What’s sadder than a broken engagement? A divorce. What’s sadder than a divorce? Staying in a bad marriage until you die.
It’s okay to end your engagement. It’s okay to end it if you just bought a gazillion dollar ring. It’s okay to end it if you’ve put a $10,000 deposit down on a rooftop venue. It’s okay to end it if you’re literally opening the doors to the courthouse. This is not something we say to people. But it’s true.
I know it feels like there’s no way to disembark from the S.S. We’re Engaged! once the ship has set sail, but there is. There’s probably not an easy way, and there’s probably not a way that won’t cost you a bunch of money in lost deposits and rent, but you can do it. And you should do it. Because while it must feel cruel to crush your partner’s forever, I have to believe it’s even crueler to lead them on.
But people will talk about you! You bet they will. Some of them will say bad and mean things, and they will gossip. They’ll do this now, when you’re not untangling legal binds to another human, or they’ll do this in five or 10 or 20 years, when you’re getting divorced. Or they’ll do it for the rest of your lives, when you constantly bicker with each other in restaurants or throw suitcases out on the lawn.
If you are on the S.S. We’re Engaged! and all you are doing is staring off the back of the ship at the shore, get in that little-ass lifeboat sooner rather than later, and row yourself back to land. Because the people who are going to talk shit about you, who are going to judge you, would find a way to do it if you were Mother-loving Teresa. And the people who aren’t going to judge you, who love you, are just going to want to help you feel better and be happy.
It will probably be embarrassing, especially if you’re well on your way to the big day. But dresses and shoes and napkins and tuxedos and tiny adorable champagne glasses can be repurposed and sold. What you can’t repurpose or sell? The time you spend in a relationship that is making yourself or someone else unhappy.
My friends have thrown some truly remarkable weddings at which I have had some of the best times of my life. But if they were to get divorced, my first thought is absolutely not going to be, “Oh god, but we ate all that beautiful cake, how could they get divorced when we all ate that pretty-ass cake?!” My first thought is going to be, “I sure hope my friends are doing okay, this is terribly sad.”
So fucking what if you have a cake on order? So. Fucking. What?
I wonder if breaking off an engagement would be easier if we didn’t see weddings — and if the Wedding Industrial Complex didn’t sell weddings — as the obvious “next step” in all relationships. Getting married — more specifically, having a wedding — isn’t a prize or a reward you definitely get. You don’t “earn” a wedding by accruing time served. Being engaged, or planning a wedding, isn’t a guarantee that your relationship is going to work.
Take, for example, my husband. He proposed to his college girlfriend before she left to study abroad, in hopes that an engagement would ensure that she would come back to him. She did come back to him — with a new boyfriend and an empty ring finger. I asked him if he’d have proposed to her had she not been leaving on a trans-oceanic journey, and his answer was an immediate “No. Nope, I wouldn’t have.”
I wish we didn’t mysticize and mythologize weddings, because I think that leads people to do what my husband did all those years ago: see a wedding as an automatic cure for his worries about the relationship, or see a wedding as the only thing folks can or should do next. And that leads people to find themselves in partnerships where they have real questions, concerns and fears, more-than-cold, ice-cold, feet. (Newsflash: marriage doesn’t automatically change anything, apart from the marital status of people.)
But it doesn’t really matter why you got engaged in the first place. Maybe you’re like my husband, hoping for a magical outcome. Maybe you’re like The Frisky’s own Amelia, who was just straight up in love and blindsided by her partner’s decision to break it off. Any way you look at it, you’re still a human being with emotions, and while you might feel relief or renewal upon the end of an engagement, you’re probably also going to be mourning the loss of something significant, whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee.
But the sooner you get in that little-ass lifeboat, the better.