I got left at the altar: turning heartbreak into artwork

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Shelby Swink
All photos by Elizabeth Hoard Photography

When I met my fiancé in the beginning of 2011 we were both athletes at the same university in Tennessee. We started dating soon after that and hit it off very quickly. Our relationship was put to the test in 2012 when he moved back to his hometown in Florida, and I stayed in Tennessee to finish school. After a year of long distance, he surprised me and decided to move to Memphis, my hometown, to be with me. By December 2013 we moved in together and were doing great. So great, that we got engaged in March and started planning our wedding for November.

I poured my heart and soul into the wedding plans to try and make it the best day it could be. It was going to be a celebration of our love and commitment to each other, so I wanted it to be absolutely amazing. A few weeks before the wedding I had everything planned out to a T and was so excited for our big day.

Five days before the wedding the unexpected happened. My fiancé and I sat down and he told me that he was not in love with me, and did not want to marry me, or spend the rest of his life with me.

I was in complete shock and had no idea what to think or do. I was numb. The next couple days were a blur of calling guests, canceling services, and figuring out our living arrangements. Fortunately, my friends and family surrounded me and showed me endless love and support.

As the day that was supposed to be my wedding day approached, none of us knew what to do, think, or feel. I knew that a pity party was the farthest thing from what I wanted or needed. A few people brought up the idea of trashing the dress, and at first it sounded crazy. My mother spent so much money on the dress and alterations, so I was nervous to even think about destroying it, let alone try and pitch the idea to her. But after thinking about it, I knew that doing something to mark the occasion was the perfect thing for me. I was not going to let my ex-fiancé's mistake of letting me go take away my happiness.

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

My bridesmaids and parents supported the idea 100% and even joined me in their own dresses and suit. My friend Carolyn didn't even wait for my photographer Elizabeth to say "go" — she just kind of threw the paint on me.

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

The moment the paint hit my dress… I was free. All the disappointment, all the hurt… I just felt it leave me. I can't even describe how liberating and cathartic the experience was for me. I let go of all the hurt and became myself again.

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography) (102 of 319)

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography) (128 of 319)

trash the dresses before and after

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

I am a strong woman who believes that everything happens for a reason. We all face adversity in our lives, but what really defines us is how we decide to overcome that adversity. I decided that I will not let this tragedy and heartbreak consume me, and bring me down in life.

Trash the Dress, Part Two (110 of 124)

Afterwards, my dress was proudly displayed at The Barefoot Bride in Memphis.

Through the beginning of 2015, a portion of each wedding dress purchased while my dress is displayed will go to a Memphis non-profit that helps other women learn how to find their inner strength.

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Ultimately, I have come out of this experience a stronger and better person, and I am excited for the future knowing that God has a plan for me. Always remember to remain true to yourself and believe in your own strength and you can overcome anything life throws at you.

Trash The Dress (Elizabeth Hoard Photography)

Updated to add

Here's a video, from Shelby's dad!

  1. Keep on rockin' girl! You are BEAUTIFUL and an inspiration. I'm sure it took a lot out of you, but to do this, and come out on top….that is priceless.

  2. You go girl! *highfive* Almost the EXACT same thing happened to me this year! It was Memorial Day weekend. We were to be married during July 4th weekend. Despite *just* signing the contract and sending-in the non-refundable deposit to the photographer (the last item on the list), my ex told me: he didn't want to get married, he didn't believe in couples counseling, and he was leaving to live at his Mom's house. My life basically imploded at that point. Although I've spent some good time crying and moping about the whole thing, these past seven months have been the BEST of my life. Therapy helped me make sense of what happened. My family and friends rallied around me and made me realize how LOVED I really am. I've been able to throw myself into the things I enjoy, try new things, meet new people (I even dated a super hot rugby player for a couple months – making out with a hot guy can be a great distraction! haha). Now, I just feel like *me* again. It's wonderful and I'm honestly thankful to my ex for letting me go. You'll get through this, and come out stronger on the other side! ((Hugs))

  3. After seeing this here, I saw it pop up in my Facebook feed from other websites… it's just so awesome and empowering. The poses, the attitude shining through… it all says so much and it's easy to see why it's getting so much attention and love. Thanks for sharing your strength and letting others find amazing things in it!

  4. This was great!! I know this situation all too well when in 2011 after 4 years my ex cheated on me while in tech school a few weeks before our wedding and left me for her.this shows that we can heal and can overcome something like this. In aug of that same year I met my now husband whom I married in October and I wish you the best of luck in 2015!!!

  5. You ROCK! And so do your friends and your parents. Kudos to them for going all out with you to mark this event with strength and dignity. You are beautiful. I'll be sharing this with my clients! LOVE!

  6. That´s awesome! After a heartbreak, I wrote a short fiction story on mending a broken heart, and published it last month on Amazon. It took a few years to finish it and publish it though. Your story is inspiring. All the best!

  7. Great story. That man is a fool to walk away from someone with such grace and strength. Not sure which pic I like the best, the one where you're flexing, you look so fierce, or the one where you and your dad have your heads together. You have amazing parents and friends but an even more amazing inner light. Life will be good to you.

  8. I totally feel for you, not many people have the courage to move forward. Once upon a time I had a rough ending also only took me seven and a half years to figure that out, I may not have been engaged but I did the whole buying of the house, intertwined finances. but no matter how you paint it a loss is a loss. And you're very right we are meant for bigger and brighter things, when I finally had the courage to move I started talking to my best friends little brother and within 3 1/2 years we got married. Now my story is a little off but, I'm just waiting for him and someday we'll get to start our happily ever after!

  9. < Most has been said . Lovely pictures; you have given fashion a new statement and someone was in your corner. You could have married the dweeb. So much more tears yet they will be cleansing .

  10. What a delightful woman. Obviously the ex-groom lacked the ability to appreciate a once in a lifetime treasure. I would have been overjoyed to be the groom!

  11. Did anyone else watch this and think "I totally want to be friends with these people!" 🙂 The bride has an amazing spirit and a fabulous group of friends and family. And the pictures were beautiful!

  12. Congratulations on finding your strength in what our society considers a tough situation. You are an incredible example to other women. We are all okay without a man. We don't need one to "complete" us. I love your idea and I am touched by your support system. May you be blessed with an incredible future.

  13. You are indeed a rock star and you will find love again. Only next time it will be a man who truly deserves you instead of the d**k head who left you. I bet he feels pretty stupid now, as he should!

  14. Wow! Kudos to you! Gonna mention your story in one of my blogs. It is inspiring in many ways in terms of fighting adversity.

  15. I realize there are already a bazillion comments on this amazing post but I just had to add mine because it was just that wonderful to see, read and feel. Thank you for sharing this with us!!

  16. Shelby, sorry you had to go through rejection. I suffered rejection with my Dad but thankfully you seem to have a great Dad. Rejection is never fun however, so I commend you for handling it with such grace, mercy and seeming forgiveness. Understanding that everything turns out for the best because your life is not ruled by kismet, the roll of the dice or fate, but by the hand of God helps to stabilize the strong woman, separating her from those who allow others to ruin their inner peace. November 1st happens to be my and my husband's anniversary. On the day you were experiencing such emotional pain and then release my husband and I were celebrating 34 years of happiness downtown at the Peabody. We live in Cordova. He's from here. I'm from FL. He and I were both rejected by our previous spouses. We were the dump-ees, not the dump-ers as we like to say. He had been married and had 2 little ones, I never had any kids. As I'm sure you were told by those in your life who have lived through divorce, especially when there are children involved- it could have been worse- much worse. At the time, friends told me what you seem to already know, that this is for the best even though it takes a while for that notion to break through the trauma. I'm thankful for you and the good that has already come from your painful ordeal. May you continue to be a comfort to others and be comforted by the One who will never leave you or forsake you. May He bring you to the place where you discover completeness internally and externally. XOX

  17. You're a beautiful girl, your reaction is incredibly admirable, and every girl should envy your self confidence and sense of humor. I don't know you or the guy who decided not to continue his life with you, but I'm positive that it was his loss. I saw your story on Yahoo! and wanted to tell you that you earned my respect. congratulations for your new start, and all the best!

  18. u were saved. New Beginning. He didn't dump you rather he was dumped. In india we call it playing Holi with colors. Shine girl…….. Hope your life is colorful ….

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