Left at the Altar: 10 Reasons He Got Cold Feet

Arguing couple
There are many reasons why a groom might flee the altar.
©iStockphoto.com/Andrew Rich

It's the day that she's been dreaming about since she was a little girl: her wedding day. She's leaving a small room where she got dressed in her perfect gown. After checking herself out in the mirror, she realizes that she's never felt more beautiful. Her father stands nearby, ready to take her arm and walk her down the aisle to the man that she'll be with for the rest of her life. She peers toward the end of a long aisle, leading into a room filled with all her friends and family. She glances down to the altar, where her fiance and his best man should be waiting along with the officiant. Yet nobody's there. After a while, she realizes that what was supposed to be the happiest day of her life has turned into one of the worst.

This is the most dramatic scenario of being "left at the altar" -- some men are kind enough to at least tell their former brides-to-be a few days ahead of time, and in private. But regardless of how it's done, it's still humiliating and completely knocks you for a loop. The big question is ... why? Read on for our list of 10 reasons why some men get cold feet.


10: Disagreement on Major Issues

he may second-guess this relationship if there are too many fights
Conflicts over important issues like children might give him cold feet.
©iStockphoto.com/Tatiana Gladsikkh

Before you get married, there are some pretty major issues that should be discussed. Hopefully they've come up over the course of your dating and engagement, and you've managed to come to some kind of understanding. But for whatever reason, sometimes these important issues don't get discussed until the wedding gets near. We're not talking about the little things, like whether the toilet paper should hang over or under the roll, or whether leaving just a tiny bit of juice in the bottom of the carton is an infuriating or innocuous habit. We're talking the major, life-changing issues. Disagreements about these are likely to cause problems in the marriage, and they're enough to give a man cold feet.

For example, suppose the man wants to have a houseful of children but the woman can't see herself having more than two. Or the disagreement includes religion, politics or where they're going to live as a couple. If neither person will budge on his or her stance now, you can't hope that they'll change after marriage. But if one or both people aren't honest with their feelings at the start, one of these major issues could end up being the reason for a canceled wedding.


9: Afraid of Lifestyle Change

pizza, cold beer and cold feet
He might not be ready to give this up.

Ah, the bachelor life. Friday night at the bar with his best buddies. Sitting around eating chips, drinking beer and watching football on a Sunday afternoon. There's no reason to expect that these little rituals will change after marriage, right? Wrong. When you're married, you're responsible to another person. That doesn't mean that you can't ever do anything that you want to do, it just means that you should run it by your spouse first ... and be prepared if she would rather you do something else with her instead. Some men can't handle the idea that their lifestyle is going to change this drastically.

Some men are also afraid of giving up their space, especially if they haven't already lived with their bride-to-be. She's going to want to bring in her own things here and there. There might not be room for a certain piece of his favorite furniture. Girly bathroom products will take up real estate next to the sink. Marriage is about compromise. Sometimes you get your way, and sometimes you concede in order to make the other person happy. An inability to do this is another reason why some men get cold feet.


8: Not Over His Ex

No matter what we may say, there are times when our exes cross our minds. It depends on the relationship, of course. If the groom-to-be had a long-term relationship, was engaged or was even previously married, then that person was a huge part of his life for a significant length of time and he's not going to get over her very easily, regardless of who did the leaving. If he had children with her, then she's still in the picture, and that makes it even more difficult to move on.

One thing to consider is how quickly he started dating again after the breakup of his last relationship, as well as how quickly he got engaged. If it was a short amount of time, then there's more of a possibility that he isn't quite ready to commit again. That doesn't necessarily mean that he wants to get back with his ex. It could just mean that he needs more time, but that depends on both how he left his bride-to-be at the altar and how patient (and forgiving) she is.


7: Too Much Pressure

time to pop the question
Did he propose because he wants to, or because he felt too much pressure?

For many women, getting married and having children are absolute musts. They feel a lot of pressure -- from society and their families -- to get married by a certain age and start producing the next generation. While we're long past the era of "old maids," and many women are choosing to marry and start families later in life, that pressure never goes away. There's also the matter of the biological clock. Men can theoretically father children at any age, but women generally experience a little something known as menopause that eventually renders them unable to bear children.

Men don't typically feel the same kinds of pressures that women do when it comes to marriage. There's also still a lot of glorification of the bachelor life and the freedom that it entails. So it makes sense that even in a long-term relationship, the man may not feel as strong of a desire to make a legal, lifetime commitment. In his mind, what's the rush? However, some men agree to get married because their girlfriends (or family -- his or hers) have pressured them. They want to end the constant conversations, and they want to make their girlfriends happy, so they go for it. But when they see their girlfriends go into wedding-planning mode and start thinking about the actual marriage, they realize that they only got engaged due to pressure.


6: Immaturity

It's not just a stereotype that girls mature faster than boys -- and it's not simply limited to physical maturity. According to one study, boys' brains don't catch up to girls' brains until as late as their 20s [source: ABC News]. Aside from the biological aspect, some observers point to a societal delaying of maturity in men. George Will claims that we're living in a "culture of immaturity among the many young men who are reluctant to grow up" [source: Newsweek]. He cites a study showing that 13 percent of men between the ages of 25 to 34 live with their parents, versus only 8 percent of women.

Even if you don't buy that we're living in a culture that encourages men to extend their childhoods, there are some men who are simply not mature enough for marriage. Age has nothing to do with it, either. They get older but don't "grow up." People who are emotionally immature are generally self-centered, impulsive, overly dependent on others and have wildly fluctuating moods. None of these things are compatible with a healthy marriage, which requires selflessness, patience, interdependence and stability. So if you've seen some of those traits in a man who got cold feet, it might just be the reason for his backing off of getting married. And in this case, it's probably for the best.


5: Loss of Sexual Freedom

Unless she happens to be rather unconventional, it's a safe bet that the bride-to-be expects her new husband to be faithful to her for the duration of their marriage. Some men simply can't handle the concept of having only one sexual partner for the rest of their lives. They imagine that they'll get bored eventually and sex will become monotonous. Or worse yet, they'll have no sex at all. Sometimes life simply gets in the way, especially once you have kids.

Many biologists claim that monogamy as a general rule isn't "natural." There aren't many other species that practice it, and there's a good biological reason for this: Men don't have to carry and take care of babies. And while women are born with a finite number of eggs and release just one per month, men constantly manufacture sperm and release millions of them with each ejaculation. It's in their best interest, biologically speaking, to spread it around for the best chance of furthering their line. Of course this is no excuse for infidelity. If a man leaves his fiancee at the altar because he's worried about losing his sexual freedom, there's a possibility that he would've cheated eventually had he gone through with it.


4: Age Differences

Age is nothing but a number, right? Not necessarily. Some people believe that a big difference in age between a man and a woman shouldn't have any bearing on their relationship, but it does. When a man is with a woman who is much younger than he is, it can make him feel very experienced and wise in comparison. Sexual attraction may also be a part of it. On the other hand, dating a much older woman can be exciting because she might be more confident and open about her sexuality.

That's the good part, but a good sexual relationship isn't going to translate to a good marriage. There's no magic formula, but men and women who are widely apart in age can also be at very different places in their lives. According to love and marriage experts Drs. Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz, "When the difference is greater than 10 years the 'success rate' starts to go down" [source: Psychology Today]. A big age gap can also mean big differences in things like life goals and interests. Realizing that the age difference is too big of an obstacle is another reason why some men leave their fiancees at the altar.


3: Money Woes

Arguing over money
Money problems are the source of many arguments between couples and can cause a man to get cold feet.
©iStockphoto.com/Kris Hanke

Discussing your financial situation with somebody else can be very uncomfortable, but if you're going to get married, it's a necessity. Even if you keep separate bank accounts, you're going to have shared bills and you'll need to decide who will be paying for what. You'll also probably be making large purchases together such as cars and houses, and you'll need to plan for the future with things like savings accounts, 401(k)s and IRAs. But what happens if the groom-to-be believes in spending like there's no tomorrow, while his fiancee is a tightwad? Or what if she's a shopaholic and he carefully watches every single penny?

Because it can be so difficult to discuss, some people avoid it altogether. Maybe the man hasn't been entirely honest about his financial situation, whether it's good or bad, and realizes that it's going to all come out once they get married. Some couples also pay for their own weddings, and seeing how his future wife spends that money might be troubling. Regardless of exactly what's going on, a man may get cold feet because of his own money situation or the financial differences between him and his fiancee.


2: Trust Issues

Committing yourself to someone else for the rest of your life requires you to let go and trust them. You have to trust that they'll be faithful to you in every way, that they'll always be there, and that your love for each other will be able to carry you through any disagreements that you have over the years. Most of us are willing to make the leap once we find the right person, because we know that there are so many wonderful things that come with making that commitment.

Unfortunately, not all men are able to let go and take that leap of faith, especially if they've been burned before. They worry incessantly about whether their fiancee really loves them and wants to be with them, whether she's going to cheat or if she's been honest about everything. It often comes from his insecurities. And when trust issues are deep-seated, sometimes no amount of reassurance from the woman can make them go away. While counseling can help, it might be something that the concerned groom has to address on his own.


1: Baggage

We all have baggage in one sense or another, and we're not talking about the kind that you have to pay ridiculous fees to check at the airport. "Baggage" just means that we are, in some ways, the sum of our experiences. Every relationship that we've had in the past shapes how we behave in our future relationships, and that's not always a bad thing. But if those past relationships were full of negativity, there's a real possibility that they'll cause problems in the groom-to-be's relationship with his fiancee.

This doesn't just extend to past romantic relationships, either. Of course if he was hurt badly by a former partner or went through a messy divorce, it's going to make a difference. However, if the man grew up in an abusive home, or has a generally difficult relationship with his parents or family in general, this can affect how he views all different types of close relationships. He may not immediately make the connection between his past and the turmoil that he's feeling about getting married, but there's a real possibility that he got cold feet because of the baggage he's carrying around.

Any of these reasons, or a combination of them, could explain why he got cold feet and left his fiancee at the altar. The truth is most of the things on this list can be overcome if the man recognizes them in himself and decides to work on them. It just needs to happen long before the wedding day.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Barash, David. "The myth of monogamy." Salon. Jan. 23, 2001. (Oct. 22, 2010)http://www.salon.com/sex/feature/2001/01/23/monogamy
  • Dunleavy, MP. "The 12 biggest reasons we fight over finances." MSN Money. 2010. (Oct. 21, 2010)http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/CollegeAndFamily/LoveAndMoney/The12BiggestReasonsWeFightOverFinances.aspx
  • Johnson, Pamela. "10 Reasons He Got Cold Feet -- What You Can Do About It." Essence Magazine. Dec. 15, 2008. (Oct. 22, 2010)http://www1.essence.com/relationships/advice/articles/whyhewontcommit?Page=1
  • Mitchell, Lawrence. "Coping with Cold Feet." AskMen. 2010. (Oct. 22, 2010)http://www.askmen.com/dating/dating_advice_60/71_dating_tips.html
  • Sachs, Andrea. "What Happens When You Get Left at the Altar." Time. March 10, 2009 (Oct. 21, 2010)http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1883968,00.html
  • Santos, Rich. "11 Reasons Why Guys Might Be Afraid to Commit." MSN Lifestyle/Marie Claire. 2010. (Oct. 21, 2010)http://lifestyle.msn.com/relationships/article.aspx?cp-documentid=22462989
  • Schmitz, Charles D. and Elizabeth V. Schmitz. "When are you too old to marry young?" Psychology Today. April 26, 2010 (Oct. 22, 2010)http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/building-great-marriages/201004/when-are-you-too-old-marry-young
  • Vargas, Elizabeth. "The Truth Behind Women's Brains." ABC News' 20/20. Sept. 28, 2006 (Oct. 21, 2010)http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=2504460&page=1
  • Will, George. "Immature Men Won't Grow Up." Newsweek. March 8, 2010 (Oct. 20, 2010)http://www.newsweek.com/2010/03/07/the-basement-boys.html