Via Gawker we learn that a New York judge reaffirmed a guy's right to demand the ring back if the engagement breaks off for any reason. In the case before the court, a Long Island woman maintained that she should be allowed to keep the $19,000 ring because her former fiance cheated on her:
On March 30, Justice F. Dana Winslow ruled that state law allows a person to get back property that was given "in contemplation of marriage" -- a ring for example -- if the marriage doesn't occur.
"Consequently," the judge wrote, "fault in the breakup of an engagement is irrelevant." [NYP]
In eyes of New York State, engagement rings aren't gifts, they're deposits to reserve a wife. If the deal falls through, you get your deposit back.
The idea that a woman gets to keep the ring if and only if she was the wronged party in the breakup is also creepily transactional. The whole point of requiring a deposit up front is to make it painful for the buyer to walk away.
A seemingly more enlightened view is that the ring is a gift to celebrate the occasion of one's engagement. In which case, it would seem like the woman would have the option of keeping the ring no matter what. After all, you don't get to demand the return of Christmas presents or graduation presents if a relationship later sours--even if the recipient turns out to be a conniving jerk.
The gift model is also unsatisfactory. Treating a gendered ritual as if it were a freely given gift doesn't change underlying creepiness. According to the script, men prove their devotion to women by forking over expensive diamonds; and wives wear diamonds to signal the status of their husbands.
The best case scenario would be for the diamond engagement ring to die out already. If you want rings to symbolize egalitarian commitment, don't throw a diamond into the mix.
Photo credit: Flickr user Τϊζζ¥, licensed under Creative Commons.