The Splinter

Calling off your wedding

by Anonymous

Four weeks before our wedding, a splinter shaped like the end of a toothpick became lodged in the underside of my left ring finger knuckle. My fiancé and I were building a bar for our reception tent, inspired by a picture I pinned on Pinterest. The pallet bar was the culmination of a series of projects I had spent each weekend working on over two months. Not surprising that I’d fill that time, because every other weekend I was booked, too. My fiancé was wrapping up his last year of medical school, we both would turn thirty, and he would start residency in the summer. When we got engaged last April, we decided to sandwich our wedding between med school graduation and the first day of his residency program. Blinded by overachiever invincibility, we marked off every Saturday square on a calendar and crammed every major quarter-life event remaining for the two of us (except for offspring, thank God) into a three-month span of time. I used to think it was cute, and when people asked about our wedding, I would proudly rattle off all of the other exciting days that would be fenced around it.

When I felt a sharp pain and pulled my hand away from the splintery barn board topping our Pinterest bar, I reacted to the blood by yanking my engagement ring off my finger. This instinct probably saved my antique ring; the skin on the inside of my otherwise petite knuckle swelled around the piece of wood instantly. A week later, the puncture wound itself healed over, leaving the wood implanted under my skin like one of those lost pet computer chips. The engagement ring no longer fits over the knuckle, and the skinny platinum band we bought to accompany it is even more impossible. My primary care provider, the recipient of my first wedding freak-out, offered to send me to a hand surgeon. Fundamentally, however, the best course—all I could do—was wait and try not to stare at my naked finger, try not to touch it.

When I called my best friend from college to tell her this story, I prefaced it by saying that the splinter debacle was only the tip of the iceberg. The splinter story made us both laugh for a sec, and then I pulled out every ounce of grace I possessed to tell her that my fiancé had cold feet. Somehow, I did this without tears. I rationalized that cold feet are normal, and in fact, cold feet are a good thing, right? I pictured a bumper sticker: “If you don’t have cold feet, you’re not paying attention.” But in all reality, my fiancé’s cold feet were symptomatic of something more. He has suffered from mental illness for as long as I’ve known him, and after the ridiculous year we’d had, it was out of control again. He didn’t “just” have cold feet: he couldn’t marry me, he couldn’t ruin my life, he couldn’t have children, he couldn’t ever have children, he couldn’t fix all of this without being alone, and he couldn’t ever fix this. No amount of reassurance I might offer could save us from this. Three weeks before our wedding, he checked himself into an outpatient psychiatric program for two weeks. This was not a wedding snafu for us to “fix,” despite both our parents trying to hold it all together, begging us to consider just going forward as planned.

Two weeks before our wedding, just days before the final deposits were due to vendors, I woke up before work knowing that we, that I, had to let go. I called my fiancé, and we agreed that it was time. I called my officiant, our wedding spirit guide, who reminded me that we were living our vows in this decision. I called my sister, my maid of honor, who strapped her kids into the car and spent the rest of the afternoon driving me around as tears rolled down my face. I called my best friends from college and grad school, and they each called all of my other friends. All our out of town guests had rented big group-house cottages on a nearby lake for that weekend, and I wanted them to be able to cancel their reservations and recover their deposits. I made a few more calls and wrote an email to guests with my fiancé on the phone with me. The wedding in my hometown church and the beautiful party in my stepdad’s hayfield that had taken a year to plan evaporated in the span of four hours.

For two weeks I waited until June 1st—the day that would have been our wedding day. The 120 hand-embossed and string-tied invitations, the silver wire and pearl necklaces for my bridesmaids, and the hours on Spotify arranging and rearranging playlists now signified the process in which I lost my love, the days he began floating away from me. I spent the days alone in our apartment, buried in boxes of what was now just wedding junk, keeping a vigil for my love… and for my splinter. I would stare down at the splinter, and squeeze at the edges, and pray for it to just come out.

On June 1st something miraculous happened, although not what I had prayed on or expected. My friends still came. My fiancé’s friends still came. We each spent the weekend separately enveloped in the love that would have been there that day—“no matter what,” as they say. They meant it. Nothing happened the way we planned, but the day was something else entirely perfect in its own way. That night, my fiancé and I both snuck out of our respective encampments and stood out in the dark watching heat lighting out on the horizon. He felt for my splinter, and it was still there. Not ready yet, not time.

Photo by Leah Verwey for Favor Jewelry

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  • Katherine Harrison

    Wow. Your heart is beautiful and you are so very, very brave!

  • Rachel

    I’m crying at my desk. What a beautifully written piece.

  • Thank you for sharing your story.

  • SarahRose

    I think I have cried maybe twice before for posts on this site, but oh man, I have tears right now.

    For this:
    “We each spent the weekend separately enveloped in the love that would have been there that day—“no matter what,” as they say. They meant it.”

    And this:

    “He felt for my splinter, and it was still there. Not ready yet, not time.”

    I feel for you. Life is messy.

  • J

    Love you, hun! And not surprised at all that you were able to create such a beautiful experience and piece of writing out of that time.

  • Anon

    Wow. This made me bawl on the bus. I am in the same situation but I am the one with the metal illness that I can’t get under control and I don’t think I will ever get better.

    • Anonymous

      There is always help when you need it for these types of things so I hope you are getting/decide to get some. I thought my depression was a part of me – a part of my personality forever. I learned better. I learned how to be happy. You will too, though it may be a hard and long road. But I promise its worth it. I’d bottle up some of my happy and send it to you if I could, just to show you its true, just to encourage you to work on it. Because it is so worth it, my stranger friend. It is so worth it.

      • Anon

        Thank you, stranger friend. This made me cry again, this time at my desk, but thank you.

        • Anonymous

          If I’d had the luck to hear something like this when I needed it, I might have gotten to happy a lot faster. So I try to do for others what I missed out on myself. I try to remind those of us who haven’t had enough/any of it in our lives that its still possible to find it, if you learn how to look.

      • Alison O

        Yes. To piggyback and maybe it will ring true for you, as well… What has been hard for me in the past is in the darker moments (or, months/years…), I can rationally say that I know things can get better, that my life is actually great on paper and there’s nothing I could single out as very problematic, that I haven’t always felt this despair and most likely won’t forever, but it doesn’t FEEL true. My primary mode of interacting with the world is through feelings and intuition, so it’s really hard to believe logical statements if my gut won’t come along.

        Then I convince myself to go back on meds, and my perspective is totally different. (I am grateful that I respond to them.) Nothing in my tangible world is different except the act of taking a pill, but everything is different. Also, the part of me that when I’m not on meds is sort of resistant to the idea of having to be a Person That Needs Psych Meds is silenced when I’m actually on them. I am in awe of the mystery of the brain… Now what I have to do is remind myself that “everything is so great!” does not have to be coupled with “so I should try going off meds!”

        Wishing you the best of luck, Anon.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous, if you’re anything like me, you may not be able to see how amazing you are. But as a stranger, on the outside, please let me tell you – I am amazed. The strength it takes to do what you’ve done, the fortitude and calm – though you may not be able to see those things, they exist in you. I can see them and I am so impressed with you for accessing them. Not everyone can do what you’ve done. I just hope when you need a boost, you remember this and feel proud of yourself.



    You are very very brave. Stick with that.

  • Another Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your story! It was beautifully written and brought tears to my eyes. I admire your bravery and strength for getting through it.

    I had cold feet right before my wedding after being absolutely sure of getting married to my now husband for over two years beforehand. I struggle with depression, and I also felt like I didn’t want to ruin my husband’s life and that I wasn’t sure I would ever want to have children, which is something very important to him. We spent a lot of time talking it through together and with a counselor, and we ultimately decided to go through with the wedding. Our one year anniversary is coming up, and I feel incredibly blessed to have him in my life and to be married to such a patient and caring man. I still have doubts and bad feelings pop up from time to time because that is the nature of things, but I’m thankful I was able to mostly move past those feelings.

    I wish you luck on your journey! I really hope that you write here again and give us an update one day on how your life is going!

    • catherine

      Not that I’m *anyone* , but I do know that your experience is very normal, just not talked about openly as much as it should be. Being in the limbo of a transition (marriage! or, engagement i should say) brings up lots of fears, worries, doubts, questions, wounds that are totally normal – we are human after all and this is one of the biggest decisions of our lives! I really don’t like the “you just know” or you have to be “100 percent sure” thing. The “you just know” is a feeling, and feelings come and go. It’s better love consciously, despite your fears and dark parts.

      Ok, im off my soapbox now :) Just wanted to say I relate to your story!

      • Cali

        I actually had my major freakout during the month or so after we first got engaged. My husband and I actually sat down and had a, “Is it just me, or is this decision REALLY SCARY?” conversation. I knew that I wanted to marry him, but the enormity of “forever” is terrifying and it’s hard not to wonder if you’re actually making a huge mistake. It’s big and complicated and scary, and we’re just humans.

  • Amy March

    This is why I come here. Because I’m a total fixer, and my first instinct is to try and spot all the things that could have been done differently to avoid getting to the point of calling off the wedding. But maybe all those things needed to happen so that you could feel your community’s love in a new way, and so that they could share their love with you.

    • Emily

      THIS. Only I’m a fixer in the opposite direction. The “I CAN MAKE THIS WORK” direction.

  • Man, it hurts to say how beautifully written this piece is because it came from such heart-ache. Internet hugs!

  • I just wanted to say I am sorry you have had to go (and are still going) through this. It is such a terribly painful thing to let go of your dreams for your love and your life and how you thought your life would be. I wish you all the best and hope that what you find on the other side and the life you continue to build will be even more beautiful and loving and happy than you could have imagined.

  • My heart is in my throat for the second day in a row.

    I wish you both love and healing and peace.

  • LikelyLaura

    I want to be the kind of friend that you have.

  • Nora

    This one punched me in the gut, and filled me with both apprehension and hope. Like the OP, I am an overachiever trying to squeeze in a lot of life milestones in a span of a few months- quitting jobs, finishing two graduate degrees, moving across the country, getting married, and trying to find new jobs – with a man who has a serious history of mental illness. I have worried about this exact scenario happening to us. What if he can’t handle it? What if I can’t handle it? What if it all falls apart? The bravery and honesty of this post gives me hope that there is a way forward, even when things seem to have fallen apart.

  • Amy

    Sending good thoughts and hugs your way, you are so very brave.

  • AW

    I too am the person attached to the partner with a mental illness. It can be such a lonely and painful place. It’s so nice to read some of my experiences reflected in your post. You seem to have a wonderful support network and I wish you all the healing and happiness in the world going forward.

    Oh and your writing is gorgeous.

  • lindsay

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • C

    This hits so close to home today. You basically just expressed all of my worries about our upcoming wedding day.

  • Thank you for sharing your story of So. Much. Love. You’re both brave and taking very good care of each other, and of yourselves. Thinking of you.

  • Nicole

    I’m getting married to a man who is on meds for depression (and ADD). I never considered before that he could be plagued with this much fear and doubt. Something to watch out for… Thank you so much for your touching post. I wish you the best of luck and I’ll be pulling for you both to come through this difficult time.

  • Ann

    June 1 was my wedding date in 1985. After 22 years of difficult marriage we divorced. We too had “cold feet” before our wedding day, but unlike you, were not brave enough to face it and call it off. So we struggled through his dishonesty, physical aggression, and even scary irresponsibility, with two beautiful sons, trying to make it work. Separate, we are good friends. We “parent” our two young adult sons together now, amicably. We help each other out and offer moral support. We occasionally cry together. People comment that they are amazed that we can be friends after such difficulty. Like your fiance, mine needed to be alone. He could handle his life alone. It was too much to handle anymore than himself. Sadly it took us 22 years to figure that out. On December 14th, 2013, I will marry the man I dated 32 years ago in graduate school, before I met my husband. He too had a nightmare marriage. He too had “cold feet” before the marriage but went through with it. Devastated emotionally and financially 5 years post-divorce, we reconnected online, bound by friendship then and now, bonded by understanding of what it means to be crushed after loss, and excited to be looking forward to a new adventure together. Life happens. We respond to it and if we’re smart and generous, we respond with love, honesty and forgiveness. That allows us to move on and receive with gratitude what comes next. Best wishes to you. Know that good things await you! My situation is living proof.

  • Anon this time

    I did go through with the marriage despite the serious mental illness of my then-partner and the coldest of feet. Now divorced, I wouldn’t say that I wish I had been so brave at the time, as I’ve learnt so much about myself and what I need & want in my life. I WILL say that I know how much easier it seems at the time to convince yourself that cold feet are normal and you can work through it, and I have so much admiration for your strength. All the best.

  • THIS. I just don’t even know what to say… So beautiful and heartfelt, and so painfully close to my own life. As someone that has stood in her exact situation, I know without a doubt that she did the right thing. My prayers are with you, anonymous friend!

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  • Jenny

    This could have been written by me. I called off my beautiful destination wedding earlier this year because my fiance’s severe anxiety and depression. Invitations out, 4 weeks to go. The planning was not fun for me. He made it difficult the whole way, insisting he wanted the marriage, but just didn’t want the event. It just finally dawned on me: Why are we doing this? Neither one of us would have been happy on that day, feeling the way you are “supposed” to feel. So we called it off. I took a trip to Europe the weekend we were to marry to ensure I had a wonderful memory in place of what would have been. And life went on.
    Long story short, we made the decision to elope a couple of months ago. I wish I could say that I’m sure it was the right decision, but for various reasons, I just really don’t know. Ultimately, I’m working on making myself happy first to see where that leads me. He’s doing the work to get better too. That’s really all we can do.
    To those of you thinking of calling it off, you do what’s best for YOU. Period. Money means nothing when it comes to the rest of your life. And other people will get over it. Those who don’t, F’em. It doesn’t have to mean the end of the relationship either. I think that is the most overwhelming part, of feeling if you call it off it means your no longer going to be together. You only have to make one decision at a time.

  • Jen

    “On June 1st something miraculous happened, although not what I had prayed on or expected. My friends still came. My fiancé’s friends still came. We each spent the weekend separately enveloped in the love that would have been there that day”

    THIS. This is where I started to bawl…this post is so beautifully written and so touching, sending lots of love and internet-hugs your way…but it sounds like you’ve got a great community around you anyway. Keep talking it out and following your gut.

  • Your wedding spirit guide is right, this decision is absolutely living your vows. This is what marriage should be about, doing what’s right for the two of you as individuals and as a partnership even when it messes with everyone else’s plans, even when you have to give up something you put so much time into but turned out not to be right. Congratulations on your partnership, and on the love your community has shown for you.

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