DIVORCE

What It's Really Like To Break An Engagement, From Women Who've Been There

02/12/2015 11:43 am ET | Updated Feb 12, 2015
Luis Francisco Cordero via Getty Images

By the time Katherine's* fiancé called off the wedding, they had signed a two-year lease and were a year into a 16-month engagement. They had 200 guests planning on attending their destination wedding and Katherine's friends were about to throw her a bridal shower.

"It was just a lot," Katherine told The Huffington Post. "In addition to thinking 'this is horrible' and 'the path I was on is now changing,' there are all of these other people involved. I felt this pressure to decide what we were going to do. It made it more public than just breaking up with someone, because you have to involve everyone that you know immediately."

But like all romantic splits, broken engagements are not insurmountable. Plenty of people have made it through to the other side. Want proof? We spoke to six women, including Katherine, who managed to dissolve a relationship and a wedding at the same time -- and came out stronger than ever.

*****

katherine

Katherine, 32, New York City, New York

How long were you together? Four and a half years

How did the engagement end? He was the one who ended it because he was unsure of getting married. We had a five-week period of back-and-forth. We were trying to figure it out and work through it. When we finally called it off, it was probably the worst experience I’ve ever had in my life. It was sort of out of nowhere. I was a little blindsided, because we’d been engaged for a year -- he asked me. I don’t know why you’d ask someone and then a year later be unsure. There wasn’t some big event or catalyst.

How did you tell people? We had sent out save-the-dates, but not invitations. I wrote an email to all of my friends and colleagues who were invited, probably 50 people. I just laid it out there: Justin decided he doesn’t want to get married, so we’re calling it off. I wrote what was, in retrospect, a fairly dramatic email.

What did you do with the ring? I kept the ring. It was sort of part of my “you ruined my life, so I’m not giving it back” logic. Then during the breakup process, we had some back-and-forth, where he would get mad and tell me I had to give it back, but eventually that died down. I kept it for about a year and eventually sold it.

What did you learn from the experience? It’s probably made me, unfortunately, more wary of people. It wasn’t like everything was perfect in our relationship, but I had thought we were on the same page. I thought we had signed up for the same thing. After, I just thought, "Wow, I don’t know what I could’ve done differently to have this end in a different way." In the long run, I learned the resiliency of myself. I really thought at the time "I’ll never get over this; I’ll never be happy; I’ll never feel better." My mom, who I would talk to a hundred times a day, was like, "Yes you will. It just takes time." I thought that was complete bullshit and that it just wasn’t true. But of course it is true.

erica

Erica, 29, Alexandria, Virginia

How long were you together? Not long -- we got engaged after six weeks and our engagement ended after five months, two weeks before the wedding.

How did the engagement end? It was a bad relationship, but I had a hard time seeing it. I think it was a matter of we didn’t really know each other and we weren't very compatible -- and we hadn’t spent enough time dating to know that. He was the one that said the words, "I’m breaking up with you." He was actually really mean about it. I think he just fell out of love and stopped caring, but didn’t bother to tell me.

How did you tell people? I was super stressed because we'd already sent out invitations and people were already buying gifts. We had used a Facebook group to communicate with friends and family, so the next morning, I posted this very vague, not vitriolic message onto that group saying, "We decided to cancel the wedding. Thanks for your love and support" -- nothing about who did what or why, just letting them know not to plan on it.

What did you do with your dress? I actually was renting my dress, so that was one major perk of my choices. The dress was about $500, but we had passed the time to break the contract, so we fully paid for it.

What did you learn from the experience? It was really a good teaching moment for me. I realized that I had come into this relationship in a bad emotional state. It motivated me to be honest with myself about who I want to be and the kinds of relationships that I’m willing to accept. While it was extremely painful and very difficult, I wouldn’t trade it because of those lessons. They were really valuable. Because of that experience, now I’m married to -- this is a cliche but -- the man of my dreams.

jenny

Jenny, 33, Minneapolis, Minnesota

How long were you together? Two years

How did the engagement end? There were red flags. He's a very controlling person. During our last fight, I said, "I’m not going to put up with this when we’re married." Then he was like, "Maybe we shouldn’t get married at all." This was all over the phone and he hung up. I don’t know what it was, but I didn’t want to call him back. I just called my mom sobbing and said, "I’m not getting married anymore." It was like the door was open and I ran through it.

What did you do with your dress? The dress is still hanging in my old bedroom closet at my parents’ house. I bought off-the-rack, so there was an absolute no return policy. I know that there are consignment shops where you can share dresses within a couple of years when they were brand-spanking new. Lately, my mom and I were talking about donating it to charity.

What did you do with the ring? My ex-fiancé left me with a couple of thousands of dollars of debt, so I definitely didn’t give it back to him -- I pawned it.

What did you do about the vendors? My parents, fortunately, went into hyper-drive, because I couldn’t even think about it. They called the places and let them know what happened. The companies were really very nice about it. We didn’t get back two or three deposits out of maybe eight we had made.

What did you learn from the experience? I’m a lot stronger than I ever thought I was. I definitely know that I should trust my gut and, in my heart of hearts, I knew that marrying him was wrong. I can look at it now and know that I just wanted my big day. I didn’t want a marriage; I wanted a wedding day. Had that last fight not happened, I would probably be married right now. That’s terrifying to me, because it was just all sorts of wrong. I really learned to trust myself and trust my gut.

chelsea

Chelsea, 29, Medford, Oregon

How long were you together? Two years

How did the engagement end? I had found inappropriate texts from him to another person. It wasn’t anything physical, so I thought that it could’ve been a one-time thing. I was determined to get through it. When you’re dead set on spending your life with someone, it’s really hard to walk away, especially when they promise everything. Then six months later, it happened again, so I said, "That’s it -- I’m not doing it again."

What did you do with your dress? I still have my dress -- I love it. There’s part of me that thinks that it’s tainted, though. Obviously, I’d love to get married and go through the whole process successfully. I haven’t quite decided what to do with my dress. I think I’ll cross that bridge when I get there and hang it in my closet until I decide.

What did you do with the ring? I’ve been planning on selling it for a while, but to actually do it takes a lot. I don’t plan on keeping it. That’s so specific. The dress I’ve never worn, but the ring was his promise to me.

What did you do about the vendors? My friend was my wedding planner, so she was the person who went through and cancelled all of our reservations, our caterers, our florists, our photographer. To actually make that first step and call someone and say, "I have to cancel my wedding" seemed too devastating. Surprisingly, we got every deposit back. That lessened the blow a little bit.

What did you learn from the experience? I’ve learned that it’s so important to trust your instincts and really be aware of your suspicions. I’ve also been able to focus on myself and decide what I really want. Was I settling? Was I more focused on a wedding? I’ve learned so much about me and who I am and what I want from relationships. You can’t settle. I’m not willing to stay and put up with something like that ever again. If it happens again even once, I would leave the first time.

cynthia

Cynthia, 39, Ontario, Canada

How long were you together? Four years

How did the engagement end? It was almost like an epiphany. As I was in the middle of planning, I was talking to my best friend and I realized, "Oh my god, I shouldn’t be marrying this guy." I just knew. We were doing long distance, so my fiancé was quite surprised when I told him that I didn't want to marry him anymore.

How did you tell people? We had only sent out a general engagement announcement, but we hadn’t sent out any invitations. I told friends and family through phone calls. Bad news travels faster than good news. If you tell one friend, then all of a sudden, your whole circle knows.

What did you do about the vendors? It cost me about $4,000 to cancel, because I had already bought the supplies for the favors and that kind of stuff. I'd booked my venue with catering and my DJ. I took care of it all, because it was my decision.

kimberly

Kimberly, 47, Kensington, Maryland

How long were you together? Two and a half years

How did the engagement end? There was a lot of emotional and verbal abuse on his part. As it came closer to the wedding, it escalated. We hadn’t talked for about two or three days, so finally I broke down and called him at work. My intention was to say, "Can we talk tonight to see what’s going to happen?" He didn’t want to talk -- he just said, "I don’t want to get married."

How did you tell people? We had sent out save-the-date cards, but not invitations. I sent a massive email the next day, and my parents told their friends. I called three of my closest friends so that they wouldn’t find out on email.

What did you do with the ring? I didn’t give the ring back. To me, the ring was a gift from him. It wasn’t that expensive anyway -- it didn’t break his bank. I kept it for a while and then about two months later, I sold it for practically nothing.

What did you learn from the experience? Maya Angelou has a quote that’s really famous: "When people show you who they are believe them." I should have done that. That was my mistake. I also learned not to fall prey to the fairy tale if that’s not what you really want. I didn’t want to get married; I still don’t want to get married. I fell in a trap. I was 37 years old, I’d fallen in love and I thought that that was what I was supposed to do. I’ve never really wanted to get married, and I had no business going through the process of getting married.

*Last names have been omitted to protect the identities of the women interviewed.

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