Watching the ABC reality dating show The Bachelor has been a guilty pleasure for Kimberley Kennedy for a while now. “I can’t stop watching it,” admits Kennedy, who hosts her own show, Hot Topics, on the ABC affiliate in Atlanta. “Every season I say I’m going to stop watching it, and I can’t. I’m pulled back in.” So Kennedy was glued to the screen last week when the Bachelor suddenly jilted his fiancée for another contestant in front an audience of more than 15 million viewers. No one watching was more shocked than Kennedy, the author of a new book Left at the Altar: My Story of Hope and Healing for Every Woman Who Has Felt the Heartbreak of Rejection about her own wedding trauma. TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs reached Kennedy at her home in Atlanta.
What was your reaction when you saw the bachelor leave his fiancée on live TV
I’ve been where Melissa is; I know what it’s like to have not just your heart broken, but to have it done so publicly and humiliatingly.
What do you imagine she’s going through right now
It’s devastating, especially because they were engaged. In her mind she had already probably been fantasizing about their lives together. So she’s devastated. But I’m probably going to get wrath from women everywhere because, look, this wasn’t the first time The Bachelor was on television. These women were probably big fans of this show. They knew what they were getting into. They signed a contract. I mean, they know that the odds are a lot greater that they’re going to get rejected than they’re going to get chosen. People are angry because he did it on national television. Well, she was probably going to get rejected at some point on the show. I don’t have as much sympathy. I mean, this is a television show.
How did you originally meet Lew, your own fiancée
A blind date. I had been very career-oriented. I had not dated a lot. When this man came along, I really fell hard because he seemed to have all the qualities I was looking for. He was smart, he was funny, he was in my business, we shared a lot of the same interests. He was athletic, very close to his family. So I did fall pretty hard for him. I’m not sure I even dated anybody after that, and I don’t really think he did either.
How long after you started to go out did you get engaged
Exactly a year. We set a wedding date for that next Christmas, and then he said he wanted to wait. So I went, okay. Just as long as we’re going to do it, I can wait. It was a little unsettling, but he never, ever, ever said, “I don’t know if I want to be married or not.” He never said that one time. So I just assumed he was having cold feet. A lot of men have cold feet.
What happened the day before your wedding
It was the day of the rehearsal. We were at the church. Anybody who has been married knows what that’s like. Your whole wedding party is there. Your family is there. We were going to rehearse the whole ceremony and choose the music and the Scripture readings. We were there and everybody was happy and excited, and he was late. I didn’t think anything about it at first because he was kind of always late. When he finally came in, I didn’t see him at first. His sister came in to the sanctuary where we all were and said that he needed to see me. I knew. I knew something was wrong. I went back into the priest’s office and Lew looked horrible. It was kind of surreal because I saw him in a suit like he was getting ready to go through with the rehearsal, yet the look on his face didn’t correspond with being in the suit. So I could see. I knew. I just knew before he said a word that the wedding wasn’t going to happen. And then he said the five words that changed my life forever. “I just can’t do it.”
So what did you do
I think anybody who has been through a shock like that, you know how you feel. Your body is just really numb. My sister kind of came in and took over. By now the word is trickling out and it’s just chaos in the church. I have to tell you, it looked a lot like Sex and the City, when Big wouldn’t marry Carrie. My people were rallying for me and my sister said things in the church she shouldn’t have said. I’m sure bad words. She was yelling at him. I think I threw my ring at him. It was really bad. And then my family whisked me out pretty quickly. It was just a terrible scene.
You write about the different stages that you went through afterwards. What was that like
It’s absolutely grief. In fact, I think it’s worse than if someone had died because this person chose to leave you. I mean, that’s as big a rejection as big as can be. He did not want to marry me, and I thought, “I must be some kind of horrible person to have someone do this.” I’d never heard of this happening to anybody. You know It was just a complete depression. What made it worse for me was a lot like what Melissa is going through. Because I was on television, I was the 5:00 o’clock anchor at our ABC affiliate and I was on television every day. When I left that day, the whole town knew I was getting married. It was so embarrassing. It was in the gossip column by Monday morning in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it was on the radio these were all my friends in radio who were letting my fiancé have it. But I couldn’t help thinking at the time that this is exposing a whole lot more people to my story than I would have liked. It was really humiliating, and I’m sure it was for my family.
Did you talk to Lew at that point at all
He never called me to check on me or see how I was. Never.
How long ago was that now
It will be twelve years in April. And I know people might think, “Oh, lady, get over it.” But I think you need a long time to process something like this, to really think about it, to be able to forgive, to forgive yourself. Look, let me make this point. Nobody should go through with a wedding they don’t feel right about. Nobody. I am extremely thankful that he did not say, “I can’t hurt her feelings. I’m obligated to her. Everybody will hate me.” I am so thankful that he ended it when he did. I really am. I can’t be angry about that.
How long was it before you completely got over that
Several years. Every time I’d start to date again, I’d compare everybody to him. The good parts, not the bad parts. So nobody ever lived up to that level of happiness that I had felt with him which was so unfair because there were obviously aspects of him that I wouldn’t want to have in a mate. The book is filled with other women’s stories of rejection as well. I interviewed a lot of single women, and I kept hearing the same story. “Oh, we were dating three months, six months, a year. Everything was going great. I met his family, he loved my friends, I thought we were going to get married. And then he just ended it. For no reason he just ended it.” I heard that over and over, and I thought, we need to find out why that happens. So I interviewed a bunch of men, and they explained.
And what did they say
I think men are just wired differently than we are. They don’t engage in relationships as quickly as we do. We can go on dates for three days and plan a wedding. For them, I think it takes them a whole lot longer to get invested in a relationship. So therefore, when they finally realize this isn’t the one, we are so invested in it by that point and they’re ready to move on and find the one that’s the right fit for them. The reason I wanted women to know that is I don’t want women to have these feelings of rejection, like “What’s wrong with me, why doesn’t he like me Was I not pretty enough or smart enough or sexy enough” I don’t want women to feel that way. He just wants a good fit for him. And I think that’s what we’re all trying to do. They’re trying to find the same thing we are, lasting relationships. They just come at it differently than we do.
Have you gotten married since then
No. Not for lack of trying. I’m looking. But the great thing about coming to this place in my life and coming through this whole journey is that my life is so happy and good now and so many great things came out of it that if I find a husband now and I hope I do it’s just going to be icing on the cake.
See the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2008.See TIME’s Pictures of the week.