As a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, couples all over the world are having to make a very difficult, and often heartbreaking, decision to cancel, postpone, or adjust their best-laid wedding plans. To share their stories—and, hopefully, help our readers process this admittedly emotional and fluid situation, we are asking those affected to share their "Change of Plans" stories in their own words. Below, Katie Jennings tells her story from London.
My fiancé and I have been together for 11 years—ever since we met at university, at age 19. Despite our decade together, when Jo proposed in August 2018, suddenly proffering something sparkly at me midway through a mountain hike, it was a complete surprise. Alone in the wilderness, surrounded by nothing but silence, it will forever be the most thrilling, romantic moment of my life.
We quickly set a date, deciding to wait until 2020 to give ourselves ample time to plan and save. The date, May 23, 2020, was tantalizingly on our horizon, always seeming so distant that it felt like it may never actually happen.
Plans for the day itself came together quickly, though. We would marry in the local church of my childhood village in a ceremony of particular poignancy because Jo’s Mum, an Archdeacon, would be the one officiating. From there, Champagne and late-night frolicking would follow in a tent pitched in a local field. Straight off the blocks, my Mum sprang into action. The wedding was seemingly what she’d spent her whole life training for—she was the Usain Bolt of the Wedding Planning World, and the Olympics were finally in sight. Cake recipes were trialed, invitations were sketched, and flower arches constructed. I’d pop round for lunch to find an army of women in the garden, painting colorful signs and forcefully shaking rose bushes, because, of course, “we must have proper confetti, my love!” As our wedding was to be music-festival inspired, she even carved us our own version of the towering Glastonbury festival letters—to spell out Katie and Jo!
Our honeymoon destination was an easy one, as a couple of hazy weeks of Campari spritzes and lakeside lounging in Italy had always been our dream. I’d booked and paid for the whole thing a year in advance to ensure that everything we wanted would be available. I’d even secured reservations at some of the country’s most sought-after restaurants, anticipating a heavy rotation of every carb the Italians could throw at us.
Ten weeks out, and everything was falling into place. Gleeful excitement began to build, as, for the first time, the event seemed like a reality.
As the date drew closer, friends from around the globe, many of whom we hadn’t seen for years, sent me excitable screenshots of their flight confirmations. A third of our party was coming from overseas—traveling from locations including Australia, Brazil, and the United States—and we were touched by the effort they were making.
Ten weeks out, and everything was falling into place. Our hen and stag dos were imminent. Gleeful excitement began to build, as, for the first time, the event seemed like a reality.
Almost overnight, everything changed. Concerned friends began contacting me about disruptions to their flights due to the spread of COVID-19. My initial disbelief at their anxieties turned to horror, as more and more messages flooded in. We tried not to panic. But each day brought a new worry. First Europe sealed off its borders—and with them, many of our guests, including Jo’s best man. Then the 10-week isolation plan for the elderly and vulnerable ruled out his Granny and expectant sister from attending. The pressure mounted. What had previously been butterflies of excitement turned to knots of panic, as we scrabbled for a solution. Within the space of three days, our 120-person guest list had more than halved. At what stage did it seem pointless to have this big, expensive celebration when so few of our loved ones would be able to attend?
At what stage did it seem pointless to have this big, expensive celebration when so few of our loved ones would be able to attend?
The news that U.K. infections were to peak in late May, made the devastating decision to cancel our reception unavoidable. We desperately clung to the idea of still getting married in an intimate ceremony with just our families around us, but even this was quickly quashed. The five-person restriction imposed on church services meant that Jo and his siblings alone—he’s one of six—would breach the limit. What we’d believed to be sturdy foundations now felt like a house of cards, toppled in a single breath.
Emotionally numb, we’ve tried to take stock. Postponing everything till 2021 seemed the sensible solution, but our suppliers will only rearrange within this calendar year. Faced with an impossible game of Jenga, we’ve tried to find a date that both vendors and guests can make in a year already satiated with other weddings. The inability to do this would forfeit our deposits, worth a third of the total cost of the wedding. Our band is even charging us an admin fee to make any date-change at all, shockingly seeming to make hundreds of pounds off our predicament. Other key players, like our photographer and DJ, are already fully booked for this year. While our photographer has returned 50 percent of our payment, our full DJ fee is lost.
It’s difficult to feel angry, as they are one of many small businesses whose finances must be crippled by COVID-19—yet losing thousands of pounds is a painful reminder that these momentous life events may never happen for us.
The carefully laid plans of our stag, hen, and honeymoon have also disintegrated around us. My hen, planned for the beginning of May, was taking place in Spain. With the U.K. and Europe on continued lockdown and Ryanair’s fleet grounded indefinitely, this is now unthinkable. At present, neither the airline nor the villa’s rental agency will refund any of our payments, casting serious doubt on whether my hens will have the money to reschedule. A similar situation is true for our honeymoon, where our Tuscan hotelier is standing by the terms of our non-refundable room rate. It’s difficult to feel angry, as they are one of many small businesses whose finances must be crippled by COVID-19—yet losing thousands of pounds is a painful reminder that these momentous life events may never happen for us.
Scaling back in whatever ways we can, including selling my wedding dress and forgoing any future honeymoon, are measures we’re taking to recoup costs, as we tentatively work toward a new August date. However, with weddings currently banned and restrictions expected for six months, this too is incredibly uncertain. Will group gatherings be legal by August? Will any of our overseas guests be able to travel? Will it be safe for the elderly, pregnant, or those with infants to attend? These are some of the questions bombarding my brain. I feel trapped in limbo, unable to muster any excitement, as it will be many months before we have clarity on what will happen.
Scaling back in whatever ways we can, including selling my dress and forgoing any future honeymoon, are measures we’re taking to recoup costs, as we tentatively work towards a new August date.
The greatest sadness of my story, however, is that my situation is not unique—couples and their families everywhere are having to bite back disappointment as their big days are compromised. While this is, of course, far less important than the health of us and our loved ones, it is still hugely important on a personal scale.
So, for now, all we can do is sit tight, allow ourselves the time to grieve and come to terms with the situation. For Jo and me, at least, we’ve waited 11 years. We may as well just wait some more.