The Bride Wore a Mask

It’s a fact of life that love finds a way. But, nuptials? In this global pandemic?  

By Courtney Preiss
Illustration by Jake Russell Gavino

Tell me if this is relatable or not: I’m moved by the notion of marriage but weddings can make me feel absolutely insane. In the last decade—which encompassed the entirety of my twenties—I’ve attended more weddings than I can count, including those of several of my closest friends’ and even my own father’s. At each of those weddings, I almost always found myself dissolved to tears as the vows were read. Like most, I love love. I love a good love story, I love the buoyancy of falling and being in love and I love every piece of work Nora Ephron lived to create. Witnessing a commitment to love, watching couples make promises to each other, hearing them lay out their values to one another in front of the people that love them most—this is the sort of thing I live to celebrate. It’s everything surrounding that that gives me pause.

A non-exhaustive list of wedding hallmarks that exhaust me: Catering halls. Engagement shoots that prominently feature railroad tracks. “My forever wedding date” as an Instagram caption or as a general sentiment. Those faux bamboo dining chairs. Bachelorette parties in B-markets with a banner that reads “From Miss to Mrs.” The implication of amatonormativity. The politics of plus-ones. Bachelorette parties in C-markets with a banner that reads “Same Penis Forever.” The implication of fathers “handing over” their daughters. That curly bridesmaid font showing up on every surface. “Uptown Funk,” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars.

But what I balk at most sincerely is this: the enormous cost, the social construct, and the expectations that all directly empower the wedding industrial complex at the expense of the dynamic that brought us all together in the first place. The pressure we’re all put under to seek out and perform love as it’s been portrayed in movies and on Pinterest detracts from the root of all this joy, doesn’t it? The expectations and the unchallenged, by-rote “traditions” too often take center stage and dilute the potency of what we’ve gathered to celebrate.

My aversion to wedding tropes aside, I cannot fathom the grief and anger and untenable financial strain thrust upon so many couples who had planned to get married in 2020 and found all their months, years maybe, of preparation eclipsed by a pandemic the likes of which the world hasn’t seen in over a hundred years. It’s devastating to think about the degree of disappointment; the joy anticipated and memories left unmade.

It’s devastating to think about the degree of disappointment; the joy anticipated and memories left unmade.

But what I started to see in lieu of 300 people packed into a catering hall imbued me with hope and awe: couples keeping their wedding date and deciding to get married anyway in the long shadow of this mess. Couples postponing the pomp and circumstance (or forgoing it altogether!) and opting into intimate outdoor affairs, private City Hall ceremonies, and misty-eyed toasts held over a Zoom call. 2020 created a perceptible shift in wedding culture—the greatest in decades—framed around the shared impulse to get back to basics and celebrate the simplicity of the union. As a George Banks-at heart, backyard wedding kind of person, it’s really been a beautiful thing to witness (at a distance).

Sure, perhaps we haven’t fully extinguished the expectations, costs, and stress that burden the joy of love. We’ve actually adopted some new tropes along the way: custom lace and pearl masks. Those tents with clear plastic window cutouts. Mugs that say LOVE IS NOT CANCELLED!! But the existence of these trappings could be silver linings of a less capitalistic future—a declawed wedding industrial complex that puts a premium on the act of the thing, not the show. A landscape that appreciates the beautiful absurdity of our shared reality because love itself is beautiful and absurd. And, look, if an eye-roll-inducing party favor is what it takes to buoy our betrothed loved ones in the age of quarantine, I’m all for it. It’s just—did they have to print the mug in that bridesmaid font?

QUIZ: Tell us your COVID bride-style + we’ll predict your wedding scenario!

What saddens you most about having to alter your altar plans is this:
  1. The lost opportunity to make memories with all the people who love you.
  2. The lost opportunity for content capture.
  3. The lost deposit on the catering hall.
  4. I’m not altering a damn thing except my gown. 

Wedding photos in 2020 will be incomplete without this key prop: 
  1. A mask!!!
  2. A long pampas stem to stylishly create distance.
  3. It’s not a prop, per se, but one of those Kardashian-style photobooths so we can get a shot where the whole crew looks poreless + immaculate.
  4. A handmade sign spelling out a giant “Fuck You!” to the fascist-in-waiting governor who had the gall to try + cap indoor gatherings at 200 people!

On social media these days, you can most often be found:
  1. On Twitter, expressing exhaustion for those who don’t want to follow the rules + calling people out for their non-COVID-friendly behavior.
  2. On Pinterest curating a board featuring safe practices that vibe with your aesthetic.
  3. Deleting IG stories after one too many people DM you to whine about your hanging out unmasked at crowded indoor bars.
  4. Sharing conspiracy theories about Bill Gates on Facebook. 

Your most-played love song on Spotify is:
  1. “You Are the Best Thing,” by Ray LaMontagne.
  2. “Invisible String,” by Taylor Swift.
  3. “Going to the Chapel,” by The Dixie Cups. 
  4. “Only Girl in the World,” by Rihanna.

Mostly As: Your wedding was microscopic and impeccable. A 45-minute Zoom soiree. Masks down only for the big kiss. All guests beholding from the safety of their own homes. Grainy footage of you and your spouse is featured in a forthcoming Google Super Bowl TVC about how to celebrate love from a distance and it makes all of us cry when we watch it.

Mostly Bs: Your wedding could really be considered best-in-class for pandemic-era parties, at least by anyone who is not elderly or immunocompromised. (Sorry, Grandma and Aunt Sue!) Think: COVID meets Cottagecore. A woodsy ceremony out in nature, masks provided, chairs six feet apart. Sure, maybe a few people hugged or got too close after hours of imbibing pre-mixed mason jar cocktails, but no one got sick! At least not that you’re aware of. 

Mostly Cs: Your wedding makes The New York Times! Not the Vows section, though. A black and white photo of your hand sanitizer party favors next to a framed postcard reading “Spread love not germs!” appears beneath the headline “SUPER-SPREADER L.I. WEDDING INFECTS 56, FORCES 250 INTO QUARANTINE.”

Mostly Ds: Your wedding actually gets outright cancelled, sorry! Your fiance goes to prison when it’s revealed he’s part of a plot to kidnap the governor following an FBI sweep of Parler. ︎