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Standing in front of a wall-sized mirror, Taylor Shelnutt looks every part the cake-topper bride. Her blonde locks fall past her shoulders in waves over a lacy white gown. But even though at her dress fitting she appears ready for her mid-April wedding day, she doesn’t feel it.
“Really just it’s heartbreaking that we would be at this point, three-and-a-half weeks out from our wedding, and not be hopeful for it, and not be filled with joy or excitement,” Shelnutt said. “We’re excited to get married, but at this point, kind of the, the happiness from the season is stolen.”
Shelnutt and her fiancé, Cole Mund, had planned their Dallas wedding for Easter weekend. The symbolism was intentional.
“I wanted it to be a representation of the gospel. That’s what marriage is, and I really wanted that proclaimed loud and clear right before Easter,” Shelnutt said.
But as their wedding date drew nearer, the alarm bells of a pandemic began to drown out the sound of wedding bells. Out-of-town relatives—most of Shelnutt’s family—expressed concerns about traveling during the COVID-19 outbreak. Her elderly grandparents broke the news that they wouldn’t be able to attend.
Then, the federal government began discouraging gatherings of people—first 500, then 50, then anything over 10. Every day brings new information at breakneck speed. Cole said just a few days ago, postponing their wedding wasn’t even on their radar.
“We didn’t even think in this short span of three, four days that that would even be a possibility that this wedding couldn’t happen,” Mund said.
Of course, weddings are interactive by their very nature. Hugs, kisses, handshakes, dancing, and finger-foods make them a strong vector for contagious disease. Plenty of Shelnutt and Mund’s friends insist they’ll attend, no matter what. But Taylor and Cole don’t want to gamble with their guests’ health.
“My sister in law is pregnant, and my cousins have tiny babies. My grandmas are older, and Cole has a lot of older people in his family,” Shelnutt said. “It’s a lot of responsibility to be making this decision on behalf of 200 people who could be there. It’s a lot of pressure.”
The couple considered alternatives: keeping the April 11 date and decreasing the number of guests; elopement before a justice of the peace; or postponement until summer or beyond. But even those ideas rub Shelnutt and Mund the wrong way.
“It’s hard for me thinking through the backup options because you lose the specialness. Even if we were to do a small ceremony now and have the actual big wedding later, I would be kind of faking it at that point,” Shelnutt said.
If they cancel, they’ll face a long to-do list: Notify guests, negotiate with vendors for refunds, cancel hotel blocks, and so on. Wedding industry professionals feel the effects of these cancellations already. Many vendors, like florists and caterers, already operate on razor-thin margins. Others, like photographers and makeup artists, may not be paid until a wedding is rescheduled, and that could be months from now.
Caroline Fair is a high-end wedding planner in Dallas. She has been talking to colleagues and vendors, sharing best practices for moving forward in this largely unprecedented era within the industry. Overall, she and her regular vendors have agreed not to charge postponement fees, though contractually they could. And they’re encouraging clients to reschedule rather than cancel outright.
Ultimately, this is a force majeure, and how vendors conduct themselves now may reap dividends in the future. After all, Fair said, you don’t want a scorned bride taking to social media with her frustrations.
“There was another point of view that you need to charge those fees because of the additional time and effort that’s going to go into postponement because you’re essentially planning the event over again,” Fair said. “But it’s your business reputation. My personal thoughts on that are that we should show people compassion and grace in this uncertain time.”
For now, Shelnutt and Mund are loosening their grip on April 11. They secured their marriage license in the event Dallas courts close. The unknown is hard, but they’re hanging on to hope.
“In all the uncertainty and all the unknowns, we have to keep telling ourselves the things we do know,” Shelnutt said. “We know that the Lord is our guide. We know He is sovereign. We know He’s in control, and we know He’s not surprised by this.”