Change of Plans: This Is the Second Time I’m Calling Off My Wedding—Is the Third Time the Charm?

"As I’ve learned twice now, the details of the wedding aren’t what makes a marriage."

change of plans

CRISTINA CIANCI/COURTESY OF Jill Schildhouse  

As a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, couples all over the world are having to make a very difficult, and often heartbreaking, decision to cancel, postpone, or adjust their best-laid wedding plans. To share their stories—and, hopefully, help our readers process this admittedly emotional and fluid situation, we are asking those affected to share their "Change of Plans" stories in their own words. Below, Jill Schildhouse tells her story from Phoenix.

This is the second time I’m calling off my wedding—nearly two decades apart, but for very different reasons. In 2001, I met the man I thought was “the one.” After eight months of a whirlwind, long-distance relationship, he proposed. Immediately, I went full steam ahead with wedding plans.

I spent nearly a year working with a wedding planner, fretting over every minuscule detail from the perfect venue to the flowers and cake—but the entire time, I couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I was starting to have second thoughts, but, at only 25, I didn’t really know how to voice them. I managed to convince myself that if I pulled off a flawless wedding, I’d somehow have a flawless marriage, too. Being caught up in planning every last detail was time I didn’t have to spend analyzing our struggling relationship. With each wedding decision I made, I further pushed the growing doubts out of my mind and replaced them with the picture-perfect marriage I wanted all of our guests to assume we’d have.

But, as our wedding day grew near and the reality of what walking down that aisle would mean to the rest of my life, I finally accepted that I couldn’t go through with it. Steeling myself, I broke off our engagement and called off the wedding just as invitations were supposed to be sent. Frankly, I felt nothing but relief, further confirming I’d made the right decision. Life, and eventually, dating, continued.

I met now-fiancé Ryan in July 2016, and our relationship was decidedly different than my previous courtships—a slow burn that grew into true love.

I met now-fiancé Ryan in July 2016, and our relationship was decidedly different than my previous courtships—a slow burn that grew into true love. We dated for two-and-a-half years before he proposed in January 2019, and I was over the moon when he finally dropped to one knee.

With nearly a couple of extra decades of maturity now under my belt, I was determined to do things differently this time and remain focused on what really matters: a sweet and simple celebration with our closest loved ones. Over the next year, I passively perused our options but hadn’t found the right fit—until, finally, it dawned on me. I come from a family of avid cruise vacationers, and we’ve joyfully witnessed many a beautiful bride walking around ships on their special day. I’d always marveled at the romantic notion of a wedding at sea. After doing a little research, I learned how affordable and easy cruise weddings really were: You can select each detail through the cruise line’s online portal, and our small budget was more than enough to fund a tasteful ceremony and reception. Easy peasy!

So I pitched the idea of a cruise ship wedding down the Mexican Riviera to my fiancé and family, explaining how we could essentially make the whole experience an epic vacation of sorts. The wedding would take place on day two of the cruise, and we’d have the rest of the week to enjoy each other’s company, for our families (who have never met) to get to know one another and to create memories that would last longer than a single day. Everyone was excited.

On January 20, 2020—the one-year anniversary of our engagement—we sent a save-the-date email to 25 of our closest friends and family announcing an October 11 wedding aboard a Princess Cruises ship. I began selecting the reception details, purchased a gorgeous wedding dress with a train I knew would look spectacular on the ship’s curved staircase, and started researching honeymoon destinations.

But just as we’d plunked down our $3,000 non-refundable deposit and our guests started booking their cabins, we began hearing buzz of something called the coronavirus. Still, we all moved forward, as the virus was brand-new and confined to Asia. We didn’t give it a second thought.

By mid-February, all of our guests were booked, but many had begun voicing growing concerns about traveling—and rightfully so. The virus had jumped to Europe and many countries began to quarantine and close their borders. Still, October was a long way off, we rationalized, and surely this would all blow over before then.

This is supposed to be a joyous occasion, not one where our beloved guests are put in a position of having to choose between celebrating with us or protecting their health.

On March 11, coronavirus was officially declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. The very next day, Princess Cruises—who, at the time, had several ships quarantined at sea with hundreds of passengers and crew who had tested positive for the virus—announced it would immediately suspend all cruises for the next 60 days. This was the moment it hit me: Our cruise ship wedding likely wouldn’t happen.

Even if they begin sailing again by October, many of our guests fall into the high-risk category: parents over 65, friends with autoimmune disorders, and other guests with pre-existing medical conditions. Plus, during a recent White House press briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says he anticipates that the coronavirus could see a resurgence this fall. So, we may face all these same concerns in the days or weeks leading up to our wedding—and at that point, everyone will have paid in full and booked flights. This is supposed to be a joyous occasion, not one where our beloved guests are put in a position of having to choose between celebrating with us or protecting their health.

When I reached out to my Princess wedding contact to inquire about canceling the wedding on March 12, I was told they weren’t willing to waive their cancellation fee of $400. But today, their tune has changed, thankfully, and they are now offering a full refund or an incentive to postpone.

At this point, we aren’t prepared to make any decisions. Perhaps we’re still holding out hope that coronavirus will be a distant memory by October. Maybe I’m just heartbroken that the idea of the stress-free wedding at sea I’d been envisioning is sinking as quickly as the Titanic. Or, perhaps, I’m just not ready to face the fact that I need to begin planning a whole new wedding. Again.

As I’ve learned twice now, the details of the wedding aren’t what makes a marriage; it’s unconditional love and the ability to roll with the punches that’ll carry us through life together.

On the bright side, our time spent sheltering in place for the last month has reminded Ryan and me what’s truly important—it’s almost serving as the ultimate premarital test to ensure compatibility. We’re passing with flying colors and our bond is, if possible, even more solidified through this whole ordeal. There’s no one else on this planet I’d rather spend my quarantine, and life, with.

In the meantime, my wedding dress is hanging in my closet. I unzip its garment bag from time to time, letting my fingers graze over the lace bodice and wondering when and where I’ll get to wear it. Whether we choose a backyard gathering later this year or wait for something else next year doesn’t even matter. As I’ve learned twice now, the details of the wedding aren’t what makes a marriage; it’s unconditional love and the ability to roll with the punches that’ll carry us through life together.

I trust our special day will eventually come, and it’ll be all the more special when it does.

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