When Kim Kardashian got reamed by every comedian, blog, and tweet possible for marrying Kris Humphries in a public, televised, multimillion-dollar spectacle, and divorcing him not three months later, I could relate. Well, in a tiny way, anyway: I understood the importance of calling things off, no matter how inconvenient the circumstances.
I called my wedding off eight years ago.
It cost considerably less than $20 million, even by the most generous estimates, but it felt like an awful lot to us at the time. (It was about $10,000, truth be told, an amount I still wouldn’t mind having in the bank right now.) It felt, in fact, paralyzingly expensive.
When my first I’m not sure I want to do this pangs began, my initial thought was not, tellingly, how I would express such hurtful feelings to my fiancé, nor was it even how we might break the news to friends and family. It was: I don’t think the caterers would take this well. Maybe I’ll just stick things out.
I stuck things out for a long year after that, claiming month after month that we were merely “postponing” our plans.
I wish more than anything that poor, clueless, 2003 I could score a brief consultation with 2012 me, who would tell that girl that the sooner she put this relationship out of its considerable misery, the better. As it turned out, I was pondering—and pondering, and pondering, and pondering—the decision that would change everything in my life for the better.
Of course, my life wasn’t easy after leaving my comfortable digs with my ex.
I went from a condo in a doorman building on New York’s cushy Upper West Side to a studio apartment in the “artsy” East Village that I shared with several mice and where I slept on a sleeper sofa obtained for free on the street. My heart was pulverized by its fair share of young men, and I pulverized a few, too, once I got jaded enough. I drank too much Pinot Grigio and shed countless tears.
But I also lived life in a way that felt like it was authentic for the first time. I hadn’t been with any other men, as my ex was my college sweetheart, so I reveled in the opportunity to make out with random boys in random bars for the first time. Let me tell you:
This is everything it’s cracked up to be if you’re doing it at the right moment for you.
It was totally the right moment for me. I became a karaoke aficionado during my late nights out with new friends, leading me to start a band. I had extra time and ambition to burn now, so I launched a feminist website with a friend.
I got an agent and wrote a book. I dyed my hair from highlighted brown to pure black. I saved up enough money to get the best apartment I’ve ever had, in Brooklyn, all by myself and furnished it with items I’d bought on my own.
If you haven’t yet recognized what I was doing, it’s known by a number of clichés: Finding yourself.
Figuring out who you really are. Going through adolescence, even, despite the fact that I was 30.
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I am here to tell you that canceling your wedding can be the best thing that ever happens to you.
I am also here to help you through it with a few practical tips for making what can seem like the hardest decision you’ve ever made:
1. Stop freaking out and try to really, truly observe your relationship for just one week.
Notice everything you feel in your body, heart, and soul. For me personally, the body works best here—mine usually tells me a lot, then screams at me if I’m not listening. In this case, it sent me multiple rounds of panic attacks, some of which actually landed me in the emergency room, before I took heed.
You can avoid an ER visit by staying vigilant: When you’re truly honest with yourself, what are you feeling, and why?
If you can’t breathe, can’t eat, can’t move your head without a neck spasm, and there’s no good reason for such physical distress, check your gut to see if it tells you this is more than cold feet. But you’re only allowed to do this for a week; don’t use the “I’m observing” excuse to put off a decision for too long.
2. If you’re sure you have doubts, talk to your fiancé about them.
You must do this before anything else, if only for the sake of manners, common decency, etc. Also, you should see how he’s feeling and if there’s a sense that you guys can work things out.
3. If you’ve done your due diligence with your partner, call the wedding service providers just to ask what their cancellation policies are.
This will undoubtedly make you feel better. For some reason, killing the cake order can often seem scarier than telling your fiancé you aren’t feeling the “forever” vibe. Or at least it’s easy to convince yourself that’s what you’re thinking in the confusion of this massive decision.
Tell yourself for now that you’re just asking.
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This way you’ll find out how un-scary this part of the process can be. I was shocked when I finally called the caterer and the bakery and got all our money back. The only cash we ultimately lost was a $1,000 deposit on the venue and $500 in dress money. That’s a small price for avoiding divorce.
4. Go to therapy — couples or solo — to talk through your doubts.
This can help you with the critical distinction between “cold feet” and serious problems. Don’t listen to well-meaning friends and relatives who insist that “everyone” feels this way before a wedding.
5. If you decide to call things off, here’s your wedding cancellation checklist:
• Inform close family and friends; ask them to tell others to save you the endless rehashing.
• Figure out alternative living arrangements if you’ve been cohabitating, and divide up the possessions as amicably as possible; the good news/bad news here is there will be no lawyers to facilitate the process.
• Give back the ring—it’s just the right thing to do, especially if you initiated the breakup.
• Get out your wedding planning checklist and start working through it to reverse the financial damage as much as possible. Don’t forget to cancel all major service providers: florist, caterer, venue, bakery, DJ.
• Some final words on the dress: Depending on where you are in the process of buying and altering your dress, you do have some options as to what to do with it. You could have it dyed black and turned into an evening gown; you can have it made into a commemorative home accessory (think: pillows, tablecloths). A friend of mine had put a deposit down for a seamstress to make her a dress but hadn’t gotten any farther; she switched her order to a cute party dress that she often wears for opera recitals now.
6. Enjoy your newfound freedom—you have earned it.
Expect some emotional backlash, but rest assured in the knowledge that you’ve bravely changed your life trajectory for the better.
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Jennifer Armstrong is the co-founder of Sexy Feminist and a pop culture writer. She spent nearly a decade as a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly and is currently at work on a book about the Mary Tyler Moore Show’s cultural impact.