How To Cancel Your Wedding

Your step-by-step guide to calling it off

When I wrote about how to cancel your wedding a few years ago, I thought, “Sure, this might be helpful to someone somewhere.” I did not expect that emails would arrive weekly from people all over the world. In fact, they’re still arriving. (One came in last night!) Women and men write to me in long essays and quickly hammered notes, all asking the same things in different ways. What should I do, and how do I do it? I try to respond to everyone individually, which frankly has gotten a little out of hand. I have even talked to a few confused souls on the phone. Many never write me back, so I don’t know what they decided in the end. A few have let me know they canceled their weddings and feel good about it; a few have updated me with news of nuptials, couples counseling, and satisfaction.

The truth is, unless there is abuse, I don’t know if you should cancel your wedding. (If there is abuse, please don’t marry your abuser, but do what you need to do to keep yourself safe.) But beyond the clear-cut cases, it is a decision only you can make, and I hope so hard that you have the support you need from friends and family to get through it. But even if you don’t have support, you’ll get through it, I promise.

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When I canceled my own wedding, it was 2003 and the internet as we know it now was still in its infancy. I used a fax machine and landline telephone calls to get the logistics handled. Fifteen years later, it’s a thousand times easier to have uncomfortable conversations without ever having to get on the phone. So it seemed high time for a helpful guide and an actual nuts-and-bolts to-do list. I consulted with Jess Rutherford of Sentimental Fools Events and compiled the best advice on how to cancel your wedding.

How To Cancel Your Wedding, In Six Steps

  1. Tell your family. Ideally, they will be unconditionally supportive. In the case that they might not be, it is absolutely acceptable to bring your maid of honor (or whoever your most supportive human is) along with you to hold your hand through this moment, whether it’s a phone call or a face-to-face announcement. The closer you are to the wedding date, the less I suggest using email for this; often, travel logistics need to be handled, and some people (like my Aunt Jane) never check their email. Do you need to tell every single family member yourself? This is a choice that depends on a million factors, and only you can know what is expected, what is appropriate, and what you can manage. But in general, feel free to ask a supportive family member or friend to help handle communication. Also remember that stress can make us forget things; have your invitation list available so you can keep track of who needs to know.
  2. Send out a message to all the other guests. In this day and age, I believe an email is appropriate for this task, although some people prefer to write postcards. Again, this depends on what you’re capable of and how close to the wedding date you are. The closer you are, the faster you need the information to spread, hit “send.” A note as simple as “Dear Loved Ones, the wedding between John and John will not take place,” is acceptable. For this particular missive, short and to the point is what is important. There is plenty of time to write individual notes or dish the details on the phone with friends and loved ones later. And please remember to BCC this mass mailer!
  3. This might be a good time for a break. Take a walk, get some fresh air. Call a friend, drink some wine. Remember that you are all okay.
  4. Reach out to vendors. If you have a wedding planner, awesome. The planner can take on the lion’s share of contacting vendors, and should at least have things organized for you to be able to move through the list efficiently. If not, that’s okay too! Remember: everything will get done, one step at a time. Please see “Un-break My Checkbook” below for more on vendors.
  5. Cancel travel arrangements. Did you reserve blocks at a hotel for your guests? Are there airline tickets for the honeymoon that can be refunded? Figure out what needs to be cancelled, and what you can get your money back for, and make those calls.
  6. Cancel your wedding registries and return any gifts that have already arrived. This is a great place to enlist the help of people who love you. You don’t need to be making a thousand trips to the post office right now, and chances are good that there is someone in your life who will be able to manage this like a pro.

Un-Break My Checkbook

For you, this process is about love and heartache and a million complicated emotions. For your vendors, it’s going to be all about the money. For many vendors, recouping financial loss is extremely important when a wedding is canceled. And it’s hard to pay for services that weren’t rendered and enjoyed on top of healing a broken heart. It’s hard to face debt that represents tears and misery (though maybe some relief too). Wedding photographer Megan Tsang Hand has been on both sides of this position as a vendor and as a friend to brides who called the whole thing off. Her advice for people who want as much money as possible back for a canceled event? “Consult a lawyer.” This is not not NOT a suggestion to get contentious or prepare yourself for lawsuits. Instead, it’s a way to get some contractual clarity on what, where, and how much deposit you’re actually entitled to have returned. The good thing about contracts is they’re unemotional, and lack of emotion is just what you need right now. (That and a lawyer to deal with anyone being difficult.)

Lawyers notwithstanding, vendors will likely be much more willing to discuss deposits if they are approached with kindness and understanding. Denise Cornell, a wedding photographer for ten years in San Antonio, Texas, spoke to me about trying to be fair to wedding parties while also trying to sustain a small business as a vendor: “Most vendors are booking their services nine to fifteen months in advance. If you are canceling less than nine months before the wedding date, it’s unlikely they will be able to fill that slot in a short amount of time, which is a lot of lost revenue for an independent business owner.” Of course it all depends on the situation and the vendor and the time-frame. It also depends on how much energy you feel you can exert in this direction. It could be that the money lost is the price of freedom, and moving forward is the more important thing to do.

Take A Ring Off It

The other stuff, like rings and dresses and table numbers and party favors? These are less urgent matters; don’t worry about them today. The internet has opened up a world of reselling opportunities, and your tokens of heartbreak will likely make someone else very happy. It is up to each individual whether there is a rush to be rid of these things. Some find it cathartic to have them out of sight as soon as possible; others don’t mind taking their time with stuff they find trivial. Some of it might be worth keeping. My mom used my cute place card holders for every formal dinner in our house for a decade after I canceled my wedding. My ex insisted that I keep my engagement ring; it felt like the only valuable asset I owned—even if it was tucked away in the back of my sock drawer. When I eventually sold it, I took myself out to a fancy dinner and never thought about it again.

Whether it’s now or later, sites like Poshmark offer a good online marketplace for selling wedding dresses. Weddingbee is an “everything wedding” community site that has a classifieds section if you want to sell everything in one place. Many dress shops offer consignment opportunities, and you can check your local listings to see if that’s an option near you. (Fun story: My canceled-wedding dress was on sale at a consignment store in Marin County. When I checked in on it six months later, the owner had sold the shop to someone else and my dress was lost in the transition. I felt more than okay letting that investment go, but if you are dedicated to getting your money back, keep close tabs on your expensive pieces!)

Maybe Get a Massage

Self care has become a marketing phrase and an overused hashtag, but the core value is real and important. Once the necessary phone calls are made, please take care of yourself. Now is the time for your support system to flex its muscle. If it’s too close to the wedding to cancel the vendors, bring your family and friends together for a party. If there’s a bachelorette weekend planned, keep it and celebrate the power of female friendship. Practice compassion for yourself, and stay off social media. Exercise. Don’t forget to eat. Enjoy the alcohol you couldn’t return, but please remember that alcohol is a depressant and alcohol poisoning is real; drink responsibly. Love and congratulate yourself for making the hard decision. If your partner made this decision for you, know that one day you will believe it was for the best, even if it feels fucked up now.

Let’s end here: It is totally completely a hundred percent acceptable to cancel a wedding. It is respectable; it is both brave and normal. Despite any evidence suggesting otherwise, canceling is preferable to enduring a wedding that you’re unsure about, tolerating a marriage you don’t want, and tearing it all down with a divorce. We know that canceling a wedding is also a little bit, or a lot, embarrassing. Loved ones can react in all sorts of unhelpful and unsupportive ways. Money is likely lost, different relationships are likely changed forever. 

Do it anyway.

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