How to Survive a Broken Engagement

A fact that some people don’t know about me: Before finding happily-ever-after with my husband, I was engaged. Twice. To two different men. And I called it off both times.

I know what you’re thinking—who does that, right? Well, actually, lots of people. Many men and women go through the process of putting a ring on it only to change their minds later. Others get engaged, expecting a lifetime of bliss, and then are subject to a major turn of events out of their control that concludes with a canceled wedding.

In short: Love is tricky, things happen, people change. Either way, if you’re suffering from the fallout of a broken engagement, please know that you’re not alone. It may be heart-wrenching, but you will absolutely survive it and find a way to thrive, eventually.

Delegate details from the wedding that wasn’t.

The minute your engagement is over, no matter who called it off, decide how to address all the minor and major details of the wedding no longer happening.

This step will completely suck. It means the broken engagement is real; it’s actually happening, which may be cause for major relief or pain or a bit of both. It will feel strange and cold and depressing—who wants to think about event logistics in the middle of heartache?—but rip the band-aid off now. Start by making a list of the things you need to tackle with your partner, and then check off those boxes as soon as possible so you both can move on. Below are some key areas to consider:

Share the news ASAP.
You’re not obligated to provide juicy details, but you are required to get the word out fast, no matter how sad, devastated or embarrassed you are. The script can be as simple as, “The wedding of X and Z has been canceled.” Etiquette for how to share the news varies depending on the timing of the now-defunct wedding date. If it was slotted for next week, you owe guests a phone call; if it was set for next year, an email or card is probably sufficient. Have the courtesy to give people time to deal with flights and hotel reservations and vacation days and babysitters. It’s the right thing to do.

Handle the vendors and physical items.
Make a decision about any rings as well as wedding attire: Give it back, save it, donate it, sell it. There’s no “right” choice to make here; do what feels right to you. (Case in point: I kept the only wedding dress I ever bought. The man at the time wasn’t perfect for me, but the gown sure was!) Call the venue, cancel the flowers, contact the caterer, connect with the photographer, and so on.

Forget about the money lost… 
Weddings are hella expensive, so when they’re canceled, somebody is going to lose money. If it’s you, try to get back whatever deposits you can, and then let it go. If it’s your partner, offer to pay them back for any deposits lost, and then let it go. If it’s some combination of family members, apologize for the inconvenience, offer to pay them back, and then let it go. (Notice a trend here?) If anyone gives you a hard time about money lost, say, “I’d rather be broke than unhappily married to the wrong person.” Or this gem: “Divorce is more expensive.”

… but protect your assets.
Nowadays, many engaged couples live together prior to saying vows, which adds an extra element of logistical difficulty to breaking up. You may need to get out of a lease or mortgage together and then find a new place to live. You might have to divvy up funds from shared bank accounts or adjust access to digital passwords for anything from email to Netflix. Take care of these security, legal, or financial issues right away. Yes, I know you’d love to think that your ex “would never take advantage” of you like that, but it happens all. the. time. Protect yourself first.

If you discover that you can’t bear to deal with such wedding details, then delegate these tasks to a trusted friend or family member. In the sad event of a broken engagement, most people aren’t sure how to help, so asking someone to pick up the phone or pay a visit to a vendor on your behalf gives them a practical avenue to support you.

Cut off all communication, now.

Look—either you just broke someone’s heart and temporarily ruined their life, or your ex-fiancé did this to you. No matter how much you loved each other, you NEED space from such a massive hurt to find your own new path and regroup emotionally. But creating that gap of space and time is damn near impossible in today’s world of text messages, cell phones, the Internet, and social media.

That’s why you have to remove allllll the triggers. Doing so is a harsh act of self-preservation. Pour yourself a giant glass of wine one night and take a deep breath. Then un-friend him. Stop following her on Instagram. Quit opening his snap story. Remove her from your Twitter feed. Hide him from Gchat. And delete his or her number from your phone. I’ll say that one twice for emphasis: Delete his or her number from your phone. I don’t have it memorized! You think. It will be lost forever! Yep. Do it anyway. What if . . . ? Stop. No. And delete.

The options to track your ex digitally or connect on a whim are endless, and none of them will serve you well. I mean, do you really want to ogle your ex from afar? No, you don’t. Think you might be friends again someday? Cross that bridge when you get to it; you’re not friends now. Seeing her vacation photos or his funny face filters or her status updates or his thoughts on clickbait—none of that will help you heal. These glimpses may result in temporary happiness (I’m better off without him, obviously) or grief (but we seemed so good together!) or anger (how is she dating again already?). No matter your reaction, all paths lead back to the past.

Again: If this feels impossible, appoint friends to help you. Let them look out for your best interests. Trust me, you will eventually have a moment when you’ll feel the urge to reach out to this person you left or who left you. When that happens, you will be grateful for the roadblocks. Keeping track of your former flame’s life from a distance only distracts you from your own. Building your new life—the one without him or her—is your priority now.

Practice the art of self-care.

Post-relationship is the perfect time to practice self-care. Maybe for you this means taking long baths every night, burning the expensive candle, drinking wine at four in the afternoon. Or it could mean a run in the sunshine, more hours for personal hobbies, buying confidence-building clothes and 1000-thread count sheets. So have coffee with the acquaintance you met last week. Call your best friends. Drive to visit your grandparents. See a counselor once a week. Write down all of your emotions in the fresh pages of a journal. Volunteer for a charity. Accept additional responsibilities at work. Take an online course on a topic you’ve always been curious about. Sit at home and watch all the seasons of Gossip Girl or Fixer Upper with a pint of ice cream. Whether you need to stay busy or slow down, this time is for you.

In that same vein, let yourself be a little lonely as you navigate your new life. You just had the fortitude to get through the worst, which means you’re strong enough to keep your own company for a bit. Notice how you feel—maybe you’re more wary of commitment, maybe you have a deeper sense of what you want and need from a partner, maybe you want to be single for a long while, maybe you want to have a bunch of (safe) sex. All of that is OK. Remember timing matters, but it also varies; you might need two months or two years to decide you’re ready to date again. Rushing runs the risk of letting your experience of a broken engagement ruin relationships to come. Aim to be content and secure in yourself before adding another special someone to the mix.

Acceptance is (the best) medicine.

I kept my previously engaged status on the down-low for years out of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. I worried that once people knew these dramatic stories of mine, they would raise their eyebrows in judgment. I viewed myself as a woman who couldn’t commit and didn’t keep promises; I wondered what was “wrong” with me. I dwelled on every last detail: How I could have done things differently? How did I fail to see the truth of each situation? How did I lose sight of my internal compass along the way?

On the occasions that I did mention it out loud, usually after too many glasses of wine, I rapidly realized that while some people were surprised, nobody really cared that much about my past—except me. I felt disappointed and bitter that these broken engagements wove themselves into the fabric of my romantic cloth, and I was furious that I couldn’t change the past. The only person judging me? Myself.

It took a long time and a lot of therapy, but I eventually learned to forgive myself and move on. Broken engagements may be the end of your world for a little while; however, they’re not the end of the world (as my father likes to say). So your love life went awry? So you messed up? So life didn’t go as planned? Welcome to the human experience. Acceptance is medicine.

Those two broken engagements forced me to grow in crucial ways. I’m more resilient than I previously ever thought. Braver, too. I trust that I can make a change when I’ve gotten off-track from the best version of myself, and I’m better at being honest about my shortcomings, as well as my desires. Most importantly, those heartaches eventually led me to the type of long-term, loving partnership I always wanted.

In the words of The Everygirl, I kept not settling. I hope you’ll do the same.

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