There are few things in life more heartbreaking than calling off a wedding that has been planned already. While breaking up before tying the knot is better than divorce, the truth is, it's only slightly better. Splitting before the wedding has a whole other to-do list, one that can overwhelm someone already in the throes of breakup hell.
"Two-hundred-and-six people is, in my case, the number of people to whom you have to break the news," wrote Lauren Parker in a Huffington Post essay about her own painful, humiliating experience with giving back the ring. "Usually this is done by some swift combination of you, your family, your wedding party, and your wedding planner, if you have one."
After Parker canceled her wedding, a friend told her that she'd been in the same boat -- and her mom was so embarrassed, she made her hand-address 450 un-invitations. It's hard to even imagine.
More From The Stir: How to Tell Your Wedding Guests Not to Bring Their Kids -- Nicely
When a wedding is called off, the to-do list is long. Very long. Depending on where you were in the process, it can be almost as long as the to-do list was to plan the whole thing in the first place. A bride I know who did it was stuck with a $10,000 dress that had been altered to fit her and only her. She was devastated.
For brides who find themselves in this heartwrenching situation, we're here to help. Here's that long list boiled down to 5 things that must be done when a wedding is called off:
1.) Notify the guests: This is by far the first and most important thing that needs to happen, says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.
Gottsman recommends that the bride and groom designate someone for this task -- a best man or a maid of honor, for instance -- as it will likely be too painful for the couple to do themselves. It's also awkward with money, especially if travel plans have been made and paid for already. "Hopefully it’s somewhere wonderful so the guests can enjoy a vacation," Gottsman says. "It’s bad. It’s unfortunate. But sometimes things happen."
2.) Cry: Breaking up is hard and emotional, too. There is no easy way to do it. So sit down and let yourself go through the pain.
Too often, brides and grooms are caught up in the to-dos and forget that this is a HUGE thing. It's a breakup. It's OK to grieve. No one needs to know why you broke up, either. According to The Knot, a simple, "I don't want to talk about it" should suffice. If it doesn't, then ask your maid of honor to explain that it is no one's business in a kind but firm way.
3.) Give back the ring: This is certainly a mixed bag. Sometimes it is obvious. If the woman calls off the wedding then by all means, she needs to hand back the ring, but if the man was a cad or he calls it off, then it's a discussion that needs to be had, advises Gottsman.
Still, in most cases, there is one "right" thing to do, she says. "If there is an argument, it’s in everybody’s best interest if she gives it back."
Of course, it's more important to do the right thing than to look to win or profit from the breakup. And if the ring is an heirloom, regardless of who is at fault, it goes back to him immediately, Gottsman says.
4.) Cancel all vendors: This is a no-brainer, but the faster you act here, the more likely you will be able to recoup at least some of the costs. There will be a loss, but it's possible with certain vendors that a re-booking could happen and you could get part of your money back. You never know until you ask, right?
5.) Return ALL gifts: For guests, attending a wedding is usually not just one gift. There are showers and bachelorette parties and even engagement parties. It adds up.
"ALL gifts must be returned," Gottsman says. Yes, even the monogrammed towels. Some relatives may insist you keep them, but in general, you should plan on sending everything back as quickly as possible. If the wedding didn't happen, the gifts are not yours to keep.
Calling off a wedding is a painful and horrible thing to go through -- no matter what the reason. It's obviously worse the farther along you are in the planning, but even before the dress is bought, the invitations sent, or the cake selected, giving back the ring and facing people's judgment is humiliating and awful.
"The most important thing here is not to act rash," suggests Gottsman. "Tell people as soon as a firm decision is made, but be sure. Don't do anything in the heat of anger or hurt."
Have you ever called off a wedding?
Images ©iStock.com/sandoclr (top) and ©iStock.com/LuisFico (bottom)