Coupling: I Don’t

Weddings are hot these days — but, says Jessica Pressler, not nearly as hot as canceled weddings.

LAST YEAR, MY FRIEND Sarah*, who lives in Boston, asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. I said sure, of course, and soon after, she sent me to a store where I was fitted for and paid for a dress in a color reminiscent of tongues. Then a few months passed, and an invitation to Sarah’s bridal shower came in the mail. I duly marked the date in my calendar, RSVP’d, and booked my plane ticket. Just before I was scheduled to fly to Boston, I called a fellow bridesmaid to make plans. She was surprised to hear from me. Sarah had called off the wedding two weeks before — didn’t I know?

Fast-forward to a month or so ago. I was emailing with Jeff, an acquaintance, about a mutual friend’s birthday party. Thinking not at all, I added a PS: “How was your wedding by the way?”

Several weeks of silence later, I asked around and heard that Jeff had called off the wedding a few months before. His fiancée, Coleen, had gone with her sister on the nonrefundable honeymoon to Belize, where she contracted a parasite, which caused her to lose 20 pounds, which, it was rumored, caused her to experience a kind of sexual awakening. Meanwhile, Jeff was living with his parents while saving money to pay off the venue, the caterers and the florist. The wedding was, apparently, a sore subject.

And really, I should have known. These days, expecting that engaged people are actually going to get married is starting to seem as naive and old-fashioned as thinking people who are married aren’t going to get divorced.

In the past 10 years, weddings have gone nuclear, and, much like Chernobyl, the fallout has engendered ruinous and bizarre side effects: Star Jones, My Celebrity Wedding, message boards, The Wedding Fucking Channel. The glut of nuptial-related content in the world right now makes it seem like we’re in the midst of a wedding boom, where brides and grooms in Walt Disney-made attire kiss over a tower of pastel cupcakes and live happily ever after. But the reality, according to a study from Rutgers University, is that since 1970, the number of people getting married has declined by about 50 percent.

And if you look closely, you’ll see that there is a quieter class of casualties wrought by the big fat wedding explosion. These are the deformed, bitter mutants everyone whispers about behind their backs but avoids addressing face-to-face. These are the weddings that, after being heatedly conceived and nourished, have been abandoned — aborted, if you will — before being carried to full term. The Canceled Weddings. The Un-Weddings.

If you listen, you can hear their screams.

Mark Kingsdorf, who runs Queen of Hearts wedding planning and has in recent years kept a boilerplate “How to call off your wedding” document accessible on his computer, tells a story that’s quickly acquired urban-legend status in the local wedding community. “They made it through the vows,” he says of a Bucks County couple. “And there was some kind of argument during the photographs, but they ironed that out, and they made it through the cocktail hour. They were up to about the salad course when there was some kind of altercation. And the groom stood up and said, ‘Eff this, I don’t even want to be married to you!’ Luckily for them, the priest had come to the dinner, so he hadn’t finalized the paperwork, so he just never did. But the guests were mortified.”

One imagines that the Bucks County couple — and Sarah, and Jeff — had had a notion at some earlier juncture that the person they were planning to spend the rest of their lives with wasn’t right for them. So how did they get so far? Were they brainwashed by the wedding industrial complex, like Danielle, a Center City woman who blames Martha Stewart Weddings for the fact that she didn’t realize she should cancel her June wedding until March? “There were so many details to think about,” she says. “Were we going to have an urban wedding or a country wedding? What would our palette be? What would we give as favors? I got so into planning the wedding that I didn’t deal with the fact that our relationship had a lot of problems.”

Or did they succumb to pro-wedding pressure from the sort of people who think choice ends when you get engaged? The ones who tell you you’ve made your bed, and you must lie upon the sheets for which you registered?

To be sure, a late-term wedding termination is messy and embarrassing. But we are a free country, and it is possible to abort one’s wedding gracefully. Below, eight tips for extracting yourself from your wedding with your dignity intact.

DO let your bridal party know of your change of plans, preferably by phone.


DO NOT let an angry person make the cancellation calls.

It was said that when Coleen’s mother called to tell friends and family the wedding was off, she at least once referred to Jeff as “the little prick.” Have a levelheaded person do it, or even, if you’ve paid for one, your wedding coordinator.

DO send a simple, tasteful un-invitation to your invited guests.

While you might be tempted to get creative — “The wedding between Caitlin and Stephen is canceled because STEPHEN IS AN ASSHOLE” — Kingsdorf says it’s better to go with something simple and dignified, like “We regret to inform you that the marriage between Caitlin and Stephen will not take place.”

DO consider releasing a statement, à la Brad and Jen.

“Nosy people are going to ask why the wedding was canceled, and nosy people are going to find out,” says Kingsdorf. I hate it when people say stuff about “nosy people,” like they’re above nosiness. Sorry, Mark, but everyone is nosy, okay? And everyone wants to know why your wedding was canceled. That’s why it may be best to play it like a celebrity. Tell your version of the story, i.e., that Stephen has a micropenis, to your loyal-est, gossipiest friends. Then appear to take the high road by sending a highly Zen e-mail to friends and co-workers about how you happily remain committed and caring friends, and please respect your privacy during this difficult time blah blah.

DO return your gifts (at least to the gays).

A friend of mine was once invited to an Un-Wedding for which the bride, who canceled three weeks before the ceremony was to take place, never returned the gifts. This was five years ago. “She had invited a bunch of gays, and we’re all still talking about it,” he says.

DON’T throw a “We’re calling off our wedding” party together.

Sometimes a couple will cancel or postpone their wedding in a way that looks like it could be amicable — because one of them is a lesbian, for instance, or one of them really loves the other person but is “not ready,” or because their husband that they thought died in an avalanche has mysteriously reappeared, and it was actually the evil twin, Stefano, who died, and now they “need some time to work things out.” These are the sorts of people who might think it’s a good idea, since the money’s spent, to have some kind of cheeky fete. It is not a good idea. A friend of mine went to one of these Un-Wedding Celebrations recently, and the un-bride lost it in the middle and threw a folding chair at the un-groom, who had to go to the emergency room. Even if things don’t get violent, no one wants to watch the death throes of your relationship. Plus, it’s inviting everyone to act really fake-nice to your face but then talk about what a mess you are behind your back. And if that’s not enough, what if your un-husband or un-wife hooks up with someone at your own Un-Wedding? “Imagine seeing your ex dancing with somebody and sucking face,” says Kingsdorf. “That would be awful.”

DO turn your heartbreak into radiant beneficence.

If you are going to lose a significant amount of your deposit and can handle having a party, you can reconfigure your wedding as a charity dinner by adding a plate charge and inviting everyone you know. If you’re feeling really saintly, you can donate the money in your ex’s name to Penn State College of Medicine’s Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, to support the researchers there who study the condition of micropenis.

DON’T marry someone else five months later, in an exact replica of the wedding you canceled, with the bridesmaids in their tongue-colored dresses and you in the dress you purchased for your wedding to the other guy, except let out a bit in the middle, since you are four months pregnant, because it might prompt the shell-shocked-looking mother of the groom to say something like, “Um, what a surprise this all is! A nice surprise! Sarah seems like a nice young lady! Although this is all very unexpected! Because Matt could never even commit to owning a goldfish!” during the toasts while all of your guests look mortified.

Just saying. Anyway, what’s your hurry? Marriage is forever. Right?

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