Love in the Time of Coronavirus

The venue, the music, the cake, the dress, the flowers, the food, the photographer: Weddings require a lot of planning, especially if you’re doing it yourself on a budget. I have had to-do lists running through my head for roughly a year now: the announcements, the officiant, the decorations, the travel plans…

When the coronavirus pandemic began, our wedding was over eight months away. Since the United States boasts some of the best research institutions and health care innovations in the world, we thought eight months would be more than enough time to rally together and eradicate the new deadly virus. So, we continued planning our wedding and honeymoon.

About three months out from the wedding, the airlines canceled our honeymoon tickets. We shrugged it off. International travel probably wasn’t a good idea until 2021 anyway.

It wasn’t until about six weeks out that we started panicking. Rather than resolving the pandemic, the city where we were planning to hold our wedding was experiencing a wave of new cases. After months of working from home, eating home-cooked meals and rocking the face mask aesthetic, it was a punch in the gut to see others flaunting public safety suggestions.

This was also about the same time that RSVPs started switching from “Absolutely, I can’t wait to see everyone!” to, “So, so, so sorry, but it’s not a good idea for me to see anyone.” Autoimmune disorders, cancer treatments, pregnancies, operations … there were so many (absolutely valid, in light of the pandemic) reasons that guests had to cancel. For me, the most difficult phone call was from my maid of honor, who is away at law school: Her university required her to sign a contract prohibiting her from leaving the state during the fall semester, with a penalty of expulsion and inability to sit for the bar exam. Ever. That meant that she could not return home during Thanksgiving break, and she certainly could not attend my wedding. The same day I received that phone call, I received yet another cancellation, which was the last straw: One of my guests had contracted COVID-19.

It is strangely easy to unravel a wedding. After months of deciding menus and rearranging floor plans, it only takes an email to say, “Never mind, 2020 is not our year, Ctrl+Z.”

So, what does our 2020 wedding look like now? It will be a beautiful dress, a chapel containing 10 people total (which is fewer than it seems: me, my fiancé, an officiant, our parents, and three of our five brothers) and a link so that dozens of guests who were supposed to be there can instead watch us get married from the comfort of their couches. It is a Jenga tower of difficult decisions, since even the most harshly pared-down wedding we could imagine was still too large to adhere to the gathering size limit. How much can we remove from our wedding and still have it stand as a wedding?

I am not alone in making these types of difficult decisions this year. At least two of my graduate program peers (who I know of!) have had to adopt the 10 guests plus video link wedding model this year. On one hand, a wedding is about two people making a lifelong promise. On the other hand, it means a lot to celebrate such a momentous event with friends and family, and removing that component saps a lot of the excitement from the occasion.

To have to cancel wedding celebrations is deeply upsetting. But to have to cancel those celebrations because a subset of the population is failing to adhere to public safety guidelines is frustrating and infuriating. Some celebrations, like birthday parties, can be organized via video chat. Although it’s not quite the same, there is the tacit promise that next year will be better. My real beef with irresponsible individuals is their ruining of once-in-a-lifetime events. I certainly only plan to get married once. Both of my mentors welcomed new babies this month, and two of my friends lost grandparents. These events, both happy and sad, cannot be delayed until 2021. Life continues to bump along, even when the road is rougher than it has any reason to be.

In dire times, there is a tendency to rank grievances: If you have to shift to online learning, at least you haven’t lost your job; or, if you’ve lost your job, at least you aren’t gasping through a ventilator. The mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic response ruined my wedding. I recognize that I am fortunate to still be able to get married in full view of loved ones, even if we are physically scattered across the country. I am one of the lucky ones who is in good health and who can have a blowout party for my one-year anniversary, but it didn’t need to be this way.

I also want to make a plea for others who are not as fortunate as I am, those who cannot just push the big party to next year or those for whom population-level reckless negligence is literally a life-or-death situation. Staying home right now is an act of compassion. Wearing masks, if you have to go outside, has become a marker of empathy. Removing yourself from the company of others if you suspect you are ill or have been in contact with someone who is ill has resonating benefits for the whole community. Because even if you are not planning a wedding, expecting a child, or graduating college this year, your neighbor or best friend or the stranger at the bus stop may be. You can never predict when someone will pass away, or when you may have to undergo immune-compromising surgery. Please uphold your small part in getting this pandemic under control, so that everyone may be able to fully participate in those once-in-a-lifetime events in 2021.

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