In Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez writes “the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good.” No offense to one of my favorite writers, but in March 2020, when the pandemic first began, I wondered if this line would hold true. 

I write about weddings. While at its core a wedding is a celebration of two people committing to one another for a lifetime, it is also one of the most stressful events to plan, and everyone hopes that, after all that planning, it will go perfectly. What happens when all that planning gets swept aside, and a couple’s dream wedding is no longer possible in this new reality? Can hearts truly eliminate the bad and magnify the good?

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I’ll be honest; I was skeptical. I rather expected that soon after the pandemic began there would be no weddings to write about. After all, getting married is not something anyone has to do. There’s no time clock telling a couple they absolutely must be married by a certain date. Why wouldn’t they just put it off until they could safely have the wedding of their dreams? 

But what I heard, time and time again, is that couples didn’t want to wait to start their life together. Rather than postpone their wedding indefinitely, couples instead reimagined what their dream could look like. This reimagining sparked new, creative ways to celebrate. 

For Katherine Boh Eshleman and Richard Ernest Morales, this meant an intimate garden wedding at a family home surrounded by blue hydrangeas, followed by a “staycation” honeymoon. Cheney Behrens Gardner and Henry Peter Holbrook held an outdoor wedding at a family home, overlooking stunning North Carolina mountain views. Also celebrated at a family home, Elizabeth Ashland Hines and Blake Turner Odom’s wedding was followed by a “drive-by second line,” with friends passing the house and honking their horns for the newlyweds. Friends of Clem Goldberger and William Arthur Morgan received COVID-inspired wedding favors—personalized ballpoint pens and face masks imprinted with the names of the bride and groom and the wedding date. In many cases, families pitched in to create these personalized touches. Kayla Grace Valls and Nicholas Perry Hansel’s families crafted the flowers and décor for the ceremony and reception, and Ella Monsted Bright’s aunt hand-painted a “Temperature Check & Mask” sign for the reception following her marriage to Christopher Lee Baldwin.

Many of these couples also had to pare down the guest list, saying “I Do” in front of family and close friends only. Their willingness to give up plans for a big, lavish ceremony speaks to another thing that couples said time and time again—the pandemic forced them to sit back and focus on the things that mattered most.  At the end of the day, a spectacular celebration simply wasn’t as important as their commitment to one another, a commitment these couples were going to make no matter what. 

Reflecting back on these past two years of “With This Ring,” I realize I was focusing on the wrong quote from Love in the Time of Cholera. It’s not about the heart eliminating the bad and magnifying the good. As we (hopefully!) come one step closer every day to being out of this pandemic, I’ve learned that it’s about knowing that there’s nobody other than your chosen partner you’d rather have at your side as you go through the bad. The right quote is this one: “It was time when they both loved each other best…when both were most conscious of and grateful for their incredible victories over adversity.”