“I think we need to talk about Plan B…in 2022… There are already the articles coming out that it may take up to five years before we can get back to a sense of normalcy…”
I already wanted to throw up, and we were only five minutes into this phone call with our wedding planner. My anxiety and depression over the past months of quarantine constricted my throat, making each breath more shallow and small. My ears ring as the voices of my fiance and wedding planner mingle together. I saw the excitement on his face.
He’s actually not opposed to this idea? Why isn’t he as upset as I am? Why does he like this?
My eyes darted down to the floor, willing my body to focus only on inhaling and exhaling as our planner continued to talk about what she’d observed. Our wedding was not like the others she had been dealing with in the past few weeks. We had found her in 2018 when we got engaged. To be frank, my fiance and I had often joked with her that our wedding would hopefully be one of the easiest she would ever have to deal with in her career. From the beginning, we said we were having fifty guests so that we could be as extravagant as possible with our selections. We told our planner that we were choosing to have the wedding two years out to save the money to pay for it ourselves, eliminating the “extra cooks in the kitchen” and ensuring we could have absolute control over our vision.
Because we started early in two years, we picked our venue in Napa Valley, California, to cater to his desire for a destination feel with great food and my desire to ensure my closest family and friends could afford to go. They raised me in Los Angeles, California, went to college in the Bay Area, and entered my early thirties, absolutely sure I would NEVER get married. I was going to the old woman yelling at kids to “get off her lawn” with a few pets, the old spinster they thought of to be a witch. All my other girlfriends married with kids or on the road to being so, and I had accepted my role as the wonderful “auntie” who would spoil their children and hand them back after babysitting. Then I met my fiance.
He, too, had accepted that he would be a bachelor for all time, investing in Lego sets and 4k movies to fill his time off work. We laughed so often the first year of dating that our relationship worked because we genuinely had made the proverbial peace with the thought we’d be on subscription porn for the rest of our lives. Even when we talked about getting married, I was such a pessimist. I didn’t notice the signs he was gathering the items I stated I wanted in a proposal. When he proposed, I ruined the moment spectacularly by thinking he was joking and replying, “Yeah, yeah,” and waving my hand off dismissing him. I did not see him holding the ring until almost a minute later. By then, I started screaming and hyperventilating that he felt the need to ask again to “be sure I knew what I agreed to.”
Both of us had operated as Project Managers during distinct points in our careers and wanted to enjoy planning our wedding. Hence, the hiring of the wedding planner and the risk planning of giving ourselves two years. In these two years, my fiance started and completed an MBA degree while I took a chance and changed careers to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a published author. All the while, our little wedding chugged along with a small decision for a photographer here, catering tasting there. It was lovely to take it in stride. We thought — we’ve made this decision together, signed the contract, and can now move on. My maid of honor got married, and I spoke at her wedding. She got pregnant just a few months later and had a beautiful daughter. Other friends of ours had babies or transitioned to new jobs.
2020 will be our year. It’ll be our turn to have our day then! Hopefully, a few published things for me!
2020 began with our selection of our stationary vendor and planning our first site walkthrough with our wedding planner, caterer, and lighting vendor. I was ecstatic. It was finally real. The wedding that I had tried to stay neutral and calm about the past two years was within nine months. I was no longer talking about years but months. My fiance was planning his work conferences and mentioned I should join him on a trip to India in March, allowing us to stop by France and Italy on the return trips. Our phones buzzed with updates of international news of the factory lockdowns in Wuhan, China, and the COVID-19 virus outbreak over there. I studied Public Health in college and worked in hospital administration early in my career, so I applauded the Chinese doctor’s efforts in spreading the word.
As our plane tickets were booked and hotels completed in February, my other Seattle friends mentioned their grandparents were sick in a facility out in Kirkland. My heart dropped when they said how little information they were getting. The day my fiance and I flew down to Napa Valley, my skin was tingling in excitement as I stepped outside. The sun was shining after months of the Pacific Northwest rain, and I was driving on my home turf. My tongue savored the crisp white wine with my hand-pulled salty mozzarella cheese on grilled bread from the site that would host our rehearsal dinner. Driving through the gates to the Private Estate that will be our wedding venue, the buzz of seeing this place after two years had me skipping through the grass as we gave the vendors the tour and walked through our initial vision of what our wedding day would look like.
It took me almost thirty minutes into the tour to notice my fiance was not right beside me because of my excitement. His phone repeatedly buzzed as we walked and talked, to the point I was giving the “dirty look” to signal he was annoying and rude.
“I’m sorry,” he said when we drove to our lunch spot before the rental meeting, “Something is happening at work because I’m getting strings of emails and emergency meeting requests.”
It was still buzzing when we sat down to eat. He had to turn off the phone during our rental walkthrough just to concentrate. When we said goodbye to everyone, and we drove back to our hotel, that’s when he broke the news.
“I won’t be able to stay with you to visit everyone else in Los Angeles. I need to get back to work. It looks like we will have to work from home…”
My fiance flew back to Seattle the next day while I flew down to Los Angeles to visit the rest of my family and friends. That’s when Amazon, Microsoft, and several other extensive businesses announced they would close their offices and mandate workers to stay home. By the time I flew back, toilet paper was being stockpiled, groceries were scarce, and rumors were abundant about how serious or not serious about taking this. What were a few weeks then turned into a month, then an undetermined future with no end? We canceled our trips to India, France, and Italy. Then a wonderful friend of mine reached out to me, crying that she would postpone her wedding.
Honestly, because our date was in September, I didn’t think of it at all when I first got back. I just wanted to be with my fiance, and now we were together. Then we realized how small our apartment got with us adapting to being around each other ALL THE TIME. The stress and anxiety brought out stupid small fights about personal space and quiet time, phrases I thought I’d only use when babysitting. As the crisis continued to unfold, I began berating myself for getting excited at all for a wedding. The pessimist in me cruelly laughed at the audacity I had at hoping we could have a “fairy-tale” day like our other friends had in years prior. I found myself not talking about the event, fearful of the lectures on both camps — those who sat thinking people were overreacting and those who believe that it’s just a party and who cares.
Financially, the problem was that we were financially, contractually locked into the event to just walk away. Our deposits were already out the door, and we knew that these small businesses were hurting and scrambling to adjust. Neither my fiance nor I wanted anyone to get sick or die because of something we put together. That’s not the memory we thought of when we planned this. We thought the worst thing that could happen was going over our budget or the weather potentially being too hot. We both had our moments of grief — over-analyzing the right call, how long to wait, will we care if people are in masks in our photos? Then there’s the guilt of wondering if we’re too selfish in wanting it, or are we selfless because we know we’re helping keep these workers used and businesses afloat?
Oddly enough, there was a small solace online in Facebook groups for other COVID brides like myself. I’d seen everything from ladies sharing their dresses, asking for fashion tips, to registries being shared, allowing the brides to give each other things to keep proper support. The other couples also found solidarity in hoping we will get a chance that staves the selfish, petty thoughts of wanting the spotlight. But as the year raged on, even this group began splintering — some electing to elope, others hoping they could adjust to all the state guideline changes and others who tried to bypass the system entirely and just hold the wedding regardless of risk.
The months passed, with summer coming as the world became restless under the quarantine restrictions. The Black Lives Matter movement took shape around our neighborhood in downtown Seattle as news coverage of the CHAZ area grew. Our thoughts of the wedding faded into the background of protests and anger at the protestors and black allies’ treatment. Emails streamed into my inbox, notifying me of my dress’s arrival just as I watched the shop being looted and set on fire via the local news channels. Violence and anger permeated the atmosphere as night after night, gunshots and yelling woke us up.
My fiance and I both joked at our naivete, thinking that our wedding drama with the pandemic would be the worst thing we’d see. Being a Pacific Islander, I already had enough fear going to the grocery or pharmacy — having been stared at and told that it was “my fault” this pandemic was taking place. The increase in police activity around us only heightened my fear as someone screamed at me to “Go back to Chy-na,” while those who shouted the monstrous racial slurs boasted about the leaders of the country being on “their side.” The case numbers and violence arose with my partner, and I have more powerful arguments about our relationship.
Could we still work as a couple in this unknown world?
Our relationship had been a healthy balance of us, each having different hobbies but coming together for planned events. Now, being forced together for days and months, the spark dulled, and routine was setting in. I found I wanted more time alone than together. The romance was a concept I couldn’t fathom, given that we were never apart enough to miss one another.
I soon wondered if a wedding would even be workable if we couldn’t keep the relationship afloat. I canceled my bachelorette weekend, and summer ended with the gut-wrenching news of August. Our venue notified us in August that because of the string of wildfires plaguing Northern California the past few years, their insurance company decided that 2020 would be the last year to allow for any events onsite with over 8 people in attendance. In one fell email, we lost our entire wedding venue for 2021.
Our planner called us immediately, graciously giving us insight into the current state of the small businesses that form the wedding industry. She acknowledged that the longer the crisis continued, the more risk we were financially in, with the possibility that these businesses could go under before we even reached 2021. Now, here we were as one of the few couples who had wedding insurance but had a reason that was not COVID-19 (a reason insurance companies across the USA are struggling to deny claims left and right).
This left us with two options — ask our planner to begin the process from scratch, looking for another venue with all the specifications and visions we had built around the original plan, or file our insurance claim and look at recouping our financial losses. By this point, my dresses, shoes, and accessories were purchased, along with my fiance’s tux and accessories. The idea of starting all over was irritating, frustrating, and depressing. Both of us went back and forth, trying to weigh personal regret vs. financial risk, but 2020 seemed to decide for us.
As our original wedding date in September 2020 got closer, a new set of wildfires began in the Napa region. The smoke from those fires swept up to Washington for days, then across the continent to Europe. Whatever thoughts we had about looking at other venues quickly went up in flames (pardon the pun) as various other venues we’d looked at previously burned to the ground. We still don’t know to this day if our original site even stands…
It took almost a month to get all the paperwork together to submit the insurance claim and dismantle our planned wedding. Every vendor needed a documented notice that the venue was gone, adding salt to the wound as we informed our family and friends. The relief in their voices did us no favors, as we realized for them it was one less thing to weigh the risk of attending, while it was just more than a loss to us. It meant that we are closing the door on any traditional wedding celebration. We knew with the pandemic still flourishing, and most of the countries closed to the US, we couldn’t pick any date at this point that would stick. I knew that just having the carrot out there that this “could happen” was weighing too heavily on us as a couple. We needed to move forward rather than keep spinning our wheels in the mud.
To this day, I have some people who try to encourage me by saying that maybe for some anniversary, I can think of redoing a wedding celebration then. I find I simply shake my head as a no in response. I want to say that I’m one of the few who received their funds back during that hellish year when so many others are strapped in the cycle of contractual obligation. More so, we lose the joy and naivety in celebrating the wedding for my now husband and myself. We can’t unsee what the world has shown us in that year, be it the good in humanity we hope is still there or the selfish and cruel behavior that lingers beyond the death and destruction of the “American dream” — as much as it would be nice to pretend we could. If there is anything that year has pushed us to see, it’s that we wanted the wedding to just give us a chance to make a lifelong memory with those we love.
Here is hoping we get a chance soon to do just that.