Girl Talk: I Found Out My Engagement Ring Was Junk

I’d always been told my engagement ring was special.

“Very high quality,” said my mother-in-law, who bought only high-quality pieces for her collection. “You’re very lucky.”

“You don’t want to know how much I paid for the resetting,” said Joe, my fiance-then-husband.

I didn’t care how much the ring cost, whether it was a hundred bucks or 18 G’s like at Tiffany’s. All I cared was that Joe was finally taking that final step, that after years of disapproval, his family had accepted me. I was finally good enough in his mother’s eyes, and had one of her prized baubles to prove it.

Or so I thought.

I’d have gladly traded our “inheritance” if that meant Joe would be less angry, we could spend more time together away from his parents, and I’d have more time to write.

I’ve never been into material things. My parents grew up poor in Taiwan and held onto that mentality in America. As a kid, I wore my older boy cousins’ hand-me-downs, and never got the Barbie dream house. Otherwise, my brother and I had it good. We got presents every Christmas and birthday, piano lessons, and expensive college educations.

Joe’s parents grew up poor too, in Korea, but while my folks put their money in the bank, Joe’s “invested” the hard-earned cash they made as physicians into antiques – vases, grandfather clocks, silverware. One china set for Joe and one for his brother. Their dad had an extensive pocket watch collection, while their mother had enough jewelry to open her own store.

“After we’re gone,” she’d say, “half of everything is yours.”

The gifts didn’t end with the engagement ring. For my wedding she gave me a beautiful pearl necklace, and a set of diamond earrings one Christmas. For my 30th birthday, she bequeathed me a lovely cameo brooch.

But all of that came with a price.

My mother-in-law had advanced stage Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system. She needed help walking, eating, bathing, and going to the bathroom. Saturdays were my shift.

As a daughter-in-law in a traditional Korean household, I was expected to pitch in, and because I wanted my in-laws’ approval, I did so, though begrudgingly at times. Joe liked to remind me then that I was actually doing much less than his parents wanted. I couldn’t imagine doing more: after a whole day of caring for and listening to my mother-in-law endlessly talk, I was exhausted. Often lonely and scared, she wanted me near her all the time. She began to hallucinate, and told crazy stories about people breaking into the house and stealing her precious trinkets.

My father-in-law talked about selling their antiques to pay for a full-time nurse. I wished he would.

I’d have gladly traded our “inheritance” if that meant Joe would be less angry, we could spend more time together away from his parents, and I’d have more time to write.

But the antiques remained.

Eventually, the pressure got to be too much. Joe cheated and got the woman pregnant.

While I hated him, I also couldn’t let him go. Not ready to tell my own parents, I talked to his mother, who already knew. I wanted her to tell me she was sorry her son had done such a terrible thing; I wanted to hear that I deserved better.

“I can’t tell you what to do,” was all she said.

Less than a year later, I left. “Keep the ring,” Joe said.

For a long time I didn’t know what to do with it. I stashed the box in a drawer, and went on with my life. I dated, hung out with friends, wrote, traveled. Two years passed and still the ring lingered, in the drawer and the back of my mind.

Finally, I decided to get it appraised. A co-worker recommended a jeweler who didn’t buy and so would be less likely to rip me off. How much could it be worth? I wondered as I headed to the diamond district. Ten thousand? Fifteen? Even half that was pretty good.

The jeweler examined the stone through a magnifying loupe. He jotted down some notes. Then he raised his head, removed the loupe, and I felt like I was on “Antiques Roadshow.” I held my breath.

“Twenty-five hundred,” he said.

“Twenty-five hundred?” Maybe I hadn’t heard right.

He nodded and gave me the details. The cut was medium, the color a faint yellow (the more colorless the better), and the clarity a bit flawed. Average, overall, maybe above average at best.

On my way home, I couldn’t stop shaking my head. While $2,500 was nothing to sneeze at, the ring certainly wasn’t the treasure my ex and his mother had made it out to be. It was something, in fact, that they would have considered junk. While they had never told me exactly how much the ring was, they had implied it. They had given me the impression it was worth much more than a couple of grand – more, perhaps, than I deserved.

I hid the ring away for another year. Then I met Alex.

We fell in love quickly, and less than six months later, I moved in with him. I sold most of my furniture and left boxes of books on the street. I schlepped bags upon bags of clothes to Goodwill. With each thing I gave away, I felt lighter. But the heaviest thing remained — my ring.

I wish I could say I donated it, or sold it and gave the money to charity. In the end, I turned to someone who would be strong enough to deal with it: my mom.

I don’t feel like I lost with the ring. In a way it gave me much more than its value. It gave me the knowledge that my worth is not determined by what I wear on my finger, or by someone’s approval. It made me realize that real love isn’t measured in carats, and that the best way for me to get over my past is to release it, to write about it, to tell my story. What I get in return is priceless.

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