Ari Ben-Avram and Esther Gutierrez, both 32, planned to host their dream wedding on March 21, 2020, in Brooklyn, New York.
But on March 11 — just 10 days before the big day — Ben-Avram, who's a screenwriter, and Gutierrez, who's a special needs teacher, made the difficult decision to call off the wedding due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gutierrez felt it "in her gut" that canceling was the right thing to do, she says. Still, it was a heart-wrenching decision for the couple. "We cried, hugged, sat in silence, drank beers and cried some more," Gutierrez tells CNBC Make It. "We went to bed that night heartbroken."
Although the couple lives in Los Angeles, they wanted to tie the knot in New York City, a location close to their hearts. "My entire family still lives there, as well as some of Ari's, and it's where we met and lived for our first six years of dating," Gutierrez says.
Here's what it was like for Ben-Avram and Gutierrez to have to cancel their wedding at the last minute due to the coronavirus pandemic. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Gutierrez: Even now, when I think about everything that happened the week that we decided to cancel, it still feels unreal how everything changed and happened so quickly. I began my work week (the week of March 9) making sure I went down my to-do list, since the following week I would have been gone from work.
Ben-Avram: In the matter of a week, the situation changed dramatically. The number of cases ballooned and we started to get nervous at the prospect of having older relatives travel from abroad to a state that was quickly becoming the epicenter of the coronavirus.
On March 11, Esther met me after work to talk things over. We got dinner, had a drink and tried to think things over objectively, which is, of course, impossible to do under the circumstances. But we agreed that the most responsible thing to do was to postpone or cancel the wedding.
There were tears, but we tried to put our mini tragedy into perspective. At this point, the death toll in Italy was starting to skyrocket, people closer to home were losing their businesses and hate-crimes were rampant. Still, it was an incredibly painful decision for us to make.
Ben-Avram: When you have a year or more to think about what a party might be like, you build up a lot of expectations. I was constantly reminding myself to manage my expectations because no event turns out exactly as you anticipated. Still, it's impossible not to be excited about the prospect of everyone you love and care about coming together to celebrate. To wake up one morning with those expectations not only falling short, but not coming to pass at all, is heart-wrenching.
Gutierrez: The day I spoke to my parents and told them my gut was telling me to cancel, I asked my dad what his gut was saying and he said in a broken voice, 'There's nothing more that I want than to have our father-daughter dance and get to celebrate you and Ari, but I think you're making the right choice.' My dad doesn't often show when he is sad — he's usually a very jolly and cheerful man — so hearing how emotional he got while saying that really hit me hard.
It's those specific moments — the father-daughter dance, or having my old principal officiate our wedding or having a full mariachi band play "Hava Nagila" because we wanted to blend our two traditions — that make me feel the most sad and disappointed.
Ben-Avram: The very next week, our sadness was pushed aside because of the logistical nightmare of negotiating refunds from vendors.
Gutierrez: As Ari said, we got straight to work. We began looking over our contracts, drafting an email to our friends and family letting them know about our decision, called the airline to cancel our flight, contacted Airbnb since we had to cancel the place we had booked for the week we'd be in NYC and called specific family members and friends who were meant to fly to let them that they should look into whether their flights could be refunded.
We were both so emotionally and physically drained. My eyes were puffy from the tears and Ari, who's a comedian, didn't even have it in him to try to make us laugh. We were both so, so tired and sad.
Ben-Avram: Going through this together has been one more experience that we share as a couple. On the day of our would-be wedding, we went for a mini-hike and exchanged our vows and rings. Even though we were alone, on a muddy hill that overlooks an L.A. highway, it was beautiful. Bittersweet.
Friends and family have been amazingly supportive of our decision, and many have reached out to offer emotional support and guidance.
Gutierrez: Although not entirely confirmed, we'll most likely still get married at our original venue sometime in February 2021.
Guiterrez: Try to remember that you're not alone. During those first days after officially canceling, I remember searching for articles about couples going through what we were going through. I would find stories of couples worried about their weddings in May and August, but I wanted to read about couples who were going through all of this right then. I guess what I was really searching for was some reassurance that we weren't alone.
Ben-Avram: Try not to transfer the stress and disappointment onto your relationship. That's how coronavirus wins double!