Notes on broken engagements

The start of the year marks an exceptionally difficult one for a number of women I know, all of whom should be celebrating summer as newlyweds but instead have returned to the world of singledom. I’m not sure whether to blame the media or my parents for having had such a long and fruitful matrimony, but the concept of breaking off an engagement honestly never crossed my mind until this year. For many of us (blissfully unaware) kids, the idea of getting engaged was that it naturally led to marriage and that was that. Sure, divorce happened, and in Australia it happens frequently. But people didn’t split before they even got together, did they?

I was never going to find the answer at my highschool, whose religious overlords made it clear that they didn’t even condone having sex with more than one person, let alone proposing multiple marriages. And although Runaway Bride would have dropped at around the same time we were putting latex pyjamas on bananas, that horrible notion of someone breaking off an engagement was really never addressed.

All three of these twenty-something, highly successful career women were so close to the altar that they could smell it. The most recent one I met was only a fortnight out when her man upped and left her. Understandably, she was a complete and utter mess. To my mind, what makes this so awful is that if you break-up a marriage, the person probably doesn’t love you any more. But cancelling an engagement is literally saying ‘I don’t love you’, period. Obviously relationships are more complicated than that, but as I’ve learned from those spurned, it’s surprisingly easy to break things down into binaries when you’re trying to get travel insurance on your honeymoon and having to call all your friends and tell them not to come to the reception.

What makes men baulk so close to the event? The time period between engagement and marriage is typically 18 months, so there’s no standard answer as to why this seems to keep happening to so many beautiful girls I know in the home stretch.  There’s the argument that the convention of marriage is redundant itself, or that we shouldn’t be beholden to one person for the rest of our lives at all, but that’s ignoring the fact that men across the planet are still getting down on one knee and offering up rings to their paramours with forevers on their lips.

I’m nowhere near getting married, but all this activity is frankly making me nervous, because I have a hard time making my mind up about anything. I’m sure the three now ex-fiancés in this story were all regular dudes just like me until they woke up one morning and had an absolute freak-out. It’s a good thing I didn’t end up buying that tux after all, because the two weddings I’ve been invited to haven’t gone ahead.  And perhaps that’s normal.

To be fair, engagement is that halfway step which allows you to start planning your marriage and fully survey the landscape to ascertain if you may be getting yourself into an eternity of blah. It’s wading into the river halfway without full submersion. Expecting anyone to dive-bomb straight into eternity is not going to do society, or menfolk, any favours.  But I just wish there was some different way; like a peer review at a specified date a few months, and then a few weeks out, where you could actually talk about how incredibly anxious you are to be getting married, or even that you think you might be making the wrong decision. Each of the women told me that the news was delivered to them in bombshell form; they had absolutely no idea that it wasn’t working and I find it hard to believe that between a marketer, a PR professional and a teacher that they weren’t good listeners.

Yes we pick up and move on, and people bounce back from far worse circumstances than this. But being left high and dry right before the biggest day of your life can permanently damage your psyche, not mention your sense of self-worth. No woman - or man – should ever have to go through that. There’s already enough drama in the world that we can’t control. 

profile of jonnoseidler