It wasn’t until I saw my daughter, Eliza, walking down our makeshift aisle and tossing petals that it hit me: The wedding was really happening. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, my soon-to-be wife, Erin Deale, and I were getting married. It had been a whirlwind of a year, but as I watched Erin come toward me in her beautiful lace dress, the livestream cameras panning to capture it all for our virtual guests, I was the happiest man alive.
But let me back up for a minute.
Thanks to social media, no one is really a stranger—especially when it comes to online dating—but the closest you can get is a good old-fashioned blind date. Which is exactly how Erin and I met.
“Erin just moved back to Maryland from Portland, Oregon,” Casey, her best friend, told me in the lobby of WTMD at the station’s annual Chili Cookoff back in March 2017. Casey and I had met a few times through her husband, Dan, whom I’d known for years. “She’s cute, adventurous, loves music, and works for Ceremony Coffee Roasters. I’m sure you’ll love her.”
After several odd encounters from some dating apps, I’d sworn off romance for the time being, a pretty common refrain from those dating in their mid-30s. But I found myself saying, “Okay, sure, I’ll take her number.” Can’t hurt, I thought.
Sure, I’ll admit to scanning her Instagram profile, attempting to garner some tidbits of information—New York City with friends, hanging out at Nashville bars, attending the Women’s March—she seemed interesting enough. But after those past dates, I was apprehensive to say the least.
A couple of days later, I texted the mysterious Erin and set up a date at the former Cask & Grain, a local spot off Canton Square. That evening, the conversation flowed naturally, laughter was easy, and within weeks we were falling for each other. We took things slowly. We’d both been married before, and I had a 5-year-old, so we sat back and enjoyed the process of our evolving relationship. Erin proved to be all the things Casey had told me about her. She barely blinked at the idea of rafting Class 5 rapids in West Virginia, doing back-to-back yoga/spin classes, or climbing “dates” at Earth Treks.
Her ability to go with my crazy flow was endearing, and our favorite emojis quickly became the wave and ruler, indicating we were always on the same wavelength.
“So, Chiyo Sushi for dinner?” . . . “Obviously.” Wave. Ruler.
“Climbing at Sugarloaf . . . then hit the winery?”. . . “Duh.” Wave. Ruler.
“I’ve never been to Richmond. We should go there tomorrow.” . . . “Yup.” Wave. Ruler.
It was that perfect balance of spontaneity and trust.
Just over two years in, I asked her to marry me. It was a quiet moment the morning after her birthday. We’d stayed at the Sagamore Pendry after an evening out in Fells Point. I’d thought about proposing with our friends around, but never found the right time. It was a bright blue June day with rays of sunshine glistening off the harbor when I rolled over in bed with a diamond ring and asked her to marry me. She cried and said, “yes.”
That day was perfect, but engagements are funny things. With them comes questions and planning and arrangements.
We knew we didn’t want a big ceremony, as it was a second wedding for both of us. She floated the idea of eloping to Scotland (which had two things going for it: my heritage and our ongoing obsession with Outlander), but the logistics just didn’t work with our families and my daughter.
See, Eliza loves weddings. She adores everything about them and has become quite the pro. She knows how to take over a dance floor, sneak yet another piece of wedding cake, make new friends, and eventually fall asleep on two chairs pushed together. (That girl can fall asleep anywhere.) Plus, she’d already started asking us about Erin’s dress and what kind of cake we’d have, and we weren’t about to take a party away from a kid.
We were mostly in the same place by February 2020, but since we were planning a small affair, we weren’t too stressed. We visited a yoga retreat center near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, and checked out some Airbnbs in the Blue Ridge Mountains as options.
Then boom, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Who knew what the future held? Was there even going to be a new normal? At least we hadn’t put any deposits down.
While our quarantine from March until May might have been the perfect time to continue planning, our life was just too uncertain and busy. As the regional retail manager at Ceremony Coffee, Erin had to adapt all the coffee shops to online ordering, and as a veteran publicist who deeply loves the culinary community, I found myself starting The Baltimore Restaurant Relief Fund, a nonprofit to support the struggling Baltimore restaurant industry, which kept me knee-deep in unemployment questions and fundraising initiatives. But at least we were home together, and on some quiet nights, we’d brainstorm different thoughts on what our wedding might look like.
To this day, I’m in awe at how quickly many vendors whose main source of revenue was tied to events and weddings adapted to the new normal. During a couple chats with my friend Patrick Rife, co-owner of Pixilated, he mentioned that they were working on taking their photo booth business online to support virtual weddings. Virtual weddings, eh? I’d been watching plenty of my favorite DJs, chefs, bartenders, and personalities host virtual events, and, while the learning curve for executing audio and video at a high level had been steep, many had jumped at the chance to innovate and “make it work.” This might be just the solution we’d been looking for. I floated the idea to Erin, and she agreed that it was a good one. Wave. Ruler.
Many questions still remained. How did this whole virtual wedding thing work? Where would we do it? How many people could we have? Was it even safe? Could we still make it the special ceremony that we wanted it to be? Those questions hovered over us as we played around with ideas, continuing to prioritize work, parenting, restaurant relief, Black Lives Matter protests, and just emotional sanity over planning our wedding. There was so much going on. It was hard to even focus . . . and by then it was already July. How is it that time moves so quickly in a pandemic?
In that moment, with everyone watching from their homes, we could feel their love from miles and miles away.
On a hot, humid day, sitting on our back patio, it dawned on us. Our friend Casey’s husband, Dan, works for Storyfarm, a video production company in a beautiful church across from Patterson Park. This could work. Storyfarm had already hosted a wedding in the church earlier that summer via livestream. We texted back and forth, made some negotiations, and set the date: August 30, 2020. We invited 10 of our closest family and friends to witness the wedding in person. Everyone else would watch it virtually.
That left four weeks until our wedding. So we got to planning. Fortunately, our community of friends is amazing, making it surprisingly easy to pull in the vendors we needed. Both Erin and I work in the hospitality industry, so figuring out our catering solution was also easier than you might think. We both agreed that my friend chef Durian Neal, of the newly opened Good Neighbor in Hampden, would be the perfect person to feed us on our special day.
I’d left the task of picking a photographer to Erin, and she landed on Corinne Thompson of Love To The Core Photography. Erin and I both loved the aesthetic she brought to all of her shoots. So that was easily settled.
The final component, and one of the most important aspects to a virtual wedding, was the livestream and “guest experience.” I was thrilled to learn that I didn’t have to figure out the ins and outs of livestream video, which is its own tricky thing. Instead, we let Louis Vieira from Always Forever Films handle the whole process, from multiple camera angles to making sure the sound was on point.
With these key ingredients settled, Casey and Erin began planning our floral arrangements. Erin’s sister, who is a pastry chef, would make our cake, and one of my best friends would be our officiant. Erin was thrown a surprise Zoom bridal shower by her mom. Things were coming together—all in just under a month. We even had even solidified an epic hashtag: #SeelTheDeale.
And then, I found myself standing in Patterson Park wearing a navy suit from J.Crew—bought for the wedding—and a sage green tie I already had in my closet, chatting with our photographer, Corinne, when Erin tapped me on the shoulder. I turned as Corinne snapped away. For a minute all I could register was Erin’s blue eyes and her curls cascading across her face. She was wearing a boat neck wedding dress—ordered from Etsy—with a lace top and chiffon skirt. There had been so much going on in the world, but in that moment, I was so glad that we had made this wedding happen. From that point on, the day flowed perfectly. We laughed and cried with 10 of our closest friends and family in the room, but on the other side of the cameras were hundreds of acquaintances who had gathered on beaches, couches, and even mountain biking trails to celebrate. It was, in its own way, simply magical.
I’ve done both a large wedding and a virtual wedding. Both have their pros and cons, but in this new normal I can see why many of my friends have taken the plunge with a virtual wedding. The ease of planning, whether you do it with a wedding planner or not, is one huge benefit. It allows you the time and energy to focus on what really matters: the love you have with your partner and the community of love that surrounds you. Plus, let’s be real for a minute, you don’t have to worry about any unnecessary drama from that random plus one or drunk uncle.
The ceremony was simple, but perfect. My brother, Erin’s sister, and Eliza all did beautiful readings. We celebrated the joining of our small family of three with a sand ceremony and honored our Celtic heritage with a handfasting ceremony—a traditional ritual where the officiant ties the bride and groom’s hands with a decorative cord as they say their vows to symbolize the binding of two lives. And then, Jen Marsh, our officiant, with a flair of drama, pronounced we had, “Seel’ed The Deale!”
We kept the livestream cameras rolling as Erin and I had our first dance to Johnnyswim’s “Touching Heaven.” In that moment, with everyone watching from their homes, we could feel their love from miles and miles away.
Our wedding ceremony was everything we hoped it would be. Our phones were flooded with messages, and our online photo gallery filled with cute pictures of our guests from around the country. We spent the evening partying with some of our favorite people in the world.
At the end of the day, that’s what we wanted in a wedding—a gathering of love and community. It had been a whirlwind of a year, emotionally exhausting, and downright scary at times. But within the tumult of 2020, our wedding became a bright moment, an eye in the storm, a time to reflect and celebrate our love with our tribe still around us. And like everything else in our life, it was perfectly us. Wave. Ruler.