When Kristin Lubeck and her long-term boyfriend were planning a seventh-anniversary trip to Las Vegas, she told him not to buy her a ring. But he didn’t listen. During the trip’s final hours, he proposed — and she said yes.
Months later, when Lubeck and her fiance went to get her engagement ring sized to fit her finger, she couldn’t go through with the alterations.
“I wanted it to remain a generic size so it could be reused again. If it fits my finger, he might not get as much money for it,” Lubeck remembers thinking, the kind of reaction that screams: Do not go through with this.
It took her a few more months to really listen to her hesitations and break off her engagement. She worried about what others would think and if her fiance’s family might be upset.
“When I actually did it, it wasn’t as bad as I thought,” Lubeck recalls now, five years later. Now she tells anyone who’s unsure about fulfilling their engagement: If you don’t think it’s right, don’t do it.
This week, Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson became the latest celebrities to break off an engagement. It’s unclear how much their wedding was planned, but TMZ reported that Davidson would get the $93,000 custom-made engagement ring and Grande would keep the pig they adopted together.
Lauren Kay, deputy editor of the Knot, likens a broken engagement to a miscarriage: There’s a lot of shame attached to it — and they are more common than you might think, she says — even if you don’t have millions of Instagram followers rooting for your relationship. “If you’re in the situation, you feel like you’ve failed in some way. But a lot people go through it,” Kay says, adding that two of her friends have called off their weddings.
When engagements end, some things (such as rings or honeymoon funds) can be returned or split down the middle, while others (such as deposits on a dress or venue) might end up as losses. And some things are impossible to erase: Grande will always have a song named “Pete Davidson,” and People has reported that the former couple has several tattoos that either match or commemorate their months-long relationship.
In the wake of Grandson’s split, Solo-ish spoke to wedding experts and several people who have broken off their own engagements or canceled weddings — and everyone said the dread about spreading the news was worse than the actual announcement. If you’re facing a big breakup, here are some tips they offered.
Getting the word out: When Caitlin Reagan called off her wedding about six months before the big day, the save-the-dates hadn’t gone out yet, and she remembers the hardest call she had to make was to the wedding coordinator at the church where she had planned to get married. She had written out what she needed to say before making the call and was worried about bursting into tears on the phone. Luckily, she just got to leave a message, and the coordinator called her back and was very understanding.
Kay says that if invitations haven’t been mailed, the wedding’s would-be hosts (such as the parents) can send a card saying they’re no longer hosting the wedding of so-and-so and so-and-so. If invitations have already gone out, every guest should get a phone call notifying them that the wedding is no longer happening. It’s best to be candid and get the news out as soon as possible, Kay says, but you don’t have to explain why the wedding has been called off. If emotions are raw, the would-be couple might draft friends or siblings to circulate the news, Kay suggests.
What to do with any gifts you may have received: Typical etiquette says that the couple should return any engagement, shower or wedding gifts they’ve received, even if they were personalized, Kay says. But if the guests insist that the would-be couple keep the gifts, do so. Mike Cramer, who called off a wedding about four years ago, says that when he and his ex-fiancee returned gifts to guests, most people told him to keep whatever they had sent. “I don’t think I took everyone up on it,” Cramer recalls, “but I did get a really nice coffeemaker out of the whole thing.” He did not, however, get the ring back.
What about the engagement ring? Typically whoever proposed should get the engagement ring returned to them, especially if the ring was a family heirloom. Receiving an engagement ring is essentially agreeing to a contract that you will marry the person who gives it to you, says Caroline Krauss-Browne, an attorney in the matrimonial and family law department of Blank Rome.
However, there are exceptions. Krauss-Browne recalls a situation she worked on in which a man proposed to a woman while he was still married. “When you ask a person to marry you and you were not capable of fulfilling the contract, she doesn’t have to give the ring back — because she was entering a contract he couldn’t perform.”
Krauss-Browne also advises not to return the ring to the proposer right away, if the party holding the ring lost money on a deposit for a venue. She has negotiated exchanges where the ring is traded for part of the un-recouped wedding costs.
Canceling on wedding vendors: Unfortunately, wedding cancellation insurance usually covers things such as cancellation or postponement due to weather or a death or illness in the couple’s immediate family, but not a change of heart. And each individual vendor contract is different. Reagan says she’s never really been able to talk to her parents about how much they lost on her would-be wedding venue, band, caterer and custom-dress designer.
The big day that’s now just a normal day: After the logistical work of canceling a wedding is complete, the emotional toll can set in. When Reagan’s wedding day arrived — a Friday — she was insistent on making it just be a normal day. While on the bus to work, she typed a note to herself on her phone: Today was supposed to be my wedding, but it’s not. Today’s going to be a great day anyway.
And it really was a great day. She went out for happy hour with new friends at work. Later on, she hosted a blowout 30th birthday party with money that had been set aside for her honeymoon.
Every year on his would-be wedding day, Cramer and his friends celebrate “Mike Emancipation Day.” It’s usually just a happy hour, a date that his friends have in their calendars every year. His current girlfriend has even celebrated two Mike Emancipation Days. After all, it’s part of the reason they’re together.
The digital remains: Everyone we spoke to noted how the digital footprint lingered long after the breakup. It took Reagan months before she realized her wedding website was still live, with a ticker still counting down. She and her ex-fiance had purchased four different URLs for their wedding website, and even after she stopped paying for them, she would get emails from GoDaddy letting her know that one of the URLs was still available. “It was haunting,” she said.
And then there’s the impulse to use social media to prove you’re winning the breakup. “The worse I was feeling,” Cramer recalls, “the more I was posting on Facebook about how great everything was.”