Posted on September 17, 2020 6:05 am

READ FULL STORY @ The Federalist

Since March, “COVID brides” have captured everyone’s sympathies. Many couples postponed their ceremonies, celebrated without beloved family members, or had to uninvite guests to meet government-imposed regulations. But between challenges and changed plans, these newlyweds found a refreshing amount of normalcy — and a reminder of what lasts.

Elizabeth and Matthew Cochran

Before Elizabeth and Matthew fell in love, she was dating his high school best friend. She was so impressed with Matthew that she tried to set him up with a friend of hers. But a few years passed, and Elizabeth reconnected with Matthew in college.

As soon as they started dating in the summer of 2019, Elizabeth felt called to get married the following summer — but a wedding soon didn’t seem feasible. When the shutdowns started and Elizabeth watched her friends pull together weddings at the last minute, she realized it might be possible for her too.

“During this crazy time, people are doing crazy things,” Elizabeth said. “This crazy thing that I’ve had on my heart this whole time… may be more realistic.”

Matthew proposed in June, and the wedding came 38 days later. They planned an outdoor ceremony in Elizabeth’s grandparents’ backyard, and sent out invitations.

Then their home state of Texas started spiking. “The governor said no groups more than 10 — that was one week before our wedding,” said Elizabeth. “We scratched everything.” As they were preparing a last-minute ceremony with immediate family, their photographer found a state exemption for weddings.

“Everything was back on the table,” Elizabeth said, although she had to un-invite friends from out of state. One bridesmaid from California dropped out so she wouldn’t risk getting sick before her own brother’s wedding.

Elizabeth’s uncle, grandmother, grandfather, and great-grandmother were all unable to come after catching COVID-19 before the wedding. “My late-90s great-grandmother had the least amount of symptoms of anyone,” she said, laughing. “It didn’t even faze her.”

At the ceremony, families stayed together instead of mingling, and guests wore masks. “I have pictures of me walking down the aisle and there’s somebody in a mask,” Elizabeth said. “It doesn’t look right, but that was unavoidable.”

But the imperfections reminded Elizabeth what parts of a wedding actually matter. “It’s funny, because you take your precautions, and then sometimes a grandma would just want to hug you,” she added. “In the moment the love took over when you were like: I don’t want to miss this moment!”

Mya and Danny Shepard

After Mya and Danny met in eighth grade, she friend-zoned him for years. But in 2018, Danny was scheduled to go to Hawaii for six months. “All of a sudden, I felt those butterflies and knew that I needed to let him know before he left,” Mya said. “So I kissed him.” They went on their first date a few days later, and in January 2020, he proposed.

They planned a small ceremony for March, in their hometown in Central Florida. “Marion County, the week of our wedding, decided to start shutting down everything,” Mya said.

Because their venue was private property and outdoors, they were still able to use it. But after their first minister was unable to come, Mya asked her old boss to get ordained online so he could officiate. “My mom also got ordained online just in case,” she added.

A decreased number of guests was the biggest change. “Half of the people came,” Mya said. They both had family members who were unable to come, including Danny’s grandmother and Danny’s brother, who was supposed to be in the bridal party but was stuck in Hawaii.

Guests generally kept with their own families, but no one was wearing masks. (The bride and groom wore masks in one of their wedding pictures as a joke.)

Their honeymoon was more affected, as their plan to go to the Florida Keys fell through the day before the wedding. “I found out through a news article that the night we were supposed to be there they were shutting down,” Mya said.

But overall, Mya found a surprising degree of normalcy. “At the end of the day, COVID didn’t really mess up the wedding,” she said.

Beckett & Audrey Millhouse

Audrey and Beckett weren’t just planning a wedding in the middle of a pandemic — they were also fitting it in between their sophomore and junior years of college. They met as freshmen — “you know, the age-old story of wayward debate partners,” Beckett said.

In January, he proposed. They immediately started planning a wedding for August, with a guest list of 175 people. “Once COVID hit, everything got thrown up in the air,” Audrey said.

Right after everything shut down, they considered eloping. “We were so happy for like three hours,” Beckett said. “And then very quickly reality started to dawn.”

After a month of indecision, they agreed to continue with their original plan. California had strict shutdown regulations, but since the venue was private and the ceremony was outside, the biggest change was a reduction in the number of guests by about half.

Beckett’s grandparents and most of his extended family weren’t able to come. “The one person that showed up was this random cousin,” he laughed.

Audrey and Beckett were both impressed by how little coronavirus hung over their wedding. “It felt pretty normal,” Audrey said. “None of us were walking in fear.” None of the guests chose to wear masks, and no one has gotten sick in the weeks since the wedding. “We didn’t kill anybody,” Beckett laughed with a sigh of relief.

Their honeymoon plans also changed when the U.S.-Canada border closed. Instead of their original trip to British Columbia, they made plans in Santa Barbara instead — a plan they both agreed was even better.

Overall, the uncertainty of wedding planning during government shutdowns lowered their expectations — in a good way. “The wedding day is such an idealized moment, but the challenge of plans changing humbled our idea of what this wedding would be,” Audrey said. “It made it available for us to just enjoy and be grateful.”

Jake and Emma Settle

Jake is from Washington and Emma grew up in Ohio, but they met their freshman year of college in Virginia.

In the fall of 2019, after two years of dating, Jake proposed, and they set a wedding date for June 2020. “The original plans were largely fulfilled, but that doesn’t mean that COVID didn’t present a lot of changes,” Emma said.

In April, the ceremony was so uncertain that they considered eloping. “I was texting him, ‘Do you want to just come to Ohio this weekend and we can elope?” Emma said.

“We went from a big wedding, to my backyard with the pastor and whatever family could come, to at the last minute being able to have our original plans,” she added.

They got married in Emma’s rural Ohio hometown, so they were allowed to have an indoor wedding and reception. But three weeks before the wedding, she found out that their venue was closed. Left with nowhere to host 170 people, they discovered another place that had been used for local high school dances.

Most of Emma’s family was able to come, but since Jake’s family lives in Washington, only his parents, sisters, and a cousin in the bridal party were able to attend.

For their honeymoon, Jake and Emma abandoned their original plans to go to Hawaii after the state announced a mandatory two-week quarantine. “We ended up going to Arizona and road-tripping for our entire honeymoon, which my husband loved,” Emma laughed.

The planning challenges helped teach Emma a lesson that many friends had told her before the pandemic: “Don’t get caught up in the planning details,” she said. “The wedding is a great day in your life, but it’s not going to be the best day, because the best days should still be ahead of you.”

“Even if everything had gone wrong, it still would have been a great day because you walked away with something that lasts a lifetime.”

READ FULL STORY @ The Federalist