It’s Off! Proper Etiquette for Announcing a Cancelled Wedding


The moment he proposed you knew you would be together forever. Or maybe, you felt a tiny tug of uncertainty somewhere in the pit of your stomach that you forced down and ignored, holding it at bay with dress shopping, bachelorette party planning, and stacks of bridal magazines—until the point where you just couldn’t ignore it anymore, and you knew the wedding had to be called off.

First, dry your eyes, girl, and know that you are not alone. While official records are not formally documented, a 2003 article by TIME magazine estimated that 20 to 25 percent of engagements are broken off before the wedding. While some may argue that there is a stigma associated with a called off engagement that causes speculation over scandalous behaviors and mental images of Julia Roberts galloping away on a horse in Runaway Bride, the truth is that sometimes a couple realizes that they aren’t meant to be, and are better off parting way.

If you find yourself in this realization but have already started planning your wedding, there are some etiquette protocols you should follow to begin untying the party planning knot with respect for all involved.

I’ve Already Sent Out Invitations. How Do I Notify Everyone?

Your guests should be notified by phone, but it does not need to be you making calls in-between sob fests to everyone from you great grandma to his best friend from college. Rely on friends and family to help you break the news and keep the explanation as brief, honest, and discrete as possible. No matter the reasons for the break, it’s not a time for pointing fingers. Also, take down your wedding website and cancel your online gift registry. The entities that helped you set these digital assets up can help you take them down.

When Should I Notify My Vendors?

As soon as possible, notify all of your wedding vendors. The list should include your stationer, the bakery, your ceremony and reception venues, DJ or band, photographer, and any other entity with which you have already contracted. Know, however, that depending on how close to the planned wedding date you are, even for those services that have not already been rendered, you may not be able to recover your deposit, or you may be subject to cancellation fees.

Do I Return the Gifts?

Yes. Etiquette requires that you and your ex return all the gifts you have received so far, and that includes any gifts cards or personalized home goods you received during your engagement party.

Should I Give the Ring Back?

It may be best if you have this conversation candidly with your ex, but believe it or not, this could become a legal issue for which there are particular laws. Typically, courts could rule in one of three directions relative to what should happen with the ring after a broken engagement: The ring was a gift that cannot be revoked, it was a conditional gift dependent upon the completion of marriage that should be returned, or it was compensation that cannot be returned. If you and your ex cannot amicably decide how to handle the ring, you may need to retain legal counsel.

What Do I Do with the Dress?

The boutique where you bought your dress may have a return policy if you are within a very short period post purchase, but if you have made any alterations to the dress, you cannot return it. You may be able to sell it online and recuperate some of your money, and give another bride more affordable access to a beautiful gown.

Is there Anything Else I Should Do Immediately?

Take a mental health day (or a few). Whether you and your ex split amicably or your engagement went down in flames, you are going to have to come to terms with the fact that you are parting ways with someone you thought would be in your life forever. Cry if you need to, rally your girlfriends if you need to, indulge in rom-coms if you need to, but then cut it off, dust yourself off, and get back up. The perfect person is out there, and realizing you haven’t found him yet is not a bad thing. Remind yourself that you are a fabulous partner and that the right person will come along—and then you’ll have the wedding of your dreams.

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