how do I tell my coworkers my wedding is off?

A reader writes:

I work in a nonprofit that has about 40 full-time staff and is very informal and laid back. As a result, we are all very friendly and often share personal information with each other – though I wouldn’t necessarily consider anyone a close friend.

A few months ago, I got engaged and of course everyone knows and often asks me about the wedding planing process and all that. Sometimes it’s more in depth, and other times it’s just water cooler chit chat – but since it’s been the one major thing going on in my life right now, it’s usually the topic of conversation when I’m around.

While most times I love that we are all so comfortable with each other, unfortunately, I have recently decided to end my engagement (and my relationship). Obviously this is a painful subject and as much as I love my co-workers, I’d prefer to avoid talking about it at work as much as possible. I feel comfortable telling my direct supervisor that my engagement is off because I know it will most definitely come up and that I could ask her to mention it to the Executive Director (who often asks me how the wedding planning is going and references it in meetings and such). I’m just not sure how to handle the rest of my office. Can I assume that word will get out? How would you tactfully say it to someone who doesn’t know and asks? I’m barely sure how to respond to my friends and family – but I don’t see them every day. Figuring out what to say to my coworkers is really weighing on me.

I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that!  One piece of good news is that I think you’ll find that the how-do-I-tell-my-coworkers aspect is going to get resolved really quickly and cease to be a problem within just a few days.

Whether or not it’ll get around on its own depends on the dynamics of your workplace, but even it does, you’ll still probably have people asking you how you’re doing and even (if they’re rude) what happened. So you’ll want to have one or two short phrases ready to use when someone brings up the wedding — one that delivers the news and one that wards off further conversation about it. You actually need the latter more than the former, because most people’s natural reaction will be to express concern and/or ask questions. People might even feel inconsiderate not inquiring further, unless you make it clear that you don’t want to get into it.

So in response to mentions of the wedding, you might simply say, “It’s a long story, but the wedding is off.” And in response to questions or expressions of concern about how you’re doing, you could reply with something like, “I’m doing fine. Staying focused on work right now.”  Most people will be able to read between the lines and see you don’t want to discuss it. For those that aren’t as great at picking up cues, you might be more direct: “It’s not something I want to get into at work, but I’m doing fine.” (By the way, even if you’re not doing fine, this is the way to go if you don’t want to invite further conversation.)

Basically, the idea is that you have a very short answer that nicely conveys that you’re not intending an in-depth discussion.

If anyone pushes you — because they are rude or pushy or oblivious — you could get a little more assertive:  “Thanks so much for your concern. I don’t really want to talk about it, but I’m doing fine.” You say it nicely the first time and, if necessary, a little firmer the second time.

How have other people dealt with needing to convey painful personal news at work while simultaneously avoiding long conversation about it?

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. Interviewer*

    I think what AAM suggested is fine. If your company culture would take this, you could ask one trusted person to be the mouthpiece. (My boss would do this for us and has done it when someone’s father passed away unexpectedly.) While you duck out early for the day, she gathers the team for an impromptu meeting to say, “Hey, she called off the engagement and it’s a long story and she is doing fine but she would appreciate everyone not asking her about it.”

    Best of luck to you, OP, and sorry you’re going through this.

    1. clobbered*

      Yeah, since you are telling the boss they can put the word out, and if your boss lacks the social skills to realise they are supposed to, pick one person who does and they will do their thing.

      I work at a similarly sized company, and we had a divorce and a couple of late miscarriages – in both cases a person close to the coworker put the news about. Most coworkers said nothing, because they assumed that is what the person who want; those who think it is rude *not* to say something found a quiet private moment to say a quick “I am sorry, let me know if I can do anything” and left it at that.

      Chances are this is not going to be as big a deal as you might worry it is going to be, and it will blow over in a couple of days. If you are worried “what will people say” – don’t. People talk about their coworkers a lot less than you might think from reading AaM :-)

    2. fposte*

      Exactly what I was going to suggest–a friend and colleague did this for me, and it worked really well. If you’re able to take a lighter note on this, you can even use the approach to semi-jokingly fend off any additional, more intrusive questions: “I’m referring everything on this topic to Carol, my communications director.”

  2. AGirlNamedMe*

    When I separated from my husband, I created a “press release” and sent it out to co-workers. Obviously, this depends on the circumstances and the culture at your office, but it was effective for me.

    After much thought and consideration AGirlNamedMe and ExToBe have decided to part ways. ExToBe is already living about a mile away. In a joint statement they said, “Don’t worry about us, we’re fine, but we won’t be entertaining any questions at this time.”

    It worked. For Me.

  3. Anonymous*

    This happened to me too! I am so sorry you are going through this, but I found that most people were very supportive in the “if you need anything, I am here” way. Which, of course at work, I never went to. There were a few people that were very prying, but after I had a couple instances of getting teary-eyed and then walking swiftly to the ladies room to hide out, that stopped them too. Me being out of commission emotionally impacted their jobs too and they wanted me around! work was a good solace for me during the transition.

    Good luck to you…

  4. Elizabeth*

    Alison, it felt like you were channeling one of my other favorite advice columnists: Miss Manners. What you said is really similar to what she tells people dealing with prying questions.

    I suspect that everyone will be kind and respectful. If anyone does keep prying, follow up that “I don’t want to talk about it” with a change of subject – “Did we get any feedback from the client yet about the new prototype?” or by just excusing yourself and walking away.

  5. Anonymous*

    I have a work related wedding question too. I also recently got engaged and have been talking to my coworkers about it. It usually starts if they ask me if I have plans that weekend, and I tell them about all of the wedding planning I am doing. I’ve only been working at my job for a few months and I’ve let them know that it will be a small wedding. However, I worry that it’s rude of me to share my wedding plans when I’m not planning to invite them. I’m not sure if they expect to be invited to the wedding. I like my coworkers, but I really haven’t known them long enough to invite them to my small wedding.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think the best way to handle that is to not talk in too much detail about your wedding planning. Obviously it’s fine to mention that you’re getting married and are planning the wedding, but don’t get heavily into the details of all your planning.

    2. Anonymous*

      Yes I’ve been planning my wedding also And I’m unable to invite many people especially at work. I felt bad at first cuz my boss kept talking about it everyone Ask him to stop talking about it. He said they’ll get over it they should know not everyone can be invited. Plus I don’t like to mix my personal life with work So I didn’t buy any coworkers accept my boss cuz he’s cool.

      The 1 to get it new how expensive the wedding to be. 1 of my coworkers actual us to see what I’ve been planning.

  6. saro*

    If someone is really pushy and obnoxious, feel free to create a dramatic scene a la Dynasty and Dallas. If you have a pool you can push them in , even better. :)
    Seriously though, I’m sorry you’re going through this. If you are closer to one person than another, or your boss has social skills, feel free to ask them to be the mouthpiece.

  7. Paulina Estrada*

    Hi I work in a jewellery shop as a store manager.
    I am kind of new and my team is conformed by ladies that have been in the company for a while.
    I am finding very difficult to reach my personal targets, but pretty much all my team members reach their targets every week (3 out of 5 of them).
    Off course my boss is not happy at all with my sales performance.
    I can tell that I am really trying to deliver the best customer service but most of the times, customers just say: I think about it, I come back or so. I really thought I had great customer service because in my past jobs I had great sales even when I did not have personal targets. The most senior team members tell me that it takes time until you get used to the product and you start producing good sales.
    I am not sure where I am failing, what do I need, what I am not doing that the rest are? I have product knowledge, I put enthusiasm on every sale. What’s going on?
    When she questions me about what happened, why I did not close the sales, why did I only took $x money and look how much she took, etc, I tell her I tried my best and that the store wasn’t really busy (which is the truth). She always turns me down with arguments such as “you are not trying hard enough”, “you won’t be able to coach your team if you are not performing”. What ever I say it’s not valid or good enough for her. So I now I don’t know what to say to her.
    I just need some advice on what to say to her when she questions me about the sales performance. I am very stressed by her pressure and I just feel I want to leave this company.

    I am desperate because even when I am not comfortable with job I need the money, I need to keep this job until I come back from my wedding overseas and I am able to start applying for new jobs.

    Thanks in advance!!

    1. Anonymous*

      Have you done much watching of others? If you can watch what other people who are meeting their goals are doing maybe that can help.

  8. Anonymous*

    I had a very similar situation. I actually jumped right to what was the last suggestion.
    “We’ve split up and I’m not really interested in discussing it.”
    I told one person and they took care of the rest.
    I wasn’t harsh(er than usual) but I was too emotional to do more than say that and I’m sure that came across. I had a couple people mention “I’m sorry to here about you and X.” I responded with a, “Thank you. Now about the marketing materials…”
    I didn’t need any time off but in other situations (deaths) when I have I addressed it directly with my boss and also mentioned the I don’t really want to talk about it and they’ve always quietly informed people.

  9. Samantha*

    I’m so sorry, that is really difficult! I recently separated from my long-term live-in boyfriend. When I was too fragile to talk about it without crying at work, I just didn’t. After that, I just waited for it to come up in conversation and did exactly what AAM said. When someone asked about him I said, “Actually, we broke up. I didn’t mention it because it was and is really difficult to talk about. I’m doing fine and it was for the best.” I think this nipped a lot of questions and concerns in the bud and seemed to work really well.

  10. Talyssa*

    I think the OP is underestimating how sensitive coworkers (most anyway) will be to the topic. We had a coworker who’s wife was pregnant with twins, and in the third trimester they found out one of them was dead. This trickled around slowly and we were all very careful not to bring it up. (The other baby is fine).

    People generally understand that talking about happy personal news is welcomed by most and talking about sad personal news is not. I doubt its going to be necessary to tell people you don’t want to talk about it.

  11. GeekChic*

    I’m sorry that you are going through this OP. I have medical problems that sometimes require me to miss work. A select few people at work know a bit about what is wrong but most only know that I have “medical problems”.

    What works for me is a combination of what AAM stated and what was mentioned earlier in the comments. I give only brief, generic answers to questions / expressions of sympathy and I have a “communications director” (I love that expression) among my colleagues who puts the word out. I only rarely have to deal with pushy / nosy people. My response to them once I’ve give my generic answer is usually something like “I’ve said all I care to say on that topic. Thank you.”

  12. PunkRockLibrarian*

    I think everyone’s suggestions are excellent, and am also sorry you’re having to deal with this. Your decision about what to do might be based on how well you think you can manage the inevitable questions that will come up, and I’ve seen people handle this in the two ways mentioned. A close friend of mine recently split from her husband, and stuck to the ‘We’ve separated and I’m doing fine, thanks for asking’ approach, which seemed to work well for her. Several years ago, though, another colleague of mine lost her baby in her eighth month of pregnancy, and felt that she wouldn’t be able to tolerate everyone’s (well intentioned, mostly) questions. So she asked me to speak to everyone on her behalf, and to request that they give her some privacy. This also seemed to work as well as it could have, but I think the main point is that it is best to have a plan, and to tailor it to the specifics of what you will need. Best of luck!

  13. CW_11*

    I actually dealt with almost this exact situation a few years ago, when I called off my engagement and then inform my colleagues, who all knew about the upcoming wedding and asked about it regularly. I found that most people were very respectful when I said, “Thanks for asking, but we’ve actually decided to call off our engagement. I’m really doing fine, but would prefer not to talk about it.” Keep it clean, classy and simple, whether you were the decider or the decidee – no matter what, even if you are in a close office, you want to remain professional!

    1. Annie*

      I think in many of these sad situations, it’s good to say “we decided,” as is “we decided to call off the wedding” or “we decided to get divorced.” When my former partner and I broke up, I used “we decided to break up” a lot, and the conversations were easier. When I said “we broke up,” people felt terrible and didn’t know what to say, and it was awkward. The hardest part was having to say it over and over. She had already moved out, so I was left with the job of informing our friends and neighbors, and it broke my heart every time I had to tell anyone. My co-workers were a lot easier to deal with.

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