Getting cold feet before marriage

There are people who have left others  at the altar, and called off the wedding at the very last minute. What drives people  to do that?  Photo: ISTOCK
There are people who have left others at the altar, and called off the wedding at the very last minute. What drives people to do that? Photo: ISTOCK

We all loved Julia Roberts in the classic movie Runaway Bride, where she played a commitment phobe who would always literally leave her fiancés at the altar and make a run for it.

As heart-warming as the film was, there are some real-life people who have left others at the altar too, and called off the wedding at the very last minute.

What causes one to do this? Is the cold feet phenomena real? One such person who can relate to this is Dane Smith, a 24-year-old cabin crew trainee who ditched his fiancée during the final preparations for their wedding and never looked back.

Smith says for him it was just a case of a change of heart.

"We were deeply in love and got engaged on a trip to Mozambique back in 2014. Soon afterwards, preparations for the wedding were under way, and we set a court date, confirmed the reception venue, caterers and even the honeymoon. Everything was in place and ready for us to just walk down the aisle."

But Smith says he started getting cold feet when he noticed controlling behaviour in his partner, and that's when the thought of bailing out occurred to him.

"I felt I was too young for that kind of responsibility at the time and that my partner expected way too much from me. She was controlling and I realised that when we got married, her behaviour would escalate, and I was afraid that I would be trapped once everything was on paper. So I called it all off."

The unfortunate thing was that the couple could not get back the money they had paid for all the wedding arrangements.

"We couldn't get the refund on the venue and decor because of the last-minute cancellation, but we managed to get some of the money back from the honeymoon which was booked for Thailand.

"I wasn't hurt by my decision to call things off. People automatically assumed that I would be hurt, but I honestly wasn't. My ex-fiancée and I spoke about it and it was completely amicable. We are actually good friends now because we had a great understanding. She understood where I was coming from."

While Smith's decision to call off his wedding may have been seen in good light, someone who experienced the complete opposite was Vuyiswa Bhovungana, a 29-year-old East London receptionist.

Bhovungana says she believes that her fiancé hates her to this day for cancelling their wedding - three days before the big day!

"Everything was ready. The cows that would be slaughtered were circling the kraal, my dress was ready, we had practised our dance steps with our bridesmaids and groomsmen, and I think during all of the preparations, I was just going through the motions. I wasn't really there because in the back of my mind I kept wondering if this was something that I really wanted."

After she had time to reflect, Bhovungana says that her decision was largely influenced by her ex- fiancé's stance on marriage, and the role she would be expected to play.

"He is a very traditional Xhosa man, and would always make passing remarks about how he expected his woman not to work but to rather stay home and raise his family.

"As much as that sounds good on paper, I always knew that it wasn't for me. I felt like I would be trapped in a marriage where my husband is always gone and working while I was showered with money ... but sleeping cold.

"The first person I told that I was walking out was my aunt, and she literally slapped me. She wanted to shake the sense back into me I guess, but my mind was made up. I then told my parents, who held a family meeting to try and talk me out of it, threatened me with bringing disgrace to their name, and every other thing you can think of.

"But I stood firm, and eventually they had no choice but to deliver the news to my ex-fiancé's family, whose reaction was anger. They said stuff about how I had wasted their time, and even demanded their lobola back. As for my ex-fiancé, he went from shouting, screaming to begging and crying.

"I just tried to tell him that we are too different and wanted different things out of life, but nothing I said could make it alright for him, and he is not speaking to me to this day."

Bhovungana says the loss they incurred as a result of her decision is in excess of R100000, and she says despite this, she does not regret her decision. "I had to follow my heart. Many people say I could have spoken up sooner, but I always say that I wanted to give this a chance, and when I saw that there was no hope of improvement, I had to run for my life. As much as people think I did an ugly thing, divorce would have been uglier."


Relationship counsellor Lethabo Ntsasa says that the cold feet phenomenon is a symptom of suppressed issues.

"No one can suddenly decide not to get married and cancel the wedding at the last minute. The reason why this happens is because of a clear lack of communication within the relationship, which sees the one partner suppressing some of their feelings about what they may feel does not work for them in the relationship. This culminates in a panic attack when the time draws closer to take that final leap of faith into marriage.

"Do I think people breaking off their wedding plans at the last minute is right? No. It is selfish and unfair.

"Do I, however, think that it's right to enter into a marriage with doubts? No.

"This is the reason why I highly recommend premarital counselling for couples planning to get married."