What I learned from canceling my wedding

Guest post by ThisisHalloween

The invitations came back from the printer. They're everything I expected and more. The dress is hanging in the closet, tucked away in its garment bag. His vintage tuxedo looks dashing with the new vest and bow tie.

But oh wait… when is the wedding again?

Cancelling a wedding can be a hard thing to deal with, especially when it's due to a breakup. I consider myself lucky because my fiance and I are still together and very much in love. Right now, life is too complicated to add anything else that needs to be planned. Too many important people wouldn't be able to attend. And that jobless while in school thing… it kind of sucks. So, after canceling our wedding, with a heavy heart, I decided to take my obsession with list-making to another level. Here is a compilation of the lessons I learned in wedding cancellation…

1. If you are going to cancel your wedding, do it early (if possible)
Now, this doesn't mean be hasty. One fight or a little setback isn't necessarily a cause to cancel. Decide what's important to you and discuss it with your fiance. The deciding factor for us was the fact that key members of the family would not be able to make it out. Sure, we can party with other friends and family, but if those certain people weren't there, the day would feel empty. If you choose our route, you'll need time to cancel contracts and let family members know.

2. Take a good look at your budget
If you were planning a ridiculously expensive event and you, let's say, lost your job and were unable to pay for the wedding, a cancellation (which usually translates to lost deposits) could be cheaper, and less stressful, than trying to figure out a way to pay for it all. Then again, if you have most of your wedding paid for and good money invested into your wedding, maybe you could think about scaling back?

3. Your vendors are more awesome than you think
I practically had a panic attack when we decided to cancel our wedding. We really loved our space and our vendors, and didn't want them to blacklist us from ever having an event again. I wrote a detailed e-mail to each vendor. (Yes, personalized is the way to go. It's only polite). I explained to them that we were cancelling and stated our reasons why. No one freaked out! Remember that vendors are people too.

4. Communication with your partner is always key. Always.
I started having doubts about the wedding (not the relationship… the WEDDING) early on, but I knew I wanted to marry my fiance so I didn't say much other than “Do you like this venue?,” “Would you rather have German chocolate or pumpkin spice cake?,” etc. I thought I was doing him a favor by keeping my mouth shut when it came to my apprehensions. It turns out that, as the planning process carried on, we became more and more distant. Finally I exploded and screamed and cried and told him the truth about the way I felt. We ended up sitting down and talking for hours during our anniversary weekend. We discussed why we wanted to get married and laughed at ourselves for making this more complicated than it should be. We also shared our expectations of relationships and life. It was like getting to know each other all over again. We have been a lot more open in our relationship since then and have paved the way for future serious talks.

5. Online forums (including the Offbeat Bride Tribe) could be hurting your relationship
Yes. You read that correctly. I spent too much time online venting with my fellow brides, when I should have been addressing these things to my fiance. Sometimes, we need to vent and it feels safer to do so to a bunch of anonymous people than to blow up at the culprit. However, I tended to get the satisfaction of “Ahh, I feel better now. I'm not mad. It's all better,” or think “I don't want to bother him with another favor idea, I'll just ask the Tribe,” when in reality the problems were growing worse. Now I know that, if I need to vent, get it over with and then have a level-headed discussion with my fiance.

Also, there are a lot of us who are online every. single. day. Sometimes we need to back away from the keyboard and look our lovers in the eye. If you must do a search, write it down and look it up later. Just think, “My fiance is more important than knowing which appetizer the caterer will serve first. The menu will be there later. My fiance might not be.” Make it a habit to have one distraction-free night a month.

6. There is nothing wrong with wanting a wedding (or lack thereof)
Seriously, there isn't! So many people have said, “Why don't you just elope?” Because we don't want to! Our wedding will be the only time our families will ever be together at the same time. We want that chance. Throughout the wedding process people will *ahem* offer up their opinions. It's not their call. Do what's right for you. And of course, if that means ditching the wedding all together, so be it!

7. Just because you're not getting married NOW, doesn't mean you're not planning on getting married
I have a ring on my finger. People often ask, “When is the date?” I answer, “To be determined.” Most of the time they give you a funny look and disregard your commitment. The fact is, we plan on getting married… when it's right. When that will be, I don't know. I'm just so happy to be in love with a wonderful man who is in love with me. I don't need to be an offbeat bride. I'm okay with being an offbeat person in love with a bearded Irishman who happens to be pretty damn offbeat himself.

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Comments on What I learned from canceling my wedding

  1. I definitely understand the urge to vent to the Internet rather than to the fiance. And also the fear of “backing out” of something. When we first got engaged I just sort of assumed we’d get married the next year (2012), but as I started to get into the planning (and it was always obvious I was going to do most of the planning, since I’m OCD and in love with pretty things and my fiance is neither) I realized how much it was going to cost. I tried to talk to him about ways to cut costs, but there were some things one or both of us were unwilling to compromise on. Like his enormous family. He wanted to invite around 80 of them, when my initial estimates were for a 40-person wedding, grand total. (We settled on a hundred total, of whom about sixty are his.)

    Since I’m working while he goes to school and I know there’s an impending layoff hanging over my head, not only am I going to end up paying for most of the wedding, I also needed fiancial flexibility in the event that I can’t find another job in a reasonable time-frame. My stress over that just kept building and building, until finally in the middle of debating whether to have an officiant we knew or get a judge, I started crying and told him how I felt. He looked at me for a few minutes and then said, “Why don’t we wait longer, then?”

    It was a brilliantly simple solution. He’ll be out of school and into the job market, albeit briefly; I’ll know what I can afford to contribute; I’ll have more time to save money. (With some tight restrictions, I’ve managed to save about a third of what I need to in less than a third of the time I’d allotted. I feel good about that.) I’ll also have more time to work on DIY crafts, which is really important to me. I’ve been a crafty-type person since I was a kid, and I wanted to bust out some of those mad skillz. (500 glued seashells later, I feel a little less wildly enthusiastic, but still happy.)

    So, yeah. If we’d put off that conversation by a few more months, we would have started booking stuff, and it would have been a LOT more expensive to change our minds. And the trends probably would have continued: I would have been more stressed out and unhappy, and he would have been bewildered and hurt by my snappishness.

    There are times when you need to look at your goals and assess whether they’re not only possible but healthy for you. I’m glad you found a solution.

    • DIY is perfect for postponed weddings. We postponed ours as well and I’ve decided to use the time I would have been stressing over money and time by doing crafts for the wedding. I love being crafty in all senses of the word and it makes me feel like I’m doing something productive for the wedding.

      • We did this. We postponed our wedding for 9 months and were able to get our DIY crafts done. We were also lucky enough to retain all of our vendors! It was a painful but great decision for us.

  2. i’m proud of you. Its very brave to cancel a wedding. I’m sure you’ve heard lots of comments from lots of people… and i’m glad all your vendors were understanding and patient.

    Thanks for the reminder that planning my wedding with the name-less, face-less OBBs can actually hurt things in the long run. My FH isn’t online 24/7 like I am and he’s upset when i find/plan things without him. Sometimes turning off the computer is good for everyone (and gives the laptop a well-deserved restart)

    I like when this site isn’t all about rainbows and unicorns covered in glitter. This is real life…I applaud you.

    • “I like when this site isn’t all about rainbows and unicorns covered in glitter. This is real life…I applaud you.”

      I think that’s one of the things that makes this site really, truly different. I’ve never seen another wedding site tackle the big, uncomfortable issues. Sometimes they’ll link to one of those lists of questions you should ask each other before getting married or remind people to take a break from planning if you’re fighting over the colour of the napkins but that’s about as far as it goes.

      I honestly can’t imagine any of the other wedding planning sites I visit having posts about cancelling the wedding or getting divorced or anything like that.

      • Well there’s always apracticalwedding.com, so Offbeat Bride is not alone, but yes I do like it when this site tackles issues beyond shoes and dresses (nothing against either of those things).

  3. I’m facing a similar situation, but we’re still getting married. We lost our venue due to not being members of the Church and they wouldn’t hold off for a few days for us or except a smaller deposit in place and more in the next few days.

    We cannot put off our wedding for a variety of reasons- date, money, bonuses (health insurance for him), we don’t want to, etc. Only thing is, now the family is expecting to come with a large celebration. It was heartbreaking to tell them, it is going to be in a park (free), standing room, no catering (we’re getting sandwiches from a sub shop or panara- tbd), right from “I do” to first dance where we stand to food to cake. We’re expecting to be there only 2 hours, maybe 3. We tried to cut out everyone (we’d already sent save-the-dates) except wedding party and our parents, but they were all upset. So now this is costing a lot, which wasn’t fully our issue (lots of compromising), but we’re not getting what we want. That was our thing- we want our wedding to be memorable in how we envision it (Halloween Costume Party), not a small tying the knot thing. We want to do a 5-year vow renewal that will be what we want (without the compromises we’d have made now), but family and friends don’t want to wait.

    Its sweet, but it is hard. It hurts. The comments of ‘man, you’re wedding was going to be awesome’ really sting. That is exactly how we wanted people to feel. We’re happy everyone still wants to celebrate the event with us, but we feel like we’re letting them down.

    Our vendors were not so understanding- several will not return deposits, though contracts don’t say you get it back or you don’t. This irks me and has taught me a big lesson!

    I’m so glad your story turned out that you were still together and that waiting will work for you. I hope you get your dream. I know the suffering and I hope you get all the support you need.

    • My partner & I have had honest discussions about canceling the wedding, and have also decided against it… We are on a modest budget that we feel lucky to have, and have some incredibly generous and supportive family – but other elements of the engagement has been rough from the beginning. Not between us, but our relationship with the wedding itself. The jewelers made a huge mistake with our engagement ring (apparently the goldsmith burned the work order and didn’t tell anyone) and it ended up being five months late… some venue representatives stood me up at meetings I scheduled weeks in advance and traveled to another city for, others promised things they couldn’t deliver and we had to start again upon seeing the contradictory contracts… We’ve switched venues twice, and not because we’ve changed our minds. No matter how much I tell myself I don’t care about material things like the ring or the perfect venue, I’ve still spent an awful lot of time irrationally upset about them.

      So we’re having a very imperfect wedding, and we’re compromising on more than we thought we would be (and trying to pay less attention to more things, because I can’t take any more stress or crying).

      I called my brother before our engagement party while thinking about cancelling both. I said that what was bugging me was that we only get to do all this once, and that with our luck so far it seemed like everything might go wrong – and was a higher power trying to tell us it wasn’t the right time? What if we screwed it all up by not listening?

      He gave me the most comforting piece of advice I’ve gotten – which wasn’t really advice – but he argued that we didn’t only get to do this once.

      “What are you talking about? You can do it every year if you want. Just send out invitations calling it a wedding. Some people might not come to the second one, but who cares about those people anyway.”

      He’s right. I had thought about vow renewals before as well, and for some reason the idea of doing the wedding itself again is what I needed to hear for it to really sink in as okay. If anything goes wrong, we have a million do-overs in the future! Our future budgets will probably be small, but so will the guest list of alternative folks who accept wholeheartedly they’re attending our second or fifth wedding…

      Andrell, I really hope no one lets you take on any more disappointment than you might already have ahead of time. I think you might have the dream system figured out. What better way to celebrate than to get a simple first go of it, and have an ever better idea for your vow renewal (or second wedding to each other) of what you might actually want to spend the money on?

      [The second thing driving me crazy has been that even with supportive friends and family, everyone keeps telling us to do what we want. Anything is okay as long as that’s what we “want”. It’s really hard for me to take ownership over the idea that I have to do what I “want”. Instead, we’re extremely clever navigators of a frustrating endeavor… and maybe in the future we will know exactly what we want, but there’s no pressure to be sure of that now just because we’re getting married!]

    • Pooh to those vendors who did not refund your deposits! if the contract does not specify that deposits will not be refunded, tell them you will take them to court – if they still don’t refund your deposits – do it! be sure to write online reviews so others will see what jerks they are AND contact your better business bureau. no one wants bad publicity.
      Hope your wedding turns out to be everything you want! it may surprise you.

  4. We had to cancle/delay our wedding also due to him being in a terrible car wreck and ending up in a coma for a few months followed by what has been a long recovery from a Tramatic Brain Injury. It was supossed to be in 10/10 and now due to various issuse the most prominent being money we have to delay a while longer. It is nerve wracking when people ask about the ring on my finger and want to know when the date is. I usually give a brief synopsis and say we’ll get married sometime in the semi near future, but I am getting really tired of that and I think I will just go with “we haven’t decided yet.” Thank you for this post, I know I’m not the only one with these issues, but it sure helps to her other people voicing them.

  5. Halle-beautifully written. As always, thoughtful, heartfelt, and practical advice. You’ve always been one of my go-to’s on the Tribe!

  6. My fiance and I postponed our wedding for financial reasons. We lost our deposit on the reception hall, but all the other vendors gave full refunds.

    When I told people that we ‘called it off,’ most would look at me with pity or skeptically. That was nine years ago. We’ve been married for eight years, I’m expecting our first child, and those people are eating crow.

    Sometimes it takes awhile to get to ‘happily ever after’ and it’s worth doing it right.

  7. We didn’t cancel our wedding, we were invited to it! We had planned an elopement kind of thing – just the two of us, another couple, adn the Pastor and his wife. So the week before, we were in church and were talking about getting married, and someone said, well, why wait? Do you have the license? Yes. Rings? Um, yes, we just bought them the day before and they were in my purse. Was the waiting period (72 hours) over? Yes. So…what are you waiting for? So we did it then and there. It was great, spontaneous, stress-free, and nice to be able to just have it happen for us. Yes, there are disappointed relatives and my overbearing narcissistic controlling mother won’t speak to me, but I wouldn’t have changed a minute of it.

  8. I’m sorry that you had to cancel, but it sounds like the right decision for you (and you two are the only ones that matter!). Excellent post. Point 5 is so true. Sadly I’m still guilty of this and we’ve been together 9yrs and married almost 3!

    Sometimes I wish we’d done things a little differently, but I loved our little wedding. Looking forward to a vow renewal to try a different theme haha.

  9. The wedding that we are planning now is our 4th attempt. In the mean time we’ve been married and had two sons… but we still want the opportunity to bring our two families and friends together, no easy feat for us.
    My biggest regret: My grandmothers are now both too frail to join us for the wedding, which they weren’t when we were first planning.
    The best part of our cancellation: My husband used to view the wedding as a necessary hassle to make his bride happy. Now he has a great interest in it and sees greater meaning behind it.

  10. We’re not canceling our wedding- we’re just 2.5 months out (*que hyperventilation now!*) but we did have some, shall we say, “come to Jesus” moments, talks where we had to do a sanity check and make sure that what we’re doing is what WE want (and can reasonably do!). Thanks, Halle, for your post. We did consider canceling and this week I’ve joked that I wish we had gotten hitched when we were in Vegas in November (roadtrip!). Kudos to you for doing what you need to do- it’s VERY hard to remember in the midst of it all!

  11. Thank you, ThisIsHalloween (love your alias, btw!) for this post. My fiancé & I are (old farts at) 42 & divorced. We both married young, had fairly long marriages (decade+), and once divorced neither of us thought we’d ever remarry. We were each single for almost 10 years & had known each other for 7-8 years. Honestly neither of us were looking for a relationship but life has a funny way of changing what you thought you knew and/or wanted. He proposed exactly one year after we started dating & we planned a small family-only ceremony preceded a few months by an “engagement party” in the park with all our friends (since they were not invited to the actual wedding). As the dates started to draw near, though, we both got a little uneasy and canceled everything (technically, we postponed). It was not because we don’t love each other, or had cold feet, just because we weren’t ready. We both lead hectic lives, and even our simple family-only ceremony started to wig us out. We still plan to tie-the-knot, but maybe we’ll have our Supreme Court Justice friend do it on the sly–just a fun night out with me & my fiancé and she & her partner. We can figure out the pomp & circumstance later.

  12. I can totally relate to what you all are saying. My fiance and i have been together for ten years and after numerous “when are you going to married” interrogations we decided to tie the knot. We set a date even though my fiance had just started school and was not working. The plan was school would be done 6 months before the wedding and be working shortly after. Neither of those happened. My mother had graciously become the financial backer for our wedding but I had to majorly scale down what I thought I wanted my wedding to be. It’s been really stressfull because we have put down deposits and on some things have made a second payment so we have too much invested now to turn back. Sometimes i feel like i am “settling” and worry that when i look back at my wedding pics all i will see is what i didn’t get to do the way i wanted but i am trying to replace that thought with the fact that material stuff shouldn’t even be the focus, our marriage should be.

  13. Our vendors were great when we had to tell them we had moved to another country and had to cancel our bookings. Two of them refunded us all of our deposits, even though it wasn’t their policy, and the photographer is trying to fill that spot so she can refund the deposit we have with her.

    We never asked them for the refunds, they were offered to us, and we were pretty stoked, because our contracts said there wouldn’t be one.

    One of the things I noticed about when we cancelled our wedding and decided to have a small courthouse wedding in the country we moved to is that the people that weren’t happy with the decisions we’d made for our original wedding are also the ones complaining about our decision to cancel the wedding and do the courthouse thing. The ones that supported us all the way through are even more supportive now we aren’t spending thousands having a bigger wedding. They see it as a sensible decision.

  14. I’m definitely struggling with this now. Specifically, the detachment of marriage from wedding. I’m postponing a wedding for financial reasons, timing reasons, life reasons, AND relationship reasons, and I’m having a hard time remembering that not being able to afford the wedding I want is a big part of canceling it. Instead my focus goes to the relationship aspect and assuming ‘calling off wedding’ = ‘calling off relationship’. I’m trying to focus on the fact that lack of wedding does not equate to lack of healthy relationship. All those hard-ingrained patriarchal ideas are hard to recognize sometimes.

  15. I did this 3 months before our wedding! We were too stressed, my partner had just had a hospital stay that had undetermined costs, my dad was deployed overseas and would have been jetlagged the whole 5 days, we were already in debt, and beloved family members would have gone into debt to join us. We postponed our wedding and everyone was understanding (to our faces. There were some grumbles by those who’d already bought plane tickets prior to formal invites going out).

    The hardest thing was the words of ‘encouragement’ that went “Oh, it’s sooo important that you be sure you’re marrying the right person, it’s good to take time!” and I had to dispel assumptions that we were quietly hiding a breakup.

    This February at my partner’s birthday party at a brew-on-premises, we surprised 20 of our friends by pausing during the wort boil and legally wedding. We ate pizza and I baked a Minecraft cake. Planning a party (so I can wear the dress and eat more cake) sometime next summer.

    • TL;DR version: don’t let shame or pride keep you from canceling your wedding responsibly!

      I hope you understand why those who bought plane tickets (a) did so before you sent “formal” invitations, and (b) were chagrined. Plane tickets are expensive; less so when you plan. They bought tickets early because you told them the date and wanted them to be there, and they wanted to do so as affordably as possible. If you accepted anything less than full responsibility for the fact that you cost them hundreds of dollars, especially if you hung it on something as flimsy as “I haven’t sent the formal invitations anyway,” they have a right to grumble–although it’s braver to do so to your face.

      You have every right to cancel/postpone a wedding. But when people have spent money to be there, you ought to sincerely, personally tell them that you are sorry–not sorry that you’re not getting married, but sorry that your having planned to and then having changed those plans cost them money. If you did not call or write a personalized note to express a sincere apology, that’s why they’re grumbling.

      If these are your relatives or future in-laws, apologize now. Lifelong rifts have been made of lesser debts than these.

      If you got lucky and these are just crappy old friends you don’t truly care about, brush it off. But just in case, DO make sure the people you care about get an apology–even a late one, and even if you’ve not heard of their grumbles.

      • We did precisely that *before* actually canceling, and consulted them specifically on the cancellation, to which they lovingly responded with “absolutely do what you need to do! We love you and want you to be happy!” They are my relatives, and some of them still came out and made a vacation of it. Only a few of them didn’t quite get it. The grumblers were the same ones who assumed we were breaking up. I think they just don’t care for my spouse.

  16. Excellent post and lots of good reasons, not losing sight of each other and why your getting married is so important, you’ll get there when the time is right.

  17. i love this so much! thank you for sharing. this could have been my story… easily could have been my story. I especially like points #4 & 5.

  18. Great article but I got question about cancelation fees. What if someone have to postpone their wedding to the different date. Does it mean that they loose paid deposits? I’m a wedding photographer and got a couple who want move back the wedding. Should I charge them a booking fee again? Thanks for help.

    • We decided to change our date after already putting deposits down with a couple of vendors. They didn’t charge us anything extra. If they had, I would have walked away and found another vendor. It was a really difficult decision to change our wedding date, and the last thing I would have wanted to deal with was more stress and pressure from our vendors. Unless you have absolutely no chance of re-booking the original date (ie, it’s only a week away) and you are 100% sure you are going to lose the business, I don’t see a reason to punish and lose the trust of people who are already in a difficult situation.

      • Thank you Mabrewer. I didn’t charge them extra as I had other date available. Thank you very much and have a happy Christmas.

  19. My fiancé and I have been planning a September wedding. I have already sent out the Save the Dates, the dress is bought, and the venue is booked. We both have a ton of student loans and credit card debt. We have been staying with my parents just to save enough money for the wedding. I have really begun to resent the whole idea of a wedding, not a marriage because it seems to be more of a burden than it’s worth. I talked to my FH about this and he completely understands where I’m coming from and is in total agreement. We originally weren’t going to have a wedding- just go down to the courthouse instead. The problem is, since I already sent out the Save the Dates, I don’t know what I should do for notifying people about the wedding being called off- and what reason I would tell them.

  20. I needed to read this. I love my fiancé with all of my heart, but planning a wedding is just not feasible right now due to money issues. I don’t want to elope and I’m afraid everyone will be upset with me, but we love each other and we WILL get married eventually! It’s nice to read a story like this that doesn’t result in the couple breaking up!

  21. This is an awesome site! I was supposed to get married in November, we just decided to postpone it. He is flustered by the whole process, expressed some stress about it but I forged ahead with planning. Unknown to me, shower invites went out, his sister got one, he got upset…so we cancelled all of our vendors etc. I am very worried about him as he has had many stressful events in the past 6 months (moms illness and death, severed ties with two best friends and his dog also passed), haven’t had to much clear communication with him in about 3 days…I know he needs some space and honestly so do I, I am trying to respect that, but hate not talking to him. I do not want to end the relationship and feel I need to give him time to heal. We have been together almost 7 years and gone through so much together. I love this guy with all of my heart.

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