They’d been dating under two months. Adam hadn’t planned on confessing his feelings that night. But the words just tumbled out.
Adam was the first person Jen had dated where it didn’t feel like a game. “In past relationships or dates, I would put on a show,” she says. She had the usual stories she told on first dates and was skilled at hiding the messiness of who she really was. Once Adam got to know her more, she believed, he wouldn’t feel so smitten.
“I do know you,” Adam, now 33, told her. And he wasn’t backing down. As he remembers now, “I truly wanted to stick up for how I felt and why it worked and why it made sense to me.”
This was in 2016, years before the covid-19 pandemic canceled everything from in-person first dates to 150-guest weddings. But the story of how Adam and Jen ultimately ended up getting married on a New York City sidewalk is a pandemic love story.
The past year has proved that the perfect first date spot and get-to-know-you questions only go so far. You don’t really know someone until you’ve quarantined with them. For months. And for couples like Adam and Jen who’ve planned, postponed and replanned their nuptials several times, the pandemic has been a crash course in the improvisation marriage requires.
It’s a lesson that Jen, who’s 33, has learned many times over — she works as a professional bridesmaid. Strangers pay her to be their confidante-meets-wedding-coordinator. She sometimes works two weddings in a single weekend, all while defusing family tensions, adjusting for vendor slip-ups and making sure the bride is well-hydrated. She’s even kept it up through the past year.
Along the way, she’s been an intimate part of strangers’ celebrations of love and commitment — and she’s seen all the ways those promises could fall apart. Some of her brides have changed their minds just hours before their walk down the aisle, while others have called her months after their wedding day, saying they’d made a mistake.
Before she met Adam, Jen’s job left her little time to date and lots of time to wonder if she would be a perpetual bridesmaid who would never make it down the aisle herself. In 2016, she challenged herself to go on 14 dates in one month. Adam was date 15. By the time they met at an Irving Farm coffee shop near Manhattan’s Gramercy Park, Jen was too tired for her usual first-date performance. Instead, she came as herself.
“I remember showing him just who I was,” Jen recalls. “I’m clumsy. I’m over the top.”
After their second date, for example, she tripped and fell outside her apartment building, ripping her jeans and skinning her knee. It all transpired after she’d said goodbye to Adam, but she felt compelled to tell him about it — and to send photographic evidence. “I was just so excited to let him enter my real life and let him see a side of me I often protect,” Jen says.
Her guard down, he was hooked. Jen has written profusely about her personal life, and before their first date, Adam read everything he could find online. In person, he found her to be genuine, ambitious and adventurous, qualities that he also shares. “It was easy connecting with her,” Adam says.
A year and a half in, they were talking about moving in together. But something was holding Jen back. “I can’t do this,” she told Adam. “I can’t go through this next phase of moving in, getting engaged, getting married, having a kid.” So they came up with a plan that would allow them to deepen their relationship. They were both working from home, so they decided to become digital nomads, renting an Airbnb in a different city or New York borough every month.
It was an early taste of the togetherness of 2020. “We would go to a city, we wouldn't know anybody there. We only had each other,” Jen recalls. “And it was awesome.”
In 2019, they stopped traveling around and signed a lease in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Several months later, they got engaged and started planning a 170-person wedding for October 2020. The save-the-dates went out in early March, and soon it became clear they needed to postpone. They flirted with the idea of eloping to Los Angeles, one of the cities they’d explored during their nomadic phase, but the pandemic canceled that idea, too.
After spending much of the past year waiting to pick a new date and location, one possibility popped out as significant: March 19, 2021, right outside the coffee shop where they’d had their first date exactly five years earlier. “This pandemic showed people: You can’t plan. If you’re waiting and waiting and waiting for the world to give you the okay, you’re going to be wasting a lot of your life,” Jen says.
After spending six years being a bridesmaid for more than 125 others, Jen got her chance, and she did not blow her budget or succumb to cold feet. Instead of a white dress, she wore a gold sequin suit. Adam wore a tan suit from J. Crew and his brother officiated. A handful of friends served as witnesses. Family and friends watched over Zoom. In all, they spent under $1,000. While they wish their parents could have been there, the couple is planning a wedding reception for when it’s safe again to gather in large groups.
Even this wedding professional was thrilled to see the pressure around weddings get relieved this past year. “You don’t have to wear white. You don’t have to have a bouquet. You just have to sign your name on the dotted line,” Jen says. “So anything else should be what you want and not what the world convinced you of.”
The ceremony, Adam says, “wasn’t about making sure everyone there had a good time,” as weddings often are. Rather, it was just for the two of them, “a special moment where we signed a paper and made it official together.”
Instead of the mega-celebration they’d first envisioned, the miniature version was enough.