You’ve pulled the plug. Or even worse, the plug’s been pulled for you (what a dick). I’ll start by saying I’m very sorry but, as a smart old woman once told me, “it’s better to be on the shelf than in the wrong cupboard.”
That didn’t help much, did it? Okay then, let’s hit the brass tax and talk about broken engagement etiquette so that you can get this whole crap situation over with already.
Step 1: Get Your Story Straight
My biggest and best broken engagement etiquette is to avoid, at all costs, getting into a war with your ex. No one will win and you will both come out looking like my grandmother’s trifle…in other words, like crap. Take it from someone who knows, it’s far better to come out the other end with your respect and dignity in tact. In all fairness, however, I do understand that some exes were created by the devil himself so just do the very best you can.
No matter what, get your story straight from the beginning. That doesn’t mean you make one up, that just means you craft the version your friends and family are entitled to hear. You decide how much you want to reveal. Broken engagement etiquette dictates that the couple (or ex couple) is not liberty to inform ANYONE about why things happened the way they did. Decide how much you want to bare and know that you are entitled to your privacy no matter what others may think. Your life is not open for dissection. End of story.
Step 2: Alert and Enlist
After having told (or been told) by your ex that the wedding’s not going to happen, the next step is to inform your family. They deserve to know before everyone else yes, but you mainly want them onboard early because you’ll probably need their help for a variety of issues yet to come (more on that below). How you tell them is up to you, but a Facebook post won’t cut it. For some of us, our family includes our best friends so include them in the loop. Make sure that every single person knows that they aren’t to say anything until you request it.
Step 3: Inform the Troops (aka Guests)
This is the part where you’ll need your friends and family. It might be far too difficult to call everyone on your list and tell them each that your wedding is off. Talk about rubbing salt in a wound. My broken engagement etiquette advice is to divide the guest list between friends and family, hand them a short script and get them on the phonelines as soon as possible.
More traditionally, a formal notice card is to be sent if invitations have already been mailed but honestly, who the hell wants to do that? In my books, people get a short phone call. Again, an explanation is not required. Yes, some will be angry or annoyed…that’s why you sick your bestie on the ones who will be hardest to handle.
Step 4: Let’s Get Unsocial
Please don’t change your relationship status to single for the entire world to see and comment on. Change your Facebook settings so that your relationship status is PRIVATE before you cut the ties with your ex. Also, I wouldn’t go through your entire FB deleting all the pics you’ve ever taken together. Sure, that may feel good but it’s more of a job you can save for later. You have bigger fish to fry right now. If he or she cheated on you, however, I say burn every last photo you have. It’s easy to block someone from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all other social platforms but it might not be wise to do that until you’ve sorted out all the logistics yet to come…
Step 5: Consider a Joint Statement (Yeah, I know…just bear with me)
I get that you’re not a celebrity and I’m not implying you stage a press conference, but once the news is out to guests, friends and family…there will be others to inform. Namely the plague of Facebook acquaintances who only reach out on your birthday or to invite you to play Candy Crush. A short, to-the-point joint statement announcing your break-up will be the quickest way to stop stupid questions from breaking your heart again and again for months to come.
Here are a few examples…some are nicer than others.
“Hi everyone – it’s with love in our hearts that John and I would like to let you know that we’ve decided to call of our engagement. We still respect each other deeply but realize marriage isn’t the best fit for us right now. Thank you for understanding.”
“John and I have decided to end our engagement. It’s a tough time right now and we’d rather not discuss it. We just wanted to quell any rumors and start the process of moving on.”
Or for the more humorous…
“Our fling with the ring is over. John and I have decided that we are simply too awesome to deprive the rest of the single population of our singleness. Don’t worry – you won’t have to pick sides since we hate each other’s friends anyway (jokes). Thanks for understanding. PS. we’re keeping all our engagement presents so you don’t have to worry about buying one next time around. You’re welcome.”
Step 6: A Diamond’s Not Always Forever
The ring. This part is, quite possibly, one of the hardest challenges you’ll face during your break-up. Who keeps the engagement ring? The answer is really quite simple. For all intents and purposes, it depends on who paid for said ring. If you split the cost, you’ll have to either buy out the other person or sell it online. By law, and this may differ depending on your state and country, the ring is seen as one half of a contract. The engagement ring is given with the intent to marry and entire into a legally binding matrimonial contract. If that contract is not fulfilled, then the party must return the ring.
Bottom line: If he bought you the engagement ring, you have to give it back. I’m sorry. Them’s the breaks.
Step 7: What to do with the Bounty
You’ve probably received engagement presents and, insert eyeroll here, early wedding presents from overly eager aunts from far-flung corners of the country. What do you do with them? Broken engagement etiquette dictates that you have to return them. Easiest way to handle this is when your family calls to tell guests that the wedding is off. Have them enquire as to how they should send back the presents given. Nine times out of ten, the guest will say they don’t want the gift back. For the rest of the 10%, mail them back their gifts and cross them off the guest list for next time. Unless it’s a very expensive gift, etiquette dictates a guest is not to accept gifts returned because of a canceled engagement.
Step 8: Those Damning Deposits
If you’re close to your intended wedding date or if you have a lot already booked, this part is really going to suck. To be honest, most vendors aren’t required to give you back your deposit. That’s why they take deposits in the first place – to protect themselves against canceled bookings. That said, review any and all paperwork you’ve been given carefully and look for deposit agreements. No matter what they say, I would approach each vendor individually and discuss the situation with them in person. Some will concede out of sheer kindness if they can fill your spot. If you do get back any deposits they should, obviously, go back to the person who paid them.
If you are liable to pay additional fees or fulfil additional aspects of a contract, your ex is liable in the same way you are. There have been many small claims court cases that assert the same.
Step 9: Dream Dress Debacle
We all know the most important part of a wedding, after the actual act of getting married, is the dress. Women dream about this for their entire lives. Now it’s become a reminder of something very sad and bleak so it’s best to get rid of it. Since most dresses are custom ordered and them altered, the chances of a bridal store taking it back are very slim. Your best chance will be to ask them if they’ll put it on consignment for you during one of their off-the-rack sales. If that doesn’t work, list it online or in your local newspaper classifieds. Brides love a bargain and hopefully someone will swoop it up.
Side Note: Many starting photographers are looking to add Trash the Dress photoshoots to their portfolio. If you absolutely cannot sell your dress, consider participating in one of these shoots for a fee. If the thought of wearing it makes you break down in tears and hives, best skip this option.
My absolute favourite suggestion for your dress, however, is to donate it to a very worthwhile cause. There are many women who cannot afford any kind of wedding dress at all and your gift will transform their entire celebration. My charity of choice has always been Wish Upon a Wedding which organizes weddings for the terminally ill (yeah, for the Redbook feature on president Ali Phillips!). This organization works with Brides for a Cause which will happily and gratefully pass your wedding dress on to a very deserving bride.
Step 10: The Honeymoon Horror
If you’ve booked your honeymoon package in advance, you’ll have to forfeit some of it. Names of flight tickets cannot be changed and all-inclusive hotels might not accept name changes either. If you can stomache it, going on the honeymoon by yourself (or if you can get a friend to get a separate ticket) might be the rest you need. It’s a tough one. Contact airlines, hotels, transfer companies etc and ask EVERYONE individually if you can get any sort of a rebate or exchange. If you’ve booked the flights and hotel separately, you might be able to cancel the hotel booking. Sometime flights can be canceled for a fee as well. It really depends on who you booked through and what you’ve already paid for. Research will be key here.
Step 11: Moving On Up
Broken engagement etiquette all aside, recovering from a break-up is always hard but a broken engagement makes everything even worse.
Here are my top break-up tips:
* Don’t make any major decisions – this is my number one piece of advice and I cannot caution you against doing this enough. Do not cut your hair. Don’t give up your rent-controlled apartment to move a thousand miles away. Don’t quit your job because you work with your ex’s brother’s fiance’s cousin. In other words, don’t play Russian Roulette with your life!! Yes, your personal life imploded…that doesn’t mean you ruin every other part of your life as well. It’s like throwing away a car because your transmission blew. Sure it’s an expensive fix but it usually beats having to get a whole new car.
* Take a time out – ask for a few days off from work or school and just take some time to really cry. Keeping busy and pretending nothing happened only delays the pain. It doesn’t help you recover. It only postpones the inevitable. Surround yourself with friends and shut the world out for a little while. Trust me, it’ll keep spinning.
* Unplug from social media – social media isn’t real life. It’s a version of real-life everyone wants you to see. It’s always “best foot forward” on Facebook and if you’re recovering from a break-up comparing your life to that of others will only make you even more miserable. You’ll also be inundated with messages from well-meaning people asking what happened, what you’re going to do now etc etc. You don’t need to provide anyone with any answers. You do you.
* Make a “He or She Sucked Because…” List – give this list to a close friend. When we go through break-ups it’s easy to only remember the good times. We wallow in the memory of him bringing us breakfast in bed when we should be focusing on him sleeping with that trashy waitress from the strip club. We remember her amazing skills in bed forgetting that we only got to experience them on birthdays and long weekends. Remember things as they really are and not as you would have wished them to be. The reality is that you didn’t work out for a reason. After all, what’s meant to be won’t miss you and what’s missing you isn’t meant to be.
* Figure out who you really are…again
Relationships are awesome…when they’re good relationships. However, most relationships aren’t. A lot of people (men and women) mold you into who they want their perfect partner to be. Whether they do this on purpose or not, we all tend to change in relationships. If you’ve been with the same person for a very long time it can feel like they are a part of you. Now’s the time to figure out who YOU really are. And no, you’re not so-and-sos fiance or so-and-so’s boyfriend. You are a valuable person outside of your relationship status. Go forth and find your purpose. When you are truly on your life’s path your person will meet you there. That’s a guarantee.
Please feel free to comment below or to contact me should you need advice or if you’d like to give me a different point of view.