What Did We Learn From All These Pandemic Weddings?
By Jamie Lee
Source: Vanity Fair
With postvaccination wedding season around the corner, writer and The Wedding Coach host Jamie Lee wonders if there are some things about pandemic weddings we’ll keep—just maybe not the lace KN95s.
“It’s not canceled, it’s postponed.”
It’s a statement that rings true for many engaged couples. A wedding date moved from April 2020 to April 2022. It was an initially disappointing, but relatively seamless shift. Because, hey, now there’s more time to ruminate! Whoops, I mean “plan.”
These days weddings look a lot different, happening on Zoom, or in a spaced-out field with the bride wearing a lace KN95 that makes her look like a Handmaid. Or, hell, depending on who you voted for, perhaps they look exactly like they did 13 months ago, minus family members who have “put up a boundary” by no longer speaking to you.
But with our vaccinated summer approaching, a lot more “normal” weddings are approaching.
And, if you’re among the lucky few who not only stayed together over the hellscape that was last year, but are still going through with a wedding on the other side of it—honestly, congrats. The pandemic tested your love and you passed! Because either (a) your love is just that strong, or (b) you have a new variant strain of COVID and being a hopeless romantic is one of the symptoms. Awww so sweet/Eeek!
I myself am writing this from a plane back to New York from Los Angeles, where I lived before my husband and I separated back in December. Some people in my life tried to attribute this to the pandemic. “You were cooped up like two sad little chickens who ended up pecking away at each other’s eyes out of sheer boredom.” But, actually, no, that wasn’t us. We didn’t really fail the pandemic love test, per se. No, we just decided maybe it was time to stop taking the test, put our pencils down, and give the proctor the finger. But, as two comedians and best friends who inherently trust each other’s sensibilities, did we still collaborate on a show all about weddings and what’s actually important about them? You bet we did. It’s called The Wedding Coach, and it’s now streaming on Netflix (always be plugging).
There’s a lot to detest about modern wedding culture, and there’s a lot that the pandemic is going to make worse about it. Your uncle’s going to pull his mask down to unleash his guttural smoker’s cough. Your caterer will no-show because no one remembered to tell them the big day was pushed back a year. And, frankly, some guests who you’d always expected to be in attendance are now overbooked—if there’s one thing this supposed post-COVID boom is going to have, it’s going to be wall-to-wall wedding weekends.
But honestly? None of this is actually new. I mean, yes, hopefully there’s more emphasis now on, say, your wedding party being vaccinated versus worrying about them all wearing the same shade of rose gold. But I know I prioritized the wrong things when I got married. I became quite skilled at distracting myself with “the fun stuff” during my planning process—shopping for a wedding dress? I didn’t want it to end. Designing a tablescape with a bunch of candles and, like, gourds or whatever the fuck? A dream. Cake tasting? I love cake, and tasting it? Baby, that’s the best part! And of course, none of that kept me and my husband/producing partner on The Wedding Coach (now streaming on Netflix) from getting separated. Now I want to make sure that couples who choose a big wedding, or a small wedding, or a divorce, do so because it makes them happy, and because it comes from what they really want.
If there’s one thing we learn from these pandemic-altered weddings, it’s that a wedding can be a pageant or a no-frills (eh, some frills) chance to say how you feel about the love of your life in front of the other loves of your lives. If you lean pageant, cool! But might I suggest taking a second to ask yourself: “Am I flipping out about whether to rent 18 outdoor heaters or 19 outdoor heaters because it is actually so important, or am I deflecting because something more significant and scary is lurking beneath the surface of my soul, like an anaconda waiting to bite J.Lo?”
The Rise of the Minimony and the Postpone Micro-Wedding
By Anna Russell
Source: The New Yorker
Planning a postpone wedding is a faff at the best of times; during a pandemic, it resembles purgatory. You’ve booked the venue, the flowers, the dance floor, and the d.j., only to be told that the venue will not open this year, the florist is out of business, and dancing is illegal. You rebook at a smaller venue—someone’s back yard, maybe—pick your own flowers (“Farmhouse chic!”), and install, at key entry points, hand-sanitizing stations with tasteful signs (“Spread love, not germs”), only to learn that a quarantine has been imposed on out-of-state visitors. Your parents and siblings will no longer be able to attend. They are upset; you will need to postpone. And so it goes.
For a year and a half, my partner and I had been planning a wedding in Crete, where he grew up. We were already legally married—town-hall ceremony—but we wanted the big shebang: the long train, the complicated seating plan, loved ones from all over the world spilling wine as they danced the sirtaki. We chose a date in June and then watched anxiously as the virus spread through January, and then February. Some time into my own pandemic-wedding purgatory, I began having dreams about my dress fitting in strange and otherworldly ways. The sleeves would inexplicably droop to the floor at the elbows, cartoon-like, or extend past my hands and behind me, like white lines on a highway. One day, in late March, after a relentlessly upbeat weekend at home—quarantinis! CrossFit by Zoom!—I sat down to postpone our wedding. I knew how to write the e-mail because I had already received several, from friends in the same boat. They were always warm, and gracious, and not too self-pitying; “What’s a wedding in all this?” they seemed to say. After I sent the note, I received a flurry of messages of relief and consolation. One friend, who had moved her own wedding twice, wrote simply, “Coronavirus is an asshole.”
All through the spring and summer—which is to say, all through wedding season—the virus wreaked havoc on the wedding industry. “It was bedlam,” Laura Krueger, of Kleinfeld Hotel Blocks, which helps couples book accommodations for their guests, told me. “There were no protocols in place.” On March 13th, the wedding-planning Web sites the Knot and WeddingWire set up an emergency hotline for panicked brides and grooms. “We had hundreds of calls per day for two months following that,” Jeffra Trumpower, at WeddingWire, told me recently. As lockdowns and travel restrictions came into force around the country, “couples started to call and say, ‘What do I do? I’m supposed to get married next weekend.’”
At first, people postponed, thinking the pandemic couldn’t last longer than a few weeks. Then they postponed again. “There were stages where it didn’t seem like people fully understood the scope or magnitude,” Andrea Freeman, an event planner in New York, told me. Slowly, two options, both of them buzzkills, emerged: you could postpone indefinitely or hold the wedding right away, with the appropriate safety guidelines in place (festive!). “The conversations I was having with my clients were very much about, ‘What is the focus, really? Why are you really having a wedding?’ ” If the goal was to throw a big party, that wasn’t going to happen. (Although, last month, New York City’s sheriff tweeted about breaking up an indoor wedding of nearly three hundred, in Queens.) “But if the focus was really to be married, to share that with the most important people in their lives—if they were saying stuff like that to me, then we started a conversation about, O.K., here’s what that could look like in this time.”
The wedding industry, floundering through waves of postponements, has developed a suite of options—and a vocabulary—for couples wanting to still splash out on their nuptials, global crisis notwithstanding. There’s now the “micro-wedding,” a small ceremony with fifty guests or fewer. You are encouraged to follow this up with a “sequel wedding,” a larger reception, at a later date. But when even fifty guests seems optimistic (or, depending on your location, illegal), there’s a smaller option, touted enthusiastically by the industry, available: the “minimony.” A minimony might have ten guests: parents, siblings, an officiant standing at a distance. It has all the components of a normal wedding—ceremony, reception, three-tiered cake—shrunk to pandemic proportions.
This is a significant shift. In a survey conducted by Zola, the wedding-planning and registry company, of more than two thousand engaged couples planning their wedding during the pandemic, half were planning a minimony. “Smaller guest lists are definitely a trend we see into the future for some time,” Emily Forrest, Zola’s director of communications, told me. In another survey, by the Knot and WeddingWire, of six hundred and eighty-four couples in the U.S. with weddings between September and January, fifty-eight per cent planned to keep their original date, with many opting for a pared-down guest list, and just seven per cent were pulling the plug altogether. “People are not cancelling,” Trumpower said.
All that rejiggering can take a toll on the bride- and groom-to-be, Freeman, the planner, told me: “People are starting to get fatigued, and they’re going through different phases of excitement and enthusiasm, and then resignation and upset.” I recognized the symptoms. She offers her clients guided meditations and advises them to stay present. “At a certain point in time, you can’t talk about the flowers and the music anymore, or the flavor of the cake,” she said. “It’s about so much more than that. How we get through this is how we handle anything in life.”
Six months after we sent our first wedding postponement e-mail, we had another decision to make. Pandemic-wise, nothing had changed. There was still no vaccine, and cases were rising. Should we postpone again? Cancel altogether? Slash our guest list? I scrolled past images of a socially distanced wedding in which the couple had used giant Teddy bears to separate guests. Where did they get the bears? I wondered. At a certain point, I came across a podcast called “Corona Brides,” in which the host, Jordie Shepherd, a coronavirus bride herself, interviews women (and sometimes couples) navigating the wedding-planning process during the pandemic.
Shepherd launched “Corona Brides” in April, around the same time she decided to postpone her own wedding, which was supposed to take place in May. “The Las Vegas desert was my dream,” she told me. She eventually married closer to her home, in San Antonio, Texas, outdoors, under sprawling oak trees, with an indoor reception in an industrial-chic space filled to half capacity. (“People were able to go inside and sit with their quarantine family,” she said.) But she still has the occasional pang; she told her husband, “Next time we go to Vegas, I’m taking my wedding dress and getting a photo in the desert!” Since starting the podcast, she has interviewed two dozen pandemic brides. Some have postpone their weddings three times; others have married in their back yard or at their original venue, meant for ten times as many guests. Several brides held the ceremony in their kitchen. “It is a roller coaster of emotions,” she said. “You’re almost mourning the loss of a wedding you don’t know if you can have or not.”
Shepherd connected me with Kelli and Omar Brown, who got engaged in November and planned to tie the knot quickly. “I was, like, Six-month engagement, let’s do this!” Kelli, a bridal-hair stylist, told me. They booked a whitewashed photography studio and invited around a hundred guests. But, in late March, Detroit went into lockdown and Omar’s bachelor party in Las Vegas was cancelled. Kelli threw him one at home, with a makeshift bar and slot machines purchased on Amazon. A few weeks later, Kelli’s bachelorette party was cancelled, and Omar surprised her with mimosas and a D.I.Y. nail bar. At that point, Kelli thought, We only have two months left. Still, they decided not to postpone. “We were, like, even if we have to get married in hazmat suits at the courthouse, we’ll get married on that day.”
Kelli had three contingency plans, depending on the state of the pandemic. Wedding A, she told me, “was, like, best-case scenario, a hundred people.” Wedding B would be small and socially distanced, with just family and a few friends. “Plan C was literally my husband and I going to the courthouse.” In the end, Wedding B postpone. They cut their guest list to fewer than twenty and seated households on vintage furniture nine feet apart (“Very cozy, and also very safe”). Omar’s brother, a pastor, drove in from Philadelphia to marry them, and they streamed the ceremony on Zoom. Afterward, they held a drive-through reception. They handed out individually wrapped cupcakes; friends decorated their cars and shot confetti out their windows. One guest texted them to ask, “What car should I wear?” “It was wonderful,” Kelli said.
That evening, they drove to Grand Rapids for a wedding-night getaway. They arrived late, to find a police barricade blocking the road. George Floyd had been killed just five days earlier; a protest had gathered and was being dispersed by officers in protective gear. Then the car filled with a cloud of eye-watering smoke. “My husband was, like, ‘Oh, that’s tear gas,’ ” Kelli recalled. She covered her face with the train of her dress. Omar, who is Black, briefly went outside, and Kelli, who is white, worried for his safety. Eventually, they were allowed to pass and returned home to their family.
Melissa Brown, who founded Sweet Petite Celebrations, which caters to small weddings, in May, told me minimonies can feel more intimate than larger weddings. “You can really dig in deep to each guest that’s coming and make them personally feel special,” she said. They don’t necessarily postpone come cheaper than larger weddings, though; Brown told me her minimony clients spend, on average, between ten thousand and thirty thousand dollars. One couple sent their loved ones a survey asking them to name their favorite dessert and then served each selection in individual portions. “Very Marie Antoinette,” Brown said. “Very let them eat cake.” Food takes center stage out of necessity, she added. “You’re sitting at a table having a beautiful, upscale dinner party,” she said. “You can’t get up, you can’t mingle, you can’t dance.”
The weddings of our past glorified closeness; intimacy in large numbers. They valued sharing cake and side hugging cousins after six tap beers in the early twilight hour of 6:00 p.m. Weddings have always been an expensive reminder that we can celebrate with the ones we’ve loved for life and fuse families together with sparklers, champagne flutes, and silverware tapping on china. They are the embodiment of extravagant gestures and travel. Weddings of yesteryear taught us how to be monumental, practiced, and traditional.
These are the weddings of our past because, of course, a pandemic came into play.
Before writing this, I stared at a blinking cursor for a long time. Planning a wedding, and writing about it, feels insensitive in this new world. I recognize the deep privilege I have to be readily able to plan a wedding during a pandemic. My life hasn’t changed too dramatically since March, when this all started shifting the narrative. I’m a writer, so I was able to freelance and make do after I lost my corporate job. My fiancé is in finance, a job not affected by the blow of this change. Our wedding, scheduled for late September, has experienced a facelift, but I don’t want this post to be about how we’re complaining about the changes we’ve had to make. We’re lucky. The present of our lives could certainly, certainly be heavier. Our experiences are different, and through all of it, I have this undeniable craving to document every minute of the struggle because I have to find out what I don’t want to know, especially as it pertains to the “seemingly selfish” desire to celebrate love in a world that is hurting. Weddings are still happening. Discussions with family are heavy and tough. Expectations are high and low. Fear is imminent. And we’re all experiencing the new.
Our experiences are different, and through all of it, I have this undeniable craving to document every minute of the struggle because I have to find out what I don’t want to know, especially as it pertains to the “seemingly selfish” desire to celebrate love in a world that is hurting.
Marriage has slowly become a more unlikely and unequal institution, due to the pandemic itself and unemployment and eviction and the general desire for couples to have a more intimate celebration. I mean, weddings are expensive. Oftentimes they’re more than a down payment on a home—and most certainly a decision that feels sporadic and moderately forced, depending on expectations from family. For Jake and I, we both decided we’d invest a little money in the celebration and make a bash out of it. We set a long engagement to save the money, stuck to it, and set the date almost three years out.
Then, life happened. And no one knows how to plan a wedding in a pandemic. First of all, CDC guidelines to have a wedding are loose and confusing. Vendors are adding “pandemic” clauses in contracts. Venues in some locations are allowed to host up to 150 people, while states are recommending gatherings of only up to 20. Recently, I saw a wedding invite that separated their invites into three groups: Group A, Group B, and Group C—and whoever RSVP’d first would get the invite, Group A getting first dibs and so on. I’ve heard horror stories about vendor cancellations. On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve heard beautiful stories about couples hiking up mountains and eloping in boots and high altitudes. Couples have given back to their communities and filmed uplifting, heartfelt videos for family and friends. I think perhaps the lesson here is this: Weddings are still managing to be epic, gorgeous chaos-sandwiches. The new world has simply changed how they’re dealt to us.
Our wedding has been just that. A delightful chaos-sandwich. We sent out our Save the Dates last year, when days were nothing but another 24-hour bundle that ended in “y.” When we decided in June that we were going to have a small, safer version of the wedding, we had to send out 100 letters to the people we couldn’t invite explaining our reasoning. Everyone was incredibly understanding. It was heartbreaking to tell close friends we’d be celebrating with them virtually instead, but at the end of the day, safety was our top priority. Selfishness couldn’t steer the ship for us.
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