When my partner proposed in 2018, I knew instantly that our wedding would take place on October 10, 2020. It absolutely had to be that date, because I love numerology and early October would offer the most reliable weather options for what I hoped would be an outdoor wedding—not too hot, not too cold—and after two years’ worth of prayer, I was convinced there would be no rain.
In the first few months of 2019, we started aggressively searching for a venue and found the perfect one in West Sayville, Long Island. We put down the deposit, chose the bridal party, found a DJ that could combine my love of Taylor Swift with our family’s need for early ’90s salsa, designed table settings that were eco-conscious honorifics to my father who used to be a florist, and sent out save-the-dates on post-consumer recycled paper. In front of my mothers-in-law, my bridesmaids, and my own mother, I said yes to the dress in a crowded Kleinfeld’s showroom. Someone rang a bell, people in the showroom clapped. My mother, who had offered to pay for my gown as a wedding gift, put down the deposit to order it. Everything was going according to my meticulous planning.
In March of this year, I called my mother in tears to let her know we were canceling the wedding. I gave every reason except the one that had motivated me: I was terrified of the coronavirus. In those first few weeks of March, we knew little about what the virus would become but, fueled by my anxiety disorder, I started to panic and prepare for the worst. I was afraid of what the virus would do to my partner’s job, to my job; even with the help of our families, we couldn’t pay for a wedding on a single income. I was afraid of putting 105 members of our combined family into a single room, which would include my only living grandmother who was, at the time, caring for my grandfather on his deathbed. The uncertainty of it all was breaking my relationship, and the wedding was the first of many sacrifices made for the sake of our sanity.
As the virus spread, my worst fear was realized: my partner lost work and we became a single-income household. This was a sick moment of relief because it affirmed that calling off the wedding had been the best decision. We were able to keep a roof over our head and food on the table because a $20,000 expense was no longer looming. Besides, we were also already legally married by the time the virus came around. Yet, even with the assurance that we would survive the pandemic—financially at least—I still found myself pulling up the photo on my phone of the first time I tried on my would-be wedding gown. Though it was shot in a poorly-lit dressing room, it was a frozen moment of my wedding-day dream: the dress I imagined I’d be wearing when I started my new life. It was just a dress and the wedding was just a silly party. So why was I still so upset?
My one silly party is a tiny fraction of an enormous industry that is near collapse thanks to the coronavirus. The wedding industry is a $74 billion business composed of a codependent network of gown retailers, planners, venues, food and beverage vendors, as well as photographers and videographers, most of which are considered small businesses. The New York Times reported that when the pandemic hit, “more than 400,000” businesses tied to the wedding industry came to a crashing stop. Brett Galley, director of special events for Hollywood Pop Gallery, said that couples were spending between $25K-$1 million or more on the 2020 wedding season alone. The Evening Standard reported that by April, 64% of 2020 weddings in the United Kingdom had been either canceled or postponed, costing the country’s wedding industry around £87.5 billion.
These massive numbers overshadow the individuals who make the industry function, many of whom have come damn near to losing their livelihoods due to the global pandemic. Samuel Rivera, a DJ based in New York who runs an event planning business with his wife, is one such small business owner who became collateral damage when the pandemic ravaged the wedding industry. Since March, Rivera says, he’s lost five weddings and several sweet 16s; “people are still canceling events coming up in the fall because venues haven’t opened up.” Over the course of just a summer, previously his most profitable season, Rivera lost nearly $25,000 in potential revenue.
On the other side of the proverbial DJ booth stand the couples who made the responsible choice to not have their weddings despite the emotional and financial cost, like Daniela Espinel, also of New York, who was scheduled to get married September 5, 2020, in Colombia. “We canceled our wedding the last week of April,” she said in an email to Jezebel. The couple had guests flying into Colombia from several different countries, and as travel restrictions were being put in place, panic overtook their planning. Espinel said she started to have nightmares about the wedding potentially contributing to the virus’s spread in April and decided it was best to cancel. Her decision was met with a touch of derision: “Half of our guest list said that by September everything was going to be back to normal and that we were overreacting.”
Like Rivera, Espinel was staring down the barrel of a $10,000 loss but got lucky when her vendors agreed to delay the wedding until May of 2021 if Espinel agreed to pay some extra fees. But with 2020 winding down and no end to the virus in sight, Espinel finds herself in the same position. “We might have to postpone again,” she said. Espinel, too, says her would-be wedding date was a particularly sad one for her and her partner, compounded by the unworn wedding dress hanging in her closet.
In her email, Espinel made a point to emphasize her gratitude that she still had her life and her health, and that members of her family who had been infected with covid had recovered. Like Espinel, I too was lucky. My family was well; I was one of the few in the US to hold onto my job. The only emotion I should have felt was gratitude. But no matter how much I reminded myself that I had everything I needed, the bitterness was still there. Life had robbed me of so many important moments, why couldn’t I have this one? The more I bemoaned the loss of my wedding, the more I felt like a selfish asshole.
I also happen to be a selfish asshole out of a few thousand dollars. The manager of my wedding venue, who months earlier had been responsive and helpful, has begun to stonewall. (“Corporate is working on it,” he says each month when I call to check on the status of my refund.) Kleinfeld had assigned me a dedicated salesperson, who emailed almost weekly to ask about styles I was interested in and answer questions. When my mother called the shop to cancel my dress, there was no warmth or sympathy on the other end of the line. Even when my mother pleaded for a refund–after all, there was a pandemic going on–the response from Kleinfeld was strictly business: “You are not eligible for a refund.” All of the subtle little touches vendors had displayed to make me feel special and cared for evaporated, along with the money they’d already gotten from me.
It’s hard to quantify the emotional loss of a canceled wedding. There’s no price to put on some of the moments that I’ll never have. Walking down the aisle with my mother–two women who’ve been on their own since 2000—and accepting a man into our circle for the first time. Having the Fatihah recited over me and my husband, sealing our interfaith union before God. Above all, I wanted my wedding to mark the first day of a complete and unified family that eventually a child could be born into, a novel thing considering both my husband and I lacked fathers in our formative years. These things are intangible, memories that were supposed to shape the whole of my life.
It’s impossible to navigate mourning something that never happened; it’s hard to mourn what’s considered a first world problem. I still don’t know if it’s okay to be sad about my wedding but the feeling remains, as does the guilt over having the feeling at all.