When COVID-19 began spreading, daily life changed for all of us. But for some people, this adjustment didn’t just mean social distancing and working from home. For some, it meant coming to terms with the fact that one of the biggest days of their lives wouldn’t be going according to plan or schedule. We spoke to three people who had their wedding plans go out the window when the pandemic began about how they adjusted, whether it meant postponing or changing everything.
Jami and her then-fiancé Bryson decided to plan their wedding and a whole weekend full of fun activities in San Francisco, one of their favorite cities. The late-May festivities would include the couple’s favorite breweries and restaurants and top off with a Sunday brunch. In March when COVID-19 began spreading in the US, the couple quickly saw that their original plans had become impossible to follow through on. “As we kept watching the COVID numbers get worse and worse, we knew what we needed to do,” Jami says. “There were so many more important things to worry about at that time, like our health and our loved ones, that being upset about having to cancel our party weekend felt trivial. We were both working from home, hustling to make sure we were delivering results for our companies and clients, checking in on family, and drinking a lot of wine! Cancelling our wedding was hard and we wish we could have celebrated with all of our friends, but ultimately there was no other choice.” They drafted and sent out an update to their 70-person guest list, letting them know about the cancellation and assuring them that they’d be kept in the loop on future plans. “We want you to know that this does not cancel the love we have for each other or the love we have for you,” the note read. “We hope and plan to still have a celebration with our friends and family when the time comes, and we look forward to seeing and hugging you all soon.”
With their initial plans cancelled, the couple had to decide on their alternative. Jami says that after tossing out one whole set of plans, she wasn’t in a rush to make new ones, especially in such a volatile set of circumstances. “I couldn’t fathom planning another wedding or picking a new date. Planning a wedding is a lot of work no matter how big or small, so at the time I was just disappointed and exhausted.” After some thought, they decided to keep their original wedding date. “We didn’t want to let COVID ruin all of our plans,” Jami says, “so it was important to us to stick with our date.” They drove an hour north to Jami’s parents’ house and Facetimed Bryson’s Massachusetts-based parents and decided that was all the company they needed. “We both had ‘Zoom fatigue’ from all the video chatting we did when quarantine started (and still do for work) so we just wanted it to feel intimate and close,” Jami says.
“As long as you’re with the right person, it all works out in the end— and make sure you have good pizza.”
They took photos in the back yard surrounded by her mom’s beautiful orchids and picked up a box of their favorite pizza. “We decided to write vows to one another and we read each other’s out loud,” Jami says. They ended up congregating in the kitchen to read their vows and later it occurred to them how perfect it was that her last name was Cook and his was Baker. “Only afterwards did we realize a Baker and a Cook got married in a kitchen!” she says. “I have to admit, I went into the day a little cranky, disappointed and defeated, feelings that are definitely prevalent during this time. But we laughed, ate good pizza, had a dance party just me and my husband and ended up having a great night.”
Jami hopes to celebrate the occasion with their larger group of friends and family once it’s safe to travel and gather again. “We need to be realistic and put the safety of our loved ones first,” she says. “Hopefully we can have a party by the end of next year, or maybe we’ll just celebrate our 3-year anniversary with everyone instead! I haven’t worn my dress yet, so hopefully that will still fit. It definitely won’t be the full weekend of events that we had originally planned, but I’m sure it will be fabulous.” The biggest lesson Jami learned through this journey? “As long as you’re with the right person, it all works out in the end— and make sure you have good pizza.”
At the beginning of 2020, Jenn was looking forward to her wedding in May. It would be a springtime garden wedding in New York, at the perfect time of year for their friends with children or careers in academia to come and celebrate their union. Jen and her fiancé had started planning their wedding in 2018 (“We gave ourselves a leisurely amount of time to plan,” Jenn says), giving them plenty of time to make sure every detail reflected their personalities and relationship. Jenn collects vintage pulp fiction novels, so it only made sense to commission an artist friend to design a wedding invitation that resembled a pulp fiction cover featuring herself and her fiancé as protagonists. “I wrote really funny copy on it” Jenn says. “The tagline is ‘a shocking tale of a quiet musician, a mouthy writer, and their life of scandalous equality.'” A blurb on the bottom reads, “She doesn’t cook! She doesn’t clean! She doesn’t even understand C++! What compels this handsome talented programmer to marry… The Feminist Bride!”
The rest of the theme fell into place from there with a thousand thoughtful details: tables decked out with vintage glass bowls and cake stands stacked with pulp novels, a purple wedding dress, a Heroes and Villains motif for members of the bridal party, a twist on the bouquet and garter tosses where the couple would throw plush carnival prizes to the crowd with gifts attached that were symbolic to each of them. Their registry included non profits they’re passionate about and their reception would have opportunities for matched donations as well. “We wanted to make everything we could have meaning for our community and our values,” Jenn says.
Just two months away from the big day, the world started to change forever. On March 6th, Jenn went to try on her wedding dress. On March 7th, she and her fiancé started quarantining to do their part to stop the spread in New York, one of the places hit first by the pandemic in the US. The next few weeks were difficult as the couple tried to predict what the coming months would bring. “That whole first week we were feeling so guilty about the potential of postponing— what about other people who had nonrefundable airfare or had taken time off from work?” Initially, many were still convinced the world would be back to normal in plenty of time for a May ceremony and it put Jenn in a quandary. “There were so many unknowns. Do we postpone and lose a lot of money and all this work and time and effort? If we don’t postpone are we endangering people?” By March 15th, they made the decision to postpone their wedding by a year. “It was a huge relief once we made that decision but it was still very emotional.”
Now after a year in quarantine, the circumstances are different. Jenn and her fiancé are now postponing their wedding, which they had rescheduled to May 2021, by a whole additional year. Because they’ve already paid for their garden venue, it only leaves them with so many options. “We live in New York and have a garden wedding so there’s only so many times that makes weather sense. We can say maybe it’ll be safe by January of next year, but who wants to go to a garden wedding in January?”Jenn says there’s no way they’d do a ceremony without their community, and they aren’t willing to gather their community while there’s still any chance of endangering a loved one. She and her fiancé are already domestic partners and enjoy the legal benefits of marriage; the entire point of the wedding, to them, is to involve their chosen family in an important milestone. “For us,” she says, “the wedding isn’t just about marrying our life partners, but it’s also about having this bonding experience with our community of chosen family. The wedding is an investment in our friends and community.” Because of this, they’re holding all their fun wedding plans until they’re able to safely involve their community. “We didn’t just want to have a legal ceremony and have a party later, because we’ve already done the legal thing. We went down to city hall a couple of years ago, signed some papers and all of a sudden, bing bang boom, we’re domestic partners, so it was kind of anticlimactic. It wasn’t a particularly romantic experience, it was for legal reasons. We were committed to each other but we wanted the wedding to be the emotional thing, and we wanted the emotional thing to be a part of our community.”
“After this much isolation for this long, it’s going to take a buffer period to bounce back and feel more like ourselves.”
Jenn says a big hurdle in thinking about a future wedding now is the emotional disconnect. She says that even if they were somehow able to safely make their second date, she’s not sure she or her partner would be emotionally prepared after such a hard year. “We were in the 4th hardest hit neighborhood in Brooklyn. We lived in the absolute heart of the pandemic. The reddest of the red spots. There was a two month period where you’d wake up in the morning, you’d hear an ambulance siren, you’d go to sleep, you’d hear an ambulance siren, and you’d never stop hearing them between. So I don’t really have the heart to be thinking about, ‘Let’s go for a dress fitting, it’ll be so fun.’ It’s hard to be a person who’s committed to community and making the world a better place while trying to plan a life-changing event event that’s supposed to be emotionally gratifying and fun and ‘yay.’ Who has the heart for ‘yay’ right now?” She and her partner haven’t left their apartment since that day they started quarantining on March 7th. “If somebody said that in mid-April someone would snap their fingers and everyone would be immune to COVID, would we even be ready emotionally to have this joyful moment of connection with ourselves and our community when we haven’t been out of the house? After this much isolation for this long, it’s going to take a buffer period to bounce back and feel more like ourselves.”
On top of the strain of isolating, Jenn was also exhausted from her experiences trying to educate online circles about COVID safety and precautions. When planning her wedding, Jenn had connected with several wedding planning groups online and grew concerned when she saw that many circles weren’t taking the virus seriously. She hoped to use her experiences, and the example of her city who hadn’t responded to the threat in time and was overwhelmed, to appeal to others who could still take steps to protect themselves and their communities. “Everyone in my circle was taking it seriously but I had access to all these strangers who were going on like nothing had changed. I spent so much time arguing for social responsibility and basic viral containment and basic care for others that could help keep people alive.” She said having these kinds of conversations online took a toll. “The pushback I got from those folks… I had a breakdown. I’m still working my way back from that.”
Ultimately, Jenn and her fiancé know that postponing their wedding, for however long, is the right thing to do because neither of them can imagine having a ceremony without their community there to celebrate with them. Neither Jenn nor her partner has much family, and because of that their bonds with friends are even more significant. “For us a wedding is much much more than decor and venue and all the details that people seem to care so much about on Instagram. Don’t get me wrong, I have a really fun set of things planned, but it wasn’t about that for us. We’re older. I’ve been fiercely independent and waited until I really wanted to marry the person whom I’m marrying. We’re not in our early 20s and we don’t care as much about the trends or trappings as much as we care about a community-centered bonding experience. We’re both people with very small families and this is the kind of rite of passage that people usually experience with their families and we can’t really do that in the way most people do so our chosen families are it for us, in addition to the few relatives that we have.”
In early March 2020, Amory and her then-fiancé Woody were feeling victorious after finally finishing their seating charts for the wedding reception they had planned on March 28th. “I was actually really excited about having fit that puzzle together. It made it a little more tangible that we literally had our seating chart and we knew everybody who was going to be there and where they’d be sitting.” What they didn’t realize was that in just one week, everything would be different.
On Wednesday March 11th, the NBA cancelling their season was the first big sign that their wedding was in danger. Amory and Woody decided to fly to North Carolina from New York as quickly as possible— they used that Thursday to borrow a friend’s car and move Woody’s belongings into the Brooklyn apartment they’d be sharing after the wedding and on Saturday morning flew into Raleigh. Later that day they sent out an email to their guests recognizing that some might not be comfortable traveling for the wedding and included an updated RSVP form. On Sunday they got news that the Governor of North Carolina had banned any events over 100 people and by Sunday night the CDC had recommended banning any event over 50. “That was the final straw,” Amory says. “It felt like the rug was being pulled out from under us bit by bit and that was the final bit that left us with no other option besides cancelling our wedding as we had planned it.”
On Monday morning, they emailed their guests to notify them that the wedding was officially cancelled. “That day we had to call all of our vendors and cancel everything. So Monday was our ‘cancel our wedding’ day, Tuesday was our ‘plan our new wedding’ day, and Wednesday we got married.” Their new date was based solely around the small number of the couple’s family that would be able to attend: ultimately the party was made up of their parents, Woody’s brother and Amory’s sister. The idea of postponing was floated, but ultimately they decided they didn’t want to wait. “We were so close to our wedding anyway, we just wanted to get married. It was pretty clear it wasn’t going to clear up anytime soon so it seemed like no matter what, unless we waited potentially a very long time, it was going to be a small family wedding. So we just tried to schedule it around our family.”
After running the gauntlet of cancellation emails to friends and vendors, Woody, Amory and their parents got to work planning a wedding in a day. They called a local florist and were told they could have some bouquets and flowers for the bridal party by noon the next day. Amory’s mom decided to pick up a fancy strawberry cream bundt cake in lieu of one she had planned to bake herself. “That was the most delicious cake I’d ever had, so that ended up being a really fun decision.”
Amory says that, for all the stress and disappointment, the new wedding plans did offer her one thing: freedom, and hugely reduced pressure. “Once we adapted to the situation, it really was an extremely low-pressure wedding. I had been really nervous about walking down the aisle and being the center of attention with so many people and I really didn’t have a single thing to be nervous about on the day of our wedding. It was a really comfortable time. I think my mother-in-law called it ‘the freedom wedding,’ just because it was free of all pressure and we could kind of do whatever we wanted.” Another nickname, “Our Guerilla Wedding,” arose when it came time to lock down a new location. When the couple called their favorite park about making a reservation to have their new ceremony, they were told reservations had been halted due to the lockdown. Thankfully, one helpful employee told them that if they showed up, nobody would kick them out. “We ended up getting a ‘wink wink’ from a park that couldn’t give us an official reservation.”
It felt like the rug was being pulled out from under us bit by bit.”
Hours before the wedding, one thing was still weighing on Amory: the potential absence of her older sister and maid of honor, who wasn’t sure she could get off work to make the six hour drive for the new ceremony. Amory had already accepted that her brother and sister-in-law, who live in Texas, wouldn’t be able to be there in person and were Skyping in. “I had already adjusted to a lot of disappointment and already adjusted to my brother not being able to come, but my sister who was my maid of honor and the only non-parental family or friends who would be able to come besides my parents… When it looked like she wasn’t going to be able to come either I think that was the hardest part of the entire ordeal.” The thought that Amory wouldn’t have anyone to stand beside her at her own wedding was almost too much to bear. “I woke up on my wedding day very sad, which was my biggest fear all along.” Luckily, a few hours later Amory’s sister called her from the road, telling her she was able to make it after all. “I got a call from her the next morning crying and saying that she couldn’t miss it and she would be there, and that kind of redeemed the day.”
Amory was thankful to have such a beautiful, if unexpected, venue for her new special day. One significant blessing of the new wedding was that Amory’s father was able to walk her down the aisle. “My dad has limited mobility, and at the bigger event and at the outdoor venue on the grass as we had originally planned he didn’t think he’d be able to walk me down the aisle. When our plans changed and there were so few of us and it was a really short, even pathway he was able to walk me down the aisle. That was a really precious thing to come out of all of this.” Amory says she and Woody discussed live streaming their ceremony to all their initial invitees, but Amory decided to embrace the opportunity to have a low-stress, intimate day. “I felt very strongly after such an emotional week that if we were going to have a small intimate ceremony, I just wanted to have that small intimate ceremony and not have to worry about anything else. I still feel really good about that decision for myself.”
Amory and Woody always planned on having a celebration with friends and family whenever it was safe to do so, but the timeline for it has shifted as COVID continues to sweep through the country. “We’ve started holding that plan a little looser. I would still like to have some sort of wedding celebration with our extended family and friends but I no longer have a time limit on it. I definitely want to have a celebration but I really don’t want to be stressed out about planning it. So I’m in no particular rush at this point. We’re already past the immediacy.”
When she looks back at her wedding day and holds it against her plans, Amory feels a mix of gratitude and grief. “It’s definitely a mixture because there’s part of me that thinks that as the world gets more normal again, if I go to other people’s big weddings I have a feeling that I’ll be a little sad if we don’t ever get to have that sort of gathering. But at the same time the actual memories of that day are really sweet.”