Over 10 years ago, Hassan was set to be engaged to his university sweetheart.
The 31-year-old from Toronto, who chose not to share his full name, said that like other South Asian couples he knew, he had decided to throw a party the night before his engagement.
“Family and friends had flown in from as far as Mumbai and Dubai to share in the celebration,” he said. “We booked a banquet hall, her ring was in my tailored suit pocket, and we were ready to do the damn thing.”
But that same night, his father got into an “intense” disagreement with the father of the bride-to-be. In the heat of the moment, they abruptly called off the engagement.
“(It was) like something out of a Bollywood soap opera. It turns out that a scorned ex-business partner of (my fiancé’s) father had come out of the woodwork with outrageous and baseless accusations of infidelity against his daughter,” he continued.
“But it was too late: my gullible father and her proud father said things to one another that could never be unsaid. Respect was lost and, as a result, so was my future with (her).”
Hassan felt bewildered, overwhelmed and embarrassed.
“I argued with my father until my voice ran hoarse,” he said. “I begged and pleaded with (my partner) to be patient as I struggled to clean up the mess. That the accusations were proven false was inconsequential at this point. I reluctantly realized that there was nothing I could do to fix this in time for the scheduled ceremony.”
That night, he didn’t sleep because he had to notify every person he invited to the engagement that it was cancelled.
“Each call was more painful than the last. My voice faltered and disappeared, along with my store of tears.”
Hassan’s story may not be a typical reason that couples call off engagements or weddings, but whatever the reason may be, people can be left feeling embarrassed and financially unstable and often find it hard to move on. While some decisions are necessary — experts say some couples should not be getting married — other times it can feel sudden, leaving some wondering why.
Hassan’s family had fallen apart, and slowly, he sank into a deep depression.
“I developed anxiety around my own family. I developed a deep and unhealthy contempt for religion, tradition and culture,” he continued. “And in my darkest moments, I turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. But it wasn’t enough.”
The trauma of calling off a wedding
Rana Khan, a registered psychotherapist in Toronto who focuses on individual, couple and family therapy, told Global News that when people go through the process of calling off an engagement or wedding, they are often left with unanswered questions.
“For the person who has called off the engagement/wedding, there may be doubt as to if this was the right decision, and for the opposite partner, there may be questions of clarity,” he explained.
He added that it’s not uncommon for couples to go into couples’ therapy after a breakup like this.
“In this situation, couples can talk about the guilt of having to terminate the relationship or wanting clarity as to why the relationship had to end this way,” he said. “If therapy is not an option for you, then I would say to consider seeking support from close family and friends.”
For the person calling off the wedding or engagement, there’s also the stress of not knowing if you made the right call.
“Think more along the lines: ‘Was this a helpful decision or an unhelpful decision for you? If it was helpful for you to do this, why was it? If it was unhelpful, why was it? In my experience, you get a richer discussion when you make this slight change from right/wrong to helpful/unhelpful,” Khan said.
And for the other party in this situation, it can be a vulnerable experience. Khan recommended having compassion for yourself.
“Feeling emotions and giving yourself permission to feel emotions may be a difficult thing so, of course, that is going to take time. Take your time. Once you’ve given yourself permission and time to feel, you can then move towards healing.”
The stressful steps that follow
Letting your guests know a wedding or engagement party is cancelled is often the first step, but there’s a long laundry list of to-dos that follow.
For Hassan, this meant losing money for the banquet hall, audio-visual support, catering and decorations. He had also spent money on a suit and ring that were no longer in use, while his partner spent hundreds of dollars on an outfit and jewellery.
Alyssa, who has chosen not to share her full name, called off her wedding in Montreal and said that financially, it was a “cash grab” for vendors. She and her former partner lost deposits on the venue, caterer, photographer and DJ, and she lost her investment toward a dress and veil.
“We lost all the deposits at an approximate loss of $15,000 split for both sides of the partnership,” the 28-year-old told Global News.
“Save-the-date cards were already sent out, (and) I texted my friends to let them know and my parents called family members,” she continued. “There was a lot of embarrassment and pity from others with sympathy in understanding my suffering. It should not be something that I was embarrassed about, in hindsight, as I am not the person I am today without this experience.”
WATCH: State of the Union — an arranged marriage
For Maryam, who has also chosen not to share her full name, calling off her wedding was “the roughest period of (her) life.”
“I gained weight, stopped getting my period altogether, just stayed in bed for days,” she told Global News. “It’s still hard to talk about it without feeling guilty.”
Maryam, 31, is Muslim and was engaged to a Muslim man from a different background.
After months of trying to convince their parents to agree to a wedding, the two realized how different they really were in the planning stages.
“Parents got involved, each side got bitter about what they could and couldn’t do — who was going to officiate, what I could and couldn’t wear in his mosque, what could be served, how many people could be invited, whether or not my parents could give us money as a gift… It just became one fight too many, and halfway through one, he said it was off.”
WATCH: Are millennials rewriting the rules to marriage?
Maryam’s father’s health suffered significantly following the breakup, and her mother never talked about it again.
“I can’t even imagine what it was for my mom to call and say it was off, again and again. My family still hasn’t ever talked about it, but two years later, they don’t pressure me to get married anymore,” she said.
For some communities, calling off a wedding or engagement can lead to shame, judgement or even being shunned from families, Khan said. This is a whole other hurdle some people have to jump over.
“I find that people have thought this out, and they’ve considered the impact it would have on their communities, they have considered what to do with the shame and the feeling of being shunned, and it might just be helpful to turn to that earlier version of yourself who had thought it out. I am positive that there may be wisdom there that the person may need to just uncover.”
Learning how to move on
Moving on from being on either end of this situation can be a slow process. Khan said healing can start when you move on from the notion of “Why did this happen to me?” to “This happened to me. What now?”
“If you’re not at that stage, then you probably still need to feel the emotions and get comfortable with having those emotions around,” he explained. “If you’re at the ‘what now’ stage, then think what difference it would make for you if, rather (than) thinking that this thing has happened to you, that it happened for you.”
For Hassan, his former university sweetheart didn’t want to work on the relationship anymore.
“She rejected my sincere bids to elope, reminding me painfully that the damage was done,” he said. “With nowhere to direct my anger, exasperated, I told my father that I hated him and wished to cease all contact. This vitriol completely broke him.”
But as simple as it sounds, time really does help you heal.
“Looking back, the most significant cost of my failed engagement was my entire family’s mental health and well-being. We grew apart and lost years and years of happiness before healing and rekindling our relationship,” he said. “Embrace the cracks and move forward in life with a level of wisdom and resilience that will be a shield for you when things become stressful. ”
Khan said that for some, it can be difficult to get back into a new relationship.
“You know you’re ready for love when you know that you can take care of most of your own feelings and you’d be willing to let someone else take care of what’s left that you can’t take care of,” Khan said. “And that you might have the capacity to take on someone else’s feelings that they may not be able to take care of themselves.”
Khan added that entering a new relationship also means having a common goal, whether that be marriage or not.
“Do you have the energy and capacity to work together with someone and make something with them? If your answer is yes to both of the questions, you’re probably ready to love again.”