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Saying ‘I do’ in a pandemic

The wedding date has been set for more than a year. The venue is booked, the perfect wedding dress has been chosen, the wedding party has been selected and invitations are in the mail. The dream honeymoon has even been reserved on a tropical beach in a far away country.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic occurs. The world is flipped upside down. Large gatherings are a distant memory, international flights are grounded, and there’s no way to predict when things may go back to normal.

After waiting for what feels like forever to tie the knot, pushing the date yet again seems unbearable. What to do?

For local couples and lovebirds around the nation, the pandemic has meant many have had to completely rethink and restructure wedding plans. In a time where the future seems so uncertain, more and more brides-to-be are electing to forego the traditional ceremony and instead embrace the growing trends of “micro-weddings,” “mini-monies,” sequel weddings and elopements.

In this time of reduced social gatherings, micro-weddings are exactly what they sound like. Typically defined as a wedding of 50 people or less, micro-weddings in the age of the coronavirus usually include very small wedding parties and heavily scaled down celebrations.

Mini-monies, while a similar concept, tend to focus on the ceremonial side of marriage. A mini-mony can typically include up to 10 people and is sometimes treated as more of a personal vow to one another than an official union. Couples have begun more and more often to opt for a mini-mony only to later officially sanctify their marriage in the form of a sequel wedding.

Sequel weddings serve as a chance to participate in a larger wedding ceremony where more guests can be invited. COVID-era couples who cannot wait any longer to tie the knot will often choose to have a mini-mony and afterward continue to plan for a sequel wedding in the future.

And, of course, there are couples who opt to elope, but this isn’t necessarily your Grandma’s elopement we’re talking about. While the term used to be primarily used in the context of couples that ran away to be together, eloping is often used in modern-day language to refer to a bride and groom who participate in a very intimate and small ceremony that is often a surprise or spur of the moment. While some elopers still head down to the courthouse to tie the knot quickly, others go for a private ceremony on the beach or even in their own home.

One local couple did just that.

Anna and DJ Jamerson have a lot in common. They were both born in August of 1996, and they’re both from Buckingham. Although the two grew up just 10 minutes away from each other, Anna attended Fuqua School in Farmville, and DJ went to Buckingham County Public Schools. They didn’t meet until 2017 when they were introduced through a mutual friend.

The couple hit it off, and DJ proposed on a Saturday evening on Aug. 17, 2019, during a surprise party at Anna’s parents’ house.

The pair immediately began planning for a large wedding and set the date for June 26, 2020. Then the pandemic happened.

“We had planned the entire wedding for 160 guests,” Anna said. “Everything had been ordered, save the dates sent, invitations sent, the whole 9 yards.”

When COVID hit the U.S., Anna and DJ decided they would try to have a small wedding with just immediate family and a bridal party. Anna ordered a set of postcards letting guests know of the switch.

But a small wedding just didn’t seem small enough.

“We realized neither of us were going to feel comfortable enough to enjoy the day,” she said.

“We were so worried our special day was going to get someone we loved sick, and it was not worth it.”

By November of 2020, any thought of a big, fancy wedding did not excite them anymore. All that the couple wanted was a chance to get married with their closest family in attendance. After reaching out to loved ones to find a date that worked, Anna and DJ “walked down the aisle” Jan. 23, 2021, in Anna’s parents’ foyer.

What was originally supposed to be a large summer wedding turned into a quiet winter elopement with only a few family members present. Loved ones still made the day special with decorations, and the Jamersons still had a first dance, a cake cutting and a photographer present. The wedding was officiated by DJ’s grandfather, and the two were gifted a unity Magnolia tree that they each watered and will plant at their future home.

“It was perfect,” Anna said. “It was a very intimate and easygoing day.”

After putting off their espousal for so long, a tiny ceremony meant so much to the Jamersons, although the two were a bit surprised to learn some considered their special day an elopement.

“I don’t think either of us ever thought of it as us eloping when we decided to get married in January,” Anna added. “We both always thought of elopement as running off and getting married without any family knowing. It wasn’t really a thought that crossed our mind until other people started referring to it as ‘us eloping.’ I think we were both just focused on the fact that we would finally be married by the end of the day.”

Allison Paris, 32, of Vienna, and Jason Paris, 28, of Prospect, also had their wedding plans rearranged thanks to the coronavirus.

The couple met at a restaurant in Richmond in 2017 and got engaged in April 2019 after a scavenger hunt around the city.

Allison and Jason set a wedding date for November of 2020 and expected to invite about 150 people, but by last spring, the two began to feel overwhelmed from the unpredictability of the pandemic. They even briefly considered a trip to the courthouse.

Social gathering mandates were fluctuating up and down, making even a 50-person wedding a long shot. After a lot of decision-making, the couple opted to scale down the ceremony to include only 13 people, including the bride and groom.

Allison and Jason were able to keep their original venue at the Dominion Club in Glen Allen. Although the micro-wedding didn’t include bridesmaids or groomsmen, a traditionally large wedding cake or a DJ, the day was still one to remember.

“Although there was much uncertainty throughout the process, in the end we wouldn’t change anything about it,” Allison said. “Many of our friends that have had big weddings said they didn’t have a moment for themselves and would have opted for a smaller guest list if they had the option to do it again. We didn’t understand that until our wedding day and realized how much we appreciated the intimacy of our small wedding and the ability to spend time with others.”

Taylor Emerson, 23, of Farmville, and Matthew Emerson, 26, of Amelia, met when they were both attending Fuqua School in Farmville.

The couple got engaged on their five-year anniversary, June 14, 2019, at the exact spot in the driveway they decided to start dating five years prior.

They picked out an original wedding date for April 25, 2020. But that date would change several times thanks to COVID-19.

When an April wedding seemed impossible, Taylor and Matthew tried again for a July 25, 2020, date. But after medical emergencies on both sides of the family, the couple had to postpone again.

It seemed no one knew when the coronavirus pandemic would finally end, and the chance for a big wedding paled in comparison to the longing Taylor and Matthew felt to finally be husband and wife. One Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, the couple looked at each other and decided they just couldn’t wait anymore.

They set their date for that upcoming Friday, Aug. 14.

Taylor and Matthew contacted their immediate family and with the help of loved ones arranged for a backyard ceremony with the people they loved most. Their pastor, Pete Smith, officiated the wedding.

“We FaceTimed two of my bridesmaids who couldn’t attend, which was great,” Taylor said. “We laughed and cried and sat in the rain during the ceremony, and it was the best day ever.”

Despite the trickiness involved and the constant date changes, Taylor said the wedding ended up being just perfect.

“It was better than anything we’d ever dreamed. We wouldn’t have changed anything.”

Brooke Fielding, 20, of Farmville, and Tyler Fielding, 20, originally from Las Vegas, met in 2017 while attending Prince Edward County Public Schools. The couple got engaged after Tyler proposed next to the water at Sandy River.

Although Brooke and Tyler originally invited approximately 125 people to their April 19, 2020, wedding, the coronavirus meant that number was reduced to just 10.

“It was immediate family only, which we were both OK with,” Brooke said. “It was just upsetting that the rest of our family and friends could not be there with us.”

The couple were wed in Tyler’s backyard. With only immediate family in attendance, the ceremony was livestreamed via Facebook for everyone to see. Brooke’s brother served as Tyler’s best man, and Brooke’s grandmother stood with her as her maid of honor. A family friend officiated the wedding.

“Even though it wasn’t the wedding we planned originally, it was so amazing,” Tyler said.

“It is one of the best days I’ve ever had,” Brooke agreed. “There is absolutely nothing I would change about that day.”

One benefit each of the couples found was that their small wedding meant saving a lot of money. Without more than 100 extra people to feed, large venues and expensive, multi-tiered cakes, these ceremonies left local brides and grooms with a lot of extra change in their pockets.

Brooke and Tyler considered using their leftover funds toward a honeymoon but have instead decided to save the money for their future home. Anna and DJ will do the same, and so will Allison and Jason.

Many of the couples still hope to take that dream honeymoon one day when the pandemic is hopefully a distant memory.

“We had booked and paid for our honeymoon in early 2020 for Riviera Maya, Mexico,” Anna said. “Once COVID hit we pushed it back exactly a year, June 2021. We really hope to go on that trip but will have to see how things have changed once we get closer.”

“Eventually we will take our honeymoon,” Allison added. “It might not be where we originally planned, but we both love to explore new places, so we look forward to wherever we might be able to go.”

Brooke and Tyler said they hope to have a second wedding or bigger celebration in the future that they can share with more family and friends.

Taylor and Matthew are considering something similar.

“It’s not off the table,” Taylor said of a follow-up wedding. “We just feel really happy with the day we had and don’t really feel a huge need to have a larger ceremony.”

Others are considering celebrating their nuptials on an anniversary.

“Maybe we will do a vow renewal one day in the future, but for now we don’t have anything planned,” Anna said.

“Our hope is that we will be able to have an anniversary party and celebrate with our friends and family that we weren’t able to celebrate with the first time,” Allison added.

Of course, all of these young couples had advice for others who are concerned about how long they may have to wait out the pandemic before having a wedding.

“Take the opportunity to share the moment with each other now and plan an anniversary party with all the guests in the future,” Allison recommended. “On the plus side, the bride will have the opportunity to wear her wedding dress again.”

“Go for it, because you can always have a bigger ceremony later on,” Tyler added.

“Keep a focus on each other instead of the wedding,” Taylor said. “The wedding was the best day of our lives, but married life is the real goal. And it’s the best.”

“Sit down and really talk about what that day looks like to each of you, what is important and what isn’t,” Anna advised. “If that is a big wedding with all of your favorite people, then wait, and if you can imagine something more intimate, then go for it. Don’t get hung up on what a wedding is supposed to be like. Only do what is important to each of you. If you take anything from this pandemic, remember that your time is precious. Invest it in what actually matters to you.”