It was almost laughable. Even she thought it was a joke.
The $250,000 engagement ring was on her finger, the 300 wedding invites sent. She’d tried on her gown, and it was predicted to be the match of the year.
But when golfer Rory McIlroy broke up with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, it was without ceremony. After two years together, McIlroy dumped Wozniacki during a three-minute telephone conversation that she thought was a prank.
“The problem is mine,” he said, in a statement. “The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realise that I wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails. I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we’ve had.”
According to The Times of London, Wozniacki had no idea her fiancé had cold feet.
McIlroy told her how much he loved her before catching a flight from Monaco, where they shared an apartment, to play the BMW PGA Championship in Surrey. He called her from there to cancel the wedding.
After their conversation, Wozniacki stumbled through the first round of the French Open as if in a bad dream.
During the game, which she lost, someone shouted that she was walking off the wrong way.
McIlroy won his tournament.
“Obviously it’s always… you know, you’re not prepared for something like this, and [it] came [as] a bit of a shock,” said Wozniacki, afterwards. “I just have to move on.”
'PUBLIC AND SHAMEFUL'
Breaking up is almost always terrible. But to be ditched right before your wedding – or even at the altar – is in another league altogether. It’s heartbreak iced with public humiliation, tied up in the pink ribbon of what was meant to be the happiest day of your life.
“It’s a particularly public and shameful kind of ending... these extreme cases will obviously cause the most pain, anger, and all the rest of it,” says Victoria University psychology professor Garth Fletcher.
“There’s no guarantee in relationships. If you develop them in a normal way and everything looks good and then one person gets dumped, it’s going to be followed by grief. And if the investment levels are higher, then it’s worse.”
So, the biggest question has already been popped. But here are two more: why would someone wait till the very last minute to end it? And how could the other party not see it coming?
The spectre of the jilted bride-to-be has haunted literature for centuries. Perhaps the most notorious is Miss Havisham, of Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, who discovered on her wedding day her fiancé was a rapscallion trying to swindle her out of her riches.
She passed the rest of her days wandering a shuttered mansion in her bridal gown, wearing only one shoe and surrounded by rotting wedding cake. (The character was supposedly based on Sydneysider Eliza Emily Donnithorne, who left her front door ajar until her death in 1886 in the hope her groom would return.)
Shakespeare too identified the narrative opportunities of a heartbroken bride with soldier Claudio rejecting young beauty Hero in an altar-side showdown in Much Ado About Nothing.
Jilted grooms have also been pop-culture fodder, with more recent references including Runaway Bride, in which a sneaker-clad Julia Roberts dumps multiple men. Even Prince croons about the pain of abandonment, in ‘Standing at The Altar’.
But all it takes is a quick Google search to unearth some of the worst tales, the non-fiction ones. The rejected Australian bride who ran off to live in a cave, dying of exposure after eking out a bush existence for two lonely years.
A jilted Manhattan groom who is suing his former fiancée for money already spent on their planned wedding.
Closer to home, in 2002 jilted Wellington groom Michael Robert Jelavic, 59, was convicted for misuse of a telephone after mis-dialling his ex-bride after a day of drinking and yelling at a stranger – 18 times.
“Some people cope by sending their partner black flowers, and getting involved in post-breakup stalking and the like – up and until killing their partners,” says Professor Fletcher, who specialises in the science of intimate relationships.
“There’s a kaleidoscope of processes going on there, and people do get very angry. Usually the harassment is lower level, and more often than not they will try to cope on their own as best they can.”
'IT WAS JUST TERRIBLE'
For American TV news anchor Kimberley Kennedy, this meant floating around her house for a while feeling as if she was at her own funeral. “I was kind of hovering above everyone and everyone was crying and sad and bringing food, and it is a death – it’s the death of a dream if you think about it.”
Kennedy, who has since written the book Left at the Altar, sensed something was wrong on the eve of her wedding when her husband was late to the rehearsal dinner. When he did show up, bedraggled and tear-stained, he pulled her into the priest’s office and simply said: “I just can’t do it.”
“I can talk about it now, but it was just terrible,” says Kennedy on the phone from Atlanta, where she now works in communications. “It was bad enough that it happened, but I was on television every day, so it was very public.”
While her friends and family were angry, Kennedy says she just wanted him back. “I loved him, and I was still hoping he’d come back and say, ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake.’ I just missed him, which is so pathetic, but that’s how I felt.”
She was sad for a “long, long time”, with her Christian faith, friends and the unlikely support network of sympathetic television viewers helping her through. “It’s so common; rejection in love is so common. I mean, I still have women coming up to me and talking [to me] about it, wanting to tell me their stories.”
Now, she’s glad it happened. “I think if anyone is conflicted about being married, right up to the moment of saying ‘I do’, you should not go through with it. He did the right thing, it’s a hard thing to say now but it’s true.”
Legal support executive Amy, 25, is from a small New Zealand town. When her husband left her just weeks ahead of the big day, she was mortified.
Like Kennedy, she tried to convince her fiancé to take her back, and spent hours locked in her room flicking through an increasingly dog-eared wedding scrapbook.
The wedding guest list for her and personal-trainer fiancé Ben included 70 close friends and family. The ceremony was to be in the secluded courtyard gardens of a Hastings venue.
But after a weekend of last-minute wedding shopping, everything came crashing down.
‘‘Before I left he was really upset, and I just thought he was stressed out from work. I said, ‘It’s okay. If you’re feeling upset maybe you just need to see someone.’ But when I got back, he came home from work to see me. We were just sitting there and he told me that he couldn’t do this any more and just wanted to be on his own. And then – I still can’t believe this – he just went back to work and left me with this bombshell to deal with. I was trying to process things, but nothing was making sense.”
Amy was faced with telling family and friends the wedding was off, and calling suppliers to cancel. She later found out Ben had been having an affair with a married woman at his gym.
But after several drunken, emotional nights out, Amy threw away the scrapbook. She moved into a shared flat, and sought solace in a book: It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken, by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt. She also went on to have breast implants, a surgery she says she had always wanted but Ben had not approved of.
Looking at the relationship now, she can see it was far from ideal. “Yes, I did love him but he was very, very selfish. I think I was so wrapped up in trying to make everything happy and perfect. We never had an argument, and I told my sister and she was like, ‘Oh that’s weird, normal people fight and then make up,’ but I was just blissfully unaware.
“I feel like I definitely dodged a bullet. I put him first but he put me third, after his obsession with the gym. It hurt at first, because you’ve come so far to be let down. I basically thought my life was sorted and I had everything; I’d never have to date again. But it would have been worse had it happened a couple of years down the track.”
'HURT, ANGRY, CONFUSED'
Relationships Aotearoa counsellor Cary Hayward, who has spent 25 years in the business of broken hearts, says a sudden breakup is very rarely a snap decision. “Often one person has been feeling unseen in a relationship for a period of time, and they will feel that they’ve tried to flag that there’s a problem and that the other party hasn’t responded to it adequately, or at all. So when it comes to the point where they want to separate, it comes as a shock to the other party.”
The person who has made the choice will usually have been contemplating it for a while, and will have already begun to withdraw emotionally, Hayward says.
But for the one who is left behind, their life is crumbling.“They might feel hurt, angry, confused, sad, all that sort of stuff, and they’re suddenly finding themselves struggling to catch up with what’s happening. They can feel terribly powerless – they’re facing this horrible circumstance that something they really don’t want to have happen is going to occur.
“People can feel quite stressed when they’re in that space, and they’ll often try to do whatever they can to save the relationship.
“Along with the grief, they will be beating themselves up with, ‘What could I have done differently?’” he says.
“They’ve often seen the signs, but they don’t respond to their significance. Then they think, ‘I really wish I had taken this seriously early on.’
“But, look, it doesn’t matter what side of the fence you’re on – separation is one of the most challenging things an adult will ever go through.”
It’s been more than 20 years since she was jilted, but Suzie, 54, still wishes she had acted on her gut instinct that something wasn’t right. She had always wanted to be a farmer’s wife, so when she met Andy, everything seemed to be falling into place.
But his mother was not so happy. She organised an engagement party to which Suzie wasn’t invited.
“I mean, you have no idea how snooty his mother was. What kind of person doesn’t invite the bride to her own engagement party?” she says.
During other parties on the Waikato family farm, Andy would flirt outrageously with other women. Another time, Suzie was presented with a prenuptial agreement – which had her name spelled wrong.
Then, one weekend, she went to the Waikato farm with an “ominous feeling”.
“[Andy] took me to the pub to have a few and I completely wrote myself off... he just plied me with drink. On the drive home, while stopping to throw up, he told me it was over. When I arrived at the homestead I remember getting out of the car on all fours throwing up dreadfully. I was out of it on gin – it was just terrible.”
She was devastated, her pride completely destroyed. But things would get worse; just two months later, he phoned to say he had knocked up one of the local girls and was getting married. Also, could he have the ring back to fund their honeymoon in Fiji?
“That was it. I told him to get lost and I sold the ring.
I took great pleasure in doing that,” Suzie says. “I can’t tell you how long after that I had another relationship, but it was a long time.”
Suzie says she has been “very blessed” with her two young children, whose father she is no longer with, but she doesn’t have a lot of time for men.
“From my experience, women are always the ones to concede emotionally. Men have got bigger egos, it’s a fact – we have to pander to them. I’ve been out with a couple of guys but not for long periods. The only thing they’re good for is sex.
“The last guy I was with was 51. He was always complaining about his bones when he got out of cars and things like that. I thought, s***, I’m not in that league, I need a guy at least 10 years younger than me.”
The last time she saw her one-time fiancé was in a newspaper photograph a short while ago. He had won a local dog trial competition. “He looked terrible. He looked really aged and I felt really glad.”
If someone is having doubts about a relationship, fair enough. But why let it reach such a crescendo before calling it off?
“These people would be having doubts anyway, and the doubts build up to a point,” says Professor Fletcher.
“In the case of the golfer [Rory McIlroy], he obviously got to the point where he thought, ‘I can’t do this, it’s not going to work.’ That can take courage, of course, to call it off in that situation – particularly if you’re a public figure like him.”
SHE CALLED IT OFF
Deanna, who didn’t want to use her last name because her husband is a public figure, knows what that is like. She was just a few days away from tying the knot to her Canadian fiancé, in Canada, when she decided she couldn’t go through with it.
It cost her and her family and friends thousands of dollars in cancelled flights and hotel bookings, not to mention the now-useless shoes and dress.
It was a heart-wrenching decision to make, but it helped that her parents were supportive, she says.
“He was a really nice guy and I think if I had gone ahead it would have been all right, but there was something missing.
“I guess if you can imagine a life without someone, you probably shouldn’t marry them. I felt really, really bad. I mean, how do you tell someone that? But I look back on it and kind of think I saved myself a divorce, or an unhappy marriage.”
Six months later, she met her future husband, with whom she now has two children, a four-year-old and a 19-month-old. “Every now again I wonder what my life could be like, and then I’m so glad.”
For people who have been ditched, particularly when the stakes are so high, it will be messy. But, says Fletcher, most people will be able to move on. “If they are basically a secure person, they will bounce back. The vast majority of people will get over it, and they will go on to form another relationship.
There will be a bit of a scar left, but people are amazingly resilient, even when tragedy strikes. People can recover.”
Names and places have been changed.
- Sunday Star Times