Are you one? An Almost Wife. A woman who managed to get a ring on her finger but not her foot on the aisle? There are a lot of us about. I was one once. But that’s another story – and I’m saving it for the second book.
Some women are thrilled to take on the title, realising at the eleventh hour that he was nowhere near worthy. Others, like the poor woman whose surprise proposal my magazine helped to organize, are floored when it doesn’t go their way. I watched her that day, from behind a pillar while we filmed her sweet proposal to the man she had spent the past eleven years with and had two children with. Then I physically recoiled as he started to shout her down, it dawning on us all far too late that she had completely misjudged what his reaction would be. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the horrified look on his face.
As the editor of Brides, seven years in, I am basically a human magnet for everyone’s wedding horror stories. In much the same way as if you confess you’re afraid of spiders, someone will immediately tell you about the palm-sized one that crawled across their face in bed last night, I attract the sort of relationship stories that might make you question the state of humanity.
Barely a week goes by when someone doesn’t share a tale or two. A year into the job, I started to note them down, thinking there might be a great novel in all this one day. Turns out there is, and it's all in my debut novel The Almost Wife, laced with all the drama, emotions and torn loyalties that often accompany that diamond. And all those things engaged women prefer you not to know about them.
Often logic plays no part in a cancelled engagement. It can be anything from a friend doing something as thoughtless as planning her big day to fall in the same year as yours or, as I discovered recently, the groom-to-be just disappears without trace.
This was the case for Lucy, a woman whose wedding we were due to cover. She works at an exclusive bar in London, dealing with high-profile clients and celebrities. She’s in charge, clever, the hostess, headhunting staff, masterminding the chic interior design. Not easily fooled.
One evening, she joined some regular customers and a guy she’d never met before, at their table. The next Friday, this guy sent her a bunch of roses. So far, so classic. She told us how he did this every week for the next three months. Gifts, dinners, lavish trips. The next thing he produced was a diamond ring. Lucy said yes, there was an engagement party, dinners with her family, and the wedding prep kicked in.
Hospitals were called. Statements were given to police. We planned something else for our pages. He was never seen again. The fact she’d never met his family and he was out of the UK when he vaporized, made tracing him near impossible. Sociopath? Spy? Serial bigamist? Was he taken out by someone who never wanted that wedding to happen? Who knows. Not Lucy that’s for sure. She got on with her life, happy that she’d dodged a bullet – but did he? I often wonder.
I tend to think of bridal shops as the headquarters of The Almost Wives Club. They see it all. I was chatting to the owner of one last week who works with around 650 brides a year. She told me the easiest way to spot a future Almost Wife is by how painful she is in the fitting room.
‘Trust me,’ she said, ‘When something’s not right with the relationship, the bride can be very difficult, finding fault with everything. Then you know, she’s either a toxic personality or this wedding’s not happening, and she probably knows it.’
People often envy the glamour-filled life of the wedding planner, jetting around the world, other peoples’ eye-watering budgets to play with, but when drama unfolds they are on the frontline of it. I had cleared six pages to feature one such wedding recently. We were about thirty days before the wedding date – which included four different parties, over four days with 250 guests. Everyone had booked their travel and the couple were invested for just short of £1million.
Then the planner received a Whatsapp message from the groom (the couple were living in separate corners of the world and she’s in London) to say the wedding is cancelled, please let all suppliers know, and advise guests. We will refund their travel. The planner was already on her way to the airport for three final days of wedding prep. By the time she lands the lawyers are all over it. Basically, the groom’s father wanted the bride to sign a prenup and she wasn’t happy with some of the wording. Both backed each other in to a corner but ultimately the one paying the bill, the father-of-the-groom won, with very little help and support from the groom himself. And as that planner later confessed, unplanning a wedding is much harder work than planning it in the first place.
Then there was the couple last year, both from two different backgrounds, who wanted a wedding over three days that would blend their cultures in a very British setting. Another stratospheric budget at their disposal. Contracts were signed with the planner and all the organising started. But suspicions were raised when two months in, no deposit was received from the groom, despite endless promises. Venues were booked, the church was confirmed and a dress shopping trip to Paris was agreed. Then a phone call was received from the groom-to-be’s assistant warning that her boss was not who he claimed to be. And the bride knew nothing of it. When she finally located his passport, it was in a different name. He was arrested, found to be wanted in other countries too and spent what would have been his wedding day behind bars. I have learned to be very adaptable with the content I plan to include in the magazine.
But not everything is quite this dramatic. Some Almost Wives spring from a simple inability to say no. And working in the Brides office, offers you no protection, it seems. One of my own team had been dating her beau for two years when he popped the question. She was 29, happy as they were, and on day one of a holiday with him in Thailand when he dropped to his knees on a sun-soaked beach, thrust a Tiffany diamond in the air - and a spanner in the works. She cried. He assumed they were tears of grateful joy. They weren’t. She didn’t want to ruin the holiday, to spend fourteen of the most awkward days of her life avoiding him around the pool or worst still be forced to fly home early, so she said yes. And kept it that way for a whole year.
Grimacing through all the celebratory drinks, reliving the proposal story, booking a venue and a photographer, picturing herself looking like a fraud in the big white dress. Then she cracked. Who wouldn’t?
That ring, incidentally, hadn’t fit properly. She woke the morning after the beach proposal to see it had turned her now swollen finger blue. It had to be cut off in a local hospital and replaced. He quipped it was a sign...
You may well be reading this, blissfully engaged, thinking you have no intention of joining The Almost Wives Club. You may be right, but be warned there could be others, close to you, with different ideas. That same boutique owner I mentioned earlier also told me, whenever they receive a call cancelling a dress, they always insist on speaking to the bride herself. ‘Because, there have been too many occasions when another woman has tried to cancel it for her, when in fact the wedding is still very much on. Someone wants the wedding called off, and it’s not the bride.’
But then, all things considered, isn’t it better to be An Almost Wife, rather than a One Year Wife – and I’ve met plenty of them too.
Jade Beer's debut novel The Almost Wife is now available to buy on Amazon.
This post was originally published on Tatler.