How to Safely Say ‘I Do’ During a Pandemic

Photo Credit: Katie Barnes Photography.Shutterstock

Katie Bialy’s wedding plans were complicated enough to challenge career diplomats — and that was before the global pandemic.

Bialy was engaged to her now-husband for a year and a half before the couple made any concrete wedding plans. They had ideas swirling around, but because Bialy, 28, from Rhode Island, and her Australian husband, 37, were living in Sri Lanka during their engagement, figuring out how to coordinate a wedding between several countries — and at least three continents — was challenging. 

When the couple made it back to Bialy’s family home in Rhode Island on July 8, COVID-19 threw yet another wrench into the couple’s already complicated wedding plans. Limits on international travel to Australia, combined with the fact that her then-fiancé’s tourist visa expiration date was fast approaching, meant that they needed to get married as soon as possible to stay in the same country.

The wedding would now be August 7, and with limits on social gatherings of more than 15 people in Rhode Island in effect, the wedding would be intimate and include just her parents, brother, and a handful of friends. Her husband’s family in Australia wouldn’t be able to travel overseas to join in person. 

By late March, as the coronavirus began disrupting almost all aspects of daily life across the country, weddings were no exception. For “corona couples” like Bialy and her husband, the pandemic has meant overhauling dream plans in favor of more intimate — but no less meaningful — nuptials. 

Bialy and her husband are deeply spiritual, though they don't identify with just one single religion. Under different circumstances, they likely would have had the ceremony in her parents’ church, which wouldn’t have been as true to the couple’s religious and spiritual beliefs than their nondenominational ceremony ended up being. The ceremony was held at a nearby town hall in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, where the couple exchanged vows, as friends and family watched on Zoom.

But there are bright sides to the adjustments they made. “It was beautiful,” notes Bialy. “We didn't have to associate with just one denomination. It also felt so nice that our friends were there, which we might not have had at a normal wedding.”

Looking back on the experience, Bialy only has fond memories. Yes, it happened under challenging circumstances and it would have been nice to have more family and friends in person, but the wedding itself just became about the lifetime commitment they made to each other. “There is now the sense that we committed to forever, and that is beautiful and special,” said Bialy. 

Special in a New Way

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the country, couples everywhere have had to rethink wedding plans to fit new social distancing guidelines. Limitations vary from state to state, but one thing is clear: Weddings, as with most other social gatherings, will have to be adapted to our new normal for the foreseeable future. But, despite the challenges, brides like Bialy feel that these new ceremonies are a chance to focus on what really matters: the union itself. 

This was certainly also the case for Elizabeth Foster, who got married on July 19 in an intimate outdoor affair with just immediate family and a few friends after canceling her plans for a 250-person wedding in Ohio. 

For Foster, postponing her summer wedding altogether was never an option. “My now-husband and I really wanted to get married, and there was never a question about going forward,” she said. Her only requirement for what would be a completely new wedding was that both her and her then-fiancé’s immediate family be present, as well as a rabbi to officiate. Foster is Jewish, and although her husband-to-be isn’t, she thought it was important to have a rabbi officiate to make it feel as much like a traditional wedding as possible. 

It was amazing. All the pressure of the wedding was gone, so it could really just be about being with immediate family.

The challenge, of course, was figuring out a way for both of their families — spread out throughout the country — to come together safely in one place without traveling too far a distance. Foster found an Airbnb in Virginia overlooking the Potomac River that was large enough for social distancing and close enough for all families to drive to without stopping anywhere overnight. 

“It was so different than anything I could have ever imagined,” said Foster, “but it was perfect for us.” 

Small tables replaced large communal ones, so guests could sit six feet apart, and instead of hiring a makeup artist and hairstylist, Foster’s sister stepped in. Her mother was also a big help. She found a last-minute photographer and also put together a chuppah, or marriage canopy, for the ceremony. There were toasts, there was cake, the couple had a first dance, and, somehow, despite the disruptions, the wedding came together. It wasn’t the original plan, but Foster said it was perfect. 

“It was amazing,” she said. “All the pressure of the wedding was gone, so it could really just be about being with immediate family.”

After coming to terms with the fact that her 60-person dream wedding wasn’t feasible, Manhattan bride Helen Guo, 24, is also embracing the uncertainty of her upcoming nuptials.

Though not the original blueprint, Guo knows it will still be special. She is now planning a 15-person wedding ceremony in Central Park on an upcoming September weekend. Both of the couple’s immediate families will be in attendance, and the ceremony will still be an interfaith ceremony, which was part of the original idea. She is Christian and her husband is Jewish, and they were able to find a nondenominational reverend who is comfortable adding in Jewish elements to the ceremony. 

“It’s hard when you can't have so many people in one room celebrating,” said Guo. “I'm trying to make it feel special it'll still be special, in a new way.”


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