Love and marriage in the time of Covid

in Community

“Now you have time to simmer.” That was the silver lining Tasha Bartholomew’s stepdad, Keith Bodwin, offered up when she and her fiancé, Ryan Carrihill, had to postpone their destination wedding last August due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

It turns out, step-fathers also know best. Bartholomew, who is communications manager for SamTrans and Caltrain in San Carlos, had known Carrihill since childhood but their courtship had been brief. The Covid pandemic that put a timeout on their wedding plans has also given opportunity for their relationship to deepen before they tie the knot.

Love and marriage in the time of Covid has upended wedding plans everywhere, forcing would-be brides and grooms to adapt. For some, that’s meant rescheduling the big day more than once. For others, it’s meant downsized, livestreamed or even Zoomed nuptials. There have been some unexpected blessings too. Wedding vendors, counselors, and ministers have provided the support systems that helped prospective newlyweds navigate tough decisions.

Numbers Down

The falloff in the number of weddings has been dramatic. According to Bowling Green State University’s Center for Family and Demographic Research, which released analysis for five states that provided data for marriage and divorce statistics in 2020, the number of couples marrying dropped by a third during the pandemic. The San Mateo County’s Clerk Office marriage application data supports national trends: Between March and December last year, just 2,144 marriage licenses were approved – about a third less than in previous years.

This story was originally published in the February edition of Climate Magazine.

“Love is patient,” the Bible says in 1 Corinthians, but waiting out a global pandemic to get to “I do,” has presented its own challenges. Couples placed deposits with florists, caterers, event venues and musicians for wedding celebrations that didn’t happen in 2020.

“It was early in the year when things shut down so we didn’t have a lot of deposits on the books but some vendors had a lot of couples requesting refunds,” said Robin Maffei of San Carlos’s Granara’s Flowers. Maffei said couples often chose to reschedule their events rather than cancel.

Bartholomew and Carrihill had a whirlwind romance that followed more than 30 years of friendship. They met in fourth grade in Oakland. In later years, they shared a first kiss and they went to the junior prom together.

“He was that one person I always thought about,” Bartholomew said. But Carrihill got married in the early 2000’s and the friends lost touch. “I used to look for him on Facebook,” Bartholomew said, “but he didn’t have one.”

A Wedding Delayed

Eventually Carrihill did sign up for the social media service. “The first thing I did was look Tasha up and send her a message.” An employee at Abbott Laboratories in Menlo Park, he was single again after 17 years of marriage and things moved fast.

Carrihill proposed in the fall of 2019 before the pandemic struck. They planned to have a destination wedding with their families in Hawaii in August 2020. But quarantine requirements and worries about the virus forced them to delay their wedding, now planned to take place there in April. Among the silver linings is that more family members will be able to attend. “Ryan has family that will be able to make it now,” Bartholomew said.

The extended time before the wedding has given the couple, both 47, a gift and a challenge. “We had really deep conversations about the way we grew up – our family lives – because we had the time to have them,” Bartholomew said. “It has brought patience and faith,” Carrihill added, with a laugh. He’s a musician and plays the drums among other instruments. “You get an inside look at what being married is like. I’m noisy.”

Couples connecting later in life might have a more relaxed attitude when it comes to wedding planning, according to Carolina Navas of Redwood City of Belle Journée Wedding & Event Design. “A lot of my couples are second weddings and they are usually more interested in putting their money into great food and music – they want it to be fun.”

Long-Distance Love

For Emerald Hills resident Angie Ibarra, the coronavirus could have thrown a wrench into her budding new relationship. She had known Keith Miller for several years before they decided to have their first date during Super Bowl weekend in 2020. It required some planning for Miller because he lived in Vancouver, Washington. “I got an Airbnb, and we made a weekend of it, spending Saturday together, dinner at Cascal in Mountain View, and the Super Bowl (at the Canyon Inn) the next day,” Miller recalled.

Social distancing actually helped their long-distance relationship blossom. Since he could work remotely and his kids don’t live near him, the virus gave Miller the freedom to move into an Airbnb near Ibarra.

Her role as CEO of the nonprofit Generations United during the pandemic has been both demanding and emotionally draining. Her organization works to empower families and children in Redwood City and the North Fair Oaks area. “The underserved community has been hard hit by the virus with many people out of work and parents struggling to get their kids support for online schooling,” Ibarra said. “I don’t think I could have survived this year during Covid-19, doing what I do, without a partner in my life.”

By the time they decided to get married, coronavirus guidelines proved challenging to plan around so on June 20 the couple exchanged private vows with their pastor. Marking the occasion with friends and family was important to the couple looking to blend children from past marriages, families, and friends. “We got lucky that we dropped down to a low tier in the fall, so we were able to have a small outdoor event,” Miller explained. Salsa dancing is an important outlet for the couple, who hosted a fiesta wedding in the Rustic Oyster’s parking lot in San Carlos.

Though it was a much smaller event than they originally planned, Ibarra considers it perfect. “Our wedding planner did such a great job decorating you couldn’t even tell that’s where we were. It was like a perfect window of opportunity that opened up during the pandemic for us to celebrate finding love.”

Livestreamed Wedding

Marie Goerger, 27, and Gabriel Martinéz, 32, managed to get married last May, after surmounting one pandemic-related obstacle after another. She hails from North Dakota but had moved to the Peninsula eight years ago to go to Stanford University and stayed on; he’s from Puerto Rico and had relocated because of work.

They’d planned for a June wedding at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City with a reception in the backyard of the Los Altos home of some friends. The shelter-in-place announcement came down the day they were scheduled for a premarital meeting with the minister. Plans for reciting vows in the church surrounded by family and friends evaporated.

They were determined to get married, but found local county clerk’s offices initially weren’t issuing marriage licenses. (They had to get theirs in Santa Cruz County.) Goerger and Martinéz ended up having both the wedding and the reception in the friends’ backyard. Members of the host family made the cake and took the photos. The pastor’s wife did the needed wedding dress alterations.

The ceremony was livestreamed to family and friends all the way to Puerto Rico, which allowed for an expanded “virtual” guest list. Not being able to have a traditional wedding “obviously it wasn’t what I had wanted or what we had wanted, being surrounded by everybody you thought you’d be surrounded by was kind of sad,” Goerger acknowledged.

“But I think it was surprising how encouraging and understanding our families were. They were like, ‘Do what you have to do. We’re in a crazy time right now and if you want to get married, you go ahead and do that.’”

Never Too Late

With Menlo Church off-limits for weddings because of the Covid, Associate Pastor Frank Vanderzwan has worked with couples who decided to postpone, reschedule, downsize or try new venues. “Everybody’s made changes to accommodate what can be done,” he said, “and everybody tries to the degree that they can to stay within the rules and regulations. You know weddings are really really hard so I’m very proud of these folks.”

Vanderzwan officiated at backyard weddings and for a small one held in a church in San Francisco. He also performed a wedding for an elderly couple (the groom was about 90) who “had been together a long time and finally decided to make it legal. They couldn’t invite their kids and their grandkids so I went and married them in their apartment, and they got a special license that allows with no witnesses. … They got all dressed up—as I did—and treated it like a normal important event in the life of the church family.”

A Menlo Church pastor for 34 years, Vanderzwan said the ceremonies he has performed under Covid restrictions have been like normal ones—except for wearing a mask right until the time of the ceremony. Looking out over a masked audience has also been an adjustment: “I can’t see how people are responding. … All I can see is eyes.”

Two Wedding Dates

Some couples who missed out on a traditional wedding are planning receptions once the Covid restrictions are gone, among them San Carlos newlyweds Abbey Wilkerson, 24, and Josh Morey, 23. Last year at this time they were making plans for a November wedding at a rustic venue in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with about 130 guests. They’d made deposits for the venue and other vendors.

As the months wore on, they—and those vendors—kept hoping restrictions would ease, but “every month kept dwindling by” Wilkerson said. The vendors didn’t offer refunds and the couple’s only real option was to pick a later date, which they did, postponing it one year. They decided in October to have a small wedding in Palo Alto on their original November wedding date, with only family in attendance.

Though they very reluctantly made the decision to downsize the wedding, the couple appreciated how things worked out in the end. “It was really nice to have just immediate family,” Morey said. “We got to be present more and experience more intimacy,” his wife agreed.

They’re undecided about what to do at their postponed wedding/reception in November. “I think we are leaning towards a one-year vow renewal,” Wilkerson said, and added, “We are so excited to celebrate with everyone. One big party.”

Goerger also felt the disappointment of seeing her wedding plans shrink, but “Now I realize, we can wait until everybody gets vaccinated and we can just have a huge party and hug everybody and be together. So we’re still planning to do something like that.”