When and How To Cancel a Wedding: Saying No Is A Valid Option
Three weeks ago, a beautiful couple called me about their upcoming wedding. They were young and in love, having been together for over 5 years, and so ready to get married. We immediately hit it off, and they signed me on the spot.
After all this time, my bride and groom were oh so ready to get married. We power planned over the course of just two days, establishing their priorities, setting a budget, and scaling our option and locations from 8 to 5 to 3 and finally just two. We booked travel, put our first choice vendors on hold, and started the design process. Things were going great....Until they weren’t.
Two days ago on a call something didn’t feel quite right. Duncan Wardle, who spoke at Engage Solaz, talked about asking “why” every time your clients share something with you. His theory was that the more you ask why, the closer you will get to the root and reality of your client’s truth. So I asked, and I poked, and I prodded. And while I got a lot of great information, something still wasn’t quite right.
In the morning we met for the first time, and we immediately encountered what should have been a comedy of errors. I rolled my ankle. They got stuck on a call, we had a security snag at TSA followed by an Uber driver who insisted on going 25 miles and hour, making for the longest trip in ever. Under normal circumstances, these things would have been a funny. We would have laughed, and all of these things would have been a part of the story. Our narrative would have been, “OMG, and then this happened...LOL.”
But we never got to that place. Every hill felt like a mountain, and while the venue, service, and food were all beyond extraordinary, we never found out stride. Something still wasn’t right, and I had to go back to “why”. Why isn’t this fun? Why aren’t you more excited? Why are you hesitating? Why are you confused?
Having established a deep level of trust over the course of the day, and after a lot of questions, we finally got to the root of the problem together. While that is personal to the couple and not for me to share, once I had all of the information there were two things I could have done:
- Create excuses and reasons for why they should move forward and how, or...
- Give them permission to stop. Create a safe space where they felt empowered to say NO to a wedding that, based on the new information, they should not be having.
As a business with the goal of making a profit, the smart move was A. As an artist you had created this really magical storyboard and who had designed a once in a lifetime experience, the first choice was also the right one, because I want this wedding to come to life. But as a person, I had to stay stop. And that’s what sets my business apart from the rest.
No doesn’t scare me. The only thing worse than losing the business would be to manipulate this couple into telling a story that they aren’t completely comfortable or ready to tell. And so as someone who is utterly committed to the truth, my job in that moment as their wedding planner was to walk them through the difficult decision to not move forward with their wedding.
How does this happen so fast? How can two people who were so in sync and committed to their plans just three weeks ago now be in such a different place? Easy. Life is made up of infinite little moments, and each one of them change us. So many couples feel pressured to move forward with things that are not right. And it’s easy when you are in a position of power (and under contract) to apply that pressure in just the right way to maintain the business and maintain the status quo. But when you do, the story isn’t real. And so we had to stop.
Once I had all of the information, my responsibilities immediately shifted. First, I had to create a safe space for my couple. I needed to give them permission to stop the process, and to help them feel okay with it. Then, I had to work to get them home to their family, which is where they need to be most right now.
After those two things were taken care of, my next and most pressing obligation was to the teams we had engaged. Not sharing information is a lie, and the minute I knew that this wedding was not happening I had to release all of the partners we brought on. I owed it to them to free up their dates so that they have the opportunity to book new business if it happens to come through.
This is where the relationships we have with one another matter. Each team I had engaged that I now had to cancel is facing some level of loss. Financially, creatively, and in partnerships. Want to know how many complained? Not one. In fact, the first response from each person was, “Oh my God, how are you?” In the face of these loses, they were worried about me. Not my business, but me as a person.
The wedding industry trades in emotion. As business, we are here to make money, but we don’t show up for the paycheck; we show up for the work. We are artists, the creators of moments and the gatekeepers of your future memories. The responsibility of that requires us to care more, to dig deeper, and to always seek the truth. None of this works without humanity.
Someday, this couple will tell their story. But today isn’t that day. This couple was so brave in being able to recognize and react to that. And of all the work I do, NOT planning this wedding will be one of the things I am most proud of.
Who are you working with? What do they stand for? As a couple, are you building a team that really cares about you? Enough to have the hard conversations?
As professionals, who are we surrounding ourselves with? How far are we willing to go with our clients, and for each other? Are we here for the truth, or are we just cashing checks?
Surround yourself with peopl who care. It’s the only way to win.
Now, off to sleep. Wheels up in just a few hours....