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killed my fiance with cheap wedding invitations+ He breaks off the engagement. She rebounds quickly. He asks for the ring back; she walks away. Now they’re both annoyed. Who’s right?

Engagements have, historically, been a big deal — see John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman for one of my favorite fictional takes on the issue — in part because it was understood that women who had held out until that point might at last consent to have sex with their fiances. The ring was supposed to act as her insurance policy; if he played false with her, she got, at least, to keep it. She could also sue for “breach of promise,” or, as it should have been called, “breach of hymen.”

Some of the original theory behind this tort was based on the idea that a woman would be more likely to give up her virginity to a man if she had his promise to marry her. If he seduced her and subsequently refused marriage, her lack of virginity would make her future search for a suitable husband more difficult or even impossible.[3]

However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the main factors were compensation for the denial of the woman’s expectations of becoming “established” in a household (supported by her husband’s wealth) and possible damage to her social reputation, since there were a number of ways that the reputation of a young never-married woman of the genteel classes could be damaged by a broken engagement, or an apparent period of intimacy which did not end in a publicly announced engagement, even if few people seriously thought that she had lost her virginity. She might be viewed as having broken the code of maidenly modesty of the period by imprudently offering up her affections without having had a firm assurance of future marriage.

During the early 20th century … half of American women lost their virginity during their marriage engagements.[3] Compensation was based on emotional distress and the woman’s reduced opportunity for a future marriage. Damages were greatly increased if the couple had engaged in pre-marital sexual intercourse.[3]

See also “alienation of affection.” God I love history.

+ Father has contentious relationships with two children, a fine relationship with one. In his will, he bequeathes his entire estate to that daughter. She thinks life will be easier for her going forward if she splits the money with her siblings regardless, contrary to his explicit wants. Should she decide this unilaterally, or ask her siblings, or inform her still-living father of her intention, or what?

+ “My next-door neighbor, who recently quit her job to pursue painting, asked if she could practice by making a portrait of my child. She said she would charge me the cost of supplies since it was for practice, and I agreed. When she finished the painting, she notified me that she had decided to charge me several hundreds of dollars because she had learned inart class the importance of correctly pricing her work. Although I was upset by the change in price, I did not want to ruin the relationship, so I paid what she asked. What was the right thing to do?”

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