True Life: I Called Off My Wedding

By Sarah YanniMay 1, 2024

True Life: I Called Off My Wedding
This article is a preview of the LARB Quarterly, no. 41: Truth. Become a member to get this issue plus the next four issues of the LARB Quarterly.


LANGUAGE IS A THING with an objective. At times, this objective is known to us before or during the moments when we choose our words. At other times, the objective is a blur. And it is only through speaking word after word that the other side of our lives comes into focus.

As a grant writer, I am constantly making very specific decisions with syntax in order to reach my objective of getting a woman with generational wealth to fund the institutions that employ me. It’s a very calculated pandering, informed by research, key words, and guilt. Wealthy people want to feel like they are doing something meaningful with the money they acquired through their father or oil or banks or whatever. Guilt is a tool.

Since I am a poet, my language also has an objective. It is much more divorced from money, however. I suppose my objective is to take the reader somewhere, to make them think of a topic in a different way, to make me understand my own life in a different way. As with work, I can go back and forth on a single word for hours, questioning whether or not it should go here or there, if it’s the right sort of language to get my point across.

I am less careful with language in my ordinary interactions, and perhaps this is inevitable. People are not a glowing word document on a computer screen; they are living and breathing, attached to narratives, looking at us, waiting. On a sleepy November Saturday morning, I ended my seven-and-a-half-year relationship as the words casually fell out of my mouth: “I think I’m gay.” My partner was silent, then angry. I sobbed. A tower fan was thrown, by him. I changed out of my pajamas and left our rent-controlled Los Feliz apartment—perhaps the true loss being that I would never sleep there again. I had uttered a truth that would shift time and space in an irreversible way. Yet the words were also a fragment of many other truths—I’m gay. I’m unhappy. I’m confused. I’m sexually dead inside. I’m curious. I’m tired. I’m panicking. I’m bored.


On the plane I watch Little Women. I have only seen it once before, at the art house with my mom. It was around Christmastime, just the two of us on a movie date. I remember thinking that it was good, not worth the hype it received, but we also both cried a lot. Watching it again, I am moved, and I finally understand. In one scene, Jo March—the aspiring-writer daughter who strives to be independent and free—sobs at the news that her sister is getting married. It is not because she hates her sister’s new husband, or because her sister has said something cruel. It’s a deeper tragedy—she cries because childhood is over.

The entire film is a commentary on the female heroine, and how impossible it is for a story not to end with said heroine either married or dead. Marriage is an economic proposition, all the sisters remind each other, each of them navigating love versus convenience over and over again. Countless articles have been written about Jo’s queer-codedness, and I do not wish to be repetitive. It is sad that the only reason audiences could conceive of a character who wants to be a writer and not be around men is that she is a lesbian, but that being said, Jo is definitely a lesbian.

Jo cries for lost childhood; she cries at the sheer capacity of her fellow women, remembering that they have hearts, minds, and souls; she cries at the loneliness of being so independent. Timothée Chalamet confesses his love to her and she turns him down, and for that she is brave. And then she regrets it, maybe. Then he marries her sister, so it does not matter. And then she writes a book—an autofiction precursor about a group of sisters and their girlhoods, and a protagonist who dreams of telling stories. And at the end of the film, the book is bound in a red cloth cover and sewn together meticulously, and this object becomes her greatest joy. That is why I love her, my true lesbian Jo.


The wedding is already fully planned when I call it off. The venue, DJ, photographer, and wedding planner all booked, with nonrefundable deposits.

The months leading up to this are a flurry of site visits and phone calls. I stalk Instagram wedding content until I want to throw up. I take a quiz online and learn that the style of wedding I want to have is “Bohemian.” So, I go on Pinterest and I type “bohemian wedding” and then “bohemian wedding inspo.” I begin to save images of baby’s breath garlands, exposed wood beams, long 100-person dining tables with flowy linens, clusters of thick white votive candles in borderline fire-hazard arrangements, dresses that give off a vibe of white people in a barnyard being whimsical. On every phone call I have with a potential photographer or wedding planner, I try to make myself clear—I’m looking for something different. I have to try not to say the word “indie” even though I know that’s what I mean.

My mother comes with me to visit venues and we both swallow in silence as they begin to tell us numbers. Weekend rate is $15,000, or we could do a weekday for $8,000. This does not include food or anything else, simply a room with a lot of plants and exposed brick. They offer a discounted rate on the metal folding chairs that are described as “minimalist” and I imagine my whole family flying in from Mexico just to sit for hours, unsupported, on the tiny metal seats. I cool my fiery nerves by thinking of the wedding as an abstract dinner party I get to plan. And my mother soon turns her hesitation into excitement. Because this—her firstborn daughter’s wedding—is the ultimate symbol of successful parenting. The price is steep but she is willing to pay whatever it takes. We have worked hard for this, both of us surviving my rebellious late adolescence, my hatred for institutions and family normalcy. No, we’re here, with a high-strung girly venue coordinator holding a clipboard, and we’ve made it.

In these planning months, I barely sleep.


It is summer when my two best friends get engaged. We joke that it will be the gay wedding of the century.

Before one friend proposes, she tells me about her plan to do so. A fancy restaurant in Ojai, over a short stay, maybe I could be there, hiding at another table, taking photos. I feel privileged to carry this secret. She even shows me the ring online, the one she ordered. It is an ugly lesbian ring that is dark and blunt. I tell her it is beautiful.

She ends up scrapping the Ojai idea and proposing in the Philippines while they are with her family. They have a blissful photo shoot on the beach—a masc and a femme gallivanting on white sand at sunset, rings on their hands. I have never seen a more beautiful sight, and my heart bursts with happiness for them.

They are both overwhelmed by the entire thing, and I remind them: I’ve done my research. I offer to send them my Google documents, slides, spreadsheets, references, vendor list, budget breakdowns, anything. We all speak about the logistics without acknowledging the strangeness. Like a ghost, this thing I planned for that never existed. Maps with no destination, piles of documents that will eventually be moved into the trash, after enough time passes that they have not been opened.


Maggie Millner’s 2023 poetry collection Couplets: A Love Story centers on a narrator who ends her straight, long-term relationship after falling for an older academic dyke—“she was queer and edited periodicals / and I was a poet who had never dated a woman.” Without disclosing too many details, I found kinship in every stanza.

Millner recalls the slow deterioration of the straight relationship—opening with an initial intent to escape, pushing the threshold of disagreements—and the messiness of the enlightenment that follows: “I’ve hurt people I love being so / late to my desires.” She muses beautifully on the inevitability of queerness, “the knowing gaze / of Destiny,” and the tumult of those first queer months, at once full of freedom and strangeness.

Turning page after page, I felt deeply that Millner understood me. Understood that it is hard to hurt people, and to admit you have been deceitful, but that it is harder to swallow the truth forever. Both of us mourn and celebrate at once.

“You could have had everything you wanted, / had it been what you wanted.”


My phone alerts me that it is out of storage. It is time for at least an hour of scrolling through my photos and deleting old ones.

This practice has become especially strange in the past two years. I have learned the “Hide” function, and where my phone detects photos of my ex’s face, I have instructed it to hide the image. I encounter, first, a block of screenshots. Dozens and dozens of wedding dresses, most from the Anthropologie wedding line. Of course, no dress is modeled on anyone over a size two, so anything and everything looks stunning. Further down my 23,108-photo library, I scroll past my high-definition engagement shots. The “Hide” function has failed me, because my face is detected as the principal object. Few events in the last decade of my life have been captured by professional photography, but this is one of them. The photos themselves are impossible to miss even in a rapid scroll—my dress is a bright orange-red, the background a stark leafy green. My mouth is agape. I am sobbing. I can still remember the feeling in my stomach.


On another plane ride, I watch Pride and Prejudice. Despite my tendency to be gay, Mr. Darcy makes my heart leap. In this story, the Bennett sisters’ only pursuit is marriage. Their mother’s emotional state hinges upon the romantic prospects and successes of her daughters, and the film is comical and old-fashioned and also romantic and beautiful. I do not remember the Jane Austen text at all, but I believe the film has adapted it well. I can quote the movie line by line, some useless part of my brain now reserved for the memorization of their outdated dialogue.

Of course, the characters who bicker like enemies are the ones who have loved each other the whole time. We know it, we love it: the slow burn. I watch gleefully as Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) tantalizes Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen a.k.a. Succession’s Tom Wambsgans) with her stunning cheekbones, slight underbite, and aloofness. And I am fervently rooting for their marriage the entire time. I want Elizabeth Bennet to succeed—for her to get Mr. Darcy, for them to have a gorgeous wedding in the English countryside. Thus here, perhaps, I ascend and transpose myself. I assume the role of the mother, overly invested in this consecrated act. Or maybe I am she, Elizabeth Bennet herself, my romantic heart attaching to Darcy as the cis version of my masc-of-center fantasy. Whatever the case, the film is a stand-in I watch again and again, as if somehow it could fill the gaps in my own life. As if the protagonists’ love could mend my own wounds. As if someone else’s presence could fill my absence.


The ring now sits in the cupboard beneath my bathroom sink. It’s bent and broken, half-crushed metal and leftover diamonds in a little purple jewelry bag. I do not know what to do with it. Every time I look at it, I try to imagine the movements of a hand that made it bend the way it did. Was it a hand? Or was it crushed beneath a shoe? Perhaps it was thrown with such force that it warped. Whatever the velocity or method, it is a remnant of human anger, a broken thing.

It is an object, lacking meaning to me. The truth is, I cannot part with it.

LARB Contributor

Sarah Yanni is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She has been recognized as a finalist for BOMB magazine’s Poetry Contest, the Andrés Montoya Letras Latinas Poetry Prize, the Outpost Fellowship, and others, and her work can be found in outlets such as Mizna, Wildness, Full Stop, Iterant, Spectra Poets, and Autostraddle. She holds an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts.


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