Adapted from a recent online discussion.
If you haven't met sister's beau, keep your hunch to yourself
New England Expat: I was back home recently for a family emergency. In the course of a discussion about my sister's boyfriend, she mentioned he'd said he wouldn't be giving her a ring on her birthday/Christmas/Valentine's Day, because then it would be considered a gift, and if they called things off, he wouldn't get it back.
Nobody seemed fazed by it. I haven't met the guy yet, so I can't tell if this is a sense-of-humor thing that wouldn't bother me if I knew him, or if he has a weird way of approaching things.
I'd say something to my sister, but we have a fraught relationship in this area because of her past comments about guys I've dated. Do I just let it go? Mention something to our mom? Wait and see? Mention something in an e-mail to my sister? We don't normally talk on the phone, so doing so would automatically make this a BIG DEAL. Help!
Carolyn: The boyfriend's declaration seems disturbingly jaded. If you were close to your sister, then I'd say you had a near obligation to flag it — but, then, if you were close, then you would have flagged it without having to check with anyone else.
The issue here might not be the boyfriend or even your tense sisterly relationship, but instead the fact that you and your sister are just two very different people. What hits your ears as horrifying is, apparently, to her, an anecdote so reasonable that it wouldn't have occurred to her not to share it.
At this point, unless you have other signs that your sister is (a) poised to walk off a proverbial cliff, and (b) beyond rescuing by anyone but you, I suggest you stay out of it, at least until you're able to meet the guy.
If in the meantime your mom brings the boyfriend up, you can certainly ask what she thinks. Just be sure to listen more than you talk.
Philadelphia: Re: Expat: I love jewelry more than 99.9 percent of the people on Earth, and would not consider keeping a ring from a failed engagement. However, many people do, and I think the boyfriend has a point. Why have thousands of dollars stay with someone you're no longer spending your life with?
Carolyn: If the boyfriend thinks his girlfriend is capable of using the gift technicality to justify keeping an engagement ring postbreakup, then he thinks her character is crap. So why on Earth would he even date her? (A: Because he'd keep a ring on a technicality himself, meaning his character is crap?)
Most people, if they're honest with themselves, know early on whether their mates would be gracious in response to getting dumped, or would make them pay dearly. If you suspect the latter, then you should NOT marry this person under any circumstances, or, egad, have children with him/her.
I also happen to think a relationship is more likely to last if you both know you'd be gracious in dealing with a split. If nothing else, it means you'd both be a little more considerate of each other in the course of day-to-day life.
Trusting/trustworthy people give without strings, and aren't takers themselves.