When John* first proposed it was probably the most perfect moment of my life.
We were on a secluded beach in Hawaii with the sun rising over the sea. It felt like a fairy-tale. As he got down on one knee and told me he loved me and then produced the ring and asked the question, I almost felt I was dreaming.
It was the first day of a holiday we were taking and I had no idea he’d been planning this. But I had no hesitation in saying yes.
It didn’t matter that we’d only been dating six months. He was my best friend and the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
No one suggested we were rushing things because people felt we were so good as a match. We were besotted with each other.
Or, at least, that’s what I thought at the time…
The first time I met John was at a baseball game in my home city of Toronto, Canada. A mutual friend had arranged a box for a group of us. I can’t remember too much about the game but I do remember spending a lot of the night talking to this tall, cute stranger.
He was funny and ambitious and sporty – he was a professional golfer – and those were all very attractive to me. I’m not sure I believe in love at first sight, but there was definite chemistry. At 26, he was four years older than me, but we just clicked.
I can’t remember too much of what we spoke about. The usual stuff. Sport, music, family. He told me about how he was based at a golf and skiing resort up in Ontario about two hours away, and I told him about my work as an events planner at the Royal Bank of Canada.
I guess we hit it off pretty good because by the end of the night we’d planned for me to go and visit the resort for a weekend.
I did that with a friend not long after. John joined us both for dinner on the first night, and invited us to a party; and we just really continued where we’d left off from at the baseball game. It was clear there was a mutual attraction. We started dating pretty soon.
I would drive up to see him most weekends or he’d come down to Toronto. We just enjoyed each other’s company, laughing and talking. In fact, by the time we decided to go to Hawaii six months later, my friends were all telling me he was definitely going to propose, but I didn’t really see that happening. Not so soon, anyway.
So, when he woke me up and took me to the beach that morning, I had no idea what was about to happen. But it felt right. He got on well with my family and we’d often spoken of the future together. It was all so natural.
Over the next 18 months, everything moved fast. John left the resort in Ontario – and I suppose much of his life – to move into my condo in Toronto. Then, as we planned the wedding, we bought a house together. We even started talking about children. Sure, we had the odd argument, but which couple doesn’t? We were a great match. We doted on each other.
We’d decided we’d marry in Hawaii, a small wedding on the beach with just close friends and family – about a dozen guests in all. He was very much involved in organising things. We arranged it so we’d arrive there, have our first night – him with his guests and me with mine – and then marry the next day on the beach.
Flying out, I can’t tell you how excited I was. On the day itself, I went for a run in the morning and I remember telling myself to savour everything. We were staying at a hotel overlooking the beach where the ceremony would take place, and I could see the preparations beginning.
After my jog I made my way to meet the bridal party in one of our hotel rooms.
My sister was helping me get dressed when she asked me, ‘Are you nervous?’ I can honestly say I wasn’t. I was an hour away from the wedding I’d always dreamed of with the man who was my best friend. I shook my head, and I remember her exact reply: ‘Well, why would you be? He’s such a great guy.’
I’ve often thought about that since – and what happened next. There was a knock at the door and it was John. He came into the room and said we needed to talk alone. Everyone else kind of left. He was crying. I assumed he was letting the emotion of the day get to him. He was a sentimental kind of guy. His mother had passed away three years before and I knew he’d been upset that she wouldn’t be there.
Then he said, ‘I don’t think I can do this’.
I couldn’t understand. I asked: ‘Are you joking?’ He shook his head.
I stood there – with my dress already on, with the veil in my hair, even my make-up pretty much done – and this man, who was supposed to be the love of my life, was telling me he was calling off the wedding less than an hour before the ceremony.
I didn’t know how to react or what to say. I couldn’t grasp what was happening. I know I didn’t ask why. I didn’t care at that point. I told him to leave. That hotel room suddenly felt so small. He was gone.
My sister and my bridesmaid went after him, but he ran away. He didn’t even tell the organisers. I watched from the window as my sister went to the beach and let everyone know.
If there had been any question that it was just last-minute jitters, opening the wardrobe proved otherwise. While I’d been out that morning, he had taken all his clothes, and his passport. He’d actually left me. I was heartbroken. Humiliated, devastated. I could not comprehend what was happening.
It’s difficult to remember what happened in the next few hours. I don’t know how much I cried. I remember my best friend coming in and I was telling her, ‘I don’t know what to do’. She sort of took charge. She said, ‘We need to get you out of this dress to start with – then we need to get you out of this room.’
I went for a walk along the beach. I needed to escape. Then I called him. I said we needed to talk and he said, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t.’ I was telling him I needed to know why he’d done this but he’d hardly speak. He just said he’d gone with his gut. That’s all I got. That’s all I ever really got from him. He’d gone with his gut.
I don’t know how I got through that night. It was a daze. I went to dinner but couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep and then, when I did, I woke up at 4am. Just remembering it all anew was one of the hardest things.
What made it worse was that he stayed on the island for the rest of the week. He stayed in the same resort.
I saw him in the car park two days later and called him a coward; already my devastation was turning to anger. I packed the rest of the holiday with activities to take my mind off what was happening. My aim was to be so tired every night that I’d fall asleep without thinking.
But back in Canada, reality came around. He stayed in our house and I moved back in with my parents, which felt like such a huge step backwards and made everything feel even worse. It was like I’d regressed to being a teenager again.
I never got a proper reason from him for what he did. But it doesn’t hurt so much anymore; in fact, I now think it’s a pretty great anecdote.
I only saw him a few times after. We met a couple of weeks later. He suggested we stay together but without marriage, which I thought was astonishing. I thought it would be hard to stop loving him – that there’d be inner conflict – but things like that helped me see him for what he was.
The only reason he ever gave was that he decided he didn’t want children and I did. He never said why that only became an irresolvable issue on the day itself. I stopped caring, I suppose. Eventually we lost touch.
Nine years on, I’m dating a new guy and it’s going great – although we’ve taken things slow.
In the meantime, I took time out to focus on work and travel – I went round Europe and Asia, and loved every moment. The whole episode is far enough in the past now to not hurt so much, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. When I first told my new partner about it I remember thinking: actually, this is a pretty great anecdote.
Cyndi, 31, lives in Toronto, Canada.