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How to Handle the Fallout From the Ultimate Wedding Crasher — COVID-19

Planning a wedding is stressful enough, but the coronavirus outbreak has thrown couples around the globe a wedding planning curveball.

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My best friend cancelled her wedding. What other choice was there? Like many couples, they aren’t alone. Couples across the country (and around the world!) have had to make hard choices about their big day. In many cases, the decision meant losing precious time, hard work and money.

Heather van der Hoop and her fiancée, Hannah Cavallin, had been looking forward to their August wedding for months. The two women planned to get married on top of a ski hill in British Columbia, sealing and celebrating a relationship that’s endured for over a decade. 

But when the pandemic headlines were starting to look dire at the beginning of the year, they knew their fairy-tale ceremony might not happen — at least, not in 2020. They decided to make the difficult decision to postpone their wedding for more than a year.

If you’re in the same unfortunate love boat, here are some steps you can take to help allay the confusion and pain.

Make sure you and your partner are on the same page

It was (hopefully) an open and honest discussion that got you engaged in the first place — so now that the virus has turned your plans upside down, it’s time to sit down and have another one. A wedding is a very emotional topic, and one or both of you may be hurt and disappointed at the prospect of having to delay yours.

Along with comforting each other in the face of unfair circumstances, talking it out is the best way to start figuring out what to do next. After all, you do have options aside from postponing (which we’ll come back to in just a minute).

Van der Hoop and Cavallin decided to take a long walk in the woods together once they’d internalized the COVID-19 projections. For them, what to do next was obvious once they reflected on why they wanted to get married in the first place. 

They’d planned the wedding in the town they moved to together and invited guests from around the world, Van der Hoop said, because they wanted to “show the people we love the most why we love it here and celebrate in this place.” So for them, a downsized ceremony or Zoom wedding wasn’t going to cut it. And even if quarantine restrictions allowed for a large gathering, they knew the atmosphere wouldn’t be relaxed, fun and celebratory.

If you do make the decision to postpone your big day, it might help ease the sting to plan something nice for you and your sweetheart to do together on the original date. It could be as simple as a quarantine date night where you make a nice meal and listen to “your” songs together, so long as you take the time to honor your love.

Consider all your options

According to one survey, 63% of engaged couples postponed their wedding (no) thanks to COVID-19. If you’re waiting to get married to take other life steps, like moving in together or trying to conceive, you might not want to push the date. Even though postponing has been the most popular choice, there are other options to consider:

  • Shrink the ceremony. Depending on where you’re planning your wedding, gatherings up to a certain size may be allowed. Although your original guest list may have had more than 25 or 50 people, you might consider shrinking your original plans to comply with local restrictions. (We highly recommend you take the CDC’s social distancing guidelines into consideration; however, the bridal party could wear color-coordinated masks!)
  • Elope or head to the courthouse. If you’re of the mind that the only people who really need to be present at your wedding are you and your sweetheart, you might ditch the big celebration and head for the courthouse — or elope. A small but sweet celebration can still be a great step into your new life together, and it’s still possible to find attractive elopement packages. For example, the Bayfront Marin House, a bed and breakfast in St. Augustine, Fla., is still performing ceremonies.
  • Have a Zoom wedding. In the age of the coronavirus, just about everything can be reimagined for Zoom — including your wedding. Vogue even published an entire guide on how to set up your live-streaming ceremony. 
  • Postpone. If, like Van der Hoop and her partner, you just can’t imagine your wedding being satisfying if it’s anything short of the original plan, your best course of action might be to push the date until later.
  • Cancel. This one’s a heavy option, for sure — but depending on where you are in your wedding planning process, canceling your wedding altogether until you know what the future will look like might be the most convenient option.

Don’t forget about the financial implications

Although it was certainly not a fun decision to make, Van der Hoop and Cavallin were happy about one thing: They were able to simply roll over their existing deposits with their all-inclusive venue and photographer for their new 2021 date.

But other couples might not be so lucky. In fact, 56% of couples surveyed said they lost money when they changed their plans — to the tune of more than $3,300 on average. Unfortunately, even wedding insurance is unlikely to cover a pandemic-related postponement or cancellation — especially if you tried to purchase coverage after the outbreak.

Being quick on your feet may help you save costs and also give you more wiggle room when it comes to choosing a new date. If you worked with a wedding planner, you’ll want to get in touch with them right away so they can start reaching out to your various vendors. If not, you’ll need to get on the horn with those vendors yourself. 

Given the circumstances, you may be able to negotiate with your vendors on a case-by-case basis regarding nonrefundable deposits and fees, especially if you’re postponing rather than canceling altogether. But everyone has been financially impacted by the pandemic, and wedding vendors are no exception — so don’t be surprised if they’re not handing out discounts and refunds. 

One good thing about delaying your date is that you have more time to take matters into your own hands: DIY-ing things like decorations, wedding favors and invitations (if you haven’t already sent them), for example. Depending on what portion of your deposit(s) you’re able to get back, you may even be able to shift to a different kind of ceremony on a smaller overall budget.

Take action

Once you’ve gotten your vendors out of the way, there are still some more actions you need to take to solidify your change of plans.

  • Make the announcement. After your partner and your vendors, your guests should be the first to know about the shift — especially if some of them were traveling for the occasion. If you don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of printing out a paper invitation revision, consider following in Van der Hoop’s footsteps and sending out a mass “un-save the date” email, BCCing everyone on your guest list.
  • Figure out what to do about gifts. Your exact course of action will vary depending on how your plans have shifted. If the wedding is canceled altogether, etiquette generally demands that any gifts received be returned to their givers, ideally with a note thanking them again for the gesture. (If the giver insists you keep the gift, you should “graciously accept,” according to The Knot.) If, on the other hand, you’ve merely postponed, it’s okay to keep gifts that have already made their way to you. You can also keep your registry active. However, given the financial implications of the coronavirus, you may want to offer a return on any cash gifts you’ve received. 
  • Plan for the future. You’re doubtless disappointed that your big day won’t go off as initially planned. But it can feel like a salve to get busy planning for the future: rescheduling with your venue, negotiating with your vendors and honing in on details like your hair, makeup and playlist.

Congratulations on your wedding — even if it is delayed. After all, a lifetime of commitment with your partner is worth the wait. 

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