Despite being unbelievably happy in my life and my marriage, I had that dream again last night that I have had repeatedly for the past 30 years. I am being left at the altar, in full wedding attire with all my family and friends watching. I am sobbing uncontrollably and there is no groom in the picture.
I have this dream, I believe, because a version of this actually happened to me. The truth is, some 30 years ago, my fiancée called off our wedding (over the phone after seven years of dating) a few months before the wedding itself, so my actual story isn’t as tragic as my dream. Or is it? He eloped shortly after calling off our wedding with a women that I had met a few times and had actually gone on a few double dates with her and her boyfriend. I actually had no idea anything was going on between them. It’s actually comical when you think of it now, but heartbreaking at the time. Believe me when I say this, he made the right decision. We would have been unhappy, especially since he was seeing someone else (Ha). I was no prize at the time myself. I had a lot of growing up to do and this was a blessing in disguise. Only at the time, the disguise was not a pleasant one.
I was left with the horrific task of unwinding the wedding on my own. He was busy marrying someone else (LOL).
The etiquette around breaking down a wedding that never occurs is difficult, especially when you are trying to function with a broken heart. I leaned on family and friends to help me through the process. I didn’t have The Knot to lean on for etiquette. Having read what they recommend in this situation, it looks like I handled it pretty well despite my naivety. Here is my story.
How to Let People Know – Luckily, the invitations had not gone out yet. But if they had, the etiquette would have been to send an announcement similar to the invitation indicating that the wedding will not take place. If the wedding is called off within days or hours of the wedding, then enlist family and close friends to call each guest to let them know that the wedding has been called off. Get the word out as quickly as possible.
Contracts/Deposits – I had an attorney (a family friend) review all of the vendor contracts with me, including the venue, the musicians, the caterer, the bridal boutique, the florist, transportation, the hotels for guests – the list seemed to go on forever. I called each of the vendors personally. Some were very kind and understanding and others were all business with little to no compassion. Because we were just a few months away, I lost the deposits on almost every contract, and even back then, this amounted to thousands of dollars.
One of the most difficult vendors to deal with was the dress shop where I purchased the bridesmaid’s dresses. At the time, I had enlisted six of my closest friends and my sister to stand up for me. The dresses were hideous in retrospect and I am certain my friends were relieved when they didn’t have to wear them! I lost the deposit that each of them paid for the down payment on the dress. I paid each of my friends out of my own pocket to refund them for their deposit. The dress vendor wanted the balance of the dresses paid because they had been delivered to the store. The family-friend attorney sent them a formal letter saying that because the dresses had not been altered in any way, they could sell them again. They acquiesced and I fortunately, did not have to pay the balance.
Out of the bridesmaid dress misfortune came one of the funniest stories around the broken engagement. Right around July 4th, my best friend and I were riding by the dress shop and there, in the window, in all their glory, were my royal blue bridesmaid’s dresses on the manikins holding American flags. Hilarious!!
You might be asking, what did you do with the ring? I kept it! He called it off, and according to The Knot (which I did not have at the time), if the groom gave you the ring, and he calls it off, you have the option to keep the ring, give it back or sell it. I felt justified in keeping it because I was forced to pay far more than it was worth in lost deposits. I ended up selling it down the road. I didn’t want to have it around anymore. It was a reminder of something long ago, painful and unfortunate.
The Knot indicates that if the ring was a family heirloom, then you must return it to the family it belongs to. If I was to have called it off, then I should return the ring because it was given with the understanding that I was promising my hand in marriage (how old fashioned) and if I break it off, I am breaking that promise/contract. Finally, if the bride and groom purchased the ring together, they need to come to some legal/personal understanding about what financial compensation each should receive.
Gifts? According to The Knot, you are supposed to return all gifts with a note to the sender. This includes shower gifts, engagement gifts and wedding gifts. Fortunately for me, it was a few months before the wedding, so I don’t remember having to contend with sending gifts back, but if I had, I am certain that would have been another entertaining factor to deal with.
Wedding Dress? I had purchased the wedding dress at a high end boutique off of the sample rack, meaning, because I was sample size, I got a fantastic deal on a designer dress. Unfortunately, I was stuck with the dress. I had purchased it outright and could not return it. If you had purchased a dress and it was being made, it is possible that the boutique would allow you to cancel. It just depends on how far in advance your wedding is called off and whether they have made any alterations to it. In addition, if any part of your dress was made custom for you, it is more unlikely that they will allow you to cancel it because it makes it more difficult for them to resell the dress.
Honeymoon? We hadn’t made any plans that I know of for the Honeymoon yet. Although I heard he eloped in Mexico? Maybe that was our honeymoon? If we had made plans, one of you could go on it, like Carrie in the first (the best if you ask me) Sex in the City Movie or Peter in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (ha). You could cancel it outright and take the hit on the deposits or perhaps, the vendor would let you postpone the trip so one of you at least could enjoy it sometime in the future.
Broken Heart and Embarrassment? Getting over the broken heart and the embarrassment of a broken engagement took a very long time for me personally. I had a very rough road for a few years after the engagement was called off and had a very difficult time trusting. I threw myself into my work and fortunately for me, that paid off, and I think having a wonderful and challenging job helped me get through it. I also had the support of great friends and family. I have found that out of the most challenging situations, there comes light. After years of wondering if it would ever happen for me, I met the love of my life and my heart was finally whole again. I found my ever after. I hope that if anyone out there is going through a broken heart, you find comfort in reading that you are not alone. It happens to the best of us! Hang in there and try to find comedy in every situation. There was plenty of funny anecdotes in my story.