trying to return something that means more to another than it does to me? Your thoughts are much appreciated.
posted by wejones to Human Relations (43 answers total)
Throw it in the garbage and go back to forgetting about it.
posted by mattbucher at 9:37 AM on August 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

come what may, she wanted me to have it

Your ex's mom knew that you and your ex might not be together forever. She gave you a gift, and it would be rude to return it now. See, parents can really like their children's partners. She valued (values?) you as an individual and wanted to recognize you as such. Keep the ring tucked away somewhere, and remember you were special to the whole family.
posted by ferociouskitty at 9:38 AM on August 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Can you try and get in contact with the Mom directly? It was given to you directly, it seems logical to return it directly.
posted by raedyn at 9:39 AM on August 16, 2006

If you don't want to keep it, you could just mail it back to the mom and say you recently found the ring and thought she might like to have it back. No reason to stir up anything else.
posted by cass at 9:41 AM on August 16, 2006

I think that if you want to avoid giving it back, because of the can of worms it may open, you should avoid giving it back. Regardless of its sentimental value, your ex's mother gave it to you at a time when she thought you needed it. I'm guessing that the idea behind the ring, if she got it from a late boyfriend, is intended to be passed on. I wouldn't, you know, give it to your soon-to-be wife, but if you have a friend who's going through a tough time, or something like that, pass it on to them and say the same thing about it belonging to someone special. I understand how it must be a conflict because of what it represents to you, but why not pass it on and let it represent something to someone else?
I mean, if your ex's mom gave it to you NOW, that would be weird. But to have had it for so long, I say you just pass it on like a hot potato, and appreciate the meaning it had for you at the time.
posted by slyboots421 at 9:42 AM on August 16, 2006

Save it, but don't go out of your way to contact them. Give it to your son/daughter should you ever had kids, or someone else that is special to you (e.g. a good friend, a relative, etc). If you ever happen to see them again, and it comes up, tell them your plan to give it to someone special. Hopefully, it will thrill them that you remember them and their gift and value it enough to make it a gift to someone that you think is special.
posted by frogan at 9:42 AM on August 16, 2006

Well, she might have been in the same boat as you are in now. She had a gift of sentimental value from someone she cared about, but the relationship was over and she was in a new life so she found someone who might appreciate it at the time.

Giving the ring back might be the last things she wants perhaps. Do you know someone who might need a nice gift as a pick-me-up? Heck, you can even tell the whole story and suggest when things get better for them, they can give it to someone else.

I think your ex's mom got rid of it since it didn't mean much to her anymore. (based on your 'come what may' line). And if it were something she really truly wanted back when the relationship ended, I think she would have made that known.

(btw, I'm usually pretty etiquette-impaired, if my post sounds very "un- DearAbbey")
posted by johnstein at 9:43 AM on August 16, 2006

I'd try to return it to the mother rather than your ex, since it was a gift from her in which your ex was not involved. Do you know where her parents live? If you have their old address, you should be able to find out pretty easily whether they still live there by calling information or looking in the white pages. If so, I'd drop it in the mail to them with a note saying something like:

"I recently found this ring, and I thought that since it had such sentimental value to you, you might like to have it back. Thank you for your kindness and support during my illness, and I wish you all the best."

I don't think that trying to return the ring is offensive, for the same reason that a divorcing woman might return an engagement ring that was an heirloom in her husband's family. And if they are offended, the worst that will happen is that they'll think ill of you. (Ignore this advice if you know or have reason to believe that the parents or your ex are psychopath stalkers.)

If you don't have their address, you may still be able to track them down online or by calling people you know who know them. If you can't find them or it's too much trouble, I wouldn't worry too much about it. If your ex's mom was really torn up about the loss of the ring, you probably would have heard from her in the last 6 years. I'd make a small effort to return it, and if that doesn't work, keep/sell/toss it as you see fit.
posted by Amy Phillips at 9:45 AM on August 16, 2006

Throw it in the garbage and go back to forgetting about it.

That's some of the worst advice I've ever heard. From the tone of your question, you're not really at rest even possessing this ring, and throwing it away would probably bring on major pangs of guilt the moment this item got seriously en route to the nearest landfill.

Raedyn's got the best point -- contacting Mom directly seems like a lovely gesture, particularly if you could do so with a nice message, along the lines of you remember her very fondly, you're sorry that life has taken you in different directions, and that you will always treasure the memories of your relationship in general and the gift in particular. Meanwhile, you found yourself wondering if she would like to have the memento itself. With great fondness, etc.

What's the worst that can happen? Someone you have no contact with on any regular basis gets irritable about it? Who cares? Someone reaches out to you that you'd rather not interact with? If so, the answer is probably as simple as, "I was doing what I thought was right in this very specific situation. I am not trying to open a chapter that is clearly closed. Be well. Goodbye."
posted by clever sheep at 9:47 AM on August 16, 2006

Seconding ferociuskitty. Absolutely.
posted by tristeza at 9:47 AM on August 16, 2006

I don't think you should give it back, I would find that rude. What you do with it otherwise is up to you, throw it out, pass it on etc.
posted by edgeways at 9:49 AM on August 16, 2006

Return it
posted by Señor Pantalones at 9:51 AM on August 16, 2006

Keep it - even if its in your drawer for the rest of your life. Its a keepsake from a memorable time in your life. Many years from now, you can pass it along when you are ready to impart the same kindness.
posted by greedo at 9:51 AM on August 16, 2006

I think johnstein has the best answer here. The 'come what may' comment from the ex's mom is a pretty clear indication that she would not want to have it back.
posted by Rubber Soul at 9:52 AM on August 16, 2006

Do not return the ring. That would be the very definition of rude, in my opinion. The message it sends to the giver is "I don't ever want to remember you or the time in my life in which you played a prominent role."

It's not like the ring is taking up a huge amount of space anywhere. Tuck it away in a box in the attic. You'll see it when you move from domicile to domicile, and will be briefly reminded of happy times. Then you can tuck the ring back in the box and wait several years until your next session of nostalgia.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:53 AM on August 16, 2006

From the tone of your question, you're not really at rest even possessing this ring,

Except that for six years he forgot that it existed. I'm saying don't make an issue out of it. This woman isn't sitting around wondering what happened to the ring, the new wife won't like it. I say toss it and move on.
posted by mattbucher at 9:53 AM on August 16, 2006

You said your parents were quite close with her parents. Is this still the case? Perhaps you could have them mention it or pass it along?
posted by heatherann at 9:55 AM on August 16, 2006

I don't think that trying to return the ring is offensive, for the same reason that a divorcing woman might return an engagement ring that was an heirloom in her husband's family.

Engagement rings are the only gifts that aren't offensive to return. You (can) give them back at the end of a marriage/engagement, and no other gift holds such a contractual connotation to it. Every other gift is given because the person actually wants the recipient to have the item in question. She wanted you to have the ring. If you think the ring has too much sentimentality attached to it to hold on to, then why did you accept it in the first place?

Keep the ring. If it's really eating you up inside, regift it to someone in a similar cool fashion to the way it was regifted to you.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:55 AM on August 16, 2006

I vote for returning it. I certainly wouldn't be offended and I think you are being very considerate in your thinking. I second everything clever sheep said.
posted by bristolcat at 10:06 AM on August 16, 2006

Does ettiquette say you should return the ring? Probably not, especially if the mother said come what may, she wanted [you] to have it. But, if it makes you feel weird having it, I see no problem in making the offer of returning it. If she says no, she wanted you to have it regardless of what happened between you and your daughter, then you can pawn it or give it to a friend or whatever you want.

This doesn't solve getting in contact with her without reopening communication with your ex, though. Surely, however, you two have mutual friends? Perhaps one of them could be your go-between, to get the mother's contact information. Your ex doesn't really need to know the situation, since this concerns you and her mother, but good luck keeping her from asking.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 10:08 AM on August 16, 2006

Don't return it, it was a gift. The relationship has been over for 6 years; let sleeping dogs lie.

If, however, the mom or ex-gf come looking for you to give it back, then be gracious and willing in returning it.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 10:11 AM on August 16, 2006

"Whatever may come" seems pretty cut and dried. The ring is yours forever, unless you want to do something else with it. I wouldn't send it back. If you don't want it donate it to the local charity thrift store. Or any of the other excellent suggestions. I, personally, wouldn't throw it out, but you may feel differently.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 10:19 AM on August 16, 2006

It's a gift, don't return it...agree completely with Sprout in their first sentence. And I cannot imagine Sprout's second sentence coming to pass, it would be the height of tacky.
posted by maxwelton at 10:21 AM on August 16, 2006

I have a similar problem. An ex-girlfriend gave me something that meant a lot to her, something she had been given by her father. I still have it 10 years later; but as you say, I kinda feel like it belongs with her. I honestly don't know what to do — but if I do return it, it never crossed my mind that she would feel offended. Obviously I'd include a brief note — I wouldn't just shove it inside an envelope — but even if your ex's mom disagrees with your decision and would rather you kept the ring, I can't imagine any decent person would be "offended" if she understands your well-meaning intent.

Regarding canned worms, I had another ex-girlfriend whose younger sisters had come on vacation with us to Cape Cod. Years later, I found some pictures we'd taken during that vacation. About a dozen were pretty nice photographs of my ex with her sisters and didn't include me, and I thought the family might like to have them — so I put them in an envelope with a short note, mailed it to their mother, and never heard a word about it.
posted by cribcage at 10:30 AM on August 16, 2006

If you must make an effort to return the ring, I would go about it in the manner clever boots suggests. I think slyboots' suggestion is a better course to take, however.
posted by WCityMike at 10:37 AM on August 16, 2006

I'm with everyone who suggests not returning it. The sentiment of giving the ring to you, "come what may," was clearly stronger and more important for the ex's mom than was the sentiment of having the ring in her own possession.

But, since you feel weird keeping it, maybe do as 23skidoo suggested and pass it along to another "someone special" (as the previous owner was described and as the ex's mom was obviously describing you). Maybe it will take a while for an appropriate occasion to arise, but if honoring the sentimental value of the ring is important to you, then hopefully the wait won't be too burdensome.
posted by tentacle at 10:38 AM on August 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another vote for don't return it.

As for what to do with it instead, I don't have any specific advice but you're under no obligations -- none of the options being suggested (keep it, give it away, get rid of it, etc.) are bad things to do (though I might donate it to a thrift shop rather than throw it in the garbage, but that's a separate issue). It's yours do with as you please.

Sounds like you should choose something that will help you feel positive about it -- perhaps give it to someone special during the festivities surrounding the upcoming wedding. Then if anyone does ever ask about it (which won't happen, but just to put that worry to rest) you have a satisfying story to tell them.
posted by winston at 10:38 AM on August 16, 2006

Sell it and give the money to charity.
posted by essexjan at 10:40 AM on August 16, 2006

I wouldn't return it, but after half a decade gone by if you think it's possible she might want it, why not drop her a note/thank you card? It's never too late to say thanks for a kind gesture and it can't be said too often.

Dear Ms Someone,

While going through some things in preparation for my upcoming wedding I came across the ring you gave me in 98. I was reminded of how much your support during my illness in the preceding months meant to me. You and Mr Someone were so gracious blah blah blatty blah.

While the ring is still a reminder of your kindness, my fiance is reasonably less than comfortable with my wearing a gift from a former girlfriend's parents. I know it had some prior sentimental value for you, so I wanted to ask if you might want to have it so you could pass it on to someone else. If not I will keep it until such a time as I can give it to someone else in the same spirit as you gave it to me.

Please let me know, and than you again. Best wishes, the dude who used to date your daughter.

Or you could just take ferociouskitty's advice, which I think is correct, and rest assured you're perfectly in the right. You weren't married to her daughter and mom knew what she was getting into.
posted by phearlez at 10:44 AM on August 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

While the ring is still a reminder of your kindness, my fiance is reasonably less than comfortable with my wearing a gift from a former girlfriend's parents.

I wouldn't say that- first off, because it's not true, and second off, because then your ex-girlfriend's mother will call your ex and say, Oooo, sounds like wejones is marrying some jealous freak. Leave your fiance out of it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:52 AM on August 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I also agree that just sending it back would be rude. She gave you the ring because she liked you and wanted to do something special for you while you were going through a rough time. It sounds like she was quite a nice, thoughtful person and nice, thoughtful people don't usually put those sorts of conditions on gifts given in friendship (particularly when the recipient is going through a serious illness).
posted by LeeJay at 10:55 AM on August 16, 2006

If you've never told someone you weren't very hungry in order not to eat any more of their crappy dinner or claimed being tired in order to decline an invitation then I'll take seriously the "because it's not true" complaint. Otherwise I contend it falls under polite fiction.

As far as jealous freak... gimmie a break. That's an extreme reading of what would be a very common reaction. Besides, even if it's true, why give a rat-fuck what two people who aren't a part of your own life gossip between themselves? If that's the kind of people they are then let them stew in it.

BUT, if the poster shares your concern, fine, he can put that concern off onto himself by saying HE doesn't feel comfortable wearing a ring given blah blah blah. It just seemed like a nice spin on why he doesn't and will never again not wear the ring. Perhaps it's unnecessary and she's well aware he never word it.
posted by phearlez at 10:59 AM on August 16, 2006

Agreeing that it would be a little bit rude to send it back. Don't throw it away or sell it - that's much worse than returning it.

I say keep it tucked away and remember how sweet it was of her to give it to you.

If you have the opportunity, pass it on to someone else in the same spirit.
posted by KAS at 11:01 AM on August 16, 2006

Phooey. She wanted you to have it.

Giving it back sends the message that the only value you placed on the ex's mom's kindness was as the ex's mom -- not as one human being to another. Have you experienced so much kindness in your life (or needed it so little) that you don't appreciate how rare and sweet it is?

Maybe someone who remembers this would call me a hypocrite, but I did come around.

Keep it. Value it. Remember her. Do the same for someone else. Tell your current girlfirend all about it; if she has a problem, don't marry her.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:02 AM on August 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

I can see why you'd feel odd about having the ring -- especially because it had meaning to the woman who gave it to you, and now has very little meaning to you. You asked, "Will I offend?" No, not if you explain that you were moved when you received the gift and that you remember the giver fondly. Would you be inviting continied contact? Possibly, but I doubt it.

I do think it would be a bad idea to communicate with the ex-girlfriend about it, because she'd probably read something into that you don't mean. If you can't just return it to the mother directly, then don't return it at all.

If it's likely that the mother has a low opinion of you now, then forget it. You can't win. Keep the ring or give it away.
posted by wryly at 11:15 AM on August 16, 2006

The way to get around the return/don't return question is send a note directly to the mom and offer to return it. Word it carefully, and give her a gentle deadline--"if I don't hear from you before the end of the year...", etc. Maybe tell her that you'd imagined that one day you might pass it along to someone who also needed a special gift. She probably wants you to keep it, but there's always a chance she regrets letting it go. It would be a kindness to give her a chance to retrieve it.
posted by tula at 11:19 AM on August 16, 2006

I like Phearlez's advice, except I think that mentioning your fiancee sounds like you're making excuses. Just cut the first sentence of the second paragraph.

The mom will likely reply that phooey, she wanted you to have it. In that case, graciously thank her, and as KAS and other suggested upthread, pass it along to someone in the same spirit.
posted by desuetude at 11:28 AM on August 16, 2006

Could you ask your parents what they think? If they were so close, surely she mentioned it to one or both of your parents at the time, and they would also have an opinion as to whether or not she would want you to have it or give it back.

I think she wanted you to keep it though, and I agree with everyone upthread who says to hang on to it and then pass it on. Don't think of it as your girlfriend's mom, think of it as an adult in your life who cared about you and was really kind, but that you lost touch with. Someday you will be that adult to someone who will appreciate the ring as a kind gesture the way you probably did at the time.
posted by ml98tu at 11:52 AM on August 16, 2006

Don't try to pass off responsibility by blaming your fiancée, and don't try to cravenly chip the ball into the mother's court by "inviting" her to ask for it back. Both are bad advice. Be an adult: If you're going to send it back, just send it back and close the door.
posted by cribcage at 11:55 AM on August 16, 2006

If you really don't think that you would regret down the line parting with the ring, maybe you can sell it to a jewelry store that deals in antiques and used jewelry, so that way it can be purchased by somebody else and it can pick up its own meaning.

I have a set of wine glasses that an ex's mom gave to me and I still think of the card she wrote me when she sent them to me as a housewarming gift ("Dearest Claire..." sigh.) But unlike your ring they're useful and I enjoy the memories.

I apologize if the above sounds harsh. Living in a studio apartment has forced me to become a lot more discriminating in which memories I keep and which I can part with.
posted by clairezulkey at 1:01 PM on August 16, 2006

I'd probably pawn it or throw it out, but then, I'm especially bitter.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:04 PM on August 16, 2006

Keep it. It was intended as a gift, freely given and freely accepted. When you have a friend who is ill or in pain, then think about giving it to them if you think it might help them feel better.

At the risk of sounding like an old vicar, I'm reminded of a gift of a roman coin that I once gave a friend. A couple of years later, she sadly admitted that she had lost the coin when moving house. No matter, I told her. How do you think I got it? Someone buried it, lost it or gave it away and it was dug up years later. It's just doing the same thing again, and your ring is just doing the same journey.
posted by baggers at 1:33 PM on August 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Along the same lines as baggers, I had a friend who used to talk about "The Object Continuum"; which meant that if he was given an object (not as a gift, but just as a "hey, I bet you could use this old tripod for your photography class" thing), he never intended to keep it forever, but at some point had to pass it along to someone else who could use it in the future. The catch was that he always explained "The Object Continuum" to the recipient, and made them promise to keep the Continuum going. I got several nice things from him in this way, and have passed them along in the same manner.

Roundabout way of saying, give it to someone else who could use a bit of support/a kind thought, and maybe suggest that they keep it until they know someone they could pass it along to.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:50 PM on August 16, 2006

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