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Notes to My Younger Self: How and When to Break off an Engagement

by in Relationships on 20th February, 2024

Note: The women referenced in this article are under pseudonyms for privacy, however, their stories are real.

All the signs were there, and yet, for me, it seemed to lead to a dead end.

Mapping out a lifetime with someone comes with its own share of speed bumps. There are the challenges of maintaining  halal boundaries like wanting privacy without wanting to be totally alone. And along with these hurdles, arise questions about the amount of information to share and how frequently to communicate it. Everyone seems to have a different route, and I started to navigate my own path, with my family, friends, and scholars who were always a call away.

I finally found someone who decided to join me for the ride. They checked off all the boxes, and provided the right answers to all the questions with what I was looking for. But as the journey progressed, my heart slowly sank. I realized that I wanted to hit the brakes.

I’d heard of it happening before. A break happened after they had made it to the premarital counselling room, or even a month before the wedding. For me, things started to sour after the two of us met in-person, and after I met his family. It was after he’d relaxed a bit, and I’d removed the rose-coloured glasses that I was wearing only to find that those flags of his were really red after all.

My concerns were dismissed by others as “cold feet”, but my whole body was sounding the alarm. I had friends, mentors, and family members who supported my decision, and others who couldn’t seem to understand. There were boundless pressures for me to continue along with something I only saw ending. I fought with myself. Was it worth breaking this off? After all, it took me so long to get to this point, so what was a few hiccups here and there? Maybe there were issues that could be talked through before all communication was severed.

I lost count of the number of Muslim matrimony apps I was active on. When my ex appeared, it felt like he was a superhero, saving me from the villains who relentlessly asked, “What do you bring to the table?” Despite his demanding profession, he made time to call me every day. We could—and often did—talk for hours. I even had his mother’s and sister’s phone numbers. Eventually, we made travel arrangements and met in person. I increasingly felt sure of my decision every step of the way.

But within a week, we went from talking about a date for him to fly down and formally propose, to not talking at all.

Looking back, there were signs along the way that I wish I had paid more attention to. Therefore, here are notes to my younger self, in the hope that if you need it, it may help you through your own journey of finding a life partner.

Try repairing before breaking

“Reconciliation is best.” (Surah An-Nisa 4:128)

I knew that feeling unsure is an expected part of the process, but I wasn’t so sure that I should feel as though the process was debilitating. However, I spoke to some other people who reassured me that my feelings were valid and deserved to be addressed.

“When COVID happened, there was a lot of uncertainty,” Ghazala told me. “My then-fiance was born in another city, but he went to a school local to me. He had gone home for spring break when the lockdown began.”

Ghazala didn’t know how a marriage would work in those circumstances. While their parents had met and the proposal had been arranged with the help of community leaders, the onset of the pandemic brought forth many additional questions. Would she relocate to move in with him while he continued school remotely, or would he move to her so that he could attend school in-person once the lockdown was over? Not to mention that their jobs, families, and schools had to quickly adapt to the new circumstances, leaving little time or means to meet and effectively communicate. 

However, Ghazala said, “We made du’a that Allah guide us to what was best. Whether that was together or not.” After a few months’ break, she reached out to her then-fiance, and alhamdulillah, he is now her husband.

When I brought up concerns to my trusted friends and relatives. If I’d had a therapist at the time, she would’ve heard those concerns as well. Above all, I addressed those concerns with my fiance. Communication isn’t only key in a marriage, but in any relationship. I made sure to gather his thoughts and ask for clarification and elaboration when he answered. When discussions didn’t lead to reconciliations, I brought up the possibility of taking a break. 

In Ghazala’s case, she removed him from her social media accounts during their break, even blocking him and refrained from contacting him unless absolutely necessary. She also created another Instagram account filled with positive content to uplift her spirits  during this difficult time. One silver lining about the lockdown was that she was able to spend a lot of time with family and on teletherapy.

During my break, I continued to make istikharah (the prayer of seeking goodness) and seek istisharah (consultation). I spoke with friends, mentors, and relatives–married ones, divorced ones, and single ones for their advice and guidance.

I knew that disagreements would happen even after marriage. Navigating them before marriage was crucial, and having input from those who were more experienced could make my experience much smoother.

Gary Chapman provides three ways to have  disagreements without arguing in his ‘Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married’:

  1. “Meeting in the Middle:” when the two of you come up with a compromise that factors in both partner’s desires. An example can be that one person cooks the brunt of the meals, but that the other always cleans up afterwards.
  2. “Meeting On Your Side:” when after listening to both sides, one half of the couple chooses to go with the plan of the other half as an act of love and commitment to the relationship as a whole. This can look like the both of you spending both Eids with one side of the family if they are closer domestically, but intending to visit the other half at other points in the year.
  3. “Meeting Later:” when the both of you respectfully say that you disagree but intend to discuss later. This can look like moving abroad and family planning.

My friends shared with me that even though something could technically be halal (permissible), it could still make me uncomfortable. And that wasn’t permissible to me.

Some examples: 

  • If he prefers you to dress a certain way that you don’t prefer to
  • If he wants you to work or not work if you would prefer the opposite
  • If he’d like you to live with your in-laws if you want to live separately
  • If he treats your family a way that you don’t like
  • If his behaviour towards you changes negatively
  • If his family is spending too much or too little on a wedding that you don’t agree with
  • If he wants a long-distance marriage or he would prefer to extend the engagement, contrasting your timeline
  • If he wants to move abroad
  • If his family makes comments about you that he doesn’t handle
  • If he or his family would prefer you to live a certain way that you don’t envision for yourself

You can also find other signs from the Amaliah community here.

When he brought up a possibility that I didn’t consider, I felt pressured to make a decision immediately. However, timelines are our friends in these situations. Some circumstances and issues came up that forced me to reconsider my stance. My inner circle reassured me that changing your answer and having second thoughts was also permissible. That there was nothing wrong about being true to myself.

After one particular conflict, I confided in a friend. She shared with me something imperative, “If he doesn’t stand up for you before marriage, it is unlikely that he will do so afterward.” And I didn’t want that type of marriage.

Ending things

I reflected back on my lessons on the technicalities of engagements. Even if a man makes a proposal and a lady or her parents have agreed to it, she still has the option to break off the engagement. Whether the venue has been booked, invitations sent, dresses bought, or gifts exchanged; it doesn’t matter. It is never too late to leave. It is far easier to do so now than to go through a divorce later.

A helpful asset in this process was having a wali (male relative) or wakil (a man you trust on your behalf) have a conversation with the prospective groom. Both my wali and wakil served as my representatives, and looked out for my best interests. They did the “heavy lifting” for me. They attempted sulh (reconciliation) as well. When reconciliation wasn’t possible, they ended the relationship on my behalf so I didn’t have to be put in that vulnerable situation.

“My wakil had one final conversation with my ex before it was officially over,” Nahla tells me. “We were on a break during that time. When asked why, I gave my wakil the reasons–and he began to grow uncomfortable with the mindset my ex had on certain things, like qawwama (servitude). My ex felt that it was ‘obedience’ on the woman’s part and my wakil–like me–felt differently. We defined qawwama as the servitude on the man’s part—to take care of his wife. I asked my wakil to reason with my ex. Despite a respectful discussion, my ex decided not to proceed. As painful as it was for me, I was so glad that my wakil was the one to tell him goodbye. I was so wrapped up in my emotions, I might not have been able to step back from him.”

In some cases, the male fiance might terminate it first.

Leena writes, “My ex-fiance and I had gotten engaged in my home country. We exchanged occasional emails and phone conversations, but he also began to call our interactions ‘haram’ because we weren’t married yet. I was studying at a women-only college abroad and worked as a research tech in a reputable internship with a team of three men—a father, an engaged man, and another who was committed. Despite the fact that I always kept things professional, my ex-fiancee had instructed me to eat lunch separately and not ‘mix’ with them. He also wanted me to wear niqab, when I had only just started wearing hijab. I started to feel spiritually abused. Eventually when it was over, I was actually content that I didn’t have to end the relationship but he relieved me of it.”

In my experience, following through on the advice I received, I did find it helpful to delete his number, and those of his family members too. I removed them from my social media accounts completely. Even though the decision to stop talking was mutual and amicable, I wanted to reduce the amount of temptation I’d have to interact with him.

I was advised that if the two of us were to cross paths again, to be respectful. Even others in my situation were tempted to deal out any hurt that you’ve been dealt, but even in the surah of divorce, Allah ﷻ says over and over again for both parties to be conscious of Him.

New beginnings

“And He will provide for them from sources they could never imagine. And whoever puts their trust in Allah, then He ˹alone˺ is sufficient for them. Certainly Allah achieves His Will. Allah has already set a destiny for everything.” (Surah al-Talaq 65:3)

Recovery was hard, but it happened. And it’s still happening.

After everything was over, I couldn’t help but reflect: if women going through divorces and spousal deaths have periods of time where they don’t entertain proposals, then perhaps I, someone who had also lost someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, should do the same. After all, a potential spouse, in a way, is like a friend. I shared deeply personal information about myself. Letting go of that person was not easy.

I doubted myself for days, weeks, months, and even years after the process. It was paramount for me to surround myself with the people who validated my decision and reminded me why my chosen path was the correct one.

In time, I also wrote down why this was for the best. Journaling was beneficial; even the smallest blessings were ones to take into account. “I get to travel more” was one, or “I saved so much time and money.” A therapist also guided me through exercises to perform, books to read, and videos to watch.

I also took time to pray for this person and their family. Situations like these leave me feeling raw, but I remembered that the angels say ameen to whatever I say for him and his family.

Abu Darda reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ, said, “No Muslim servant supplicates for his brother behind his back but that the angel says: And for you the same.” (Sahih Muslim 2732)

Alhamdulillah, I’ve been able to accomplish so much by the will of Allah. Since losing my engagement, I’ve written my first novel, earned an ijazah (certification) in tajweed (Qur’anic recitation), pursued graduate school abroad, learnt how to play Dungeons & Dragons, protested nationally and domestically, and fulfilled my dream of becoming a writer.

Make no mistake, some days, I still grieve. When getting to know other suitors, the thought inevitably crosses my mind that my then-potential spouse wouldn’t have treated me this way. I remember an inside joke that we shared, and I think of him every time I hear his name. And I consider reaching out once more.

But then I remember why I chose to end things. And ultimately, I remember the duʿa of Umm Salamah (may Allah be pleased with her) after her husband passed away:

Umm Salamah, the wife of the Messenger of Allah , reported Allah’s Messenger as saying: “If any servant (of Allah) who suffers a calamity says: ‘We belong to Allah and to Him shall we return. O Allah, reward me for my affliction and give me something better than it in exchange for it,’  Allah will give him reward for affliction, and would give him something better than it in exchange.”

Umm Salamah said, “When Abu Salama died, I uttered these very words as I was commanded to do by the Messenger of Allah . So Allah gave me better in exchange than him—the Messenger of Allah .” (Sahih Muslim 918b)

May Allah bless you with better than what you’ve lost.


  1. Chapman, Gary. Things I Wish I Knew Before We Got Married. Pages 46-48.
  2. amaliah_com. What are some early red flags? Instagram.
  3. Find a Therapist – SEEMA Mental Health
  4. What should be said at times of calamity?
  5. Alkadi, Hannah. “The Hidden Grief: Losing an Engagement.Muslim Youth Musings.

Alkadi, Hannah. “Du’as and Dragons: How a Roleplaying Game Taught Me About Parenting.Amaliah.

Hannah Alkadi

Hannah Alkadi

Hannah Alkadi is a Lawful Good Social Media Master, starving writer, cat mom, and total nerd. She is 29 years old and lives in Dallas, TX. Her current project is the revival of her blog, “Social Media Free Sabil Allah,” helping nonprofit and for-profit owners navigate the wild, wild web.