When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, large gatherings were put on hold indefinitely, throwing many couples’ wedding plans up in the air.
Folks had to make some tough and emotional decisions: postpone their dream wedding a year or more, have a small ceremony now and do a party down the road, or scrap their original vision altogether.
We talked to couples who canceled or postponed their planned celebrations in light of COVID-19 and decided to elope instead, opting for a tiny ceremony with no (or few) guests. Below, they explain why it wasn’t what they envisioned initially but ended up being the right choice.
1. Katie + Molly
“We originally planned to get married on Oct. 12, 2020, at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Northport, New York, and our reception was going to be held at Flowerfield Celebrations in St. James, New York. We anticipated having approximately 180 guests join us.
“At the beginning of April, we decided to postpone our big wedding celebration to October 2021. Things had just begun to get bad in New York and we could see that it would most likely not be safe to have 180 people in the same room for a long time. Ultimately, our deciding factor was that Molly’s entire family lives in the Midwest. We were worried that they wouldn’t be able to safely travel to New York, and we certainly didn’t want to celebrate without them. While we knew that we were making the right decision, that didn’t stop us from grieving the big wedding we had planned. It was heartbreaking and devastating and we cried a lot about it, but we don’t regret the decision.
“When we considered the state of the world and our own health, we knew we needed to get married. But also, months of quarantining together had shown us how much we wanted to get married. We eloped on Oct. 11 at The Roxbury at Stratton Falls in Roxbury, New York. We’ve been regularly visiting The Roxbury for a few years and they were the first place we thought of when we decided to elope.
“We woke up that morning feeling like the sun decided to shine extra bright for us that day. The Roxbury pulled out all the stops for us and did everything in their power to make our day extra special. We were married by the owner, Greg, at the base of Stratton Falls. The day looked nothing like our original big church wedding, but it was magical to speak our vows to one another against the backdrop of the rushing waterfall.
“We are so happy with our decision to elope! The whole experience was intimate in a way that a big wedding never could be. We are excited to celebrate with our friends and family when it’s safe to do so, but it was incredible to have our special day be just about us.” — Katie and Molly Brand
2. Adiel + Richael
“We’d planned to get married in 2021 with about 100 or so guests on a friend’s farm on a beautiful piece of land in Virginia. The night we heard the news that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away, we were sitting in our living room, and I turned to Richael and said, ‘Love, let’s just get married.’ And that was it. We planned everything within a few weeks. There was something about that stretch of time, with the new addition to the Supreme Court and growing uncertainty around the upcoming election, that moved us as an interracial queer couple and as two people deeply committed to social justice and liberation.
“There’s no telling when we’ll be able to have the wedding we’ve dreamed of and what the world will look like then. In the meantime, we took it upon ourselves to celebrate our love and commit to one another in a way that felt right to us. It was very sweet — and very queer. We eloped on Oct. 30 in Washington, D.C., at a quiet little spot in Rock Creek Park. It was just the two of us and our amazing, queer photographer, Shawnee Custalow.
“After our ceremony, we took pictures at a couple of quintessential D.C. spots, including the queer love mural in Blagden Alley. Then just before sunset, we took pictures on the steps of the Supreme Court. It was surreal to be there as a newlywed queer couple in that moment. The grief and intensity of the year were heaviest in the days before the Nov. 3 election — we could feel the fear and uncertainty in our bones. And we had so many Black and Brown and queer and trans folks on our hearts that day.
“We couldn’t be happier with our elopement. We hope that one day when it’s safe to be together again, we can have the ceremony we dreamed of, a celebration with all of our dear ones. For now, we are deeply grateful to have had this moment together — a bright spot amid the heaviness of 2020. Our hearts are full, going into a new year side by side.” — Adiel Suarez-Murias and Richael Faithful
3. Annie + Jimmy
“Our original date was supposed to be Aug. 8, 2020, at the Shaw Centre, which overlooks downtown Ottawa, Canada. The original number of guests was around 220 with many coming in from other cities and overseas.
“At the beginning of the pandemic in March, I had friends planning on getting married in May and July who were still hopeful, so I thought August was not going to be a problem at all. By late May, I brought up wanting to get married in 2021 instead since my maid of honor was stuck in the U.S., my wedding dress was still in Italy and my grandparents were still in China. Our parents suggested that we still wait a bit to see how things developed.
“I slowly came to terms with the fact that a big wedding wouldn’t be possible. I still wanted to use my original vendors, as I had already paid a large deposit to secure them for the original date. We received the blessing of our parents to host a smaller ceremony. We still got married on our original date of Aug. 8 on our home patio in Ottawa using some of our original vendors. It was just us and our closest family for a total of eight people. It was truly a rollercoaster of emotions from being hopeful, to losing hope, to holding onto the original vision of the wedding plans, to finally being OK with a micro-wedding given the circumstances.
“We feel very fortunate to have been able to still get married on our original date since eight is a very auspicious number in Chinese culture. The micro-wedding was super intimate. We got to spend a lot of time with our parents and siblings, whom we don’t see often since they are based in Montreal. We feel very happy to have gone ahead with that route because now I still don’t feel that I could have had the original perfect wedding this year, given the increased COVID-19 cases and ever-changing public health guidelines. The only thing I regret was not wearing a wedding dress with a long train. Since we decided to elope in a micro fashion, I had a short cocktail dress. Maybe I will get to wear my original wedding dress one day in the future!” — Annie Cao and Jimmy Wang
4. Hillary + Tim
“Our initial wedding was planned for Sept. 5, 2020, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a guest list of about 220. Due to the timing of our wedding, we didn’t want to take the risk of any of our guests getting sick. When we decided that we needed to push the reception back a year, Tim initially proposed that we elope abroad. But due to the travel unknowns, we thought it best to remain in the U.S. and create an adventure here. I was uncertain at first about not having our families there. But after conversations with our parents, they all were excited for us and the new plan: to elope at Lake Isabelle, Colorado — about an hour outside of Boulder — on our original date of Sept. 5.
“It was quite the experience standing just the two of us in front of the most beautiful alpine lake as the sun is coming up, saying our vows to each with only our photographer, Maddie Mae , present. We got engaged on a trip to Europe in 2019 while we were in Brugge, Belgium. We both like to travel and given the circumstances, we were able to make our wedding an adventure just like our engagement.
“Our elopement ended up being perfect. After the ceremony, we then spent the morning popping champagne, eating Voodoo Donuts instead of cake and taking in the gorgeous view. We were very happy with our decision but do wish we could have planned it where our family was able to be present. But with a month before the wedding date, it just wasn’t possible to get the family out West.” — Hillary and Tim W.
5. Shie + Yoshi
“We were supposed to get married at Villa del Balbianello in Lake Como, Italy, in September 2020 with all our family members and close friends. We eloped at the same place on the same date, but because of the pandemic, we decided to invite our parents only. I felt sad and sorry about my family in Japan, who were looking forward to coming to the event but couldn’t because of travel restrictions.
“The elopement became one of the greatest moments for us. Because we still can’t predict what will happen in the future, we selected an option that we could do in the current situation. And it was the right decision.
“What made our experience so special was other people’s kindness. There were amazing encounters that played a big role in our elopement: our photographer Selene, the villa staff, hotel staff, water taxi guy, restaurant chef and tourists who celebrated us in Lake Como and all who gave us big support for our elopement.” — Shie and Yoshi Y.
6. Kenny + Krina
“We saved money to afford the larger-than-life Indian wedding that has become the norm for Krina’s side of the family. These weddings typically have more than 300 guests, but we wanted a smaller guest list in the 100 to 200 person range. We tentatively set a date for May 8, 2021, but being in health care, we waited to book a venue or a city due to concerns about the pandemic.
“As the pandemic grew in strength, our future wedding date became increasingly uncertain. We wanted to be married by the time we finished our medical residencies in July 2021. We love to go hiking and lose ourselves in the outdoors, and Krina has been a fan of elopements for years. We set up a meeting with photographer Maddie Mae and immediately decided we would elope. We were not sure how our families would react, but we knew they would ultimately understand. Rather than cancel our dream wedding, the pandemic allowed us to be married uniquely without all the concerns of a traditional wedding.
“We eloped in San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado on Sept. 22. We said our vows as the sun rose at this beautiful alpine lake. It was the best decision we have ever made. Our wedding day was the one bright spot in this strange year. We spent the week with our immediate families (nine people, all tested for COVID) for the first time all year. We hiked amongst beautiful mountain lakes, went rock climbing and spent valuable time with the people we loved the most. Most people are pulled in a thousand directions on their wedding day. We had the nine people we care about most in the world with us on our wedding day.” — Kenny Chang and Krina Amin
7. Haley + Jenna
“We planned to get married on Sept. 26, 2020, at a historic mansion house in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. Our guest list was small — family only for the ceremony — but we planned to invite all our friends who wanted to join us to celebrate later that evening after we said ‘I do.’
“The decision to cancel our wedding was both easy and excruciating. We have family members who are high-risk, who are health care and front-line workers, and who would’ve traveled great distances to join us. We knew we absolutely did not want to ask anyone to put themselves at risk. For a long time, we oscillated between acceptance and sadness and everything in between. But ultimately we knew it was the safe, smart decision. We canceled our venue in May and began thinking through other options that would be safer. In August, we decided we would elope.
“We were very committed to keeping our original date, so we still got married on Sept. 26. Because it wasn’t feasible for our families to safely join us, we decided to skip all the fanfare and marry in Washington, D.C., at the Supreme Court. As a couple with one trans-identifying partner and one queer-identifying partner, it felt extremely fitting and urgent to stand under the pillars of the Supreme Court building and remember that our marriage is a right and, for so many reasons, a privilege. Our day was punctuated by the fact that the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was lying in state steps away at the Capitol building.
“Our wedding day was more personal and intimate than anything we’d originally planned and was certainly memorable. We exchanged our vows in a small garden outside of the Supreme Court building. Even though the streets were bustling with people, the garden was secluded and felt like our own personal venue. After we married, we bounced around the Supreme Court building and Library of Congress with our photographer, Shawnee, for some amazing shots that we could share with friends and family. We were able to enjoy an incredible dinner on the outdoor patio at Tyber Creek Wine Bar. The owner worked with us to craft a special wedding night menu, which could not have been more romantic.
“While the day was nothing we could have planned back in March when we got engaged, we are able to look back at our elopement and know it was a day that fully represented us as a couple and our love for one another. We feel extremely lucky to have gotten married in spite of all the uncertainty around us in 2020.” — Haley N. and Jenna S.
8. Missy + Harley
“Originally we were planning on eloping in Big Sur, California, among the Redwoods on May 21, 2020. About a week or two before the pandemic took hold, we paid everything in full to the person organizing it for us. But it was too risky to try and travel to California to get married. Due to a contract, we can’t get a refund on anything but the flowers at this point. So in some form, we are going to carry it out, perhaps for our anniversary.
“We were pretty upset and anxious about having to cancel our elopement. It had been my dream since getting engaged to get married in such a surreal atmosphere. We considered ways to still make it happen when it was safer to travel. However, travel restrictions and general fears surrounding COVID made it seem like we could be waiting for a long time. My husband is from Australia, and we were in a long-distance relationship for over two years. We were getting married while he was here on a K1 visa, so it was a bit time-sensitive for us. We were OK with the idea of doing a town hall ceremony or even in our living room over Zoom. However, I think after all the hardships we faced, especially with the pandemic, we wanted it to be more than about meeting the requirements of a visa, just as it was meant to originally be. Once I started doing some research into what options we had to elope nearby, I realized that we can still have our perfect day, just with a different backdrop.
“We eloped on July 16 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, near Jane’s Carousel, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. While I imagine eloping in Big Sur would still be amazing, I can’t imagine having a better wedding day than the one we had. Because of the pandemic, there were barely any people out in Brooklyn when we got married. Our photographer took incredible pictures of us in locations that would normally be crowded. The ceremony was so intimate. We don’t feel shortchanged in the respect that it wasn’t done in front of guests — just two people in love, stumbling their way through vows.
“After we got married, we were able to go back to our Airbnb and have some cake and then take a nap! How smoothly everything went for us just reinforced that we had made the right decision in not having a bigger, traditional wedding. In a year filled with stress, anxiety and fear, we could not have imagined getting married with the stress of a big wedding!” — Missy and Harley Eames
9. Harry + Erin
“Our original plan was to have about 80 people for a ceremony and reception in Atlanta, where we met and where most of our friends and family live. We sent our ‘un-save the dates’ in early August. We didn’t want to have anything looming over the day or to be remembered as a ‘COVID wedding.’ It was frustrating at the time, but still felt like the right thing to do. We thought, ‘What if someone we love got really sick from this?’ and it seemed like an easy decision.
“We exchanged vows on Oct. 10 just outside Boulder, Colorado. After we decided to cancel, we were able to focus on making it 100% about us. It was a beautiful day. We felt really lucky at the time and still do. Of course, we missed having our people around us to celebrate, but there will be time for that later.” — Harry and Erin
10. Sarah + David
“Originally, our wedding was supposed to be on Sept. 26, 2020, in Middletown, Connecticut. We planned on having around 150 guests. We knew our large wedding was not happening in 2020, so the decision was whether to postpone getting married altogether until we could have our big wedding sometime in the future or to get married now and celebrate with our friends and families later whenever it becomes safe to do so. We weighed postponing our wedding to September 2021, but feared that we would postpone once, only to have to cancel or postpone again in 2021, given the unknowns about the virus and potential vaccines.
“I decided to reach out to The Hearnes — photographers I have been following on Instagram for years — on a whim. I figured at that point I had nothing to lose and expected them to be completely booked. I felt tied to getting married on Sept. 26 specifically. After having that date in my mind for so long, I was hesitant to move to a new date. Our photographer, Abbi, reached out to me and told me Sept. 26 was the only date in September 2020 that they actually still had available so it felt like it was meant to be. Shortly thereafter, we booked the Hearnes, called our parents, and told them we were eloping in Moab, Utah, a place neither of us had ever been before. We went back and forth about whether we would elope alone or whether our parents and siblings would come. I felt strongly that I did not want them traveling and placing their health at risk but they insisted on coming. So our seven immediate family members flew to Moab to watch our socially distanced ceremony.
“Looking back, I am so happy we decided to go for it. We had a more intimate ceremony than we had originally planned ― neither of us were keen on reading our own vows in front of 150 people. While we were sad that our grandparents, extended family and friends could not be with us, videotaping the ceremony helped and we plan to have a party to celebrate whenever it becomes safe to do so. With so much uncertainty about when COVID will be controlled, it’s nice to at least know we are already married.” — Sarah and David B.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.