The birds are singing, the temperature is rising and I am frantically searching for a seamstress to hem three to four inches off a formal dress designed for a woman of normal height. You know what that means: it’s wedding season.
This wedding season holds the uncertain distinction of being either the second under COVID or the first post-COVID, depending on your geography and luck. The pandemic was a tragedy for many couples who had planned their big day last year. According to the wedding website the Knot, less than half of couples who intended to get married in 2020 followed through with both their ceremony and reception. Remote city-hall unions have become so normal that a friend of mine recently told our Zoom book club that she’d gotten Zoom married on a Tuesday night a few months back, and had simply forgotten to mention it. But now that vaccines flow freely and state COVID regimes are falling like Soviet governments, many of us may find ourselves doing the cha-cha slide again this spring and summer. ‘Love,’ the Knot earnestly reminds us, ‘is not canceled.’
The pandemic has been a blessing in disguise to brides. Attention-shy couples can elope guilt-free, while bridezillas get to be bossier than ever. A glance at Pinterest, the social network that doubles as a sort of Library of Alexandria for wedding-planning women, suggests myriad ways brides can charmingly, adorably demand various behaviors of their guests. Masks that double as name tags: how cute! Wristbands color-coded for immunity status: how clever! Brides can assign guests to picturesque seating arrangements and then forbid them from moving, or try out a trick from Brides magazine: ‘Limit trips to the bar.’ A sure winner!
And then there’s the decor: ‘Let’s Party Like It’s 2020’ proclaim signs available on Etsy, before dictating detailed health-and-safety measures in the casual-calligraphy scrawl of the wedding-industrial complex. ‘Spread love, not germs!’ scolds another, but sweetly, with flowers. A surprising number of these decorations borrow from MC Hammer: ‘Can’t touch this!’ announce the framed reminders not to hug. ‘Stop! Sanitize!’ dead-pans the handwashing station. The sanitized lingo of public health may mix awkwardly with the twee conventions of the modern bride, but if the most important day of your life is at stake, you do what you must.
Why do I know so much about this? My sister is getting married next month. The maximum guest capacity for her reception venue fluctuated on a weekly basis over the last year, but I admire her commitment to her date nearly as much as her commitment to her fiancé. I’ll accept any risk in order to stand by her side as her maid of honor. Historically, maid of honor was a very risky position indeed. In ancient Rome, the idea was that a young woman could confuse would-be kidnappers and evil spirits by standing near the bride and dressing like her. At the risk of sounding unsporting, may I suggest that being captured by bandits or possessed by demons sounds more appealing than modern-day maid of honor duties? These days, as with every other aspect of modern life, you mostly write emails, spend money and browse social media sites like Pinterest, feeling inadequate and a little annoyed.
Even before COVID the maid of honor’s responsibility to plan the bridal showers and bachelorette parties could be taxing. With COVID these events entail new challenges. You must figure out which states’ restrictions are bachelorette-friendly, make wild predictions about the future availability of vaccines, and lure your step-grandmother and her hors d’oeuvres safely outdoors at the shower. Pandemic or no, I would rather be my sister’s bodyguard than blow up another balloon shaped like an engagement ring or spend another moment on Etsy. Besides, ‘highway robber’ sounds kind of sexy, even if he is just after my sister’s dowry.
Despite my gripes, I admit that we in the bridal party have a few things going for us. First of all, my sister is not a precaution-obsessed, MC Hammer-quoting bridezilla: she and nearly all her bridesmaids are nurses and have been fully vaccinated for months already. No color-coded wristbands or seating-arrangement jails here. We’re also, as a group, not especially picky.
Take the bachelorette party. At my sister’s request, I arranged a weekend for all 12 of us on the banks of beautiful Lake Erie. Why Lake Erie in early March, wind chill approximately 14 degrees? You may be as surprised as I was to learn that northeastern Ohio is wine country. The location was drivable, the Airbnbs were abundant and the wineries unlikely to draw enormous crowds: ultimately, not a bad bet for a pandemic bachelorette weekend.
Despite my initial skepticism, the wineries were beautiful in a striking, desolate, Midwestern sort of way. We got an especially good view of the sprawling rural landscapes during our wine tour because we weren’t always allowed indoors. (Incidentally, there is not one working heat lamp in all northeastern Ohio.) As happens so often during this pandemic, we were rescued from despair by the kindness of a stranger — in this case the driver of our party bus, who let us drink straight from the bottles in the heated vehicle. The wine, I must admit, was not that bad.
With the bachelorette party behind us, our family eagerly awaits a wedding that looks more and more post-pandemic everyday. But now, with two weeks to go, there’s a wrinkle: our big brother has come down with the virus. As I count the days till the end of his quarantine, I wonder if I was too quick to tease the COVID brides for their bossy signs. Certainly, whoever gave him COVID should have been spreading love and not germs, or at least stopped — and sanitized! No matter what happens, this wedding, like love itself, will not be canceled.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s May 2021 World edition.