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.
Weddings are still managing to be epic, gorgeous chaos-sandwiches. The new world has simply changed how they’re dealt to us.
We’re going to ask everyone to wear masks, seat our grandparents outside (instead of inside the barn venue), and change our meal from a buffet to pre-plated. We won’t have a hugging line, bouquet toss, or dollar dance (actually thank GOD on all those things). We ordered pre-wrapped cookies instead of cake. And we won’t play certain songs that encourage a lot of singing and will try to spread out the dance outdoors (hear you never, Sweet Caroline). Keeping note: These are all adjustments that we’ve been lucky enough to make.
For those attending a wedding through all this, I am right there with you on the awkwardness and the guilt you may feel not wanting to show up. There never seems to be a right answer aside from the mere choice you’re willing to make comfortably. And that’s totally fine and, in my opinion, your choice. We encouraged our guests to bow out if they felt uncomfortable at all.
Conversations with friends have been really hard. Does the wedding party get tested before the day of to ensure we can all take pictures sans masks together? Wait, if we have no symptoms is getting tested for a damn wedding a piece of privilege pie? Are guests going to complain about wearing a mask if they don’t necessarily “believe in it?” Are people going to stay away from grandma? No one is going to hug anyone without permission, right? Do we need to put X’s on the pews so people know how to sit far away from each other? IS THIS WEDDING GOING TO FEEL LIKE AN UNCOMFORTABLE TRIP TO THE GROCERY STORE?!?
The thing is, we don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter. I still cry in the middle of my living room on random Tuesdays planning this thing. But, it feels silly to hurt through. Thousands of people are dying and I’m filling out a form online for my florist—The theme is “Great Gatsby meets picking flowers in a field”—and I hate myself for it.
So, the ingredients for planning a wedding during a pandemic are as follows: one cup of guilt, a teaspoon of “What the hell are we even doing,” and a whole stinkin’ bag of “Oh yeah, we’re doing this because we love each other!! Imagine the concept!!”
The other day, while looking at my detailed “Wedding: 9.19.2020!!” Google Docs outline and compulsively highlighting things in red and green, I looked at Jake and, in my best demon voice, asked him if he’d finished putting our songs into the DJ list. A split-second thereafter, I realized maybe it’s awful to ask people to dance near one another, let alone show up—thus entering a bawling spiral of emotions with the poor man looking into his petrifying future.
I forget why we’re getting married every five seconds. A pandemic turns the volume of normal wedding worries up so loud, you can barely hear yourself. And you lose perspective.
Which makes me think there is no right or wrong way to have a pandemic wedding. Or any wedding for that matter. For some, it means separating all of their invites into Group A, Group B, and Group C (Writer’s Note: highly don’t recommend). For us, having a pandemic wedding means we will do it safely, more intimately, and with each other in mind. We will encourage those to come at their own comfort level and discretion. And we will brace ourselves if changes come.
Weddings are interesting because, while they’re about one single couple, they thread in a gallant audience of loved ones. And it’s easy to get distracted by what makes everyone else happy. While we work to keep everyone safe, we have to keep each other in mind. I lost that concept the minute we wanted to save money for a big celebration. We lost it even more when we realized a wedding could hurt us; it could hurt our family. As superficial and awful as it sounds, thinking about this truly, honestly, breaks my heart every day. I’m mad we didn’t have the wedding right away. I’m mad we didn’t elope on the coast of California. I’m mad at every decision we make because each decision feels wild. I even feel irrational typing this out, but our feelings are validated no matter how silly they are!
Amid the quirky midday madness I often feel, my dress came in the mail the other afternoon. . . . Silk trickled out after the zipper opened. I put it on alone in my room. The last time I’d worn it was December, when the world tasted vanilla.
Amid the quirky midday madness I often feel, my dress came in the mail the other afternoon. It was approximately three pounds and wrapped in tissue. I hung it on my doorknob and unzipped the wardrobe bag. Silk trickled out after the zipper opened. I put it on alone in my room. The last time I’d worn it was December, when the world tasted vanilla. It fell all over my knees the same and was untraditional and cozy. It felt like December.
Life will never be the same as it was eight months ago. And In the midst of mourning the comfort of the past, I’ve been planning a wedding. In the midst of lamenting the comfort of the past, we’ve been asked to seek a new normal. This present time emptiness, if we can think of it the right way, offers sweetness. Redefining what is normal can be gorgeous. It has to be.
Trying my dress on alone in my bedroom is gorgeous. Standing in the middle of our kitchen, crying about the overwhelming love from my best friends through this, while Jake wraps his arms around me saying nothing, is gorgeous. Slowly typing “masks for brides” in Google is gorgeous (pssst…Neon Cowboys is my fav). The delicately wrapped wedding cake cookies are gorgeous. The adoring love I have for the man I’m going to marry is, above all, stinkin’ gorgeous. While a pandemic can distract us, it also shows how deeply we can care about one another. It, somehow, uncovers beauty in the unconventional.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.
BY Brittany Chaffee - August 11, 2020
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.