Donna: Are you breaking up with me?
Eric: Are you giving me back the ring?
Donna: Yes.The ultimate sign that a relationship is over is when the ring is given back in some manner. It's usually the woman returning it to the man as an inverse of the man offering it during the initial proposal, and despite the name can just as easily be an engagement ring instead of a wedding ring. The symbolism of this trope is readily apparent to the point it's not necessary to verbally state a relationship has ended when it's used, making it a good example of Show, Don't Tell. Depending on the characters involved and the level of sympathy the audience is expected to feel for them the one doing the returning may be portrayed as either trying to be gentle or rubbing salt in the wound, particularly if the ring is simply left for their partner to find, often accompanied by a Wham Shot with or without a "Dear John" Letter left with it to explain their reasoning for the breakup. In person versions may either be handed back gently, dropped on the ground or physically thrown at their partner. Compare Wedding Ring Removal, Wedding Ring Defense and Lost Wedding Ring, which all involve using the ring in other contexts. Related to Take Back Your Gift, which may include a ring but can cover other types of presents as well.
— That '70s Show, "The Promise Ring"
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Anime and Manga
- In Future GPX Cyber Formula ZERO, Asuka throws her engagement ring at Hayato after he decides to return to racing, thereby breaking his promise to not to race again after a near-fatal crash. They reconcile their relationship later.
- In Monster, Eva callously drops her engagement ring at Tenma's feet before walking inside to start flirting with the guy who got Tenma's promotion instead of him.
- Marmalade Boy anime did similar things, but not with actual rings:
- In the anime and the manga, Miki's Crazy Jealous Guy Kei takes a medallion (anime) or a bracelet (manga) that was very meaningful for Yuu and Miki and gives it to Yuu, claiming that Miki has told him that doesn't want to be Yuu's girlfriend any longer. Yuu is savvy enough to see through the lie and tells Miki that he didn't believe Kei's clame as he returns the trinket to her, but they still break off for a very short while.
- The second time takes place only in the anime. When Miki visits Yuu in the USA, Yuu's Clingy Jealous Girl Ginny tells her that she is Yuu's other woman and sends Miki in an Heroic B.S.O.D.. She believes and forgives Yuu when he explains the situation to her, but tells him that she's emotionally exhausted with their Long Distance Relationship and breaks up with him: the turning point is when she gives Yuu back a voice-recording toy that he had given her, which has the same effect as a ring return. This break up is far, far more serious, and it takes them several episodes (and several months in-story) to start dating again.
- In JLA: Act of God Lois Lane gives her ring back to Superman after his wangst over his depowering becomes too much for her to handle.
- Superman: During a brief storyarc in the 90s, Lois began to question whether or not a life with Superman was what she wanted. Issue #720 of Action Comics ends with Clark returning home and finding her engagement ring on the dresser.
- In Fantastic Four, Ben Grimm calls his fiancee, Debbie, and tries to talk to her about what had happened to him in space, but is too nervous to speak clearly about it. All he does is confuse and scare her. When she sees him in the light of day, despite him helping save the lives of a bunch of New Yorkers, she walks to the front of the crowd, shakes her head at him, takes off her engagement ring and leaves it on the blacktop — adding insult to injury because Ben's giant stone Thing-fingers can't even pick the ring up.
- One character in the Alien Invasion movie Grey Skies removes her wedding ring after her husband is taken over by the aliens. At the end, she puts it back on after getting taken over herself.
- 10 Cloverfield Lane opens with Michelle leaving town after having a fight with her fiance, and we see her leave her house keys and engagement ring behind.
- In The Sixth Sense, Dr. Crowe's wife drops a wedding ring and lets it roll across the floor to signify the end of their marriage. In this case, the relationship is over because Crowe has been dead for over a year. The ring his wife drops is his, which he is no longer wearing because he's a ghost.
- Resident Evil. In the first film, Spence and Alice were pretending to be a married couple. Near the end of the movie Spence betrays Alice and is turned into a zombie. After she kills him, she drops her wedding ring next to his body.
- Several adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol have Belle do this when she ends her engagement to the young Scrooge (as shown by the Ghost of Christmas Past), although the original book never mentions it. The Albert Finney musical Scrooge (1970) offers an especially memorable variation: Scrooge is updating his ledgers when Belle enters his office, and annuls their engagement by tossing her ring onto one side of a balance scale, and dropping a gold crown onto the other. Of course, the crown weighs more, signifying that Scrooge's love of money outweighs his love for Belle.
- An old joke:
Her: That's it! We're done! I can't live with such a... miser anymore! Here, take back this engagement ring of yours!Him: Wait wait wait, and where is the box?
- Diana Villiers does this to Stephen in one of the Aubrey-Maturin novels; when he receives the letter in which she breaks their engagement, he can feel the ring inside the envelope before he even reads the message.
- In the Carl Hiaasen novel Lucky You, a major character had been engaged six times, broke the engagement six times, and returned the ring five times. The time she kept the ring was because the breakup was over the man developing a disturbing fascination with body piercings, and she was afraid of what he'd do with it if it was returned.
- In Wintersmith, after Tiffany defeats the Wintersmith, he leaves behind an iron nail which she fashions into a ring. When the Morris dancers drop by for the year, she gives the ring back to a man with the Wintersmith's eyes as a way to say that it would never work out since she's a human and the Wintersmith is basically a force of nature.
- In Blandings Castle, Fiery Redhead Sandy Callender isn't content with merely returning her fiance's ring:
"So she gave you back the ring?"
"She threw it at me. You may have noticed the slight abrasion on my left cheek."
- A platonic example occurs in Speak, when Heather rejects her outcast friend Melinda in favor of the popular Martha clique and seals the deal by giving her back the necklace she received from her for Christmas.
- In Agent Carter during a flashback to Peggy's life back in England she was engaged to be married, turning down an opportunity to take work in the field undercover, which her brother had recommended her for. After word comes that her brother has been killed in action, she packs her bags and leaves, taking the letter offering the position and leaving her engagement ring in its place.
- The second-season premiere of Quantico has Alex returning the engagement ring Ryan gave her.
- Played for Laughs on Seinfeld. Elaine discovers her bald boyfriend actually shaves his head. She encourages him to grow it out and he discovers that he's going bald for real. Under George's advice, he gets engaged to her. Then, he has an altercation with the police and arrested. When he tells her how long he'll be in jail and she realizes he'll lose even more hair in that time, she gives back the ring.
- In an episode of 7th Heaven, Mary and Lucy are still holding onto the engagement rings from their ex-boyfriends, while a subplot involves Ruthie's teacher telling her about how she gave back the ring from her ex not long ago. This inspires Ruthie to convince her big sisters to mail the rings back to the guys to show they're over them.
- In the third season finale of That '70s Show, Eric gives a promise ring to Donna, who takes as a statement that he wants her to be a House Wife instead of having a career and seeing the world, so she gives the ring back. Taking it as she doesn't want to be with him, Eric breaks up with Donna.
- "This Diamond Ring" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys is about a young man whose girl gave him back the diamond ring. He's so heartbroken that he's trying to sell it just to get rid of it, but he hopes that the new buyer has much better luck with it than he did.
- In the Music Video for "Let's Get Married" by Jagged Edge, Sarah is frustrated (and not for the first time) with her fiancé Trent putting friends and fun before her. The last straw is when she calls him for emotional support while wedding-dress shopping (the night before the wedding!), and he's at his Stag Party, where one of the strippers hangs up his phone on her. She calls off the engagement, and returns the ring to Trent, who is left sitting on the steps of the church contemplating What Could Have Been.... The video then rewinds to that party, and Trent leaves to take the call, and the wedding goes as planned.
Myth And Legend
- There's an old story told at Renaissance Faires that puzzle rings used to be given as engagement and/or wedding rings, and that when a bride no longer wanted to be married to her husband, she would dismantle the interlocking rings and leave the undone ring for him to find.
- This is Older Than Radio. The final scene of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House has Nora return her wedding band to her husband Torvald and take back his, before leaving him.
- In the opera Carmen, the last thing Carmen does before Don Jose stabs her to death is remove a ring he gave her and throw it at his feet.
- In the opera Lucia di Lammermoor lovers Lucia and Edgardo exchange rings as they secretly pledge faith to each other. When Lucia is forced by her brother to marry another man, Edgardo disrupts the wedding in a jealous rage and throws Lucia's ring back at her. This leads to Lucia's dramatic Sanity Slippage in the following act.
- In The Phantom of the Opera, Erik/The Phantom gives Christine a ring and makes her promise to wear it after he agrees to release her from captivity. Eventually she goes to return it when she decides to leave with Raoul, and depending on the particular production this may include Erik attempting to give it back to her again.
- In Borderlands 2, Axton's wife and CO returns her wedding ring after telling him that he is in no way to go AWOL and flee to Pandora after his Glory Hound ways get him court martialed.
- After the opening of Fallout 4, you can recover your (murdered) spouse's ring from their corpse (your character's is still in your inventory). Neither really fulfills any purpose apart from this trope. It's even possible to later give the ring to any other character you begin a relationship with, though the game doesn't make any special note of this.
- Near the end of Serena the protagonist finds his wife's wedding ring in her jewelry box, which tells him for certain that she's not coming back.
- In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Bruce Wayne's fiancée, Andrea Beaumont, breaks up with him by leaving the engagement ring and a "Dear John" Letter for him to find.
- On The Simpsons, in the episode "Lisa's Future", Lisa returns her engagement ring to her wealthy English fiancé, just minutes before the wedding, upon finding out that not only does he not want to wear the "traditional" pig cufflinks Homer gave him, but that he plans to take her away from her family forever because (he feels) that they're just too dysfunctional and uncouth.