LOS ANGELES — The proposal was a belated birthday gift.
The day before, on my 29th birthday, my boyfriend Thane and I celebrated by trekking around L.A. We both took the day off from work — I cover the arts, he works on movie trailers and is usually my plus-one to all the events I cover. Our first stop was taking nostalgic portraits at Tom's One Hour Photo, grabbing a breakfast sandwich and cocktail at the hipster All Day Baby, window shopping at pricey boutiques around town and eating dinner at Escala, a trendy fusion spot in Koreatown.
The day ended with a mini-breakdown, my annual existential crisis about youth slipping away too quickly.
I cheered up the next day, on New Year's Eve, though. As I sat in our apartment frantically searching for evening plans, Thane slipped out and returned holding a birthday bag and a box of cupcakes. It was my final birthday gift, he said. And so we drove to one of my favorite neighborhood spots, a grassy park at the Silver Lake Reservoir, to open it.
After a few bites of red velvet cupcake, I dug through the bag, pulling out another light blue bag. Inside that bag was a light blue ring box, and inside the ring box, of course, was a glittering diamond. But my mind refused to process what I was seeing.
As Thane looked at me expectantly, I stared back, "Wait, what is this?"
"Are you serious?" he responded, amazed.
This back and forth exchange continued for a few more seconds and then it dawned on me.
"Are you proposing?"
By this point, we had been dating 4 1/2 years and had talked about marriage and our futures together. I just envisioned the proposal happening differently — we'd travel somewhere romantic in 2020. Maybe on a beach or cliffside, he'd drop down to one knee, all while someone was hiding in the bushes to capture that classic reaction shot of a woman with both hands covering her face.
But I will say Thane gave me the element of surprise, and I was in shock for weeks after. Little did I realize the shock of the year to come and the many, many difficult changes that would be in store as 2020 got underway.
I took a few days to soak in the blissful feeling before telling my family. Over the next few weeks, I told close friends. It would be months before I made an Instagram announcement to the world at large.
In the meantime, I started thinking about a wedding.
I'd never given much thought to wedding logistics and wasn't even sure if I believed in the institution of marriage itself. But confronted with a new ring and a new perspective — the chance to bring his rural, Midwestern family and my Southern family, along with all our friends, together in L.A. — I started to dream.
I had no idea what I was doing. And searching "How to plan a wedding" is an anxiety-inducing exercise. At the recommendation of a friend, I bought "A Practical Wedding Planner," which describes itself as "a step-by-step guide to creating the wedding you want with the budget you've got."
On Valentine's Day, we cracked the book open over some wine and takeout sushi.
The first step, which we found goofy but ultimately helpful, was creating a wedding mission statement — a guiding framework to not get lost in the endless details. Ours? "A unique experience for us and our guests showcasing our time together, our personalities and the way we mesh." Thane wrote that one.
The next urgent steps in the planning process included setting a budget, curating a guest list and finding a venue, as some can get booked more than a year ahead.
For the next few weeks, we worked on just that, scouring wedding blogs and getting insight from married friends while filling a Google doc with ideas. I started a Pinterest board filled with bohemian dreamscapes — undoubtedly way out of our price range — and lacy wedding dresses.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
In the early days, when we thought we'd be indoors for just a few weeks, we began reaching out to our favorite L.A.-area venues to see if we could tour spaces virtually.
The first virtual tour — a violently shaky YouTube video of a rustic spot in Topanga — left me nauseated. During another virtual tour, we sprawled on our couch, simultaneously talking on the phone with a venue manager and watching a (thankfully professionally filmed) video on Vimeo of a hipster space downtown. We did another tour of a downtown warehouse space via FaceTime.
It was a start, but we agreed seeing the spaces in person was important before making a decision, so that we could move on to the other big steps — finding a caterer, photographer, DJ, dress, flowers and decorations. As well as sending out save the dates and invitations, building a website — the list goes on and on.
As the weeks of quarantine have turned into months, we haven't made any progress. Family and friends ask how the wedding planning is going, and our response remains the same: It's not going; we're stalled.
One wedding planning subreddit I read nearly every day is filled with story after story of couples who have now rescheduled their weddings multiple times this year. Some are expressing disappointment with the process and lack of engagement from their wedding parties or families. Others are heartbroken their venues have gone out of business because of the pandemic, sending them back to the beginning of the planning process and down thousands of dollars in deposits. Some have decided to cancel their weddings and elope.
A smaller group is pushing through despite the spiking cases in hopes for the best.
Although we were planning to have a wedding in fall 2021, the dates at the venues we like are already beginning to fill up from couples pushing their big events into next year.
And although we've now been able to see a couple of venues in person, doing socially distanced tours in masks, we're still stuck. All we have is a slightly more organized Google spreadsheet of ideas. A spreadsheet that hasn't been edited in about four months.
In recent weeks, I've started to wonder what an elopement or microwedding would look like. We've discussed just throwing a big party for our loved ones in 2022. Or maybe saving the money and traveling the world when there is a vaccine.
But when I start feeling anxious about the nebulous state of our wedding, I have to ground myself in gratitude. More than 200,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone. We're in a moment of civil unrest, fighting racism and police brutality against Black people.
I'm navigating this uncertainty with someone I love, someone I've enjoyed quarantining with in our cluttered, 600-square-foot apartment, whom I want to spend the rest of my life with. It's totally cheesy but true: We're together, we're safe, and that's what matters most.
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com(c)2020 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.