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The Wedding that Wasn’t
How to back out of your wedding gracefully (sort of)
By Camilla Mortensen
A man wearing a dog collar and skintight black latex was dripping hot candle wax on my wrist. I was in a dark, smoky fetish club somewhere in South Florida, surrounded by people who were wearing leather and chains and very little else. Thanks to the whiskeys the sympathetic bartender was pouring into me, I don’t remember much all that clearly from that night. I might have made out with a stranger. Come to think of it, I might have made out with my maid of honor too.
Weddings are stressful. Not getting married, however, takes stress to a whole new level, especially when you back out of the wedding two weeks before the party, as I did. But believe it or not, you can say, “I don’t” instead of “I do” fairly gracefully.
I wasn’t familiar with the saying, “Better a broken engagement today than a broken home tomorrow,” until after my fiancé and I called off our wedding. Afterwards, though, I heard a million different variations on this theme: “Just think if you’d had kids!” “Divorce is so expensive!” “You’ll be happier without him.”
And then there was my personal favorite: “Someday this will be a funny story.”
Right. Just when does breaking up with your fiancé, canceling your wedding, disappointing your family and feeling humiliated and embarrassed for being the runaway bride become a funny story? (I guess in my case it happens right around the time your maid of honor decides to cheer you up by taking you to Club Kink on your no-longer wedding night).
Wedding planners say that the earlier you cancel a wedding the better. Back out six months in advance, and you can often get some or all of your deposit back on your wedding venue. In my case, two weeks’ notice was not enough, even for the small family wedding we had planned. The ex’s family didn’t take the cancellation all that well. My family, however, took the news in stride; they told the guests they were welcome to come anyway, because whether or not the bride and groom showed up, they were having a party.
By all accounts it was a good party. Last Christmas, a cousin began to tell me about funny incident that had happened at my wedding. I interrupted her, pointing out, “Uh, I didn’t get married.”
She brushed that aside, eager to get to the point of her story. “Remember? It was that guy at the party,” she said.
“Right, but I wasn’t there,” I reminded her.
She looked at me, astonished, and said, “Oh. Well, it was a great party.”
One thing to do to help everyone maintain a sense of humor, especially if your family isn’t the type not to let a little jilting stop a good party, is to let everyone know that the wedding is off ASAP. It sucks, trust me, to have to contact everyone on your guest list and give them the news. But someone has to, and that duty, according to The Complete Wedding Planner, falls upon the person who is doing the calling off. Proper unwedding etiquette calls for the bride or groom to send out something along these lines: Mr. and Mrs. John Smith announce that the engagement of their daughter Jane Smith and Mr. John Doe has been ended by mutual consent.
My uninvitations were a little less formal. The ex and I sent ours out in the form of a multiple choice quiz (we also implied it was a mere postponement, as opposed to a cancellation, a common ploy among wedding-weaselers like myself). “Camilla Mortensen and John Doe regret they are postponing their wedding because (please check one). 1. The dog’s tux didn’t get finished in time 2. Florida’s too hot for summer weddings.”
I can’t remember the rest, but we cracked ourselves up at the time. (That was when the ex still had a sense of humor about the whole thing.)
The Complete Wedding Planner says you need an explanation if you’re postponing the wedding, but no explanation is needed if you’re canceling. Still, I recommend giving an explanation to your near and dear ones; they’ll want to help you, and you’ll need the emotional support. (I also recommend giving an explanation to the biggest gossips on your guest list to head off the inevitable exaggerations and stories. “She did what! Really! Oh, so that’s why…”)
After you’ve contacted the venue and your guests, you also need to remember all the other little details. Flowers, photographer, catering, hair appointment … everything has to be undone, which is not fun while you’re feeling sorry for yourself. This is where attendants come in handy: They can hold your hand and pour the tequila while you make the calls and return the gifts.
Then there are the really emotionally difficult things to do: returning the dress and the ring. Some dresses can be returned, and you can resell or donate the non-returnables. My wedding was going to be informal, so my bridesmaids were left with cute little black dresses, not frilly monstrosities. But even if you do subject your friends to horrible dresses that they won’t ever wear, remember: That’s why you chose these women to be your bridesmaids. Because they love you and would rather suck it up and pay for a tacky dress and an unused plane ticket than see you miserably married to Mr. Not-So-Right.
Etiquette says that you usually have to return the engagement ring. Thanks to Meyer v. Mitnick, Heiman v. Parrish and a slew of other legal cases, it actually varies state to state whether you can keep the ring or not. It also depends on when you got the ring. If he gave it to you on a holiday like Valentine’s or Christmas, traditional gift-giving days, then you can keep it. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is. I say just give it back. I got mine on Valentine’s, but I gave it back anyway. What was I going to do with an engagement ring when I was no longer engaged? Come to think of it, I don’t know what he was going to do with it either. My guess is that he sold it on eBay — not an uncommon fate for wedding dresses and preowned engagement rings.
Friends and family will have done everything from try to persuade you not to cancel (all brides have jitters, after all), from holding your hand every step of the way to being furious with you. Or, if they’re like my family, they’ll have a party while the bride gets drunk at bondage club. No matter how your family deals with it, after all the technical details are done, you still have to deal with the emotional aftermath and be gracious while you’re doing it. You say thank you to everyone for being understanding and you don’t trash talk the ex, no matter how much you want to (and some of us really, really want to). This is the part where you stick your chin up, smile and remind yourself that every girl’s got a sweet wedding story, but a good unwedding night is always a little more interesting. And think of all the money you saved by not having to hire a divorce lawyer …