Cold Feet Common in Brides-to-Be

ByABC News via logo

May 1, 2005 — -- In the movie "Runaway Bride," Julia Roberts' character is walking down the aisle on her wedding day when she turns and suddenly hightails it out of the church, with a ring bearer grasping the trail of her gown.

Hollywood may play the idea of wedding "cold feet" as amusing. But as the public has seen with the disappearance and reappearance of Georgia bride-to-be Jennifer Wilbanks, ditching a wedding is not typically an easy, or overnight, decision.

Running away from a wedding is more common than most people think, and for those who don't get on the bus or the plane, plenty may have thought about it.

"I got engaged and it didn't feel right," said Rachel Safier, an almost-bride who wrote the book "There Goes the Bride," and created a Web site about cold feet with the same title. "I had debilitating migraines, lost two dress sizes. I had nightmares, night after night."

Jennifer Wilbanks' escape appears to be elaborate and well thought out. She cut her hair to disguise her appearance and bought a bus ticket a week before her departure.

But family and friends of Wilbanks and her fiancé, John Mason, said they saw no indication of atypical behavior in the bride-to-be or trouble with the couple's relationship.

Family friend Dr. Michael O'Neill said he never would have pegged Wilbanks as a runaway bride.

"Jennifer seemed to be very much in love with John and vice versa and seemed to really be enjoying planning their wedding and honeymoon both," O'Neill said on "Good Morning America." "It was a shock to all of us."

But marriage counselors and other therapists say it is very common to feel overwhelmed and stressed before the big day.

By all accounts, Wilbanks was planning an elaborate, fairy-tale wedding with 600 guests, 28 attendants and thousands of dollars worth of gifts.

Alison Moyer-Smith, a Boston psychotherapist who counsels brides-to-be, said that brides are under enormous pressure regardless of the size of the wedding.

"I think any bride, even a bride who has a wedding with 30 people, could go through similar feelings," Moyer-Smith said on "Good Morning America." "Jennifer's were probably magnified because of the extraordinary money, the lavishness, the bridesmaids. … The pressure on brides to be only happy is so strong."

Moyer-Smith said she was struck by descriptions of Jennifer as "always happy" and said there can be a severe disconnect between what brides are supposed to feel and what they actually feel.

"This abduction story implies to me that she was abducted by her strong feelings," Moyer-Smith said. "She felt so extraordinarily trapped in this situation."

Neither Wilbanks nor Mason has spoken out about why she ran away and what will happen next, but friends and family are still hoping things will work out.

"I think that they both have a strong abiding faith, and I think once they work through this, there will be a happy ending," O'Neill said.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events