5 Things I Wish I'd Known When I Canceled My Wedding

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
By Eve Sturges

Our wedding was going to be in my hometown, at a private winery surrounded by blooming lavender fields in Northern California. Our colors were pearl and magenta, and my dress was a strapless A-line. The catering team was set to cook for 150 people, the florist was secured and ready with a million magenta gerbera daisies, our Episcopalian officiant was booked, and we were in the process of choosing a first-dance song. My best friend was working on her speech. The invitations were ready to go out the following Saturday, in a box near the couch.

My mother had her dress, and his mother had arranged our rehearsal dinner at a local Italian restaurant. All of this was done, by the way, from New York City — before Pinterest, before text messaging, and when The Knot was still fairly new and making waves with its wedding calculator.

And then my fiancé told me he didn’t want to have any more children, ever.

We canceled the wedding.

It wasn’t really about whether or not we’d have more children. There were huge, waving, screaming red flags from the beginning of our relationship, and they all make this a good, juicy, exciting story. Buy me a margarita sometime, and I’ll really spill the beans.

Weddings are canceled for all sorts of reasons, none of which should have to be measured or justified, so I’m skipping the private details of our relationship's demise this time around.

What I want to share is what it felt like to call off our wedding. A wave of relief washed over me when I thought about canceling it. Relief is different from excitement; I didn’t wipe my hands off and immediately move on to a better life. There were a lot of emotions to sift through, a lot of difficult conversations, a lot of heartbreaking questions and answers. But I focused on the relief and put one foot in front of the other.

Remember that no matter what, it will all be okay.

Whether there are neon-warning signs or a small achy feeling in your gut, choosing to cancel your wedding is often more stressful and scary than not, especially once the train really starts speeding toward the station. The bigger the wedding, and the closer you are to the date, the more emotion (not to mention money) is invested.

I felt a lot of pressure to get married because my partner and I had a baby, and yet in calling off the wedding, I was choosing to walk away from the action that would essentially have righted the error of my ways. Also, my partner loved me and loved our daughter; there were a lot of reasons it “made sense” to get married. But, I realized, it was better to struggle as a single mother and face down my family’s moral opinions than make a legal, financial, celebratory, religious commitment to a life in which I was not going to be happy in.

Related: How Cinderella Ruined My Love Life

People still tell me how brave I was to cancel my wedding. I didn’t feel especially heroic after I did it, but it’s a concept I’ve mulled over for over 10 years now — whether or not there was any heroism involved in making such a huge decision.

I think a lot of us, myself included, underestimate the pressure placed on engaged couples to seal the deal. I am not pro or anti-cancel, but I know there are people out there who are worried about the small voice inside whispering that something isn't right, and I wish there were more readily available resources to help people who struggle with this uncertainty.

Based on my experience, and the frightening variables that make this feel overwhelming, here are the five pieces of guidance that I wish were available to me when I was weighing the options and questioning “I do.”

You Will Survive
Everyone survives these things and I’m sure that deep down you already know this. The discomfort — the embarrassment, the tears, the unknown — can feel excruciating, but it will pass. I felt overwhelming relief when the wedding was canceled, but it also took a long time for me to find a new normal.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Find Support, But Not From Your Engaged Partner
Ask someone who is close to you for some extremely confidential quality time. If no one who can offer unbiased and open-minded listening skills comes to mind, see if you can find a therapist in your area. Religious leaders often offer counseling, so maybe the officiant of your wedding is a good bet. Even an online forum can be of great help — something is better than nothing. Contact me if you have to! There will be a time to talk with your fiancé, but for right now, you need a neutral zone.
It Isn't About Love
It is absolutely possible and acceptable to love someone and still decide that marriage is not the right path for the two of you. It’s also possible to feel incredibly loved by your fiancé and also feel like marrying him isn’t the right direction. Marriage is about more than love. Marriage is about all aspects of life; finances, children, dreams, career, health and safety, freedom and happiness. If you can’t identify what the nagging feeling is now, I bet that you’ll figure it out eventually. Don’t ignore it just because it doesn’t fall into a particular category.
Related: This Is What I Learned From Going To Seven Weddings Alone

Don't Let The Logistics Overwhelm You
This is also where support is crucial. I sent a list of vendors to my parents, who called or visited each and everyone in our small town. A lot of them were happy to refund the deposits, and those that didn’t offer refunds allowed us to use the money we'd spent on another service. Later in the year, I used the photographer for some family pictures, and we sent flowers to people who had helped during the uncomfortable transition.

Weddings are canceled for all sorts of reasons, none of which should have to be measured or justified.

Instead of those pretty invitations, we mailed out plain postcards with a simple sentence: “The wedding between Eve and Jim has been postponed indefinitely.” That was the wording my mother was most comfortable with, and it got the job done. There was no need for any lengthy explanations or apologies. If we had been even closer to the wedding, we would have phoned everyone (in fact, I am sure we did phone some people to make sure they got the news).
People will have plane tickets and hotel reservations to cancel, and it’s better they know sooner as opposed to later. If it feels too scary or hard to know what to say, write it down and read a script that keeps your uncle in North Dakota from asking too many questions.

Be sure to surround yourself with people who can help — get your bridesmaids to put that crafting energy into new tasks, whether it's to sit with you and stamp postcards, check names off the list, pour you a glass of wine, or split the guest list with you to deliver the news.

After it hung in my closet for a few months, I took my wedding dress to a consignment store in the area and never worried about it again.

My family enjoyed the cases of wedding wine with dinner for years.

Most Importantly, There Are No Wrong Decisions Here
One of my favorite passages ever is in a book from a twelve-step community: “Shame never lifted a single spirit.”

It is alright to cancel a wedding. It is alright to get married and decide later on that it was a mistake; you will learn and grow from each experience. It may be that this marriage will last a lifetime and you can chalk these hesitations up to cold feet; only you will know when you know. I ignored signs until I didn’t, and then I got through the fallout, sometimes gracefully, often haltingly. (See #1, above.) Remember that no matter what, it will all be okay.

Next: What Happens To Friendships After Marriage?

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