The day — her day — was finally here. As Lisa Kabouridis walked down the aisle with her two sons, accompanied by a 19th century waltz played on bagpipes, she was grateful the wedding had miraculously worked out. Despite the social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, her fiancé, Graeme Blackett, stood smiling at the altar in a kilt.
Sure, the aisle was the hallway of their house in Edinburgh — not the historic castle they’d envisioned — and the altar was in their living room. One of Blackett’s sons couldn’t be there because a shelter-in-place order had gone into effect the week before. And while some couples say they feel like they’re the only ones in the room once they say their vows, for Kabouridis and Blackett, this was true: everybody else was on Zoom.
Kabouridis and Blackett are one of the many couples who’ve had their weddings upended by COVID-19. As the virus continues to spread around the globe, the basic tenets of a wedding have become dangerous, if not illegal. Asking a large group of people, including elderly relatives, to travel on planes and spend days in close proximity now sounds less like a celebration and more like a death sentence.
Many couples have simply decided to postpone their weddings. But others, like Kabouridis and Blackett, have moved their ceremonies online. A search for #ZoomWedding on Instagram turns up over 100 photos of couples who’ve live-streamed their nuptials.
As the hashtag suggests, Zoom — the enterprise video streaming platform that was used in pre-coronavirus days mostly for business meetings — has become the venue of choice for couples hosting digital weddings. It’s relatively easy to use, even for the less technically savvy, and it allows people to mute and unmute guests to moderate their participation.
Zoom weddings have provided a bright spot in an otherwise dark couple of months. Blackett’s cousin, who’d been in lockdown in Italy for weeks, told him afterward that the event was a much-needed pick-me-up. “We thought it would be anticlimactic, but it really wasn’t,” Kabouridis adds. “There were loads of people crying on screen. It was really beautiful.”
Scott Westergren and Kristy Washer were planning to get married in Louisville, Kentucky, in March. But when the novel coronavirus started to spread earlier this year, they tried to roll with it by looking into whether they could relocate the ceremony to Louisiana where some of their older relatives lived. But by mid-March, it was clear they had to cancel.
But Westergren didn’t want to give up. He told his fiancé: “Look, I don’t care what we do. Even if I have to marry you on a video call we’re getting married on March 26th.” They stared at each other, realizing at the same moment that a video call was the perfect answer.
Neither had used Zoom before — they only knew about it because their kids, ages eight and 11, had started taking classes on the platform the week prior — but they decided to try it out. The day before the wedding, they did a dry run with their guests, with the officiant also on Zoom. When it was time for the real thing, they put the laptop on their kitchen island and stood in front of it with their kids. Washer wore a white dress she bought on Amazon (when it was still possible to order nonessential items).
“The first couple minutes were awkward and weird trying to figure out what we were doing,” Westergren says. “Honestly, once the officiant started going, we were both locked in and the emotion of the wedding definitely came through.”
This was also true for Gina Frangello and Rob Roberge who live in Chicago and had been planning a literary festival in March followed by a wedding in California. The two writers quickly realized that bringing hundreds of people to a town with less than 300 residents was irresponsible. They needed to postpone both events.
Roberge, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, told his colleagues during a faculty meeting that he was going to cancel the wedding. His boss suggested they “Zoom it” and even offered to help set it up.
The night before the impromptu affair, Frangello and Roberge frantically texted friends asking for their email addresses. Then they sent out the invite. Suddenly, people who they’d assumed wouldn’t be able to come to their actual wedding, either because they lived too far away or were too old to travel, were excitedly saying they could attend.
“We were really sad about lit week, and sad we weren’t going to get married in California, but doing it on Zoom turned that around for us,” Frangello says. “It made us lose a lot of that grief of not getting to do what we’d planned.”
When the wedding was over, the pair picked up sushi at the Lawrence Fish Market in Chicago — not exactly the reception dinner they’d planned, but it felt good to order from a restaurant they were trying to help stay in business. Then, they went home. What else was there to do? Everything was closed because of the pandemic. Still, they felt the day had been a success. “It was one of those beautiful unexpected things that comes together,” Roberge says. “Doesn’t happen often in life. It’ll be more memorable than any of the plans we had.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Kabouridis and Blackett, who say that the last-minute pivot to video gave them a chance to see the best in a bleak situation. They’ve even decided to have their first wedding anniversary at the castle, so their guests can still be part of the fairytale. And for the people who can’t come, they’ll live-stream the party on Zoom.