'This is just another part of our story': Anxious brides-to-be find support (and tips) online

A Facebook page has turned into a virtual support group for brides-to-be facing the challenges of organizing a wedding during a pandemic.

Facebook groups show the power of social media can be a balm in times like these

Leah Olsen poses for her engagement photos near Banff with fiancé Krystopher Kanten. She joined a Calgary wedding Facebook group looking for some tips, but that soon changed. ( Célestine Aerden)

Leah Olson first joined the Calgary Wedding Buy & Sell group on Facebook last summer. She hoped to find some used decorations for her July 2020 wedding, and to source ideas for her hair and makeup.

By the time COVID-19 restrictions tightened at the beginning of April, Olson had more pressing concerns.

She posted to the group:

Hello everyone! I hope everyone is doing well during these crazy times! Anyways I am looking for some opinions on what people are doing with postponing their wedding or if they are still having it.… my wedding is July 11th 2020 and I'm torn as to what to do! 

Within a few hours, the post received nearly a hundred comments and replies — many festooned with heart and sad face emojis — from Olson's fellow summer brides.

"I was surprised I got so much feedback so quick," Olson said.

"I got so much awesome feedback right away. And good ideas."

The site has evolved

Of course, the Calgary Wedding Buy & Sell Facebook group wasn't meant to be a source for pandemic advice. The group started seven years ago, primarily for the purpose of buying and selling gently-used wedding items, and as a place for wedding-related businesses to advertise.

In recent weeks, though, pandemic-related posts like Olson's have started popping up among the ads for used gowns and leftover champagne flutes. The site has evolved into a place where Calgary brides can find practical advice as they plan, and unplan, their 2020 weddings. 

The group's brides-to-be tackle wedding-related matters they never thought they'd have to consider.

A Corona Bride 2020 water bottle is being advertised for sale on the Facebook group Four Weddings and a Virus. (Facebook)

The brides discuss how to word the cancellation emails they'll send to their wedding guests. They suggest seamstresses who take measurements over the phone, and florists who offer dried flower bouquets that will survive if a ceremony is suddenly postponed.

They exchange ideas for making virtual bridal showers fun — like online party games, mandatory Zoom backgrounds, and pre-delivered cocktail ingredients for each self-isolated "guest."

The vendors on Calgary Wedding Buy & Sell now offer pandemic-specific products and services.

A Calgary stationer offers to print change-the-date cards. A custom clothing shop will fashion Corona Bride 2020 tank tops for bachelorette parties.

Wedding planners advertise intimate elopement packages, with clever names like "i still do" and "love is not cancelled," that allow couples to marry while adhering to government health mandates. The packages include photos, flowers and live streams of the ceremony for distant guests.

Calgary Wedding Buy & Sell is not the only Facebook group offering support to anxious brides.

Devon Collins, both a wedding planner and a bride-to-be, began following the mostly-American Facebook group Four Weddings and a Virus at the end of March.

After realizing so little of the information on the site was relevant to Canadian brides, and after growing weary of Trump-supporting posters "regurgitating nonsense," Collins started a Canadian version of the group. Nearly 300 members signed up in less than three weeks. 

At first, the bulk of the posts questioned whether or not late spring and summer wedding dates needed to be changed at all.

Devon Collins, a wedding planner and bride-to-be, shows off her engagement ring. She started a COVID-19 related wedding Facebook group and nearly 300 members signed up in less than three weeks. (Devon Collins)

By now, most brides have resigned themselves to either postponing or cancelling their wedding plans and seek advice about rescheduling.

Brides with similar wedding dates discuss how long they should wait before deciding to postpone. They discuss, too, which new dates are realistic.

Will a 150-guest wedding be possible by mid-summer? By the fall? And how soon will vendors have their spring 2021 dates filled by postponed 2020 weddings? 

The majority of discourse in the group stays respectful. On a couple of occasions, though, stressed-out brides started to accuse others of spreading false hope that restrictions will end soon, or of bullying brides into cancelling their wedding dates.

No 'date shaming' allowed

According to the group's rules, "date shaming," or criticizing anyone's angst over their wedding date, is explicitly prohibited.

Collins has had to send a few scolding private messages to members whose posts made others feel unwelcome.  

In addition to practical advice, pandemic brides-to-be visit both Facebook groups in search of emotional support.

The groups offer brides an opportunity to mourn their disappointment within a sympathetic community.

"There are bigger problems in the world, certainly, than a wedding being postponed," Collins said. "So a lot of people are not going to be comfortable publicly grieving."

Some concerns might seem petty to a wider audience.

A bride on the original Four Weddings and a Virus group, for example, confessed she didn't want to delay her wedding until next summer for fear her bridesmaids might be pregnant by then. Other brides commiserate about having to keep up their pre-wedding diets for an extra few months.

"They have every right to grieve," said Collins.

Finding solace and sympathy

Jenni Chong agrees.

She and her fiancé originally invited 240 guests to their May 30 wedding. They rescheduled to July, but Chong knows they might have to postpone again.

"For the first few days, I was upset about it," Chong said. "I was crying the blues. Saying 'Why me?'"

Jenni Chong, with her fiancé, Matt Mason. Their May wedding has been rescheduled to July, but Chong knows they might have to postpone again. (Sarah Beau Photography)

Well-meaning friends and family told Chong the only thing that matters on her wedding day was getting married.

"Of course that matters and it is the most important part," said Chong. "But to me what also matters is experiencing getting ready that morning with your bridesmaids. Wearing your dream dress and walking down the aisle to the love of your life, surrounded by your friends and family, eating good food and dancing the night away.… It's just as important as the marriage itself."

Chong found solace and sympathy on the Facebook groups.

"The good thing about these groups is that you can express how you feel in a non-judgmental area. This is a very safe place." 

Melissa Mulherin has also found a sort of digital kinship on the Facebook groups.

"You don't have to go through this alone," she said. "Calgary Wedding Buy & Sell has evolved into a really nice community which I don't think was the initial plan of the group. But people started reaching out. We can trust in each other and find that comfort when we are having some of these moments. I think every bride has cried at some point in the last few weeks."     

Notwithstanding the tears, and the fact that the pandemic has taken some of the fun out of their wedding planning, Mulherin and her fiancé have vowed to make the best of the experience.

"We have to enjoy this journey," Mulherin said. "We've had to step away from the planning to let us process our emotions. When we're ready for our wedding, it's there waiting. We'll just have to see if the world is ready for us."

They plan to marry in Canmore in September in front of only 18 invited guests. She doesn't know what restrictions will remain in place by then. She is watching the news closely, and monitoring the Facebook groups.

"We've been together long enough," she said. "So what if it's a few more months. We've been through enough together. This is just another part of our story."


Marcello Di Cintio is a Calgary-based writer and the author of Pay No Heed to the Rocket: Palestine in the Present Tense. His book about the secret lives of taxi drivers will appear in 2021.


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