Perspective: COVID’s long engagements are coming to an end. Get ready for the summer of weddings
Planning for joy can make us attentive to how we can better plan future gatherings
Tulips aren’t the only thing coming out this spring — the tuxedos are, too. After two years of delays and cancellations due to COVID, long-postponed weddings are about to take place.
This translates to about 2.6 million weddings expected to occur this summer, even as the backlog has made it hard for newly engaged couples to get married. Wedding vendors are overbooked, churches are overscheduled, and friends and families are overwhelmed. And still — every plan made feels tenuous, with couples and vendors trying to incorporate multiple COVID contingencies into their contracts.
But even in less complicated times, the wedding planning process can stretch out engagements beyond any reasonable length. Part of the reason is the cost, which can leave couples feeling like marriage is a luxury good.
To help solve this problem, one Dallas church offers a program to cover the costs of a wedding for cohabiting members who agree to 11 weeks of premarital counseling. The church aims to free couples to do right by each other, rather than thinking their only choice is to cohabit indefinitely in hopes of someday having money for a dream wedding. The church supplies a wedding gown, tuxedo, wedding rings, bouquets and even a reception.
But cost isn’t the only problem. Increasingly complicated logistics — with families spread across the continent and all around the globe — can leave families feeling like communal celebrations are out of reach, whether for marriage, birth or the end of life. At the same time, these celebrations seem to require more of us.
My husband and I were engaged for about six months, the minimum required by our church. When I checked out books on wedding planning from our local library, it was clear that I’d already missed what the wedding industrial complex considered essential deadlines. With six months’ lead time, I was well past the wedding planning website The Knot’s due date for sending “save the date” cards. And I was more than a year past the recommended deadline for booking venues.
For us, the date was set by a single constraint: When would both my husband-to-be’s brothers be home from college for their fall break?
We checked the intersection of their academic calendars, called our parish and saved the date. From there on out, whenever we faced a choice about our plans, we asked ourselves two questions: Does this affect the validity of the sacrament of marriage? Does this help us be hospitable to our guests?
By that standard, many choices were superfluous — our caterer stocked two different shades of white tablecloth, and I asked them to simply bring whichever was more convenient. Others were worth a little more commitment — for example, an online spreadsheet to let guests who were traveling find Airbnb rentals to save money.
When we tried to free ourselves from the extraneous structure that has been built around the tradition, we found it was the logistics of travel and time off that did the most to shape our choices.
The baptisms of our daughters were less of a logistical lift. There’s no formal reception or dancing and no vendors to book, but we were still frustrated by how complicated it felt to mark the beginning of our children’s lives in the church.
Our ideal would have been to simply attend church the first weekend I was well enough and have our baby baptized during the Mass. Instead, we sent out emails to godparents, grandparents and parish secretaries to make sure we were able to get a baptism date settled well before I even gave birth.
The core problem was the same as that for our wedding: No matter how stripped down the ceremony, people need to be able to plan travel. The people we love are too scattered for spontaneity. We want to be well knit into the fabric of our church, but too much of our lives lies outside the parish boundaries. It isn’t an insurmountable obstacle, but it makes it feel like we schedule the most sacred sacraments around secular concerns and scheduling. It’s a one-time version of families’ ongoing struggle to make sure Sunday worship isn’t crowded out by their children’s sports programs.
We had more flexibility to choose dates for marriage and baptism, but the service that is hardest to schedule is a funeral. Death comes on its own schedule. Even though a memorial service might wait for a month in order to accommodate all those who need to gather, grief does not wait for the convenient time.
Planning for joy has made my husband and I more attentive to how we might need to prepare for eventual griefs. For couples marrying this summer, and encountering obstacles as they plan, it might be fruitful marriage preparation for them to ask which complications they want to free themselves from.
Can they move closer to family? Do they have opportunities to put down roots where they are? Do they want to talk to a friend about working toward buying a larger house together and sharing the space? How can they order their lives so that neither celebration nor grief has to wait out the length of a plane flight or a long drive?
Not all parts of our life can wait — certainly not for the 18 months recommended by many wedding planning sites. This summer’s surge of weddings will compel some compromises. It’s an invitation to practice saying “no” to the expectations and demands of the worldly calendar and “yes” to what really matters. The success of every marriage requires skill in being in the world but not of it.
Leah Libresco Sargeant is the author of “Arriving at Amen” and “Building the Benedict Option.” She runs the substack Other Feminisms, focused on the dignity of interdependence.