LOVE In the Time of COVID

Engaged couples show creativity and flexibility in wedding planning

Written by Joel Samberg / Photographed by Todd Fairchild

Planning a wedding has always been an emotional jumble of considerations and decisions. Where, when, how many guests, kids or no kids, band or deejay, buffet or table service, big or small bridal party…

Now throw a pandemic into the mix.

With the need for face masks, social distancing, state-mandated crowd restrictions, and other challenges, couples getting married today face a set of circumstances completely unlike those of friends and relatives who tied the knot even a year ago.

For more than half a year, engaged couples have had to deal with the threat of coronavirus and the menace of COVID-19. Various reports from across the country share stories of subcontractors who self-quarantine after every event and couples who require their guests to sign liability forms. One wedding planner in the Midwest predicts that weddings will evolve into superspreader events. A wedding in Maine, held in early August, was linked to 170 coronavirus cases, making the national news. For many, deliberations surrounding wedding plans have prompted frustration, anxiety, and even fear.

But in Connecticut, it appears that COVID-era weddings have a decidedly different effect: they’ve given young newlyweds a reason to celebrate their own spirit and resolve, with many couples in the Nutmeg State focusing on acceptance and positivity.

Back to nature

Nature lovers Jeffrey Morton and Rebecca Paquette became engaged in the summer of 2019 during a hike to a bucolic waterfall. It was a very Jeffrey-and-Rebecca thing to do. Which is why relatives and friends were not at all surprised when their original inspiration was to get married this summer in a rustic lodge on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains.

The pandemic had other plans.

Rebecca’s parents’ house in Glastonbury, where she grew up, borders a heavily wooded forest, and their backyard became the venue for this summer’s wedding. Jeffrey had already hand-made countrified decorations for the Adirondack affair – but those decorations were a perfect fit for the Glastonbury setting.

“In the early spring, we went back and forth so many times, trying to make a decision about canceling or keeping our original plans. Rules about the pandemic seemed to change by the day,” Rebecca recalls. It soon became apparent that in the interest of safety, the guest list would have to shrink to a fraction of its original size. “There definitely were some tears, but once we made the final decision, we moved forward and went with our Plan B, which ended up being what everyone agreed was a beautiful and intimate ceremony.”

They were always aware that their decision affected dozens of people, from guests – some of whom had already made Adirondack plans – to suppliers, some of whom had already taken sizable deposits. Rebecca and Jeffrey knew they stood a chance of losing money and disappointing friends. But all deposits were transferred to another date in 2021, in Lake George, where the couple will have what they’ll call a vow renewal ceremony. What’s more, they intend to invite everyone who came to the Glastonbury backyard and also those who had to be omitted from the original list.

Rebecca, a registered nurse, and Jeffrey, an aerospace mechanical design engineer, now live in Manchester and look back on their wedding as a success. “After all,” Rebecca muses, “there is no rule book for a pandemic wedding. But we pulled it off. We’re proud of that.”

Taking control

When Margaret Thibault and Shawn Dyer look back on their late June wedding at home in Bristol, it is likely that two things in particular will stand out. First, how fun and intimate it was, and secondly, the weirdness of having one of the wedding officiates conduct the ceremony from an iPad several states away.
Both the bride and the groom work at the high-pressure, high-tech firm Pratt & Whitney – Margaret as a demand planner, Shawn as chief information security officer. So having a relatively low-pressure, low-tech event at home was a welcome change.

“The original plan was to have more than a hundred people at the Pond House in Elizabeth Park. Our decision to cancel was very emotional,” shares Margaret. “But once it was made, it felt like we took control over our destiny. It helped us remain optimistic, as if we had reached an acceptance phase after a period of grieving. That helped us realize that the most important thing was being married and spending our lives together.”

The Pond House was accommodating to the change in plans, as were most other vendors, with the exception of the cruise line on which they had booked an Alaskan honeymoon. Margaret and Shawn were offered only credit that has to be used by July 2021 to book a cruise departing in 2022, which, of course, is not a guaranteed option.

Every relationship has surprises. With the Dyers, it began on a mutual vacation in Bermuda a little more than a year ago. Margaret was admiring a blue lagoon, turned around to say something to her boyfriend Shawn, and saw him on his knees, holding a ring. The surprises continued 48 hours before their revised wedding when one of their out-of-state officiates learned that new travel restrictions forbade him from traveling to Connecticut.

“In life, sometimes you have to roll with the punches. We got really good at adapting to the unexpected and maintaining a good sense of humor,” she says.

A change of plans

Usually when the photographer calls before a wedding, it’s just to confirm a few details. When Cecilia Menendez and her fiancé Franz Michel received a call from their photographer seven weeks before their own event, it was to tell them about new CDC guidelines that would affect their plans.

The wedding ceremony took place at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, but the reception, which was to have included 200 people at the Madison Beach Hotel in Madison, was canceled entirely. Cecilia and Franz took several guests to Artisan, the noted bistro in West Hartford’s Delamar Hotel, which had outdoor seating.

“There were several times we had a screw it! moment, where we almost decided to elope. We thought we’d go to the church with two witnesses, and that would be that,” says Cecilia, who is originally from Avon and is now a Catholic outreach missionary for Brown University in Providence, RI. She and Franz, who grew up in Norwalk and works at Otis Elevator, are thankful that most of their vendors were gracious about the unprecedented change in their original plans and caused very few financial problems for the young couple. (The helpful photographer stayed on board for the revised blueprint.)

Cecilia says that prior to the re-envisioned nuptials, she and Franz prayed a lot and constantly spoke with family and friends for support and advice.

“A large part of my family was to have flown in from Argentina, so I’d love to have some sort of celebration with them in the future,” Cecilia muses. “But I wonder if it will feel odd in two years to put on a wedding dress again. Still, I’m open to it. And if there’s no risk then, maybe we’ll go back to inviting 200 people!”

Even if that’s the case, though, one thing the pandemic taught the Michels is that simple is often better – and safer. “If we do something in the future,” she admits, “it will look different from the original plan. It will be much more casual.”

Puppy love

Jen Bunnell and Kevin Siegel will be Mr. and Mrs. Siegel in October, thanks to Andrew.

Andrew had nothing to do with the pandemic or the fact that the young couple decided to stick to their original wedding date. But without a doubt, he set the whole thing in motion.

Andrew is a springer spaniel. Kevin took the dog along on his first date with Jen, who fell in love with both of them.

Jen is a NICU nurse, and Kevin works for the veterinarian to which her family always bought their pets. It wasn’t long before fate intervened, and a wedding was being planned.

“After a while, there were so many things in place for this fall – so many ideas, plans, details, and confirmed participants – that it seemed as if 2020 was our year! COVID was not going to stop that!”

They moved the venue to her parents’ backyard in Wethersfield and pared down the guest list. The caterer, Matthew’s Catering, has remained onboard with face masks and gloves, guests will be required to sanitize theirs hands at the beginning of the food line, and attendants will plate the food so that no one has to touch serving utensils.

“Our family and friends have been supportive,” Jen says. “They all expected these concessions from watching the news, and it’s no big deal.”

One thing that has changed is the honeymoon. They canceled their plans to go to Charleston, SC and instead will spend some time alone in the Vermont home of a family friend. For them, it’s just another small concession. Despite the pandemic, Jen and Kevin never stopped believing that 2020 would be a special time in their lives. Especially since Andrew will be one of the guests.

Jumping through hoops

Tanisha Vasquez and Chris Hayden used what might be called a logistical workout and a jolt of adrenaline to make their wedding plans work out just the way they had hoped. It makes perfect sense; after all, Tanisha is a gymnastics instructor for youngsters and Chris is a fire department paramedic. They know how to jump through hoops and keep things ticking.

The only change to their wedding – albeit a major one – is that it will be one year after the original midsummer 2020 date. The Wallingford couple will still get married at the Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington with most of their original vendors and all of their original guests.
“We found a new date next year that everyone was able to commit to,” Tanisha reports proudly, “so we decided to go with it. If we stuck to this summer and scaled it down for the pandemic, it would not have been our dream wedding. I will say, though, that as the original date came close, it got tough for us, emotionally. So we still celebrated by going out to dinner that night and enjoying each other’s company.”

Both Tanisha and Chris believe the pandemic will be with us for a while but remain cautiously optimistic that after a one-year delay, the wedding will come off as intended. They currently plan on having neither masks nor an occupancy restriction. Nevertheless, they will continue to count all sorts of blessings, one of which was meeting before the pandemic. Had that not happened, they may have never met at all. “Just going out with my fiancé is hard these days,” Tanisha acknowledges, referring to the fact that dating is quite a challenge today. “Movies? Bowling? No. I’m glad we started going out when we did!”

They may wish to thank the pandemic for waiting as long as it did to arrive (that’s one way of looking at it). But because of the one-year delay in their wedding, they’d have to jump through a lot of hoops in order to say something really nice about it.

Joel and his wife Bonnie will soon celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, and their 10th as Connecticut residents. Joel, a frequent Seasons contributor, spent 10 years as a professional writer in New York and 20 in New Jersey.


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