What do you say when your friend calls off her wedding?

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By: Sebastian RiehmCC BY 2.0
A dear friend of mine was all set to get married after getting engaged earlier this year, but recently ended the relationship and called off the wedding after finding out her fiancé was a TOTAL piece of shit. She, as expected, is totally crushed and packed up all of her things (from the house they JUST bought together) and headed back home to her parents‘ 1000 miles away.

I reached out to let her know I was there for her, and to let me know if I could do anything for her (we live in different states and don’t see each other often). But I just don’t know what to say to comfort her. My heart breaks for her, but everyone has already MAXED out the clichés on her via social media. I’d like to mail her something but I’m really not sure what to do.

Has anyone else experienced this? I’d love your insight on how I can help her out during this extremely trying time. -Jessalyn

Comments on What do you say when your friend calls off her wedding?

  1. The only thing I can think of is to take her out for a victory celebration for escaping that piece of shit before she married. She probably feels super guilty because of how much an investment was wasted (house, other people’s plans to make the wedding, I dunno…depends on how far in advance she broke it off)–she probably needs a whole new perspective. Remind her about how much better off she is now, and how smart she is for ditching the bastard–maybe an impromptu visit for a girls night/weekend is in order?

    I dunno–but I hope you guys figure it out. I’m sure she’ll just be glad you wanna do more than toss words at her, y’know? Cheers to her, and to you!

  2. I haven’t been in this situation, but if I was her, I would probably be doubting my ability to make good choices. Even though she knows she made the right call leaving him (I assume), she’s still probably wondering if it was the right choice because second-guessing ourselves is normal. She’s probably wondering what’s wrong with her that she picked such a bad guy in the first place. She’s probably embarrassed by the whole situation.
    If you want to send her something, you might want to think about sending her a reminder that she’s A) doing the right thing and B) capable of making good choices. Do you have letters/emails from her that you can put together like a diary to show her good choices? Pictures? Good mutual friends you can reach out to for help without embarrassing her further? A little scrapbook of reminders that she’s a smart, capable person who is very loved by her friends might be a really nice gift.

    • I agree, and want to add that she will probably also be experiencing a lot of doubt that she will ever find anyone to marry. I had a friend in a similar situation (who ended up going through an awful divorce) and that was what plagued her the most, the thought that she might be “damaged goods.” Your friend might be having similar feelings, so you may want to give it a spin of “You had the self-respect to call it off, you proved how strong you are, the right guy will love and respect those qualities in you.”

      • Oh my god, this. I had to call off my wedding when the abuse between my ex and I had gotten to a fever pitch, and it broke my brain. I still kind of feel like I’ll never get engaged and have it mean anything. What helped me somewhat was having time away with a friend I could trust- I had a bachelorette party on the day that would’ve been the wedding to celebrate being a bachelorette. That allowed me to claim the day and make some good memories.

        • I was the damaged goods, calling off a wedding (granted a year+ in advance and few people had been told yet) because of a physically abusive boyfriend. The biggest comfort I have about that is that I made the best choice I could with the information I had at the time. I (and she, and you) did NOT agree to marry an asshole, we agreed to marry the person we thought we knew. New information means making new choices, and sometimes those new choices may be to retract or counteract choices we make before. AND THAT’S OK! It doesn’t mean the first one was a wrong choice then, it just means that sticking to it is the wrong choice now.

          It’s 5 years later, and I just got engaged this weekend to the guy I’ve been seeing for 4 years. It does happen. I’m glad that it took a while, because I wasn’t sure I was ready to seriously date again by the time we fell into each other’s laps. We’ve been through hell together and come out the other side, and it gives me a LOT more confidence that I’ve made the right choice.

  3. Most importantly, let her know how PROUD you are of her for making the right decision. Affirm her intuition and courage. Praise her strength.

    Then let her know that you are happy to provide a listening ear as she vents/cries AND also happy to not talk about the situation at all if she needs a break. Promise that you will not pressure or judge her either way.

    Send her something non-wedding-or-breakup-related that she would like, like a cupcake recipe or video of puppies playing.

    • This. so this.

      While I haven’t been in this shitty situation. I have been in another shitty one. Most of my friends and family would give me the pitty eyes (“I’m so sorry”) or meaningless cliches (“you’ll get through this”). They ussually just made me feel worse or like I had to put on a front for people. My favorite things came from my 2 college friends living in different states. One friend would send me daily random ass text messages. Its pretty hard to wallow in self pity when you get a text message picture of a tiny pig wearing boots. She did this every day I was in the hospital. My other friend sent me an amazing care package: vegan cupcakes (because hospital food sucks), a mix cd (A MIX CD!) called Dance Your Ass Off, Mad Libs, and an adult coloring book with colored pencils.

      All things that put a smile on my face and all things that let me know friends fare away were on my side. And no pity eyes.

  4. It might just be me, but when something painful happens I feel like it can create an emotional distance. Not just from the folks or situations that hurt you, but from the people supporting you, too. Maybe it becomes so great that everyday life starts to feel distant. If she’s not reaching back out to you or giving you guidance on how to help her, she might be trying to disconnect for a bit.

    Some people like being cheered on or hearing advice about the painful event. But, it sounds like she’s getting a lot of that (at least, publicly). So maybe you could just focus on your friendship? I personally like to bring up, and hear about, the happy memories friends and I shared. It helps to be reminded that someone loves you and loves being with you. Pictures, songs, food that were involved in those past events could be offered in addition to kind words. They might help trigger nostalgia and happier feelings.

  5. This isn’t exactly the same, but a few years ago I got dumped by someone whom I should never have gone out with in the first place (manchild who didn’t appreciate me), and I was in a very bad place. I hated myself for dating him (I even kept the relationship a secret from my best friend because she hated him), and I hated myself even more for not breaking up with him when I realized he was cheating on me.

    My best friend (who lived on the opposite side of the country) and my boss (I think they secretly contacted one another on facebook) worked together and gave me a really sweet little gift box. Comfort foods I liked, like wine and cheese and dark chocolate, and best of all, a little book with a list of reasons why each of them love me. It was incredibly reassuring to be reminded of how much I meant to them. It was loving and non-judgmental and it really gave me the kick I needed to move forward.

  6. As someone who recently ended a (non-romantic) long-term relationship, the people who stand out the most to me who emailed me regularly asking me for updates on my life – not those who asked if I was okay or offered me advice. I wasn’t, and am still not okay. She (probably) isn’t okay, regardless of who ended what. Ending relationships that you think will last the rest of your life is eat-a-carton-of-ice-cream, lay-in-bed-for-a-week devastating.

    Call, ask about her day, and laugh about stupid stuff. Do stuff that will reassure her that you still love her. I advise against bashing the ex unless she initiates that line of thinking. Sometimes people don’t want to villain-ize the other side, they just want to stop feeling like a failure or feel something other than sadness at the situation.

    • Same for me. I was so tired of repeating The Story or lying about how I was feeling because I was so done with talking about all the negative emotions. It seemed to come out of left field to everyone (and it was even a fast turnaround to me), so understandably, they all wanted me to rehash every detail. And processing my emotions–honestly, there wasn’t much to talk through that I hadn’t spent hours silently analyzing in bed while I was desperately trying to sleep. I just needed to step outside the black hole of bad feelings for a while. On top of that, anytime I tried to talk to someone about the Really Big Changes in my life–which I was excited about, and eager to talk about–it seemed to make people uncomfortable, like they thought I should grieve to them instead of trying to be happy.
      Obviously, everyone is different and maybe she just wants to wallow in her misery for a while. But for me, it helped to have stuff to occupy my thoughts–and to hang out with friends. Just ’cause you’re long distance, that doesn’t mean you can’t hang. If she’s a reader, start a you guys only book club. If she likes movies, live Tweet movies together on Thursday nights or something. Skype together while you cook the same meal.

    • I tried to “this!” this, but “this!” seems to not be working for me right now, so I wanted to say that I very much agree with everything you said. And I’d like to add for the OP…right now I’m guessing that your friend feels very much the opposite of “normal”. She’s endured emotional and physical upheaval. All of the things that Kat and Dootsie have said ring very true as far as how she might be feeling/what she might want. When I went through Sad Drama of my own, I felt very alienated by people’s responses to me. Sometimes, when a marriage or a close relationship ends, people tend to either smother you with pity that just makes it worse…or avoid you altogether because either they don’t know how to deal with you, or they seem to not want to deal with their own feelings about the ending of your relationship. (You’d be surprised how emotionally invested friends can get in the idea of your relationship, especially if it was outwardly “happy”.)

      It is very nice and very important to just have at least one friend who just wants to be with you and do fun stuff and not pressure you to talk about your feelings. It gives a great sense of “normalcy” in the middle of unsettling times. I also agree to avoid trashing the ex. If she initiates it, listen and let her get it out…but don’t initiate it yourself or escalate it. Friends may think that they’re being helpful with “I never liked that douchebag anyway!” but really, it just makes you question your own decision making abilities more (if he was so shitty that my friends hated him, how could I have not seen it earlier?) or feel like you’re surrounded by people who don’t trust you enough to have told you how they really felt about someone who they seem to have felt was not good for you.

  7. I think the thoughts and ideas in the previous comments are great. Affirming her decision, victory celebration, understanding the possible need to disconnect for a while.. all of it.

    I’d like to add to the gift box idea – a care package with the kind of stuff Haley mentioned, and maybe also a really good book or movie or video game (ideally something engaging and lengthy enough to get some good distraction out of, but not tragic or lovey), a fun bath item if she likes baths (bathbombs and amusing bath salts come to mind) or whatever is relevant to her tastes.

    Another thing that I think can be very important at a time like this, is really following your friend’s lead on how to talk about her ex-fiance. When a certain relationship ended for me years ago, my friends and loved ones expected me to be angry and said aggressive things about my ex (like calling him a piece of shit), but the thing was… I was just very very sad. For a very long time. When people bashed him, it just hurt. I completely understood that it was from a place of love for me and hurt on my behalf, but it made me so sad. So I guess my advice would be… if you say something nasty about him, and she is right on board with that, awesome. I totally get that that can be important, cathartic, necessary. But if she says “he’s not a piece of shit” …I would say “well maybe not, but he sure did a shitty thing” as opposed to “fuck that yes he is.”

    • Great advice in the last paraghraph! If other people, however well they mean it, start calling the fiance an assh*le your friend might feel like everyone disliked him all along and didn’t mention it to her, adding to the feeling of failure your friend may already be experiencing. After all, your friend DID love her partner for a while, maybe she still does.

      My advice: don’t forget to do follow-ups. Call/e-mail her again in a month, two monts etc. Most people going trough an emotional process expecience that, after the initial show of support, other peoples’ lifes go on and they, unintentionally, forget.

      • Big agrees on the following up part. When my wedding was cancelled, everyone called and showed lots of support. Now it’s six months later, and I know I can’t be the center of attention forever (and I surely wouldn’t want to be), but it seems like it hasn’t occurred to anyone that I might still need some support.

    • I agree with the last paragraph. I ended my engagement because my ex-fiance did some EXTREMELY SHITTY things. Everyone close to me was very enthusiastic about bashing the crap out of him (and still are 2 years post-breakup actually) but they didn’t understand a lot of the details of the situation. I did the right thing breaking up with him etc but I did not and still don’t want to talk shit about him. I was much more sad than angry. I wanted/needed to grieve, not vent and rage, and it was very difficult for me to do when those around me didn’t understand or respect that.

      For me, one really helpful thing was having my close friends and family break the news to more extended family and friends. Looks like the original poster’s friend has done this via social media (just the thought of that would have made me die of embarassment at the time) but I was so worn out and emotionally drained by having to tell people over and over every time they asked how the wedding planning was going. My mom at first tried to be respectful and was like “I won’t say anything to anybody” until I told her to please go forth and spread the word so I wouldn’t have to.

      As for what to do for your friend, a visit would be awesome, as well as phonecalls to talk about life and just catch up. If you want to send a little something, treats she likes and a card is a good idea. If you’d like to send a more substantial gift it might be worth asking her what she needs. In my case I moved out of our shared place in haste and ended up without a lot of items I wanted/needed because I either didn’t want to fight over them with him, didn’t have space or didn’t have time. He probably still has my favorite down pillow 🙁

  8. I’m going to second the advice to just reach out to her as a friend. Don’t worry about bringing it up – if she wants to, she will. Mail her a care package with goodies you know she likes, a funny card, and the like.

    When I was in between college and grad school, my best friend from childhood who I hadn’t heard from in years, got divorced. I messaged her asking how she was and if she wanted to have dinner when I was next in town. We went to lunch, went shopping for a care package, and stayed in closer touch after that. I supported her ideas of running off and leaving everything behind her, I listened and encouraged her when she did move away. Mostly, I just acted as a friend. She was working very hard not to bash her ex or his new girlfriend, we didn’t talk much about any of that, instead we focused on the rest of our lives.

  9. One of the things that have helped me immensely over the years has been drunken Skype chats. We’d get a group of people together on Skype (although now we use Google+, because they have video props you can add to yourself) each open our beverage of choice, and chat, gossip, sing, share videos and anything else until the wee hours of the morning.

    If she’s not up to a group, perhaps you can have a video chat and long distance movie night? Watch a movie you both love that does not include anything romantic (I suggest Hot Fuzz or something like), and then giggle away.

  10. Personally, I’d ask her what you can do to support her. I’ve had friends who when grieving a major loss just need someone to talk to about it and friends who want to be distracted or just have someone show interest in other parts of their lives.

    On a more light hearted note, I sent a friend a cake from an erotic bakery saying “Congratulations on getting rid of that dick” I think you can guess what it was shaped like.

  11. Good for you for seeing the emptiness of the clichés! Whether it is a break-up, a death, a cancer diagnosis, or other great life tragedy sometimes when friends don’t know what to say (or are scared of saying the wrong thing) they make the mistake of not calling. Sometimes just coming out and being honest, “This situation totally sucks, you’re my friend and I want you to know I’m here because I love you and support…I’m just not sure what to say right now. Can you tell me what I can do to best support you?” That really lets her express what she needs. Someone to talk trash about the fiancé? Someone to mock the late wedding related t.v. show? Or, someone to just laugh and talk about the latest homestar runner videos?

  12. While I am by no means in the same situation, I did just get out of a 4+ year relationship, and having friends who offered their love and support while I was an emotional train wreck was so, so meaningful. From my experience, the gesture of sincerely reaching out at all is the thing that really makes an impact – while the specifics of exactly what they said or did may become fuzzy as time goes on, I’ll never forget that they were consistently there for me.

    I’ll also second the sentiment from above to keep it positive, unless she specifically initiates/needs something different. I’ve been so, so grateful that my friends choose to focus on positives (they’re proud of me, they support me, they love me and are happy I’m no longer in a relationship that wasn’t making me happy) and that they avoided bashing, criticizing, or “I never liked him anyway”s. As for mailing something, I’d suggest capitalizing on the unique elements of your relationship with her. If there are movies/foods/magazines/games/music/jokes you know you two enjoy together, I think she’d be really touched if you sent some of those things her way.

  13. When I don’t know what to say to my friend, like when her boyfriend was in Iraq and when she delivered her baby prematurely, I put together care packages. Maybe some upbeat chick flicks that she likes, nail polish (if that’s her thing), her favorite candy, maybe a mix cd of break up songs that end with positive “moving on” songs, a groupon for a massage or spa, a gift certificate for her favorite shoe store (or whatever she’s into, art supplies?). Without having to find the words you send the message that you care about her and that she should take some time for herself.

  14. I think the most important thing for your friend right now is being reminded that she is not alone, that someone loves and appreciates her. The last thing she needs is more sympathy, as counter-intuitive as that seems. If I were you, I would write her a letter/story about how the two of you met, the shenanigans you’ve shared over the years you’ve known each other, and what your favorite things about her are. Include pictures (sans ex, obviously) if you have them (funny captions are encouraged), and maybe send her something silly, like a huge box of Skittles. Because sometimes the ridiculousness of a gesture can make one forget about the banality and pain of the bad parts of life. If I were in her position, I would just want to know I wasn’t being judged based on the failure of a relationship, and that I was still loved and cherished by others. That’s way more important and helpful than trying to bash her ex or tell her things like “she’s better off without him.” That’s the kind of stuff she has to make up her own mind about.

  15. I called off my wedding two years ago, though the situation was a bit different: he was a perfectly nice guy, I just realized he wasn’t right for me to apend the rest of my life with. I crushed him, and therefore felt like I was the most horrible, heartless bitch on earth. So the single best thing that many of my friends each said to me was: “I support your decision…as long as YOU are happy, that’s all I care about. You’re not a terrible person, you have to do what’s right for you.”

    It might be different for your friend, but for me, it helped so much to know that my friends just supported me and had my back, and especially that they reassured me (constantly) that I had no reason to feel guilty or ashamed.

    • I had a similar situation to Stephalopod. Most of what was helpful to me has already been stated, but I’m going to duplicate.

      I agree that friends having my back was fabulous. Two of my best friends and I got together, got really drunk, and did a dance party / costume contest. It was RIDICULOUS and helped me feel more like myself. I also needed a lot of time to just be mopey and feel really sad. The most helpful friends were those who could follow my cues of what I needed, whether it was to watch sad movies or listen to me rehash all the details of what-went-wrong for the 500th time. Or, when I started feeling better, get dressed up and go out to brunch.

      I went to therapy (would totally recommend this, if your friend is open to it). I was torn up wondering if I had made the right decision, and if there was something I could have done, but didn’t, that might have made things turn out differently. The most helpful thing the therapist told me was, “You made the best decision you could based on the information you had at the time.”

      What WASN’T helpful: people who just wanted to talk shit about my ex. Regardless of the truth of what they might have been saying, it was a really complex situation and just made me feel worse. Also not helpful: trying to get me back out in the dating scene, like if I could just meet someone new that would make me feel not-so-broken.

      I read a book called, “There Goes the Bride” that I thought was amazing. The worst part for me about ending our engagement was that I felt really ashamed. I didn’t know anyone else who had done that, and felt like there was some stigma against ending an engagement. The book really helped me feel validated in my decision.

      In short, I would say that you should tell your friend you love her and support her and her decision. Tell her you want to be there for her in whatever ways she would find most helpful. Other people have made excellent points below about the fact that she may not be in a place where she can tell you what would be most helpful. Be sensitive and try to follow her leads. (And if she can tell you what she needs, so much better!) But definitely reach out to her and tell her you are on her side!

  16. I just want to say that the clichés are cliché for a reason. Good advise, heartfelt words, and eloquent wisdom become cliché because they are good, heartfelt and eloquent. I don’t think a cliché is a bad thing in and of it’s self.

    Yes – it can be boring – but sometimes that’s ok too.

    Best of luck with your friend. You sound like you really care about her, and in the end THAT is what will matter to her.

  17. When I was in a similar situation, my friends stepped up by taking me out and checking in on me. Since you’re far away, maybe checking in regularly would help. It was nice because once I had reached out to all my friends, I felt like I had reached my quota. I was afraid of becoming the Debbie downer pal. I had one friend who would call about once a week just to chat, even if we couldn’t see each other. It was an acknowledgment that it takes time to process a major life event like that. It can be isolating, especially of most of your other friends are paired up. A little connection goes a long way.

  18. You can hardly ever go wrong with a care package if you are not physically nearby. After a terrible breakup like that, I myself probably wouldn’t want to talk about or hear about it anymore, but being reassured that there are people who care about you and know what you like is always awesome. I really have no idea what she is into, but I have a couple of friends I exchange packages with a few times a year and I always feel so loved… some of the things we have included are handmade cards, craft supplies, books, scarves, funky jewelry, card games, mix cds, old photos of us, handmade soaps or candles, silly kitchen stuff, honestly just about anything goes (but always with a handwritten letter!)

  19. I love all the ideas for care packages! And here’s what I wanted when I broke up with my long-term boyfriend: distraction and some funny things to laugh about that didn’t also threaten to make me cry. My best friend intuited that somehow (I certainly wasn’t able to express it), and she called me up regularly with funny stories about things she had seen (a guy on the subway doing something ridiculous, someone on the street with a cat on his head, etc.) that we could laugh about and that reminded me that there was a lot of life going on out there even if I was so very, very sad. But none of her topics strayed anywhere near things that would make me cry. Our conversations let me get out of my own head for a bit, something I desperately needed.

    I think that saying “tell me how to support you” is very well-meaning, but I know that when I’ve been grieving, I have no idea what to tell anyone who says it to me. So instead, I’d say “I want to support you through this, but I don’t really know how. I’m going to try some things, and if they are the wrong thing, please, please tell me.” Then try a whole bunch of things (care packages, ex bashing, emails with links to cute baby animals, asking her for help with a problem you’re working on, organizing a visit if you can pull it off and then planning a bunch of awesome things to do while you’re together, regular phone calls and text messages, etc, etc.) until you find the ones that seem to help.

  20. I don’t know if you listen to a lot of music, or if your friend does, but a mix tape or CD with empowering songs might be a good soundtrack for her while she heals. I’ve done this for friends in the past (and called it Strongest Girl in the World Mix) and it really made a difference for them.

  21. I friend recently mailed me a package when I was going through a bout of depression (I didn’t tell anyone, but she just KNEW). It contained: An empowerment amulet she had made with a letter explaining the ingredients and their significance, a pair of fuzzy slippers she had made out of a vintage fur coat, vitamin C and a RuPaul CD. In her letter she explained that she just had a feeling that I needed a lift and that these were things that made her happy. I’m not into amulets and charms and whatnot; but I wear the one she gave me every day because when I look at it I feel not magic; but the love and care she took to make and send it to me.
    This is a long and drawn out way of saying send her love. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or expensive or even tangible; but people notice when you send them love.

  22. I think the important thing here is not finding the right thing to say, (there is never any right thing anyway) but just making contact, any contact.

    I see where people are going with the asking her what she needs but be careful here, it may work better as not asking verbally (and putting the responsibility for your feelings on the friend) but just taking your lead from how she talks and communicates about the situation herself ( I appreciate the distance is not helpful here). If she’s really suffering she may not know what she wants or needs (and even if she can pin it down one minute it may change the next) or how to ask for it and trying to encapsulate that for the benefit of another person can be exhausting. Choice is not always the kindest gift….

    I would say the main thing here is just to keep making gestures, as the previous post prove even if they are not quite perfect or her style it’s the gesture itself (rather than it’s contents) that will carry through and comfort. What I think I am trying to say is don’t worry yourself about getting it right and definitely don’t worry her about getting it right, just do something sweet and it will be right enough.

  23. An acquaintance of mine went through a terrible experience – not the same situation – and one of her best friends organised a series of art gallery visits with a circle of their friends. They did one gallery every couple of weeks for a few months (we live in London so this was easily done!) I was invited to join them and it was such a lovely thing. And I made a very good new friend in the process too. It especially helped my friend to focus on a regular activity and explore new places that didn’t remind her of the experience she was recovering from.

    I wonder if this idea could be replicated with other interests or activities to suit different tastes and living circumstances? A tour of interesting pubs or cafes you’ve been meaning to check out? Or a long-distance reading group for books you’ve been meaning to read? A sew/craft-a-long?

  24. This happened to me 4 years ago.

    I think the biggest help for me was having friends and family around who were willing to talk and listen but didn’t pressure me into doing either.

    They let me decide when/if I wanted to talk about it and in the mean-time helped distract me with family dinners, shopping adventures, movie nights etc.

    One thing that you shouldn’t do: bash the ex. He/She may be a grade-A douche, but TRUST ME it doesn’t help. At one point in recent history your friend was willing to marry this individual – that means that they probably loved or liked this douche a lot and they probably still have some sort of feelings for them. Let them do the complaining and just listen. Validate your friend’s choices and feelings as legitimate and help them find strength in their new situation. Compliment them but don’t do it at the expense of the ex. Leave the ex out of the conversation. They’re out of the picture and it’s probably best that they stay that way.

    Once some time has passed there may be some good opportunities to talk about the ex, but when emotions are running high it’s a dangerous road.

    Sounds like you care a lot! Kudos to you! You rock!

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