Going To The Chapel of Love (Not)


There’s a new reality show on the CW, Hitched or Ditched, that gives a couple one week to make plans for an all-expenses-paid wedding.  A week too short to make a commitment that could last for a lifetime?  That’s the catch.  And the tension, the drama, comes at the actual ceremony, when in a paid-for dress, in a paid-for venue, the bride and groom have to declare their willingness to marry on the spot—or call it off.

Some comic—Will Rogers, WC Fields, I forget which—once wryly pointed out “everything’s funny when it’s happening to someone else.”  And so it is with this show.


In real life, of course, breakups aren’t funny.  They’re often heartbreaking.  And expensive.  Call it off too close to the wedding and many deposits are non-refundable, so you’re out a lot of money.  Then there’s the embarrassment factor.  But both of those might be preferable to living with a person you know is wrong for you.

I once interviewed a series of women who had bolted at the altar. One told me “I knew when I saw him walking down the aisle toward me that it would be a huge mistake for us to marry.  So I took him aside, told him so, and we announced to our shocked guests that there would be no wedding—but we were still having the party.  They got over it, and he and I are still friends.  We sent all the presents back together.”

Most breakups won’t be that smooth, but a clear understanding of who does what could help.  So here goes:

The Ring.  Tradition says if he breaks it off, she keeps it.  If she calls it off, it should be returned to him.  If it’s a family heirloom, it is returned to the family that gave the ring.

(Maybe the bride’s parents gave Nana’s ring to the groom to give to the bride—no matter who breaks it off, the ring goes back to the family.) 

Other Presents: The surfboard, the Yorkshire Terrier, the Mont Blanc fountain pen, the sterling ID bracelet—the recipient of the present gets to keep them.  They weren’t given with the understanding that a marriage would be forthcoming.


Real Estate: If you buy a house as a couple and intend to marry and then break up, assuming both names are on the mortgage, it would be the same as dissolving a business partnership or marriage: if one of you wants to keep the house, he/she would have to buy the other out.  If no one wants to keep, the couple would sell the home and split the profit,

Assuming, given the current market, there is any.

Announcing the Cancellation:

If the wedding is called off mere days before it was to occur, phone calls to each guest.


A hard thing to do if you’re brokenhearted, but necessary—especially for guests who are coming from out of town.  They’ll have their own cancellations to make (hotel, plane, car rental, etc) and the more time they have to do that, the better.

If the wedding is called off a few weeks before, a heads-up to the out-of-towners is still in order, but cancellation notices are common.  They’d read something like this:

                                    Mr. and Mrs. James Dillard

                           Are obliged to recall their invitation

                                    To the marriage of their daughter

                                       Sandra Regina Dillard

                                    To Mr. Kevin Michaels                             


                              As the marriage will not take place.

The Presents: As with the runaway bride I mentioned earlier, they go back, unless they’re engraved.  Then you send a thank-you note and quietly put the present with the now-incorrect monogram away—or use it and regale your guests with why they’re drinking from highball glasses that have someone else’s initials on them…


The George Foreman grill, the table linens, the gift certificates to Crate and Barrel all go back to whoever gave them to you with a brief thank-you note:

            “Dear Nicole: Thanks so much for the lovely tablecloth—it was so

            Good of you and Steven to send it.  But given the circumstances,

            I wanted you to be able to return it.  Love, Alicia.”

If some people insist that you keep the present, do.  Send a note, and when you do finally find your true love, let your friend know that another present isn’t necessary.


Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, ofThe New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday)

is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).