Groom Duties

How to Call Off Wedding Like a Gentleman

[Cough] “Don’t do it! – Vince Vaughn, Old School

Calling off a wedding is like amputating a leg, killing a lame horse, or laying off a good employee because of budget cut-backs; even when it must be done, there’s no good way to do it. It doesn’t matter how graceful your exit or how artful your apology: you will be despised.

Now, let’s get some perspective. 99.9% of the time, your reservations and freak-outs about the wedding are just that: freak-outs. It’s normal, human, expected. If you didn’t have any buyer’s remorse then you wouldn’t be a guy. (For more on dealing with cold feet, click here.)

…but then there’s that 0.1%.

Should you call it off? Probably not. Almost certainly not. For the sake of argument, though, let’s look at some (not all) of the possible reasons to cancel the wedding. Think of this as a continuum from 0 to 10, with 0 being “Moronically Inconsequential” and 10 being “Never speak to this devil-lady again.”

0.3. She has too much hair on her forearms

No. This isn’t a sign of some deeper, darker problem. It’s a sign that you need therapy.

0.8. She talks too much at the movies

Annoying. But unless you’re Jerry Seinfeld, it’s not grounds for a break-up.

1.7. Sometimes you don’t want to hang out with her

Totally normal. Too much of anything in life can be a bad thing. You like watching football, right? But after five straight back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back games of pigskin you will need to stretch your legs. Space is healthy.

1.9. You want to sleep with Megan Fox

You and me both. This is called having a pulse.

2.4. She plumped up

Guess what? So will you. Unless you want to be like Matthew Mcconaughey in Dazed and Confused (“High school girls, man…I get older and they stay the same age”), any girl you marry will eventually get older, pudgier, wrinkleier. This is called life.

3.2. She’s bitching-out during the wedding planning

Remember, she’s under the pernicious influence of “Iago” and the wedding porn (click here for how publications like The Knot are poisoning her brain.) This madness will pass. For more on understanding bridezilla click here.

4.3 She’s paranoid about your bachelor party

Maybe she put the kibosh on strippers, so you’re worried that this is a sign–a foreshadowing–of future jealousy, distrust, and overall uncoolness. Let it go. Millions of sane, good-humored, rational girls become insane, ill-humored, and irrational when it comes to the bachelor party. Not ideal, not a deal-breaker.

5.1 You want to sleep with Shannon from across the street

Once again, this is called being a guy. You will never, ever, ever, ever lose your desire to sleep with other women. Although I wouldn’t incorporate that into your wedding vows.

5.4 Your sex life is getting worse

It happens. Whether it’s the stress from parents, vendors, or the overall drudgery of wedding planning, sometimes engagement-sex–especially in the final month–is about as frequent as a new James Cameron film. This will get better. And you can help improve things: make a concerted effort to have “date night,” give her a massage, surprise her with romantic junk.

6.4 You cheated on her

Okay. You have our attention. However, the fact that you cheated does not necessarily mean that your relationship is doomed, and so before you go blabbing a confession, click here to see how to play it.

7.2 She cheated on you

Before you fetch the shotgun, slow down, breathe, and think about whether you still want this relationship to work. Then grab the shotgun. Obviously there’s no easy answer for this. Why is this a 7.2 for her and a 6.4 for you? Chauvinistic double-standard? Possibly. But more substantively, it’s about an asymmetry of knowledge. In the above case, when you cheated, you know that it was only a one-time affair, but you have no way of knowing where her head is at. Put yourself in her shoes. And before you fly off the deep end, question whether a lapse in judgment in her part is grounds for ditching the next 70 years. (And we realize this is woefully vague and inconclusive.

8.9 You avoid her, you dodge her calls, you no longer enjoy her company…

Yep. Getting serious. If all this is true, it’s possible that your relationship is a victim of “inertia.” Maybe you were never really that into the girl, but then you (grudgingly) agreed to be monogamous so that you could have sex without a condom, then you split an apartment to save cash, then she insisted on marriage–and you said yes and then immediately regretted it–and then, before you could recant, the parents and florists and bakers and photographers got involved…and now here we are. If you truly, fundamentally, irrevocably don’t want to be with this woman…don’t ignore your gut.

9.2 You want to sleep with Doug from across the street

Ah. I see. Well okay then, better to know now than later. If you’re curious or confused about your sexuality, this is nothing to hide, suppress, or be ashamed of. Deal with this head-on.

9.6. You’re getting married to this chick (skip to 1:42 in video)

9.9. She’s having a gang-bang like Luke Wilson’s girlfriend in Old School

If you forgive and take back Gangbang Girl you are forbidden from reading The Plunge.

All right. So. Hopefully the next section doesn’t apply to you. If it does–in case of extreme emergency–factor in these considerations, organized by the wedding timeline:

If you’re canceling the wedding…

A year before the ceremony (before invitations have gone out)

All is not lost. You still have time. Think about “postponement” and not “cancellation.” If you’re actually on the fence, then there’s still time for couple counseling (an admittedly emasculating word, but something worth considering if you still love this woman).

If you’re positive you want to call it off, suck it up and have “The Talk.” Don’t worry about how to bring it up. It doesn’t matter how tactful, polite, or savvy you are with the conversation. This will be the most devastating news she’s ever heard. Brace yourself for a 12-hour tear-fest…which will then drag on with multiple phone calls, meetings, and another few months of hell.

Handy break-up tip: if you try and give some wishy-washy reasons for the break-up, she will use logic and counterpoints to “win” the argument. You might find yourself flustered and out of intellectual ammo. Here’s a go-to line that never fails: “I’m just not happy.”

There’s utterly no refutation. You’re just not happy. If she presses you for more reasons that you can’t quite articulate, just keep repeating this again and again—”I’m just not happy”—until the crying stops.

Also keep in mind:

  • You need to have the Big Boy talk with her parents. Yep. This sucks. But after you’ve broken things off with your fiancée, especially if you know them well, the honorable and classy move is to explain yourself to her parents. Remember, you were about to be their new son-in-law. They welcomed you into their family. Ditching them without even a phone call, while expedient, is 100% scumbag. But first you should create a will.
  • Everyone has a different opinion on this, but many believe that she’s within her rights to keep the rock. Sorry dude. Silver lining: at least you don’t have to pay for a divorce.
  • Be a human punching bag. Don’t get into an argument with her: accept responsibility, blame yourself, swallow your medicine.

Six months out (invitations have been sent)

  • Above rules apply.
  • Send out the most depressing piece of mail that you will ever plop in the mailbox. Something along the lines of: “Mr. and Mrs. Aniston regret to inform you that the marriage of their daughter Jennifer to Mr. John Mayer has been canceled.” And that’s that. No need for an awkward explanation. (It’s possible/probable that her parents will send these, but at the very least you should know the process.)

Three months out (non-recoverable deposits have been paid to vendors)

  • Above rules apply.
  • Pay up. If there’s any argument about who should pay for deposits, do what you can to help absorb the costs. It’s the stand-up move.
  • Find out who has already purchased plane tickets and hotel reservations. If they can cancel, great. If not, you’re on the hook for entertaining them; you can’t just leave them stranded in Spokane, Washington. Turn this into a makeshift family reunion.
  • Remember: you’re not (necessarily) a dick. You will feel like a bastard. Her family will hate you, her friends will hate you, even your family might temporarily hate you. You’ll have lower approval ratings than Bush circa 2008. Don’t let this crush your spirit. You’re acting in her best long-term interest, too. You’ll get through it.

Only weeks/days left

  • Contact all the guests by phone and/or e-mail; confirm that they know it’s canceled.
  • Know your limitations. At this late stage in the game it’ll be stressful as hell, so you lack the capacity to personally inform each and every guest. Recruit someone close and loyal–brother or best man, ideally–to help communicate the bad news.
  • Return all gifts.

At the altar…

Sorry man. You’ve missed your window. If the bride is literally in her dress, veiled up, and the organ’s blasting Pachelbel’s Canon, then despite whatever misgivings you have, you need to suck it up and marry the girl.

Yep. You read that right. If she’s at the altar–even if you are positive that you don’t want to marry her–you need to say “I do.” You’ve had over a year to back out, and now your time is up.


When you leave her at the altar she’s publicly humiliated and rejected. She’s a laughingstock. By getting married and then divorced–going through the motions–you give her a way to save face. To the outsiders who don’t know any better, this will look like a mutual decision. It’s less scandalous.

One more reason not to ditch her at the altar…there’s a good chance that you are, in fact, just freaking out and suffering from a moment of temporary insanity. Hours from now, a few drinks in at the reception, you’ll probably return to your senses and be happily married. Or not.

For a (possibly related) complication: we sure as hell hope this doesn’t apply to you, but click here for what to do if you cheated.

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