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.

  • Renee

    Ha! This article is too funny. I challenge you to write this from the perspective of a woman who has just been left.

    In that moment, you should have felt guilt, shame, and embarrassment because like you said you did ruin someone’s life. You consider it temporary, but they are forever changed because of your (somewhat selfish) actions. They planned a life with you and are now back at square one. Not to mention the other repercussions that could follow for them (issues at work because of performance, financial troubles, losing friendships, depression etc.) When I hear about these situations it angers me. Don’t be selfish, be honest with your partner from the beginning! It will save you both so much heartache.

    • Alexia

      Why I completely understand where you’re coming from, in the long run she made the better decision for her and her ex. While it certainly would’ve been better to break it off sooner, sometimes life doesn’t work like that. They could’ve fallen out of love; he could’ve changed completely. Ultimately, it’s better for him to have an ex-fiancé than an ex-wife.
      That said, if one does get engaged to someone and breaks it off they have a responsibility to pay back anything they may have spent on the wedding. This includes giving back the ring, among other things. Also, I think if one is the one that breaks it off they need to be the one to do the hard stuff- this means finding a new home and not forcing the ex-fiancé to find one.
      I’m so sorry about what happened to you, though. Hope you feel better soon.

    • Lola

      So you’re saying “suck it up and be unhappy forever?”

      • Renee

        Nope, I didn’t say that at all. Literally said, “Don’t be selfish, be honest with your partner from the beginning!” That means if you’re feeling unhappy then voice those concerns, and talk to your partner.

        And before you make major commitments you should assess how you feel and check your gut – it’s part of being an adult. It’s important to learn not to get swept up in the moment and not to let others pressure you into doing what’s “normal.” I understand that people can change too (especially if you’ve been together years), but that’s a different conversation.

        • Lola

          Thank you for clarifying that. I completely agree listening to your gut and being honest with yourself is key.

  • I broke off my own engagement a few months ago. Absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and hurting someone I cared about was the worst thing. I’m still trying to forgive myself for that. Breaking the heart of someone you care about it just awful, but I ultimately had to love myself more. And I don’t think that’s “selfish.” I wish I had been able to be honest with my partner earlier on, but I wasn’t even being honest with myself for the longest time. Something felt wrong, but I loved him and I thought it was what I wanted, so I kept trying to rationalize and push away my uncertainties. I couldn’t keep it up. Yes, there are people in his family who think I didn’t try hard enough or that we could have made it work and that I gave up too easily. It certainly didn’t feel that way to me. I was exhausted from trying to make it work. But I had already lost too much of myself somehow. I finally feel like myself again after breaking it off, and I won’t apologize for that.

    • Completely agree. I broke up with a 10 year boyfriend right before we were to get engaged. Not the same at all as you, but I completely relate with all your feelings. I didn’t know it wasn’t working until the moment it hit me and I realized I had been trying so hard for so long and I was exhausted. I wasn’t honest with myself because I cared about him and was trying to do right by our partnership, but what we had just was not enough. Kudos to you for being so strong and reaching for better. You will find it and so will your ex and everyone will be glad for it.

    • Jester

      Exhausted? You were just not into him, so why get engaged in the first place. Life is not a fairy tale and prince charming does not exist long term.

  • Evan Jones

    I have done all of those! Self-care is so important. Being selfish is something I had to learn after my ex left me, and being self-reliant is another lesson. Friends and family are amazing and a huge reason I was able to get as far as I have since “the event”, but there comes a point when the only one who is thinking about it…is you. “Aim to be content and secure in yourself before adding another special someone to the mix.” I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • NattilyDressed

    This was so important for me to read. My fiance and I are currently going to couples counseling because we’re not sure if we really should be staying together long term. It’s so tough because we love each other but just don’t know if our personalities fit. We have also lived together for the past two years, and bought a condo last year. We also share a car so if I move out, everything is going to be so challenging logistically. I’m worried that I’m staying in the relationship just to avoid the hassle of moving/changing my life. Which is not a good reason to stay.

    • Jamie

      Hi there, I’m wondering how the couples counseling worked out. What happened with you guys? Currently in the same situation as you (have a home together, I’m not sure about our love) and would love to know how things went.

      • NattilyDressed

        Hey, sorry to hear you’re going through that. We ultimately decided to end things and that was a great decision. I moved out a few weeks later and he sold the condo. We don’t talk at all really anymore. A text here and there and I do miss him as a friend, but after dating others and spending more time with friends, I’m SO glad we made this decision. It was mutual and really amicable because we both knew it just wasn’t quite right. The couples counseling was really validating as it confirmed we weren’t jerks, our lifestyles just didn’t mesh. And the counseling really uncovered that we define relationships differently. Hope that helps and that everything works out!

  • Dee

    I broke it off with my fiancé of five years also. I loved him and he loved me; there was no question about the love. It was other things that I felt in my gut were not right and things that didn’t make me happy. We still love each other, but we live apart. We still see each other, but we remain apart. Somehow that works. We are both happier too. I think finding what makes you happy is important. I also practice self-care constantly. For some reason I was unable to do that when I was engaged. Now I am much happier.

  • Joner

    Wow, 2 broken engagements. Your husband is a lucky guy. Sarcasm. What a load of shite. How about not getting engaged if you’re not sure instead of always trying to trade up. No doubt your current marriage will end in divorce once you realize life is not a fairy tail with a prince charming.

  • Joner

    My ex left me after I had 2 seizures in a short period (a new thing). She went from you are the best thing ever to “I feel mean and selfish and obviously this is hard…but with your seizures I can’t compete”. In other words this it tough and you’re defective so piss off I’ll find another sperm donor.

  • Ann Marie Stokman

    On his financial loss for engagement ring resale, did you ever offer to pay half after breaking the engagement?