Small Life, Slow Life: That Time I Threw My Engagement Ring in the Ocean. {AKA: How to Let Go.}


When I was seventeen, I was engaged for a brief period of time.

It was a nightmare.

He was only my second boyfriend. While he meant well, he had a lot of issues. So did I. We broke up, made up, deceived one another, hurt each other — it was a disaster. He got violent and then would disappear, only to return a few days later being obsessive about wanting me back. He was in trouble with the law; he was at odds with his family. I pitied him, was drawn to him, and hated him.

My parents were worried. So for a time, I lied about being with him. But no one was fooled by the way I became withdrawn, the weight I lost, and the way I suffered. I was afraid of him, and my family was fearful about what the outcome of my life would be if I stayed with him.

Eventually, it all exploded.

It took leaving my job, moving our family’s home and changing phone numbers to finally end the abusive cycle and for me to get away from him. And we were successful — I didn’t see him again until years later, and by that time I was healed. But for the first year, I was still a land mine inside, filled with all kinds of issues and operating out of fear. Anyone who came near me, I hurt.

All the while, that engagement ring stared at me from inside of a jewelry box he had given me.

Pawn it, people said.
Return it.
Send it to him.
Take the diamond and do something else with it.

But one day, miserable and tired of suffering, I drove my ’89 Camry to the beach and chucked that ring into the ocean. I heard the small plop as it fell in somewhere past where the waves began. By the shore, I buried the jewelry box.

I sat in the sand and wrote in a spiral notebook for a long time about what the ring floating to the bottom of the ocean meant to me. I wrote about releasing all ties to my ex. I created a symbol in my mind that the cords that had bound us were now forever severed. The wind whipped my face and I cried. My words filled up the pages like an infection being drained.

And I felt so. much. better. 

No one got it. The ring could’ve been at least $1,000 in my pocket. Or I should have returned it to him, since I was the one broke the engagement.

But I got it.

I couldn’t sell the ring because then I would have had the money. And whatever I did with the money would still be a link to him, and would still connect me to him somehow. I couldn’t return it because it would have reopened a conversation with him. And I most certainly didn’t want to hold onto it, letting all the bad juju of our relationship continue to draw energy to me.

“How do I get closure?” a lot of you have asked in the comments here and here. “How do I let my ex go?” “How do I get over this?”

You have to get rid of the baggage — the literal  baggage.

Burn the cards, throw out the pictures, shred the love letters. Donate the jewelry, hang the Christmas ornaments on trees in the park. Drop the clothes off at Goodwill and don’t ask for a receipt for your charitable donation.

It’ll feel like it’s going to kill you, but you have to do it.

The brain works by telling itself stories. So if you’re still stuck somewhere in the middle, you need to create the end.

When I tell the story of the time I was engaged when I was seventeen, it doesn’t end with the breakup. For me, it still wasn’t over even though we moved to a new home and I got a new job and changed my phone number.

When I tell that story now, it ends with “And I drove to the beach and threw the engagement ring in the ocean.”

If a painful time in your life is over but doesn’t feel over for you, you need to write the ending.

Create a ceremony. Light candles + incense, get the fireplace ready, have the paper shredder primed to go. Have the magic words written down.

I release all ties to ____________.
This fire symbolizes the end of the pain and the beginning of a new life.
I forgive + let go. 

If you’re really serious about healing, you have to cut all ties. And those include the ones in your mind.

Once you’ve told yourself the end of your story, you’re free to work on a brand new one.

Wishing you peace + healing,



12 thoughts on “Small Life, Slow Life: That Time I Threw My Engagement Ring in the Ocean. {AKA: How to Let Go.}

  1. Dear Jen,

    I have read many of your posts on relationships and I couldn’t tell you how much I relate to these exact sentiments on life. Right from grief being an inevitable, yet unwelcome part of life to the unending search for happiness which will never soothe or satisfy itself except in small moments, I have felt every word you’ve written.
    Relationships can be so tricky. I have dated many people and realized that maybe it is just about different things at different ages. I write too, I’ve a blog of my own and I write on so many things, including the most complex of them all – human relationships 🙂

    I’ve read all your posts about letting go and moving on. I’ve let go and moved on from all types of relationships in the past even the long serious ones without much trouble, but there’s one I want to share, that is important to me. The real deal.

    S and I were good friends for many years. We were college crushes. There has been a clear, clear spark between us for those several years, a huge mutual crush, a quiet, tiny sadness when we both had to go our ways and date other people, followed by us following our own lives in our respective relationships. We were madly in love with our respective partners. Those relationships ended.
    We were separated by time and distance, on occasion even by a year’s gap of no communication between us in those years of friendship.

    We found each other again a year ago, we met. We fell in love, unsaid. It was clear, easy, spontaneous and it was beautiful.
    When we spoke about how we could go forward after some time we spent together, he said he was in no capacity to be in a relationship (unlike the man I’d always known him to be, before)
    Friends said he’s got his defenses up from his past breakup, and I feared it’s because he’s friends with his ex, or because he’s fearing commitment. But I realized all that has no true bearing on what’s meant to be yours, no that’s not even a reason to worry, because even a clingy ex who will settle to be friends to be in his life cannot come in the way of what’s meant to happen, whichever way that maybe. The presence or absence of other factors though they bothered me, made me realize that what’s mine will be mine and what’s not will not be. Yet, I’m human and I didn’t know how to deal with these insecurities as I discovered them. I did act out of insecurity but nothing drastic or confrontational.

    When we found each other after all these years, the connection, beauty, spontaneity and chemistry was more wonderful and powerful than all the yes’ and no’s put together in the universe – I hope at least you understand this. No, I’m not the girl who falls for every other guy. I choose, I’m picky and I’m sure about what I feel.
    This chemistry between S and I was always there, all those years that we knew each other and it was nothing new. It was so familiar, so old, so known and so comfortable. I gave it my all. I did. The physical bonding was just a phenomenal icing on the cake. Because I knew deep inside what we shared was as true as my very existence. I have been the most loving girl he has ever had and he knows it too, not to win his heart but because it came naturally to me to love him so. This man, was someone I have subconsciously wanted a beautiful relationship with, undoubtedly for the longest time.
    The relationship however took a different course. It lasted a short while, neither of us could put a label on it though I wanted something serious and he didn’t want to think about what to do with it. I did everything in my ability to keep it, save it, fought it to the ground and it left me wondering why I tried so hard. It bothered me and hurt me that after all that, he was so nonchalant when he ended it and said ” Sorry, I don’t think I want anything beyond us being friends at his point in my life. I cannot think of something serious. I have no idea why. ”
    I’m beautiful, and intelligent and loving and lovable and I know it, I’ve held his interest for the longest time I’ve known anyone to have an interest in me. I’ve no idea what made me stay trapped in this myriad of emotions and wondered why he didn’t want to take it forward.

    I was furious inside but kept my patience. How could he just give me a watered down version of what we shared, which even he knew the intensity of and just leave me hanging ? Understanding that his being so “practical” about everything is one thing, but he couldn’t just leave me hanging knowing fully well how madly in love with him I am !

    I don’t know how to say it Jen, but I know this man. I just do. Not by virtue of time or habituation of a relationship (which I would like), but I just know him plain and simple like I know the back of my hand. Things would be different if I were a teenager, maybe I’d be dreaming, but I’m twenty eight and I know a feeling when I know it and I’m unable to explain the clarity of how sure I was and still am, that in the heart of it, there’s real, lasting love in that relationship.

    The relationship came crashing down as the arguments escalated. I became needy, sad, I used to cry and act out of desperation and fear of losing that amazing connection. It was already gone, it consisted of him sending me messages on whim every few days, and obviously minimal communication. And I didn’t know how arguing, crying, fighting, settling for something else would make it come back, but I did what I knew. I had never been in such a situation before in all these years ! I didn’t understand a man I would date who would just leave me there on the middle of the road and be like “I love you but we don’t want the same things. You’re looking for a committed relationship while I cannot even start thinking about a serious relationship or commitment. I’m sorry.” So suddenly ! After my knowing fully well that we have wanted each other and only each other, after knowing that it’s safe zone and I’m in love with him, he wants me to just settle for friendship for what ?? So that I can be hanging around for him in case he changes his mind ?

    I was so heartbroken, I went back to him completely still in love after a few months, said I’d settle for a casual relationship, and was upset trying to mend things only to meet him a few months later again to be led right into more complication. His stand didn’t change despite my knowledge that he likes me, and he shot me down. The fights were taking up our energy he said he needs his time off from me and he was so angry that I just couldn’t understand and let go. I let him go. We haven’t spoken in a while now. It’s been several weeks.

    I want to be happy. And I want to let go. It’s hard.

    I feel a loss of self esteem and I want to do everything to bring my self respect back. I don’t know how to treat him. I don’t know how to act/react/think. I don’t know if I should even bother. My new job is going to help me too, I suppose. Give me your thoughts, Jen. I want me. I want the happy, beautiful amazing charming me whom my friends, family and men love and adore.


    • Amy,

      It doesn’t mean he’s the wrong man. Or that your gut feeling was wrong. It just means he’s the wrong man RIGHT NOW.

      C and I got back together for like the fifth time when I was 28 and broke up when I was 30. It was awful.

      But sometimes, it’s like this. He says he’s not ready, and you’re dousing him with a whole firehose of love. Or he’s been in the dark for a year and you just beamed all the spotlights on him. Don’t you see how that could make him wince? It’s too much for him right now. You really needed to listen to him when he said he wasn’t ready for that. And pleading and arguing DEFINITELY didn’t inspire him to open up to you.

      With C and me over the years, sometimes it was I who was damaged and he who was dousing me with love, and that made me feel uncomfortable and suffocated. Sometimes it was the other way around. We didn’t get it just right until I was 31. You have to respect that S is not in a place in his life where full-force love feels good to him. He needs time to heal. So do you.

      I have no doubt that time will bring you together again, but you each have a few more lessons to learn. You say you want to be the “beautiful amazing charming [you] whom your friends, family, and men love and adore.” My dear, you’ve got to turn that around to being the beautiful amazing charming you, who YOU adore. That’s the only way they adore you…when they look within and feel that you’re a steady ship on calm waters.

      Restore your relationship with YOU, forgive yourself for acting desperate and needy and for jumping the gun with him. (It was natural. Most women would have done the same thing in your situation.) You will discover in a few weeks (or sooner) that if a man doesn’t want to be forced into a relationship with you, that you’re better off without him…no matter how deep the connection. And you will let people come to you because they’re attracted…you won’t chase them down simply because YOU’RE attracted.

      You’re 75% there, honestly. You’re very self-aware and I suspect your healing won’t take much time. And S will come around. I think you came on very intensely more than anything, when he was giving clear signs that he wasn’t ready for that. Next time, you’ll know to be much more gentle and not to rush him. You will trust he’s attracted to you, so you won’t force it. Remember that a skittish bird won’t land on a branch that’s blowing all over the place in the wind. It lands on the branch that is still and strong. Passion is wonderful, but like fire, it can be super destructive. You have to learn how to tend to that fire. Our culture idolizes passion devouring everything, and I think that’s a very dangerous idea to worship. It’s a hard lesson I had to learn myself. Once I learned not to rush C, he proposed. So there you go. 🙂

      Best of luck, Jen

      • Thank you Jen !

        This is a very healthy perspective.
        I’m coming around to accepting that it’s just over. It’s hard, because the mind plays all these ridiculous games of “maybe after three months of no contact he’ll be back”. And the funny part is, that’s exactly what I don’t want. I want the freedom of NOT wanting him back. And yet I’m here giving this so much thought and energy. I have been so cut throat in the past with the wishy-washy types, and I am trying to find that part of me that musters up the courage to just move on from this one.
        I want to be with someone who actually realizes my worth and loves me and wants me, and doesn’t go off on the lines of “Why are you so nice to me ? I don’t want serious – But I won’t call it casual – I don’t know what this is, but if you’re not cool with it then you decide what you want – Don’t put it in my court – It’s very very unclear for me – I refuse to define this” etc.
        His body language, interest and words contrasted each other at so many points that I gave him the benefit of doubt on so many occasions till I somewhere felt I am not behaving and acting my worth. I wasn’t in an emotionally secure place either.

        But I do understand ! I need to operate from a secure place. How do I just concentrate on letting go and not wanting him back (even indirectly, as a consequence on letting go?). I really want my power back.


        • You’ll continue to want him back, until you don’t. Something will literally snap and you’ll be SO sick of yourself. You’re nearly there. Time is a factor in all of this, so while you just want to be done with this whole thing and go back to being happy, there is a reason you need to see it through until the end. And afterwards you will be forever grateful that you went through this because you will be SO strong and you’ll never feel needy about a guy again.

          When C first started contacting me again, he wanted to avoid defining it too. But I’d read so much about getting your ex back that I knew it’d never work. So I said, “Sorry, I don’t do casual, and don’t ever approach me about that again,” even though it was killing me to lose him. The truth is that it was that very statement, and standing up for myself, that got him to come back. Never compromise on your worth. If you earn their attention by being someone you’re not, what good is getting love that isn’t meant for you?

  2. Pingback: Small Life, Slow Life: Fairytales. Why it matters that you get to choose. And some thoughts on marriage, too. | small life, slow life

  3. I have a question for you: When you and C separated, did you burn/get rid of all of your relationship memories? If yes, do you regret that now that you are back together and married? My ex (we broke up a month ago and dated for about 4 years) made me many beautiful gifts (he was very artistic) and I am debating what needs to be done. They are a physical product of his then-love for me, and it pains me to think of getting rid of them. What do you think?

    • I kept most of it for a while. After a few months it really depressed me. I burned all the cards and letters. Some of the more sentimental gifts that were useful, I kept, but I packed them away back in the closet until I was ready to look at them. He, however, threw out EVERYTHING I’d ever given him, which really hurt me when we got back together. But I don’t blame him at all. I think possessions carry energy and sometimes, though it’s hard, it’s best to let go of them!

      • I don’t know if I’ll ever have the strength you did and burn/toss the letters or handmade gifts, but hopefully I’ll get there. I’m sure he’s probably already rid himself of our material items, so hopefully I can one day as well.

        One last question: When you and C split (any of the times), did either of you say any ugly things to each other or say “I will never want you back”? My ex and I have said some nasty things during some post breakup arguments (when I finally decided NC is the only way I can heal myself). I meant absolutely nothing I said and it was spoken in rage/hurt, but I fear he means his part. I know I can’t live my life thinking he *could* or *should* come back, because it’s not healthy.

        Anyway, thanks for your time and thanks again for writing this blog. I read your Kombucha post today — think I’m going to try it soon!

        • Oh yes. We both said ugly things we didn’t mean, many, MANY times. I won’t go into details, but it was as bad as it could get. I meant the things I said when I said them, but time softens most grudges.

          • Thank you so much. Our ugly things were HORRIBLE and it’s hard to picture yours being comparable (LOL). Sometimes I sit there and I’m like “I’m an emotional child. I would not come back to me if I were him.” (Of course I’m not the only one who has made mistakes) It is refreshing to know that someone as level-headed as yourself (sometimes I feel like I have ZERO control over my mouth when I am upset) has slipped up with things like that. I always seem to picture myself as this horrid person who makes very unique mistakes, haha.

            Anyway, I can’t thank you enough for this blog. Not just the ex-related entries. In fact, I’d probably have to thank you MOST for the family-related ones, because they show that time has a way of working things out. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to reply, too; it means a lot. Hope you have a great summer.

            • You’re too kind. We’re all human. I told C that he would never be happy, never be able to love anyone but himself, and that I would hate him for the rest of my life. Also, at the time of our breakup, i had recently made him an apron out of Avengers fabric. I calmly walked right up to it, took the biggest knife I could find and tore it to shreds in front of him. 😳 It really freaked him out. I also called him all the bad names in the book.

              Mind you, this wasn’t the only time we broke up! We had like, eight breakups. So we said some awful things to each other!

              All things can be healed. Whether your ex comes back or not. And you can recover from this and be happier than ever before. I never believed I would ever be this happy or centered. Age helps too. Hang in there and I hope you have a wonderful summer too ❤️

              • This story made me laugh. I hope being so far past makes this OK for you. I made my ex a t-shirt less than a week before he broke up with me, and I didn’t take a knife to it before I left. I felt foolish for the “cutest couple” pictures that were posted in those matching t-shirts. C’est la vie.

                For a long time, I debated with myself whether I should apologize to my ex for the mean things I said to him. While I am sorry for the ways that I hurt him, I’m not going to reach out to say it. Either of two things is true: he already knows I’m a good person who was really hurting OR he thinks I’m a mean person which just means he doesn’t know despite knowing me for ten years. Anyhow, I forgive myself for how I acted, and I’m so much more balanced and at peace these days, and that is what matters now.

                The fact that I can look back at all this and feel fine really makes me happy.

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