It’s hard to believe in hindsight that last year at this time I still thought I was going to get married in August of 2020 with 100 guests physically present. This was when we were all somehow psychics and amateur infectious disease experts, and I remember everyone (myself included!) saying “It will be fine by August.” Well, it wasn’t fine by August.
My now-husband and I eventually scrapped our original plan and went through several iterations of what a pandemic wedding could look like before deciding to have a tiny wedding at the Oregon coast on a random Tuesday. All this to say, I did get married in August but it did not look at all like I imagined.
We opted out of having a bigger anniversary party to celebrate with our loved ones once it was safe to do so because frankly, the idea of having to plan yet another event (in addition to the seven versions of the weddings I planned in my head) was enough to make me want to — not to be dramatic —march into the sea.
But sometimes I do feel a pang of sadness that my family and my childhood friends will never get to witness my union and celebrate our love. My bank account may tell me that I made the right choice, but at times I wonder if I did. To find out what it was like to have both a small wedding and a bigger party later to celebrate, I spoke to three couples who did just that.
Yeasmine & Cabot
Yeasmine and her now-husband Cabot got engaged in 2017, a few months before moving abroad to Hong Kong in January 2018. To give themselves ample time to plan a wedding (which comes with its own set of logistics when you’re living in a different country than the one in which you’ll be married) they decided on a wedding date of October of 2020 with intention of then returning to Hong Kong for a few more years.
“We had the venue booked, I had a dress made, sent out save the dates, and were looking at caterers, DJs, etc. in January of 2020,” Yeasmine tells me. “Then Covid happened.”
In March 2020, they unexpectedly cut their time short in Hong Kong and made a “mad dash” as Yeasmine puts it, to move their lives back to the US. After a few months staying with Cabot’s mom on Cape Cod, then a stint with a friend in the Bedford–Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) neighborhood of Brooklyn for the rest of 2020, the couple bought a place of their own in January 2021 with the hope of starting the year with a little bit more normalcy, “whatever that means now,” Yeasmine says.
Although of course their original plan was scrapped, the couple did end up getting married on the original date they’d chosen in a small ceremony at Pebble Beach in DUMBO, Brooklyn. Luckily, their vendors graciously returned their deposits, given the circumstances.
“We knew we would celebrate with friends and family eventually but we didn’t want to push the marriage longer. We wanted to start a family and buy a place of our own and didn’t want a traditional sense of what a wedding is to be a blocker,” Yeasmine tells me.
The sweet ceremony had a total guest count of four. “Our closest and dearest friend Vishnu officiated, my brother, Imran, said some kind words and documented the event. My childhood best friend Jessica and her husband David sang Can’t Help Falling In Love on the ukulele. We intentionally kept it very small and everyone had a vital role.”
The guests went out of their way to make the day special, despite the unusual circumstances. “I woke up to a beautiful bouquet Cabot ordered for me to make it feel more ‘wedding-y’,” Yeasmine tells me. “My friend Jessica brought something blue, borrowed, and new and both Vishnu and Imran had the most beautiful words to say during the ceremony.”
Yeasmine wore white jeans and a white sweater, with white boots. “All clothes I already had in my closet,” she says, though she’d bought a gorgeous caped dress in ivory in a modern South Asian style for the original wedding. A picnic in the grass, followed by dinner at a rooftop, a tiny celebration back at their shared apartment topped off the day.
Wisely, given the ever-changing circumstances of the world and with international guests to consider, they haven’t set a date for their party yet, but they’re aiming for fall 2023; Yeasmine says she wants to give guests time to heal from the effects of the pandemic. It will be a cruise around the New York harbor — something the couple liked to do together in their early 20s — and the boat will likely take them under the Brooklyn Bridge so guests will be able to glimpse the spot where the couple officially wed. And Yeasmine is hoping to have a chance to wear the beautiful dress she had made for the original wedding plan.
Mara & Alex
Mara and her now-husband Alex got engaged in June of 2020, during the pandemic. They decided to get married quickly for two reasons: “We weren’t sure when it was going to be safe to have a party and didn’t want to just sit around waiting for an indeterminate amount of time to start our married lives,” Mara tells me. Secondly, her father-in-law was sick, and they wanted to make sure he could see them get married.
The pair were married at Alex’s grandparents’ house in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they had been sheltering in place. “They have a beautiful house that backs up to the Nichols Arboretum. We had the ceremony in their backyard overlooking the arboretum with all four of our parents and Alex’s sister.”
As Covid precautions, they rented three small tables for each of the three households present, and each table got its own heat lamp to warm up the (December in Michigan) temperatures. She wore a beautiful white jumpsuit to the wedding which she may re-wear to their future party. Mara says one of the perks of a tiny wedding was having quality time with all five guests. “Also when ordering all the party supplies we didn’t have to think twice when choosing the premium offerings, which would have been a different story if ordering for 200 tables!” she says.
There was a quick ceremony and vows followed by a late lunch where the bride and the groom’s fathers each made a speech. After some clean-up, the parents went home and it was just Mara and Alex, who spent the rest of the evening talking about their favorite parts of the day and enjoying leftover desserts.
The pair has plans for a future party, though the details and timeline are still unknown (though a taco truck is a definite in Mara’s book). “Before Covid, I had always imagined I would have a big wedding up in Sonoma, CA where my parents have a small vineyard. I am hoping that we can still have a party up there — maybe in summer 2022! Now that we are already married it feels like the whole event can take on so many different shapes (no need for a traditional rehearsal dinner, ceremony, etc.), so we are trying to figure out what feels right.”
Elizabeth & Henry
Elizabeth and her now-husband Henry were engaged in December 2019. “It seems like ages ago now,” Elizabeth tells me. The couple has been together for almost 10 years, and she says she already felt married in most ways before making it official. “We didn’t want to wait any longer and decided to get hitched despite the pandemic,” Elizabeth says.
In October 2020, the couple held their small wedding with about 20 guests (limited to family to keep numbers down) in Elizabeth’s great aunt’s backyard in Portland, Oregon, a home which has been in her family for almost 100 years, and it was with a backbone of history and happy memories that they celebrated their marriage.
“We’ve had countless BBQs, parties and sleepovers there. In fact, I found out a few weeks before the wedding that one of my aunts had secretly gotten married in that backyard before her official wedding!” Because Henry’s family lives out of state, it was nice to have everyone together in a more intimate setting so they could get to know each other. Henry’s aunt married the couple and they had a taco bar with dishes and drinks made by the family. “We had an impromptu dance party afterward. It was very sweet,” Elizabeth says.
If all goes according to plan Elizabeth and Henry will have a bigger party in October 2021. They are asking everyone who attends to get vaccinated beforehand. She will wear the wedding dress she originally bought before the plans changed.
“In many ways, it will be the party we originally envisioned,” Elizabeth tells me. “We will still have a ceremony of sorts. It will be a non-traditional ceremony with readings and a unity ceremony. We saved our personal vows for this year, so we will share those then. From our perspective, the wedding is less about us at this point and more for our family and friends. We want our communities to come together and share in the joy of our partnership.”
There will be dinner under a tent, then for those who are comfortable dancing in a big barn. They’ve decided to skip some more traditional elements like cutting the cake because, as Elizabeth says, “we just want to get down with our loved ones without interruption.”
“I send my love to all the couples who have planned and re-planned weddings over the past year,” Elizabeth says. “It’s been a huge struggle some days. There’s a lot to juggle emotionally, socially, and financially. However, I think the turmoil helps couples really examine the point of a wedding and what their priorities are. I think our priorities are very clear at this point. We’re just so excited to celebrate with our loved ones.”