I Called Off My Wedding When I Found Out My Fiancé Didn’t Want to Have Kids


Shame never lifted a single spirit

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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. Catering was set to cook for 150 people, the florist was secured and ready with a million magenta gerbera daisies, our Episcopalian officiant booked, and we were working on choosing a first dance song. My mother had her dress, and his mother had booked a local Italian restaurant for the rehearsal dinner. (All of this was done, by the way, from New York before Pinterest, before text messaging, and when The Knot was still fairly brand new and making waves with its wedding calculator.) My best friend was working on her speech. The invitations were ready to go out the following Saturday, in a box near the couch.

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, and they all make this a good, juicy, exciting story. (Buy me a margarita sometime and I’ll spill the beans.) But weddings are canceled for all sorts of reasons, none of which should need to be measured or justified, so I’m skipping the details this time around. The important factor is the wave of relief that washed over me when I thought about canceling my nuptials. 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.

Whether it is 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 and money is invested from all around you. For me there was a lot of pressure to get married because we’d had a baby, and 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 it was better to struggle as a single-mom and face down my family’s moral opinions than make a legal, financial, celebratory, religious commitment to a life in which I was not happy.

People still tell me that it was a brave thing to cancel my wedding. I didn’t especially feel heroic about it, but it’s a concept I’ve mulled over for over ten years now, and I think I 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 begging them to wait, and I wish there were more readily available resources to help figure out what that voice means. Based on my experience, and the frightening variables that make this feel overwhelming, these are the five pieces of guidance that I wish were available to me when I was weighing the options and questioning “I do.”

1. You will survive. Everyone survives these things. 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.

2. Find support, but not from your engaged partner. Ask someone who is close to you for some extremely confidential quality time. If no one comes to mind who can offer unbiased and open-minded listening skills, 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 look for an online forum; anything is better than nothing. Contact me if you have to! There will be a time to talk with your fiancé, but right now you need a neutral zone.

3. 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 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, so don’t ignore it just because it doesn’t fall into a particular category.

4. 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 every one 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 them as credit at their businesses. Later in the year, I used the photographer for some family pictures, and we sent flowers to people who had helped during that uncomfortable transition.

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 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 its 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. 

5. Maybe most importantly, there are no wrong decisions here. One of my favorite passages ever is in a book from the 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.

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  • EF

    I really, really like this. For so many (often internally conflicting) reasons. Thanks for another piece of amazing writing, Eve!

  • eating words

    “weddings are canceled for all sorts of reasons, none of which should need to be measured or justified”: this is so true. so is your point that shame should not be a part of this. a friend had to cancel her wedding several years ago, and i wish she could have seen this then.

  • You are still lucky to know this before you get married to a man like him.

  • Alanna Cartier

    As someone who has also cancelled a wedding, I agree with everything you have said. The first overwhelming thing I felt was relief, and now that I could look back on it years later I am so grateful that I didn’t go through with the wedding. However, at the time, there were a lot of mixed emotions and complex feelings to work through. It took me a long time to find normal again.

  • anonymous

    I didn’t cancel my wedding even in the face of what I’m sure many would consider red flags. I have bound myself for life to an incredibly loving woman with serious emotional literacy and anger problems. I am scared and hopeful about our lives together (scared of divorce, not of her). I hope I didn’t make a mistake. I hope I can prevent our marriage from being considered a mistake a few years down the line. I hope we will just get better and better at communication. I hope we can bear out our wedding vows.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      I really wish we could remove this idea that just because a marriage ends in divorce that it was a mistake. I think there are lots of marriages that end for various reasons which were not a mistake at all, but which simply ran their course. Granted, I’ve never been divorced myself. But my parents are, and I never look at their marriage like it was something that never should have happened. It just…hit its expiry date.

      • raccooncity

        I agree with this so much…not only because if my parents’ (now ended) marriage was a mistake, then logically so was I, but also because I don’t believe that success is the overall point of being alive. Marriages, even the ones that have an expiry date, all have a purpose. Same with relationships in general, for that matter.

        • Jess

          Sometimes the purpose is to teach you something you would be better off not ever knowing though.

          I work with people who have experienced domestic violence and I see how dangerous it is to consider divorce failure when so many people (not just people in violent relationships) would be so much safer if they weren’t married or partnered. People don’t leave because they see it as a failure and it isn’t failure, it is pure and simple bravery (especially considering that the most dangerous time for a woman in the course of an already violent relationship is in the two-weeks immediately after leaving). But, I hesitate to say it has a purpose. It may be a lesson, but it’s one that is traumatic and potentially lethal.

          • raccooncity

            Fair.

            I certainly don’t want to imply that women (or people) in abusive relationships are being taught some cosmic lesson that they need to learn more than those who aren’t in abusive relationships.

      • Eenie

        Yes…and also the idea that relationships that don’t end in marriage are failures. Sometimes it takes a lot more courage to divorce than to marry, and people spend a lot of time in a marriage that isn’t helping them.

      • Anon

        I agree to a point, but I think there is a difference between failure and a mistake. A marriage could be a mistake without being a failure — if you know at the time it’s not right, but go through with it anyways and it ends in divorce, it probably was a mistake. The same way lying to your parents about doing poorly in school or not telling your boss about a problem you foresee is a mistake. You learned something from it — good! — but you still knew deep down there was another way. To me this is different by being blindsided by a partner or unexpected relationship issues, and I think it’s important to talk about precisely because itcan empower people to pause and maybe cancel a wedding that isn’t feeling right.

        • Helen

          Yes, I agree and like the distinction. I think the idea of a mistake often comes with the idea of regret. My first marriage was a mistake, but I don’t regret it – There was lots about it that was wonderful, and I’m the person I am today and where I am in life because of it. I regret things like not wearing sunblock and not investing in property earlier, but not my first marriage. So anyway, not really disagreeing with you or anything – just sharing sort of aimlessly…

          • I also regret not investing better when I was young, but I don’t regret my marriage (even though it ended in divorce).

    • AP

      Internet hugs. I didn’t cancel my wedding when I should have, either. I’m divorced now, and getting married again under much happier and different circumstances in two months. I don’t consider my first marriage a mistake, even though it ended, because it taught me so much about myself and about life. Don’t get me wrong, divorce was painful, but so was that marriage. I hope you and your spouse can find the peace and happiness you both deserve, together or on your own.

      • peter

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  • laddibugg

    I know this is a serious topic, but the subtitle made me think of this scene from Game of Thrones:

  • Vickitweaver

    Going Back aapprraa google Online Work

  • Rachel

    “marriage s about more than love”

    Truth.

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  • Devin

    I wish I would have read this years ago. I have had a friend confide in me that she knew she shouldn’t be going through with her wedding, but there I was on the Big Day passing tissues to my dad as he teared up during the vows. We joke now that someone had to be the first in our group to get divorced, and at least she had a KILLER wedding reception, but its a sad joke. I never realized how much pressure society puts on people to “go through the relationship steps” until watching her deal with everything while not wanting to let anyone down. I couldn’t help her because I also didn’t know how to help her cancel the wedding without letting people down. That sounds stupid now because, of course, her parents would rather her be happy, but its such a taboo subject that it is hard even for those witnessesing it to be much help.

  • Pingback: How to Cancel a Wedding- realistic and uplifting advice | Mission Tie the Knot()

  • up_at_Dawn

    Just came across this again in the Best of 2015 list. Although it wasn’t quite where I was at when I initially read it- it’s exactly what I needed to hear now.

    I called off my wedding just over two months ago and I really identify with the feeling of relief, but also the sadness and the mourning of a life that isn’t going to happen, and dreams that are not going to come to fruition. My ex-partner and I were together for five and a half years so it has been a lot of baggage to sort through although we do not have any children.

    However it does not help to be told that “You’re not that old” and “You’ll find someone else” particularly when those two things are put together. I’m aware that 27 is not that old in the scheme of things- but why should a more mature woman “settle”, is happiness so age dependent?

  • Katie

    Thank you so much for writing this. It gives me hope. I am in the process of cancelling my wedding right now. I felt relief, and I am reassured it is the right decision.

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  • Suzanne Duhon Payne

    My fiancé called off our wedding 5 weeks ago. I would be getting married today All of my supplies, wedding logo and names on ALL ~ what do I do with them? Suggestions please Even a gorgeous swerving platter which my mother made for us as a gift. She worked so hard on this which includes our wedding logo, names and date on it …. ?

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