Coronavirus Canceled Their Wedding, So They Turned to Zoom

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If you ask newlyweds Abena and Ade to pick a song to represent their journey so far, they’ll say “The Matrimony” by Wale and Usher without hesitation. It’s the Jerry Seinfeld monologue that opens the song that resonates with the couple the most: “Getting engaged is the first hill of the roller coaster,” the veteran comedian explains.

Two years ago, on April 3, 2018, Ade devised a genius plan. Instead of taking Abena, his girlfriend of 10 years to New York’s quintessential proposal spots—Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, Conservatory Garden, etc.—he set up a surprise photoshoot-turned-proposal at a NYC hotel. After a few shots, Ade dropped to one knee and asked for Abena’s hand in marriage. A smile, a “yes,” and a kiss followed, along with two years of wedding planning. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the couple’s rollercoaster took a deep plunge.

The bad news came in waves. The venue Abena and Ade secured for their ceremony informed the couple that they'd be shutting down indefinitely; Abena’s final dress fitting was canceled, as well as her bridesmaids’ gown fittings and Ade’s final suit fitting, after a mandate forced all non-essential businesses to shut down. What's more, the couple only had a short window of time to pick up their rings before the jewelry boutique closed up shop. But even as the virus overwhelmed hospitals and shut down schools and completely upended every aspect of the wedding, Abena, a nurse practitioner, and Ade, a special needs educator, knew the impending turmoil wasn’t enough to deter them from getting married on their original date, April 4, the day after their 12-year anniversary.

“There’s so much that goes into planning a wedding that people kind of forget what it actually is to be in a marriage,” Abena tells ELLE.com of their decision to follow through with their ceremony. Their Plan B? Asking family and friends to dial into the app du jour, Zoom, a video conferencing service that has become the go-to platform for virtual meetings, happy hours, and now, weddings.

“For us, it was the opportunity to finish what we started. We started this journey being engaged for several years, and even though things were changing, we didn’t want to use that as an excuse to not hold true to our hearts and do the only thing we wanted, which was to get married on the day we initially chose,” Ade adds.

Abena sat in her funk, though, as she watched the wedding she planned for the past two years crumble before her eyes, while also dealing with the very real consequences of the pandemic at work, like the NYC Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage. Then Sandy, one of Abena’s bridesmaids and the “event planner” of the crew, brought up the idea of hosting Zoom wedding and gathered the entire bridal to bring the idea to fruition. What followed were dozens of Amazon Prime orders, a last-minute wedding dress purchase, and a DIY photo studio set-up, all culminating in a special, 50-person Zoom wedding put together in one week.

“Everything that’s going on in the world shines the light on how precious life is at this moment,” Abena continues. “This was an opportunity for all of us to get grounded in who we are. As far as the relationship between me and Ade goes, we’re grounded in our love and that’s all we needed. It felt right.”

Ahead, Abena, Ade, and the bridal party share their tips for pulling off a Zoom wedding in such a short time.

Set up a Zoom account.

When Abena and Ade began calling their family and friends to deliver the news that their original wedding would no longer happen, they were met with support and love, which made the idea of a Zoom wedding seem not too far-fetched. Sandy, well-versed in all things social media, set up a Zoom Pro account that allows for up 100 participants and a 24 hour time limit (the free Zoom account allows up to 100 participants, but caps the "meeting" at 40 minutes). After working with Ade's best man to compile a list of guests, the Zoom link was sent out.

Buy an alternative affordable wedding dress.

Pressed for time, Abena turned to Pretty Little Thing to find a last-minute wedding dress. "The dress came and I had to do so many alterations—tailoring it to my size, creating a split, etc.—to make it look how I wanted." Ade, on the other hand, dipped into his closet and found a black suit.

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Amazon Prime will be your best friend.

With only a week to plan the wedding, the bridesmaids turned to Amazon to purchase all the wedding decorations. "The bride’s only demand was a balloon arch, which ended up being genius and a beautiful piece to exchange their vows under," Afua, the bride's sister and maid of honor, explains. To give the living room a more romantic feel, Afua ordered string lights and artificial hanging leaf garland to suspend from the ceilings, and 48 white unscented candles peppered throughout the room.

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Create a playlist.

Abena and Ade's original DJ attended the Zoom wedding (with a sunny vineyard as his Zoom background) but the couple had a few must-have songs they wanted to play throughout the ceremony. While getting ready, KC & JoJo's classic wedding tune, "All My Life" played in the background. Then, the couple walked down the aisle to Wale's "The Matrimony"—Abena and Ade's "our song"—and had their first dance to Beyonce's "1+1," of course.

Find a last-minute bakery for the wedding cake (or bake it yourself).

"My bridesmaid, Nana, miraculously found Mia's Bakery in Brooklyn and was able to get a cake," Abena adds. Nana ordered a cake with plain white icing and decorated it herself by ordering fresh white roses and hydrangeas from a local floral shop. "I think we knew we did good when the we saw the groom’s face as he entered the room because he knew he was getting married that day but he didn’t know what that would look like," Afua says.

Secure as many tripods needed to take the best photos.

"We had three tripods set up in every corner of the room," Abena jokes. One tripod held the couple's Canon camera, and the other two held iPhones. The couple's parents were also in the room—don't worry, no more than 10 people attended in-person—and captured the moment on their own devices as well.

Turn to YouTube for quick hair and makeup tutorials.

Abena relied on her own skills and YouTube videos to create her wedding day hair and makeup. She opted for a sleek middle part that fell into loose waves along with neutral makeup.

Get married!

"You really have to have an open heart and mind to be able to go through something this tough. But at the end of it if all if all you want is to be married, then where, how or when you do it isn’t going to make a difference," Abena explains. Ade adds that marriage is about love—"real, deep, passionate love and no matter what is thrown at you, like a pandemic, that's what will still be there in the end."

Abena ends with final words for couples who find themselves in the same situation: "Do what you feel in your heart is right. Sometimes people get consumed by the idea of what a wedding should be, especially in the age of social media where Instagram tells you a wedding is supposed to be all grand, but when all you truly want is a happy marriage, none of that will matter."

Nerisha Penrose Assistant Editor Nerisha is the assistant editor at ELLE.com, covering all things beauty and fashion.

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