'I started bawling my eyes out': how coronavirus wrecked marriage plans

Benjamin Ryan

Jennifer Clymer and Edgar Pablos have a relationship right out of When Harry Met Sally. After the Los Angelenos met on a film set in 1999, they became fast friends, performing the stand-by-me act for one another through years of mutual failed attempts at finding lasting love.

As dyed-in-the-wool Gen Xers, Clymer, 48, and Pablos, 47, share an obsession with classic 80s cinema. So naturally the say-anything bosom buddies finally up-shifted to full romcom hyperdrive after they pulled into a drive-in showing of The Goonies in 2015.

“Don’t forget the ketchup for the waffle fries,” Clymer admonished Pablos from the car as he fetched the snacks.

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The way he looked back at her, she recalls, “It was like the Princess Bride moment.”

As you wish, he replied – with his puppy-dog gaze.

To paraphrase Meg Ryan: and then they fell in love.

In April 2019, they got engaged, setting their LA wedding for 20 June 2020.

And then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

As a fast-increasing number of cities and states, Los Angeles and California among them, have imposed progressively stringent restrictions on gatherings in an attempt to flatten the curve of new Covid-19 cases, Clymer and Pablos have joined the legions of couples with spring and early-summer wedding dates who in recent weeks have seen their big day’s plans upended by the swift and devastating onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

The couple has nevertheless maintained a Goonies-never-say-die outlook. They emailed their 250 invited guests on Friday to say they had postponed their wedding indefinitely, but weren’t heartbroken, “because this party does not mark the beginning of our commitment to each other, it celebrates the commitment that we have already made”.

The best man’s father called to thank Clymer and Pablos for not compelling him to choose between possibly jeopardizing his health by attending the wedding and not supporting the couple.

Pablos was brought to tears.

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According to the wedding planning and registry resource The Knot, the United States has 845,000 weddings slated for March through May alone.

The Knot has launched a coronavirus hotline with its partner brand WeddingWire, and reports that many engaged couples calling in for guidance have said they’re downsizing to a small gathering at their parents’ house, or getting legally married in the short-term and planning a vow renewal ceremony on their first wedding anniversary.

For the $78bn US wedding industry as a whole, the coronavirus-driven death knell came on 15 March when the CDC advised against gatherings of 50 people or more for the subsequent eight weeks.

The chaotic fallout has included a mad scramble to postpone upcoming wedding dates, which in turn has fostered intense competition to secure the fast-dwindling slots available for late summer and fall bookings in particular.

Such relatively near-term rescheduling is predicated on what may prove to have been magical thinking, given the current uncertainty of the US epidemic: that society will ultimately return to a significant shade of normal within the next three or four months.

Pablos and Clymer, for their part, are already accustomed to virus-induced delays. Early last year, a flu she suffered stymied his cinematic vision for popping the question during a scheduled trip to Colorado that would have afforded a jaunt to a gorgeous snow-filled valley. So the film-maker scouted a new exterior location in New Mexico, near his parents’ home in El Paso – the site of their next trip. This provided his ultimate, successful proposal with a sandy backdrop, plus snow-dusted mountains in the distance.

The cinephiles remain determined to marry at their original venue, the Motion Picture & Television Fund retirement community for showbiz vets in Woodland Hills, California. Clymer works there and wants all the retirees she’s bonded with to attend her reception in their own backyard. (The actress Connie Sawyer, who appeared in the relationship-recap vignette that opens When Harry Met Sally and who died at 105 in 2018, was a dear friend.) For now, such a gathering is impossible given the need to protect seniors in particular from coronavirus.

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The near-instant loss or postponement of an entire busy season of weddings is proving disastrous for the 1.2 million people and the nearly 400,000 business that owe at least part of their incomes to the industry of matrimony. Everyone from wedding planners and caterers to florists and furniture rental companies have been blindsided.


“The pandemic could change the industry,” says Olivier Cheng, president of Olivier Cheng Catering & Events in New York City, a metropolitan area that has emerged this week as an epicenter of the global pandemic, with 17,853 testing positive for coronavirus and 199 people dying of Covid-19 as of Wednesday morning. “Our business model may need to evolve to survive.”

With the overall events industry also crushed by the sweeping loss of corporate and non-profit jobs, the economic damage has only reverberated outward into other sectors.

“We as an industry employ more Broadway actors than Broadway,” says Carla Ruben, president of the New York City and Miami–based catering company Creative Edge Parties. The company has already rescheduled 20 weddings through July – the lion’s share of their annual take.

Cheng reports that during peak-season times, he will sign a two-week payroll amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars – money that he knows goes to support the artistic ambitions and families of hundreds of workers.

“One of the reasons that I’m so proud of my business is I give people a livelihood,” Cheng says. As his payroll has plummeted to below $10,000 for the foreseeable future, he reports suffering a father’s heartbreak from not being able to provide for his sprawling family of workers.

“On the bright side,” Ruben says, “There are still people getting engaged right now because they’re all stuck in their homes together and they’re realizing they’re with the people they want to be with.”

Matt Kunkel, 24, and Emma Gassett, 25, know the feeling well. The two New York City theater industry professionals have delayed their Long Island wedding, originally slated for the end of the month, to July. In the meantime, they’re cooped up in their snug Manhattan one-bedroom.

“The biggest test of a marriage is surviving quarantine together,” Kunkel says. “But there’s no one better to go through all this with than your best friend and the love of your life.”

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Interviews with dozens of engaged couples and industry pros suggest that by and large, flexibility is the new name of the game for wedding venues and vendors when it comes to rescheduling dates. As best as they can manage financially, they’re inclined to observe a sense of goodwill in the face of a universal crisis and overlook contract clauses – known as force majeures – that would normally impose a financial penalty on couples for postponements.

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Small businesses that depend on referrals would also like to avoid possibly besmirching their reputation by charging already distressed clients for altering their wedding plans given the extraordinary circumstances.

Newlyweds Amber Matlock, 30, and Teyanna Noren, 26, of Tacoma, Washington, benefited from such generosity after the original venue for their planned 100-person wedding was forced to cancel on them with just eight days’ notice due to the state’s new restrictions on crowd sizes.

“I started bawling my eyes out,” Matlock says.

Fortunately, the couple was swiftly able to find a new, gorgeously bucolic spot for their scaled-down vows: an indoor-outdoor venue called The Five2Five in the rural town of Buckley, which is nestled at the foothills of Mount Rainier about 30 miles south-east of Seattle.

“I started tearing up several times when we were at the venue,” Noren recalls, “because it was like, ‘We have hope again.’”

The original reception site, Lake Wilderness Lodge, refunded the couple in full. And despite the fact that their reservation at The Five2Five came at a higher price point, the new company allowed them to pay no more than they had originally.

Matlock and Noren’s wedding planner, Bianca Mattingly, helped secure agreements from the venue, caterer, DJ and photographer to work a short elopement ceremony plus a first dance last weekend, with a promise to return for a full-fledged wedding celebration at the same site in a year’s time. None have charged extra.

In keeping with her industry’s guiding ethos, Mattingly is a fierce advocate for keeping romance alive – now more than ever.

“People are scared, they need some hope,” she says.

Further bolstering Matlock and Noren’s spirits, the typically curmudgeonly Pacific north-west weather gods blessed them with an atypically warm and cloud-free day last Friday, allowing the joyous brides to wed within a mid-afternoon glow.

The 25 guests – just close friends and family – were each spaced six feet apart. There was lots of hand sanitizer and plenty of tissues to go around.

As for Clymer and Pablos, after 21 years of friendship, waiting one more year to marry is no sweat for them. Because when they realized they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with one another, they realized that the rest of their lives had already begun.