01/03/2014 03:32 pm ET Updated Mar 05, 2014

How to Say NO When Your Significant Other Pops the Question

You'd been warned. You know that this is considered "engagement" season. He's been dropping hints. And your friends have all been saying they think a proposal is in the works. So what do you do when the person who loves you pops the question and you're not ready to say yes? What if you never want to accept and marry him or her?

Oh yes, it happens. All the time. The problem is that most of the women being asked -- with a bright sparkly diamond -- say yes because they don't know what else to do in the moment. Especially if the question gets popped in front of an audience. So she says yes, and pictures are taken, and the next thing ya know, it's all over Facebook. Everybody knows and now she has to tell him that she never meant to say yes. Ay dios mio... it's just a horrible scenario all around. Inevitably, somebody (or somebodies) will end up hurt, and the one who made the proposal ends up completely publicly humiliated too.

First off, if you are the one proposing -- don't do it in public. I've blogged about this before and I truly believe it's excellent advice. I don't care how certain you are that she's going to say yes. It's just a bad idea.

If you are the lucky one being asked to share the rest of your life with someone, you need to be super-sensitive to the fact that if you plan to say no, you are breaking a heart. That doesn't mean I think you SHOULD say yes if you don't want to get married, but it does mean that you have to be very careful with how you handle the entire situation. If you are alone together when the question is asked, you should say "no" and deal with it in the moment. If you're not sure, say so -- but leave the ring in the box and in his possession until you have decided. Sadly, there are women who get married because they're too in love with the diamond to give it back. Don't even tempt yourself -- if you're not sure, wait until you are certain before you accept the ring.

What if you get caught up in the moment and accept his proposal, either because you haven't had enough time to think through or because you couldn't say "no" in front of his family? How do you handle it then? You wait until you are alone, you take that ring off your finger, and tell him the truth about how you feel.

He might be mad at you because you accepted it and then changed your mind -- but if he asked you with an audience, you can point out that he put you in a very bad position to tell him no. Not that it's going to matter once you've let the cat out of the bag and told him you meant to say no.

So now, let's get technical about the etiquette of this. If you're not sure, how long do you get to think about it? A few days max. Anything more than that and you're clearly putting off the inevitable. At some point, you're going to hurt him or her even more by dragging it out. It's like ripping off a Bandaid -- it's better if you do it fast and all at once. Chances are that unless you're saying no because of timing or a work conflict in your lives, that's something the two of you are going to have to discuss and decide about together. But if you're just not sure, or are sure the answer is not "yes," show some mercy and put the person proposing out of his or her misery as quickly as you can.

Once you've done the deed and ended things (because that's probably what will happen if you're saying no because you don't want to marry this person), how you handle notifying your friends can also have an important long-term impact on your former lover's self-esteem and your own reputation. This is definitely not the time to do a status change on Facebook about your relationship. Or to quote depressing poems on Twitter (remember you're the dumper, not the "dumped"). You should be discreet in telling close friends and family and for the most part, let him tell those who knew about his proposal that you did not accept it. He gets to be the one to tell his bffs, even if you've gotten close with their girlfriends or wives. They're not likely to be your friends much longer anyway -- most of the time you'll leave the relationship with the same friends you entered it with. Friends of emotionally-destroyed potential grooms are unlikely to want to stay close with you, and many will tell/ask their significant others to cut you loose too. Is it fair? Yes and no. Does it suck? Yes. Is there anything you can do about it? Yes. Theoretically, you could have said "yes" and you wouldn't be in this position in the first place, BUT then you'd be marrying somebody that you don't want to be married to for the rest of your life.

It's a crappy, Catch-22 sort of situation. No matter what you do, you are going to come out the bad guy to those who love him. It's unavoidable. Just think about how much you dislike the people who have hurt friends or family that you love, and you'll take it less personally when you're no longer invited to do anything with the friends who belonged to him. Don't try to keep those friends -- don't reach out to them independently - you have chosen to separate your lives and his cousins shouldn't want to stay friends with you.

Finally, what do you do if you are engaged for a significant period of time (maybe you've even started the wedding planning) and you change your mind? That does happen too -- in fact, that's why a long engagement is a good idea for younger couples. This is what is meant by the expression "breaking the engagement" -- I think that's probably because openly calling it "breaking a heart" would sound cruel and unusual. But truth is, again, that's probably what you're doing if he thinks everything is hunky-dory and you have already set a date and started planning the wedding. While it's difficult to do once the ball is rolling, far better to be alone for the right reasons than to marry somebody for the wrong ones -- so if you've gotta end things, do it quickly and succinctly and assume there's no going back (that's just called giving someone who loves you a mindf*ck and that's not okay for anyone, anywhere, anytime). When it's over, it's over. Say goodbye and walk away.

You must return the ring when you break an engagement. If you have the box, return it in the box. Otherwise, just hand it to him. You NEVER get to keep the ring if you dump him. And, technically speaking, you don't get to keep the ring even if he's the one who ultimately breaks the engagement. The ring is a symbol of the commitment you've made to one another -- not a gift or a reward for having accepted the offer. Sometimes if the guy breaks the engagement, he'll tell you that you can keep the ring (a lot of guilt combined with a little bit of "what the hell do I do with it?" comes into play here). And if that happens, you can keep it ONLY if the ring was purchased for you originally. If he's used a family stone or ring, you should return it regardless of what he tells you when he dumps you because it's a piece of his family history (and his mother, sisters, etc. will freak if they find out you kept it). Anybody who has ever watched Judge Judy knows the rules about this -- you don't get to keep the engagement ring if you're not actually getting married. The only exception would be if he used a special family stone or ring from YOUR family (usually in collusion with your parents). If it's your family history, you get to keep it. However, if you're dumping him and he had the ring made with a diamond your parents gave him to use, you should have a reputable jeweler remove the stone and give him back the setting. Depending on the type of precious metal used or how many baguettes or other stones he added, there's a lot of money invested in the ring even without the diamond and that doesn't belong to you after you break the engagement.

I know this is a yucky subject -- and most of my readers probably haven't made it this far in reading my blog today -- but it's something real that happens. How much you hurt the person you're rejecting is something you can control by behaving the best you possibly can when you return the ring or say no. This is not the moment to scream at him about everything sh*tty he ever did to you as your explanation for why you're returning the ring. And it's definitely not time to remind him that you hate his mother (or entire family). Be gracious and be kind and think about how you would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. No matter why you're not accepting the proposal, or are putting the kaybosh on the engagement, at one time you loved this person enough that he decided to propose to you and ask you to spend the rest of your life with him. Keep that in mind, and even though you're certainly hurting too, be as courteous as possible. At the end of the day, remember you're the heartbreaker, not the other way around.

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!