Love in the Time of Pandemic: How COVID-19 Could Change the Way We Plan Our Weddings

Sometimes it feels frivolous, even pointless to try to plan a wedding during a pandemic. I wonder if our jobs will still be stable enough to afford it, if venues and vendors will be able to financially weather the storm, if my family and friends will even be able to gather together in the same place or if a new wave of illness will shut down the wedding world again. In a lot of ways, staying at home is making me appreciate what I have, and learn how to work with a little less. I can’t run to the store to grab an ingredient I forgot, so I will substitute with what I do have. Can’t sit at our favorite restaurants and chat about our day, so we’ll grill and sit on the patio. That feeling of making do is starting to creep into wedding planning and making me question what I really want vs. what I am doing because it is expected.

I already had issues with the wedding industry long before now, glorifying $4000 wedding dresses and cakes that serve more than a small country rubbed me the wrong way from the start. But it is so easy to feel like you should go all out on your wedding, and for me that isn’t because I think it is the most important day of my life, it’s because everyone else thinks it is. There is no other day, no other occasion or accomplishment in my life, where I can spend thousands of dollars on a party, be lavished with attention, and have every person I love in the world travel to be in one place at one time. I hate that. I’ve bemoaned the obsession with weddings when I felt like engagements overshadowed my professional achievements, or when a wedding ring made someone feel they could patronize me because my empty hand didn’t symbolize the adulthood badge they thought they’d earned. But I also love weddings, I loved being Kat’s maid of honor, I flipped when people didn’t treat her wedding like a priority, I drove hours for weekends in a row to celebrate her and I. loved. it. So I lie in this weird valley with my love for the occasion on one side and my hatred for it’s overshadowing of all other things on the other, and it’s from that strange in-between that I plan my own wedding. With a layer of pandemic spread across it like a thick buttercream, it becomes an even more complicated endeavor. Here are some ways that I predict this pandemic will alter the way we celebrate our unions.

The Ceremony

People will want to come out of quarantine with a bang, and what is a better way than with a giant wedding reception? However, in the midst of social distancing, more and more couples are turning to intimate, private ceremonies with their nearest and dearest in attendance and postponing the party. I think the performative, formal nature of the wedding ceremony will continue to wither. The popularity of personalized vows and inventive unity ceremonies are already indicative of a shift away from traditional ceremonies. I predict that trend will continue toward small but emotional ceremonies becoming the norm, with fun parties following. The ceremony itself will be less about entertaining the crowd, and more about personal expressions of love and commitment, the kind you would only want your closest friends and family to overhear.

While not a private affair, Kathryn and Joe’s ceremony felt very personal and intimate.

The Party

As more people face financial hardship and physical distance creates emotional distance for those tenuous relationships that teeter on an “out of sight, out of mind” brink, receptions will shrink. At first, likely out of necessity; no one who hasn’t worked for two months can afford to feed everyone they’ve ever known a steak dinner. And, of course, there will be couples who want to go all out with huge parties because they can finally be around people! But even for those with large budgets, the suspension of large gatherings might begin to permeate our culture in such a way that couples begin to realize that a 400 person reception isn’t necessary, practical, or even safe. Once the smoke clears, all the couples who had smaller receptions because they had to will establish a new norm for couples who have smaller parties because they want to, and they won’t feel as much pressure to invite everyone as we all adjust to the reality of more intimate weddings.

The Location

What happens when you pair smaller weddings with people who have been cooped up for months? Destination weddings! Sure, people will be reluctant to travel at first. But I think more couples will gravitate toward beaches, mountains, and resorts as short guests lists make the logistics less overwhelming. I predict (and secretly hope) we see a spike in intimate semi-destination weddings that require only domestic travel and feel like fun family reunions. Giant, traditional wedding venues were already losing popularity as more couples found fun and inventive places to get married—after this pandemic more couples might lean into that trend and abandon the country club setting of their parents’ dreams.

Decor

I never wanted to spend thousands on flowers, but I still had ideas about the ways I would try to punch up the decor at my wedding to set the tone. I had grand aspirations of DIY and bringing all kinds of things into a venue to personalize it. The more I think about it from this new perspective of scaling back, the more I want it to be stress-free. I don’t want to hang greenery the morning of my wedding, I want to sit outside and drink a coffee with Kathryn while she calms me down. I don’t want to yell at Joe because he forgot to bring some minor thing I asked for (I often end up yelling at Joe during high-stress situations, sorry Joe!) I want him drinking coffee with Travis, calming him down.

On the morning of my wedding, I want to sit outside and drink a coffee with Kathryn while she calms me down.

Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what the centerpiece on my table at Kathryn’s wedding looked like, and I was more invested in that wedding than Warren Buffet in the stock market. So if I’m having these thoughts and feelings, I can’t be the only bride, right? I think there will be a lot less effort put into the perfect displays and more into the experience of the day. Brides and Grooms will try to find ways to make their wedding beautiful without being stressed out or overwhelmed by the details.

Pre-Wedding Events

/ Kathryn: As the person who will likely be planning all of Summer’s pre-wedding events, I wanted to jump in here to talk about how I think pre-wedding events might change. As virtual, online events become more popular, and people learn how to organize and have fun on a Google hangouts or a Zoom call, I can imagine we might see more bridal showers being hosted remotely. I discovered during my Google hangouts birthday party that it was wonderful to host a party where friends from out of state or out of country could be in attendance. Once people experience that, they might not want it to end, favoring hosting showers via video chat so that location is no longer a barrier for any loved one to attend.

As far as bachelorette parties go, I feel like we might experience some extremes: we will see more extravagant, destination bachelorette parties in exotic locations on the rise. After being disallowed to travel for so long, brides-to-be will want to explore and celebrate with their best friends by their sides, so they might tend to go all out for extravagant celebrations. But I think a lot of them will incorporate more technology, likely video chatting their faraway friends so they feel included. As we find the ways to make it work with socializing during social distancing, I think people will tend to rely on technology more to feel close to their friends while physically separated even after this pandemic is over. /

Wedding Weekend Events

As I said before, I think destination weddings will become more feasible, and with that some weddings will become more of a weekend-long hangout than just one (or half of one) day. There may be more casual welcome parties rather than (or after) exclusive rehearsal dinners, more lazy Sunday meet-ups a fewer extravagant post-wedding brunches. As couples move away from the idea of perfection and toward prioritizing fun with their friends and family these events will take on a new tone. Not that they will lose the buzz of excitement the night before or the calm the next morning, but less attention will be paid to planning what is essentially a mini-wedding as a rehearsal dinner and more to just enjoying the time, even if it is just meeting for drinks at a local brewery.

Expectations

This all boils down to expectations. We know they will change for brides who had weddings planned during the quarantine, and for the weddings immediately after. But how will those impact our wedding planning moving forward? I think everyone will scale back their expectations of what a wedding should be. And that will come with a sense of loss, for sure. My wedding was already going to be small and scaled back but I am again re-evaluating what I really need (and by “need,” I mean what would make my experience at this party the best it can be. I know you can get married at a courthouse, I know all you need is a partner and a piece of paper to be married. I am talking about a wedding, not a marriage.) With that comes some disappointment that my wedding won’t be Pinterest perfect or have a lot of bells and whistles. But it also comes with relief that I can let go of anything that isn’t going to make that day more fun for me and my fiancé. I can have a smaller wedding with fewer frills and not feel as much pressure to do things a certain way. Yes, the loss of one way of doing things is a disappointment, but it can also be a weight off of all of our shoulders.

I hope and believe that weddings will more quickly shift in the direction they were already drifting, with couples shirking the idea of “the best day of their lives” revolving impressing other people (and, to be honest, the internet) and stretching themselves financially, physically, and mentally. More weddings will center around connecting with people, whether that is in person or through technology, having a fun and relaxing and exciting experience, and remembering that in a decade you will remember how you felt, and so will your guests. No one, not even you, will care about the centerpieces.

Looking for more wedding planning? Check out Something Old, Something New, our blog series about wedding planning from the perspectives of a bride who’s just been through it, and a bride just starting the process!

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