Adams Morgan residents Margaret Walker, 32, and Aran Clair, 33, met as undergrads at Princeton University. Clair, a consultant at IBM, proposed to Walker, who works at the National Endowment for the Humanities, a year ago on the Georgetown waterfront. They were supposed to get married in Nashville on March 28. Then came the Covid-19 pandemic. Here’s how the duo pulled off a DC elopement while rescheduling their Nashville party.
Margaret Walker: “We picked March 28 [as our original date]. We didn’t want snowstorms to get in the way of our out-of-town guests. We never imagined a pandemic would do that. By the time we were gathering our RSVPs, we had about 250 coming, but we invited, like, 350. We like to joke that our wedding went from 300 people to three.”
Aran Clair: “The first time I really heard or thought of the coronavirus impacting wedding planning was late February. Two of my groomsmen coming in from Hong Kong and Kenya both texted me within a day of each other saying ‘Hey, have you heard any concerns from folks coming from international locations?’
“[On] March 11, we emailed [guests] saying ‘Hey, folks, we know that it’s hard to ignore the news, but as we learn more, we’re trying to keep everyone safe. We’ll have hand sanitizer stations and this and that.'”
MW: “We asked them to come up with a signature no-hands handshake.”
AC: “But then two days later, March 13, so much more information came out. We ended up just emailing everyone saying, ‘Hey, wow, what a difference two days makes. We are concerned imposing on folks who 1) feel uncomfortable traveling right now and 2) would be most at-risk should they contract something during travel. This was when the public discourse was ‘anyone over 70 is dangerously at risk.’ We were planning to have just an intimate family gathering with the wedding party that could make it—fewer than 50.”
MW: “And that stayed our plan until March 17. It’s funny—a plan that lasted four days was a plan that lasted a really long time. March 16 was the day that the recommendation came out for no gatherings more than 10. Our immediate family put together is, like, 22 people. I always joked that it seemed so neat and so romantic and fun to elope, but that I would never do it because it would break my mother’s heart. And on March 17, my mom called me and told me we shouldn’t ask anyone to gather in a group, and that if we really wanted to go ahead and get married, we should just do that locally.
“Immediately afterward, I went online and started looking at how to get a marriage license locally. The DC courts had closed as of 11 AM and were no longer issuing marriage licenses. Virginia was easier. We got an appointment first in Alexandria. [But] getting married in a courthouse in Virginia is kind of complicated. We called all the people in Alexandria, and we couldn’t get anyone who was willing [to do it] on March 28—that was our wedding date, it’s engraved in our rings, and we were like, ‘That’s our day.’ We finally got someone [in Arlington] who was like, ‘Sure, I’m available on the 28th. We can meet in a public park.’ Then our civil celebrant emailed us [on the 24th] and was like ‘Arlington just closed all of its parks. Let’s meet on the plaza of the Alexandria courthouse instead.’ We were like, ‘Well, what happens if we get a stay-at-home directive in DC or Virginia [by March 28]?’ So we just emailed her like, ‘Hey, can you meet us tomorrow?'”
AC: “She didn’t get back to us until the next day, so [that morning], we woke up not knowing we’d be married by the end of the day. We met her in the plaza and she performed the ceremony in a couple minutes and then went in to file the paperwork.”
MW: “It was a rainy day, and it was just beautiful. It was kind of misty. The rain let up, and there were four trees blossoming in the courtyard. We still got all dressed up. And then we came home and we got takeout [from Lapis]. The only people we told in advance were our bosses because we needed an hour or two off of work.”
AC: “We basically did full days of work, changed into our really nice clothes to drive out to Alexandria, and then came back and worked a full day [the following day]. It was just a very surreal 40 hours.
“We got our [original] wedding date engraved in [our rings], March 28, so we wanted to mark the occasion and solemnize it somehow. We called some friends to meet us in a park in DC to spend 30 minutes reading through a blessing, do a quick little champagne toast, and have some cake. Then we drove off to Shenandoah. We were originally planning to do a mini-moon in Miami. Obviously, that changed.”
MW: “We’re still working on the rescheduled date [for the wedding]—it’s looking like the end of October.”
AC: “Changing from a very big wedding to literally the most intimate possible—me and Margaret and an officiant—kind of forced the issue to my mind of wow. While it’s a small affair, it’s no small thing we’re doing.”
MW: “I realized that in all of this, the only thing we could control was the fact that both of us were willing to show up and say our vows. If you’re planning a wedding for a year, people ask you about it every time they see you. People would go, ‘How’s planning going?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, we have a band, but we don’t have a caterer. But you know, if nothing else, we’ll get married at the end of the day.’ And I never thought it would actually come to that, but it did. It truly got distilled down to, you know, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you got married.”