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Married No Matter What
For “Covid Couples,” it’s all about the vows
By Kate Morgan

Alexandra Gitter was not rescheduling her wedding for a third time. 

The 32-year-old Barrington resident got engaged to Dan Rutigliano in 2019, and the pair started planning right away, choosing the Camden County Boathouse as their venue. They sent out almost 200 save-the-dates for May 8, 2020. 

Then the Covid-19 pandemic began, and you know what happened next. 

“We locked down on March 16, and I got the call the same day from the Boathouse,” says Gitter. “We decided to postpone. I don’t think anybody really thought we’d be in this situation for this long. We wound up picking August 7 as the new date. We thought things might be clear by then.” 

Again, you know what happened.

“In early June, when New Jersey was just starting to open back up, we postponed the second date,” Gitter says. “My husband is immunocompromised, so we were trying to be careful. A little less than 2 months after the state reopened just seemed too soon.” 

Gitter and Rutigliano were among countless couples whose wedding plans were derailed by the pandemic. 

“The pandemic hit right at the start of our busiest season,” says Kristen Cass, director of Cooper River Operations at the Camden County Boathouse. “We had weddings scheduled every single weekend and none of them could happen.” 

Many couples postponed their big days to next year, but for Gitter and Rutigliano, that wasn’t feasible. 

“We want to start a family next year,” Gitter says. “I have fertility problems, so it’s not going to be cheap or easy, and to try to have a wedding the same year just seemed like so much.”

As Covid-19 cases in the state began to drop, and restrictions were slowly loosened, Gitter and Rutigliano decided to go ahead with a Sept. 4 wedding. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” she says, “but you just have to do what you have to do for your circumstances.” 

To accommodate events that look very different from pre-pandemic occasions, the Boathouse erected a huge, outdoor tent that can hold both ceremonies and receptions. “There’s room to spread out, and people feel more comfortable because they’re outside,” says Cass. “When it gets a bit colder, we’ll be able to put panels on some sides of the tent to hold in heat, while still keeping people safe.” 

To further the safety factor, Gitter pre-packaged 100 masks and had them available at the entrance to the wedding ceremony. 

“There was a mask for everyone, and I individually bagged them,” she says. “I just thought, I cannot be responsible for anyone getting sick. A lot of people brought their own, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.” 

The couple also took steps to help their guests social distance from one another. “At the entrance we had color-coded wrist bands that represented everybody’s comfort level with social distancing,” Gitter says. “Red was strict, like ‘stay away from me,’ yellow was cautious social distancing, so like, ‘you can bump my elbow,’ and blue was very relaxed, like, ‘you can hug me if you want.’ It saved our guests from having to have awkward conversations or trying to figure out, ‘what’s the deal here, am I reading this wrong.’” 

Cass says the Boathouse encourages  vendors like caterers, DJs, bartenders, and photographers to take social distancing and safety protocols into account too. Tables under the tent are spaced farther apart than they might’ve been pre-pandemic, and all servers are expected to keep their masks on. 

“Our caterer said they were adjusting the tables to seat 4 to 6 people instead of the usual 8 to 10,” Gitter says. And although she and Rutigliano spent a painstaking amount of time on a seating chart, in the end they totally scrapped it. “We were told most couples were eliminating assigned seating. People ended up just sitting with whoever they felt most comfortable being close to, and that worked really well.” 

While they didn’t require guests to wear masks the whole time, Gitter and Rutigliano asked that masks be kept on during the ceremony. They made sure there were lots of hand sanitizer bottles available, and let guests decide how close they were comfortable getting to other people. 

“I just figured, if I go all-out crazy with the precautions, I can’t say I didn’t do everything I could,” Gitter says. “It was pretty easy to social distance because we were in a parking lot, so there was room to spread out. Some people wore masks while they danced, and some people took theirs off after the ceremony. There were people who were not interested in being near anybody, so they just stayed at their tables.” 

The guest list looked a lot different than the couple initially planned. “Our original count was 180 people, and ultimately we had about 78,” Gitter says. “Lots of family was supposed to come from California, North Carolina, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, you name it. Some did and some didn’t.” 

A few members of the bridal party couldn’t make it, including one of Rutigliano’s groomsmen. “We had a bunch of people drop out,” Gitter adds. “One of my bridesmaids early on told me she hoped I understood, but her husband had health conditions, and she didn’t want to put him at risk. We really ran the gamut with guests. We had one person come who has leukemia, and my uncle came who just had a heart procedure. But on the other end we had a lot of relatives who just said, ‘No thank you.’”

And while the pair were grateful for everyone who showed up to celebrate with them, in the end what really mattered was that they got married. 

“Right now there’s so much uncertainty, but I think on a positive level it reinforced the commitment ‘Covid couples’ have,” Gitter says. “We just wanted to get married. We didn’t care what it looked like. That’s all we cared about in the end.”

With that as the first and sole priority, Gitter says she “just lowered her expectations overall. I didn’t know anybody else who had a wedding this year. My girlfriends all got married in normal times. I expected people to be really nervous and apprehensive around each other, but the guests told me after that they felt good, and it was really nice to be around other humans on a larger scale.”  

It may not have been the wedding they planned or expected, but it was certainly memorable, and more importantly, they say it was an absolute blast. 

“The goal was to make sure everyone was safe and comfortable and had a good time,” Gitter says, “and I was pleasantly surprised that happened. People seemed really excited to have something positive to celebrate.”   

 

October 2020
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