How to get married in a pandemic

I don’t know how exactly old I was when I started losing interest in holidays and other special dates. I’ve been uninterested in Christmas for at least five years, if not more like ten by now. Many of my birthdays have been unremarkable at best. Valentine’s Day – whether single or in a relationship – has always yielded an eye roll or two from me.

But recently Harsh and I passed the one-month-since-getting-married milestone, and it sparked an unusual rush of emotion. We didn’t even do much to celebrate beyond acknowledging it verbally, but I was filled with a sense of accomplishment that I wasn’t anticipating.

Our wedding was planned for March 28th. We called it off on March 12th; with the spread of COVID-19 moving so quickly, we determined it was too much of a risk for Harsh’s family to fly here from India, and we wanted to give our guests ample time to cancel their travel plans and reservations. It was a decision that came with grief (that I believed I’d moved on from, yet is conjuring tears as I write this), but it made sense at the time. And every day our decision was validated by the rapid shutdowns across the city. By the time our “wedding day” snuck up on us, all non-essential businesses had been closed, including the art gallery that we had been so excited to choose as our venue.

We were lucky to have decided early on to do a “self-uniting” marriage–I almost typed self-isolating there, a fitting Freudian slip–which meant we didn’t need an officiant, just two witnesses to sign the license. After spending a few weeks deciding what to do, we texted our friends in the first week of April asking them how to make socially distant witnessing work. How seriously were they taking it? Should we drop off an envelope and return to pick up the signed document later?

We ended up standing on the sidewalk outside their apartment, watching them scrawl their affirmation of this moment while congratulating us through makeshift bandana masks. We interrupted a stranger’s dog walk as we blocked the whole sidewalk as we posed for a socially distant selfie for posterity. We couldn’t mark the moment with hugs or even see our friends’ smiles.

A few days later, on April 11, we had a Zoom call with our immediate families where I put Harsh’s ring on his finger and he reinstated my engagement ring as his mom held up the wedding band she’d had made for me in India to the video camera. We hadn’t even written proper vows in the hustle to organize the logistics of the day.

Ironically enough, when Harsh and I first started talking about getting married, my first suggestion was to get legally married ASAP, then give ourselves a year or so to save up for a wedding and enjoy an unrushed planning process. It ended up not being too far off from our reality–except we had everything ready besides the playlist (and the vows), thus we had an actual picture in our heads to mourn the loss of.

That Monday, people asked how my weekend was, and I answered with “well, I got married!” When they cheered and asked how I felt, I answered with “basically the same–sorta like when your birthday falls on a weekday, and it doesn’t feel like anything has changed until you have the party.”

But now, just over a month later, I do feel different. It’s certainly not how I envisioned my first month of married life (to the extent that anyone has a particular vision for that period), but I’ve probably learned more about us as individuals and as a couple by quarantining together than I would’ve if we’d been spending the last few weeks honeymooning and writing thank you notes for wedding gifts.

We’ve learned what our priorities are for ourselves: I’ve been committing more to writing and exercising during this time, while he’s upleveling his gaming skills and investing extra time in his circle of friends. I’ve been reminded of his good sides–like how he unexpectedly causes me a laughing fit multiple times a week–and learning how to live with his not-so-good habits, which will remain unnamed. We’ve both made peace with our different circadian rhythms, and I’ve gotten better at not backseat driving him while he’s cooking. These among countless other lessons.

Interestingly, the trajectory of getting settled into married life has mirrored my adjustment to stay-at-home orders.

There’s a permanence to marriage that I was struggling to come to terms with once our wedding plans got derailed. That shift from “together for now” to “in it for the long haul” passed quietly and faintly once our wedding plans got derailed, so it didn’t carry as much weight. And now as the pandemic stretches from what we were told would be a two-week shutdown to a completely unknown duration, it has required a similar journey to acceptance of its own “in it for the long haul” feeling.

I’ve seen a few times on social media the sentiment of “the pandemic isn’t over just because you’re bored.” We still need to stay inside even as the weather gets warmer and Zoom fatigue sets in and the curve starts to flatten. Choosing to marry requires the same level of resolve and of deciding that we still want to be together even when we disagree or life gets busy or tragedy strikes.

So now we go forward together, attempting to focus on the silver linings of self-quarantine while also doing our best to concentrate on our gratitude for each other during this weird time–and that we have way more time to work on (…or procrastinate) our wedding playlist.


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