Q: This is rather long, so please bear with me.

Anne, Cindy and I worked in the same place and were all good friends. Anne and Cindy are still the best of friends. Anne and I dated exclusively for three years. Toward the end of the three years, Anne decided to leave town to attend law school. Our relationship was also on shaky ground at the time. Before leaving, she asked me to buy her a friendship ring, which I gladly did. (The cost was minimal.) Anne left for school and, as long-distance relationships are wont to do, ours ended.

A few months ago, I noticed that Cindy was wearing the ring I had given Anne. I inquired about this, and she told me that Anne had injured her finger playing paddleball, and wasn't wearing the ring due to the injury. Cindy told me that Anne said the ring was from someone special, and she didn't want to lose it.

I was skeptical, to say the least. A few minutes later, Cindy told me that Anne was engaged to be married. Six months have since passed, Anne is married, and she and Cindy are still the best of friends--and Cindy is still wearing the ring.

It is unsettling for me to see my ring on Cindy's hand. Do you think I could/should ask Cindy not to wear the ring to work? I should mention that Cindy and I still work together and, although we had an estrangement while Anne and I were breaking up, we are once again friends, so I have occasion to see the ring fairly often.

A: You are disturbed because rings are loaded with symbolism. But if you can tell Miss Manners what this ring has symbolized to the various people concerned by now, she will be dazzled.

Oh, well, let's have a try at it.

A friendship ring should symbolize friendship. A friendship ring given to a departing sweetheart could symbolize the idea that you will continue to be friends although no longer romantically attached. But when it comes at the suggestion of the person who receives it, it seems to symbolize the idea of You-should-still-be-pledged-to-me-as-my-friend, which is, if you ask Miss Manners (actually, you didn't) rather a cheeky request to make. One gives, not demands, such tokens.

Anyway, that lady stops wearing it. That symbolizes no longer valuing the pledge. Miss Manners is forced to agree that the explanation is nonsense--even if the paddleball knocked out all 10 fingers permanently, she still has a bureau drawer, doesn't she? That is the proper place to keep sentimental souvenirs one cannot or no longer wants to wear.

But she gave it away. And the second lady, also a friend of yours, took it and continues to wear it. If you ask Miss Manners (and this time you did), this symbolizes Everybody-but-you-realizes-I-am-pining-for-you.

If you should say to her, "Cindy, I've always felt flattered that you wanted to wear my ring, but that one has other associations--please let me get you one just for you," then Miss Manners' theory will be tested. You may not want to take the risk.

Another way that would probably get the ring off, still according to Miss Manners' theory, would be to say with a sigh, "It gives me a funny feeling to see you wear that ring of Anne's. It always makes me think of her. How is she? Do you think she's really happy? Does she ever mention me?"

The only other possibility is that the symbolism has long worn off for both ladies, and Anne gave it away and Cindy keeps it for its intrinsic value, callous as that would be, and unnecessarily so when you think of the small value you say it actually is. But if you think that is true--and Miss Manners is certainly worn out by this time--you, too, should consider that the ring is no longer functioning on a symbolic level.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.

Copyright (c) 1983, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.