Newlywed stories: Saying “I do” during the pandemic

Empty small wedding venue

In the 15 years Markel Specialty has been insuring weddings and special events, we’ve never seen anything quite like today’s landscape. When the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out, we shared tips for planners and couples who are working on a back-up plan and then what to expect when filing a wedding cancellation claim for those who had purchased insurance prior to COVID-19. As couples assessed their options and states rolled out guidelines, wedding vendors began adapting to provide wedding magic in new ways for those who wanted to go through with their vows.

Although many engaged couples have postponed all of their plans – some even postponing several times – others have decided not to wait. We talked with a few couples who were willing to share their experiences about what it’s like to exchange vows during the pandemic.

Some are still planning to have their original receptions later when it’s safe to have large group gatherings, and others opted for a scaled-down reception after their ceremonies, abandoning their original plans altogether. In some cases, couples decided to get married, but keep it private. Those who shared anonymously emphasized how important it was to them to get legally married, but preferred to keep it private as they hope to have a big ceremony and reception later.

One thing was common across all stories: The most important part is the love shared in the marriage, and you don’t need a crowd to celebrate it meaningfully.

Caroline wedding

A small-and-special church wedding
Caroline and Blake Durbahn
Photo credit: Shannon McNeill

Why did you choose to get married instead of postponing it?
As COVID traveled to the United States, and we knew that our wedding plans wouldn’t be the same, we focused on the idea that no matter what, we wanted to be married. We wanted to start our lives together, and didn’t want to wait to say “I do!” Even though we knew it wasn’t the dream wedding we had been planning on having, it was still going to be our special day where we came together as one, and that is what mattered most to us.

In being faced with a very different reality for your event, what were the most important priorities that you wanted to preserve/incorporate?
No matter what, I wanted to be married in a church, with our immediate families with us. At one point in planning, we were told we could only have 10 people total in the space, and we didn’t know if we could have our siblings within that number or not. That part was heartbreaking until the church opened up to more guests, and we were able to include our immediate families, wedding party, and a few special individuals in our lives. Overall, we ended up with 25 people in the church with us when we got married, and it was so special.

Did you have a creative way to share your nuptials with friends and family who couldn’t be there?
We were very excited when the church announced a number of livestream options for us to use on our wedding day. Those who were not in the church with us were able to watch the wedding on the internet, where they could see and hear us during our ceremony.

Do you have any advice for engaged couples trying to figure out what they should do?
Through all the stress, changed plans, and things not going how I had dreamed, I stayed rooted by reminding myself what the day was about: getting married to the love of my life and celebrating forever. It was hard to come to the realization that I wouldn’t have bridal showers, bachelorette parties, or the big wedding I dreamed of. I kept my spirits up and the butterflies in me by reminding myself that no matter what, at the end of the day on June 6th, I would be married to the man of my dreams. And believe it or not, I would not have changed a thing about how the day turned out. Being able to focus on my close family and friends on the best day of my life, not be stressed with all the eyes on me and worrying if I talked to everyone, really helped me to focus in on the day and the moment, and appreciate what it was – the beginning of forever!

Brittany wedding

Focus on family with extended fun via streaming
Brittany Schulman and Daniel Holzwanger
Photo credit: Alyssa Meadows

Why did you choose to get married instead of postponing it?
We are in our early thirties, had been engaged for 14 months, and just wanted to be married already! Another factor to us, too, was the uncertainty of even the postponement date. In other words, we moved the big wedding to September and are still hoping to have it then, but with spikes recently, who knows? Now I feel like, OK, at least we are married. If the party gets postponed again, so be it. It just took the pressure off for us. The party will happen when it happens; at least we are married! Plus, it turned what would have been a melancholy day into an amazing day! As I tell my friends, I took this sadness and turned it into two wedding days! Can't beat that!

In being faced with a very different reality for your event, what were the most important priorities that you wanted to preserve/incorporate?
It was really nice to have the focus here be on my husband and me and our family. The worries of the big reception – “Is everyone having fun? How is the food?” – are put off until that can happen. Instead, what was important to me was that our parents and siblings could be there and other close family and friends were able to watch on Zoom. That was all that really mattered!

Did you have a creative way to share your nuptials with friends and family who couldn’t be there?
Yes, we Zoomed them in! We didn't want to Zoom with all 250 guests we invited, because we still wanted it to feel intimate, so we Zoomed with immediate family and the extended bridal party and groomsmen. We really wanted to make it a fun show for them. My sister arrived early and made sure all the tech was working properly. She even put together a little slide show for the Zoom audience. My best friend and her boyfriend sang two songs over Zoom – one was our first dance song that we danced to and another one for all dance to at the end. My husband and I also surprised everyone by learning a choreographed dance!

Do you have any advice for engaged couples trying to figure out what they should do?
Just go for it! We were a little worried that doing this would somehow take away from the big wedding day, whenever that can happen (still hoping for September), but I don't think it will at all! People will still want to party and celebrate, and now we got a special intimate moment. So I say if you want to do both, do it! If you want to just do one and downsize it, do that, too! There aren't any rules anymore.

Keeping a treasured waterfront scene for a secret ceremony
Anonymous

Why did you choose to get married instead of postponing it?
From the beginning, we had our hearts set on our original April date. Given that the pandemic had become a focal point in the U.S. just the month prior, we knew there was no way of telling how long we'd be dealing with it. We both agreed we didn't want to put our lives on hold and risk having to wait an additional year or more to get married (and I'm so glad, now, seeing as how we've had to postpone our actual wedding twice already). At the end of the day, our wedding ceremony was always about us and us alone. The reception afterward was always about celebrating with all of our friends and family – and it still will be when that day comes!

In being faced with a very different reality for your ceremony, what were the most important priorities that you wanted to preserve/incorporate?
Our original wedding was going to take place in a gorgeous setting on a river in Charleston, South Carolina. Rather than getting married in our backyard, we chose to stick with the beautiful waterfront scene, even though we couldn't access our original venue. We found a spot on the water and got married as the sun was setting. It turned out to be the most beautiful day we could have asked for. We also wanted to make sure it still felt like "us" – casual and fun was what we always had in mind. We started the morning off by going kayaking. We got "I DO" face masks made. I wore a dress I found online and sandals I've had for years, and he wore shorts, a button-up and sandals. Neither of us had haircuts since sometime in February, and my roots had grown out about 3 inches. But, at the end of the day, it didn't matter. We were doing what we wanted on that day, the way we wanted to do it.

Did you have a creative way to share your nuptials with friends and family who couldn’t be there?
We wanted to keep the actual ceremony intimate, something we could have that was just ours. We also didn't feel comfortable risking the health of our loved ones by having them participate. We chose to keep it a secret until the next day, knowing full well some of them would have tried to show up anyway if they'd know about it! So for the ceremony, it was just the two of us, our good friend who officiated and a notary (who also doubled as our photographer). The next day, we made ourselves some mimosas and started FaceTiming our close friends and families to share the news! And, of course, sending out our "I DO" face mask selfies to very surprised recipients.

We definitely felt the love from our friends and family that day. Not knowing we were still planning to elope, our friends and family from around the country started sending us everything from flowers and wine to brunch from our favorite restaurant and mimosas. And my college roommates planned a Zoom call – one was wearing her bridesmaids dress and another was wearing her husband's suit (formal wedding attire, of course). Needless to say, we definitely still felt like the people we loved were with us on that day, if only in spirit.

Do you have any advice for engaged couples trying to figure out what they should do?
Follow your heart. If you are set on having the wedding day you always dreamed of, with all of your friends and family in attendance, then absolutely wait for that day. Just make sure you postpone to a late enough date that you won't be stuck in the same scenario again. If solidifying your commitment to each other on your original date is more important, you can always celebrate with everyone down the road! Either way, find ways to keep it fun and lighthearted; there's already enough stress going around without adding to it.

Katie and Ryan wedding

The wedding crawl of mini receptions
Katie Vecitis and Ryan Davis
Photo credit: McNeil Photography

Why did you choose to get married instead of postponing it?
It was a really, really tough decision. We actually ended up getting married in November because I was pregnant with our daughter. We had our June 6 date planned and since we were already married with a child we really didn’t want to push the date any further back. We wanted to buy a house, have another kid, etc., and all of that was kind of being held up with the wedding planning. Everyone was postponing, so many couples were trying to plan all of the weddings for the year in the last 5-6 months. Also, our date was right on the cusp of when things were being predicted to start opening back up. I just knew I would be so devastated if we canceled and we would have been able to have it after all. I was reading about a lot of couples just cutting their numbers and doing smaller weddings. We originally invited 315 people, and we knew it would be too hard to cut the number down to follow recommended guidelines. So about three weeks before June 6, I thought of this idea to do what we ended up calling a “wedding crawl” where we would have a party bus and travel to see all of our guests at different locations so we could still party with all of our guests in more reasonable gathering sizes. I spoke with my husband and parents we finally just said “let’s do it.” We committed and then started planning and organizing like crazy. It ended up being three mini receptions. A logistical nightmare, but it was a blast!

What were the most important priorities that you wanted to preserve/incorporate?
Ryan and I had been through a lot while we were together; we had our daughter, Ryan lost his best friend, and Ryan had a work accident that almost led to him having to amputate his right arm. Six surgeries later, he still has his arm, but it was a lot to go through. We were so lucky to have such an amazing support system in our family and friends. Our biggest priority was just being in good company and making sure everyone had fun. That meant making sure we were transparent about our event with everyone so all our guests would be comfortable, and we also very clearly communicated our plans to everyone. We got everyone’s email addresses and just sent out information as it was finalized. Not everyone was comfortable with it and that was OK. So we ended up with about 200 guests. Of course, we also made sure that everyone could eat and drink while also making sure the environment was fun and still wedding-esque. We really just wanted to use this event to obviously celebrate our marriage, but also to say thank you to everyone that has been there for us through all the rain and shine of the past few years. From a vendor standpoint, we wanted to make sure we had the photography we envisioned. We still wanted all of the same memories of our day to look back on and still did so much of the normal wedding photography so it didn’t look like anything was shorted even though we didn’t do all of your typical wedding day activities.

Did you have a creative way to share your nuptials with friends and family who couldn’t be there?
Honestly, we didn’t. Since we were technically already married, we just did a small mass at our church with our immediate families and wedding party. It was essentially a marriage blessing by our priest, so it wasn’t high on our priority list to spend a lot of time planning.

Do you have any advice for engaged couples trying to figure out what they should do?

  • Let your vendors do their thing, delegate things that you don’t have as much of an opinion about, and roll with the punches! With only three weeks to plan I would meet with some our vendors and just say, “I trust you, this is your expertise, and I need you to take the reins.” I did that with our DJ. We did not give him a single “must play” or “do not play” song and he did an amazing job!
  • If there is anything you aren’t super passionate about, delegate it to someone. People want to help, so let them help.
  • You have to roll with the punches. Everything is so fluid these days, just accept the things you cannot change and make the best of the cards you are dealt.
anonymous church wedding

Preserving religious priorities and enjoying the moment
Anonymous
Photo credit: Sarah Mielke Photography

Why did you choose to get married instead of postponing it?
With so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and things out of our control, we wanted to focus on the things we could influence. For us, that meant still celebrating a date we had looked forward to for so long.

In being faced with a very different reality for your event, what were the most important priorities that you wanted to preserve/incorporate?
It was so important to us that our parents were there, so we actually moved the location from Kansas City to Milwaukee. We also held the ceremony in an empty St. Robert’s Catholic Church with the priest whom we had done all of our pre-Cana responsibilities with. Our new double ceremony (our large gathering has been postponed until September) also presented us with lots of new opportunities, too. Hair in an updo or down? Big ball gown or sleek dress? First look or no contact before the nuptials? We no longer had to choose because we got to do both. Many things I had planned for our original big day we did the opposite of for our small ceremony. It helped us feel like the two events are separate, but both still important. It also helped me reframe the circumstances to more of a “we get to celebrate twice” instead of “we have to forfeit everything we had planned.”

Did you have a creative way to share your nuptials with friends and family who couldn’t be there?
No, we actually decided that this small ceremony was a blessing in disguise – an opportunity to have a private ceremony that was truly focused on us and the celebration of our love without all the distractions that can come with a big wedding day. The whole experience did really help us refocus on what matters. The planning process had been very stressful even before COVID-19, thinking and re-thinking every detail so it would be a perfect day. But when it came down to it, we had a perfect day – even without the special tableware or centerpieces or even my original dress. We got to spend the day truly reflecting on what a big step we’d taken and just being together.

Do you have any advice for engaged couples trying to figure out what they should do?
I think you should try to forget about what weddings are “supposed” to be. If Pinterest and Instagram didn’t exist, what would your must-haves be to make your day special? Take those and run with them. And write down how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing. We’re living through history and these crazy times will be great stories for children and grandchildren years down the road.

Opting for an “elopement” celebration with family
Haley Bass and Logan Simons

Why did you choose to get married instead of postponing it?
We were planning on getting married on May 15, the same weekend as our college graduation, but when COVID struck, we had decided the best thing to do was to wait on getting married. When we learned about the Pabst Theater's elopement packages, we talked it over with immediate family and everyone was on board! We just really wanted to be married!

In being faced with a very different reality for your event, what were the most important priorities that you wanted to preserve/incorporate?
What was most important to us was being able to share our special day with our immediate families. The 10-person limit was difficult as we aren't able to have all our family or friends there, but we were able to share the day with others in a different way and having our parents and siblings there with us felt very special.

Did you have a creative way to share your nuptials with friends and family who couldn’t be there?
We decided to make a Facebook group announcing our elopement for extended family and close friends so that those that weren't able to come could still be involved. On the day of our ceremony my husband's sister livestreamed our ceremony to the Facebook group for anyone to watch in real time or later in the day if that was what would work best for them.

Do you have any advice for engaged couples trying to figure out what they should do?
Just do what feels right for you as a couple. I know a handful of other couples that decided to postpone their weddings until next year because they couldn't imagine a wedding without all of their family and friends and while that was the right decision for them, it wasn't the right decision for us. We could imagine a simple, intimate ceremony being just as special as a large ceremony; it felt right for us. With the smaller ceremony we had, it also allowed an opportunity for everyone to be more involved with it as well! My brother officiated, my sister was my maid of honor, and my husband's sister did our live stream. We couldn't have asked for a better wedding.

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