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What It's Like Planning a (Virtual) Pandemic Wedding

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Like many young girls, I grew up having pretend weddings with my friends, where we took turns playing the bride, walking down an imaginary aisle carrying a fistful of dandelions. And like many girls, dating in my teens ushered in a wave of fantasy-inspired whimsy where I would practice writing my name as if I was married to my current beau or daydream about what our imaginary children might one day look like. Plenty of children grow up fantasizing about when they one day get to marry the person of their dreams. Nobody imagines they’re going to get married in the middle of a pandemic.

I am so blessed to be marrying my fiancé. He is truly the sweetest, kindest man I have ever known. He is smart and creative, funny in a wonderfully puntastic way, compassionate and empathetic. He is everything I could ever have asked for, everything I have ever dreamt of, and more. I’ve known him since we were children. He was my older brother’s childhood best friend for a time and my first crush ever. The sweet boy I remember from my childhood grew up to be an even more incredible man. I apologize for gushing but seriously — how many people get to marry their first crush?

We reconnected a few years ago after losing touch for 25 years and sparks flew immediately. Our relationship has faced some serious hardships along the way, but everything we have faced has only bonded us more strongly together. He lost his father to cancer two months after we began dating. A year later, we discovered I had two meningioma tumors on my brain. We both fight our own battles with mental illness.  Facing our struggles together these last few years have only reaffirmed that we want to spend the rest of our life, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, as husband and wife.

We initially intended to get married this past June. We weren’t planning anything too large or extravagant, just a quaint ceremony with a few dozen family and friends. We had talked about renting a cabin up north in the Adirondack mountains for a week, having our ceremony on site then staying at the cabin with our children afterwards for a nice honeymoon / blended family vacation. I had my wedding gown, had been picking out decorations and designing the perfect invitations. It was everything the younger versions of myself could have ever asked for. 

But then COVID hit. We live in New York, one of the first epicenters of the pandemic, so we knew by early spring that our wedding wasn’t going to be feasible. I didn’t even bother sending out any invitations. We decided to reschedule to June 2022, when, we hoped, the pandemic would be long over. 

A couple weeks ago, however, he looked at me and told me he doesn’t want to wait two more years to marry me. I began to wonder if a pandemic wedding was even possible. 

It’s not that weddings this year haven’t taken place. They have been reported in the news periodically as superspreader events. There was one wedding in Maine back in August that was only attended by 62 people, yet has led to at least 178 new COVID cases. It also caused the deaths of seven people, none of which even attended the wedding, only were exposed to people who had. Another wedding in Cincinnati in October had 83 guests, 32 of which later tested positive. Most recently, there was a November 7 wedding in Washington state with 300 guests.  Over four dozen of them have already tested positive in the two weeks following the event.

I wanted to marry the man I love, but I didn’t want to needlessly put the lives of family and friends at risk. We wanted to have a safe pandemic wedding. 

Our first serious conversation was about who we absolutely needed to have with us. It was a no brainer. The only people we absolutely needed to have with us were our children. The next time all four of our children, who are all young adults we see regularly as part of our small and safe COVID social bubble would be all together with us at the same time would be Thanksgiving weekend when we celebrate the holiday together. A Thanksgiving wedding it would be!

There were other family we truly wanted here with us that would not be possible. His aunt lives down in Florida. We would love to have her preside over our ceremony, but inter-state travel during the pandemic is not feasible. His brother was hospitalized a few months back for lung issues and is currently on oxygen. Neither could safely come over for a wedding. Then it occurred to us that, thanks to the pandemic, video conferencing has become widely accessible. There are many video conferencing platforms we could use to connect with not only them but any family and friends that would wish to attend, safely and remotely.  We did a little research and discovered, as well, that New York is one of a handful of states that allows people to preside over ceremonies remotely thanks to the pandemic. 

With our wedding being a very small affair consisting of just our children and ourselves, there was no need for a reception hall. We would do everything from the comfort of our own home. As for decorations, we decided that a holiday wedding would be the perfect excuse to put up our tree and other decorations early. What better backdrop could there be for a small family wedding than a house full of festive decorations? 

As far as our wedding dinner, we couldn’t have picked better timing if we tried. We’re already planning to incorporate the wedding into our Thanksgiving celebrations, so we have a wonderful turkey dinner planned. We’ll be preparing as much of the meal as we can in the couple days prior so the morning of our wedding can be as hassle-free as possible.

We even took a creative approach to our wedding registry. Realistically, we don’t need gravy boats, punch bowls and fine china, nor is it safe for people to be dropping off gifts. We discovered a national pizza chain with locations nearby had a wedding registry, as well as contactless delivery, so we put that out there for family and friends. In lieu of other gifts, they can all send us gift cards for a meal on them. A little cheesy perhaps, but we love our pizza and the very idea of this registry fit us to a tee.

Due to the pandemic, getting our marriage license was not as simple as it used to be. He could not find his birth certificate so that became an added step in the process. We needed to make an appointment just to get into the vital statistics office and have our temperature taken before being allowed upstairs. After getting his birth certificate, we then had to print out all the forms for our marriage license online. Those forms, along with all of the other necessary paperwork and payment, had to be placed in a large envelope, and be deposited in a drop box outside town hall. Because our town hall is currently closed to the public, the city clerk would then review everything and give us a call to come in after everything was approved. She will then come out to our vehicle, where we all must be wearing masks, to collect our signatures and issue the official license. What once would have taken an hour at most is now a process that spans a couple days. We got our callback this afternoon and will be picking up our license tomorrow morning. 

Is this the wedding I’ve always dreamed of? Yes and no. We won’t have the pomp and circumstance that normally is a part of most weddings, but that isn’t what weddings are supposed to be about. A wedding is supposed to be a celebration of love and making vows of commitment to one another, surrounded by those you hold dear. I don’t need a fancy ceremony or a big reception to do that.

I am marrying the love of my life, the first man who ever gave me butterflies in my tummy and the man I want to fall asleep next to for the rest of my life. We will have the most important people in our lives, our children, here with us for our big day. We can still share our wedding day with family and friends, albeit safely and remotely. And down the line, after this pandemic is just a memory, we have a wonderful excuse to all get together and celebrate our marriage. In the meantime, we will have our small, holiday wedding and it will be the best wedding we could have in the midst of the pandemic. Because that is a big part of love and marriage — being willing to make sacrifices for the greater good and to face life together, for better or for worse. We’re taking 2020 back and ending it on a high note. Even COVID can’t stop our love.

Getty image via Daria Golubeva

Originally published: December 1, 2020
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