In my many years of doing weddings, I have been involved in about a dozen of them that were called off for various reasons, and during different stages in the wedding planning: From a broken engagement to the very latest, after the guests have been seated at the ceremony. In all cases, I believe the situations were handled with respect and grace. There are many reasons why a wedding may be called off, including everything from infidelity to religious differences that would have been too difficult for the affected party to overcome.
There also is that vague, nebulous feeling that something is wrong. I would urge you to really analyze this to make sure it’s not just cold feet. Should this ‘not right’ feeling continue, find someone you can confide in and talk it out. Trust your instincts, but realize this may be a case of an unfounded fear of being married.
TIMING: There are different actions to be taken at each point that are acceptable social behavior when cancelling a wedding.
If you’ve become engaged and already contacted (and paid) some purveyors, but have not formally announced your engagement: As far as family and friends are concerned, I think this information will pass around rather quickly. If asked, you could answer in any polite way (i.e: Yes, we have decided the time was not right or It’s true, and I’m rather uncomfortable talking about it right now.) Do contact all the purveyors who have held the day for you. Some will hold onto your deposit, and if they do book a wedding of comparable size, may return all or part of it. Understand that most deposits are nonrefundable, and the closer to the event you get, the likelihood of getting any money back decreases.
If you already have sent out save-the-date cards: You may choose to call everyone on your list. Writing a brief, polite note also is a way to let those people know not to tie up their schedules as you will not be getting married. Email is not an acceptable way to send this information.
Your invitations have been sent, but you still have a few weeks left: Call each guest or have a sibling or parent call and give them the news. Also, send a note (informal for close friends, more formal for your parents’ friends or the groom’s parents’ friends). Any gifts you have received must be returned, and they should be in the original box with the packing, if possible. It is never acceptable to leave an un-boxed gift at someone’s front door. Usually, a brief thank-you note should accompany the gift. A call to see if they are home or ask where they would like the gift left should be made. This is a job for a wedding coordinator, a sibling or a good friend.
If it is close to the wedding day: Some of the vendors may have product in their shops or kitchens, and they may choose to send you what they are unable to sell to someone else. You may wind up with parts of a wedding cake, a case of beef tenderloin and five buckets of stargazer lilies. Food to a homeless shelter is a good idea. Sending flowers to a nursing home or hospital is not (it is a huge nuisance for the staff). You will have to pay for your dress, but the store also may attempt to resell it for you. You most probably will have to fully pay for the musicians you have hired. A small gratuity to be split among the servers who declined other opportunities to work so they would be available for your wedding would be a nice gesture. Most of the friends and family who have hosted parties in your honor will not ask to be reimbursed, but all gifts must be returned. I think a phone call or a visit would be the best way to handle these loving family members or friends.
Believe it or not, as the processional is lining up to go down the aisle, a father will say to his daughter, Are you sure? It’s not too late to cancel. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this type of cancellation does not occur. But I can tell you that I had a wedding where it did happen. The dad was a saint and a trooper. After consoling his daughter and informing the groom, he marched to the front of the church and announced the truth (always the best): ‘Mary’ is unsure that right now is the best time for her and ‘Bob’ to be married. We do have a wonderful meal and music planned, and insist that you join us at the club as we support Mary and Bob in what we all can imagine was a very difficult decision.
As with all of life’s events, each one is unique, with its own set of components. And as always, the way to deal with each event is colored by the circumstances. Good manners dictate that respect should always be shown to all.
I know you’ll probably get so sick of this phrase—the one you will hear every day for the next year, at least—but it’s quite true: Everything happens for the best.
John Sullivan has a fine arts degree from Kansas City Art Institute. He has partnered with Ken Miesner for the past 25 years at Ken Miesner’s Flowers at Plaza Frontenac, where they have done flowers for more than 1,000 weddings!