When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.
Here, we spoke with two people paying professional attention to the pandemic: Alec Vlahos, an OB/GYN resident at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School/Saint Barnabas, and Mike Del Moro, a booking producer on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Despite their intimacy with the situation, they needed some time to accept that the initial wedding they’d planned for May 16 wasn’t going to happen. But it took just a few days to arrange the tiny, socially distant backyard wedding they ended up holding instead. Though it was a struggle to not hug their moms, both maintained that it was a “perfect, perfect day.”
Alec: Mike was the first guy I kissed in public, and that was the first time some of my college friends found out that I was gay — when I kissed him in front of them. They were like, “Wait, what?”
Mike: We met at a friend’s birthday party in November 2013 — Alec was living with my best friend from college, Brian, in Newark, and I lived with my parents in Pequannock, New Jersey — and I nervously left him a voicemail the next day asking him to our first date at a very Italian place in Bloomfield.
Alec: I loved that he had such self-confidence. He knew who he was, he was proud of his sexuality, and he was unapologetic. As someone who was slowly starting to come out, it really struck me.
Mike: After six and a half years of dating in your late 20s, it gets to the point where you’re like, “Well, I think it’s about time.” We bought matching rings together, and it just so happened that we were planning a big trip to Japan — he was about to start his medical residency, and it was going to be extremely intense. On the third day in Kyoto, I told him we were going on this tour of the bamboo forest at 6:30 a.m. Despite being a doctor, Alec doesn’t like waking up early.
Alec: I was like, “Okay, you’re killing me. You woke me up at 5 in the morning, and you’re not moving. Are we rushing to make this tour on time? If not, we’ll just chill, but make a decision.” We got to the middle of the bamboo grove, and he got down on one knee and proposed. I later realized that there was a photographer that Mike was waiting on to get set up. He was waiting for the signal.
Mike: The proposal took place in April 2019. We knew we wanted a huge wedding. We both come from pretty big families, we have lots of friends, and we wanted to include as many people as possible.
Alec: Growing up in Maryland, I loved going to the beach. Mike’s parents had a shore house in Jersey, so we went there a lot during the summer. Since we both had a special connection to the beach, we thought it would be awesome to do a big beach-blowout wedding. We settled on Crystal Point Yacht Club in Point Pleasant, an awesome venue right on the water about an hour from where we lived in Harrison, and planned on having 250 people.
Mike: It was scheduled for May 16. Listen, I was working on Morning Joe, a show that went from covering the political news of the day to being all about the pandemic. I was booking doctors to come on our program every day — epidemiologists, Ph.D.s — to advise us on the virus. We were learning in real time that this was going to be really bad. But even though I knew it was extremely likely that we would have to postpone, I struggled to accept it — I’d been imagining the perfect day every day for a year.
Alec: In late February or early March, I was working on labor and delivery at the hospital and found out that I had direct contact with a COVID-positive patient. My team had to self-quarantine for a week. While I sat at home, I thought, Okay, we’re getting hit. This wedding is definitely not going to happen. I expressed this to Michael, and he didn’t want to hear it. I worked in Newark next to a big international airport, and we were next to the epicenter in New York. It definitely became real.
Mike: That same week, the NBA season got canceled, and around March 12, the CDC issued guidelines that no gatherings of 50 people or more should take place for the next six weeks — this put our wedding right on the edge. We reached out to all of our guests to say, “We’re monitoring the situation really closely. We have no intention of putting anyone at risk.”
Alec: I was blunt. I was less empathetic than I should have been with Mike. We shut down gynecology service in the hospital, we canceled surgeries that were more elective, and we got redeployed to the ICU and to cover the emergency department. I was like, “I don’t see us being able to safely gather.” And he pushed back and said, “Let’s just take it a day at a time. There’s no point in canceling early.”
Mike: It was probably another week or two of me trying to face the facts. The decision was easy in some ways because 250 people were invited, many of whom were over the age of 60. There was just no way. We worked with our venue to postpone a full year to May 22, 2021. Crystal Point was great because they were a package deal. We had to negotiate a bit with other vendors, however, given that they were small businesses that risked losing thousands of dollars, and they weren’t ready to move to next year. We made sure, contractually, that they had some reasonable expectations if, God forbid, next year proved to be worse.
Alec: We rewrote our save-the-date cards — we had some extras — then sent a picture to our guests. We threw around the idea of still getting married on that day, but honestly, for me at least, we didn’t consciously decide to do it until the weekend before. We had a call with my mom, his mom, and both of our sisters and said, “Okay, let’s do it. We can go down the shore and do it with immediate family.”
Mike: The marriage license was a little weird because Governor Murphy issued an order that said you could do it all online. However, in our town, the clerk said we could do the application online, but we still had to pay in person. That sort of defeated the whole purpose. We went outside the town hall and the clerk signed the paper; everyone stood six feet apart except for those signing. Everyone was wearing masks. I mean, it was not ideal.
Alec: But what would usually be an annoying part of the marriage process, the bureaucracy aspect of it, felt more romantic. There was something awesome about feeling like you had to go above and beyond to get something simple done. I felt warm and happy when we were doing it.
Mike: My mom scouted a few spots. We thought we’d do it on the beach, but it was a little early in the season for a beach wedding. Also, I think you needed to obtain a special permit to get married on the beach. We looked at spots on the bay like gazebos and docks. My dad’s close friend owned a property on the river with a big backyard, and he wasn’t around. He said, “You’re welcome to use the property.” It gave us the room to do everything six feet apart.
Alec: One of our best friends, Will Ganss, an ABC reporter and one of our first friends in Manhattan, was going to officiate for us at the original wedding, but we ended up having Mike’s godmother, Roberta, officiate since she was down the shore at the same time.
Mike: So the guests were: Roberta, Alec’s parents and sister, my parents and sister, and my brother-in-law. We walked out to the backyard, and our families looked dolled-up and gorgeous. We wore suits we already owned. We’d ordered tuxedos, but we’re now saving them for next year. It was a perfect, perfect day, weather-wise. The ceremony was nothing like we’d planned, nothing like we’d envisioned.
Alec: I grew up Christian, but hadn’t been to church in a long time. Mike was raised Catholic, and the only reason he didn’t go to Mass was because they didn’t accept gays. Despite that, he felt strongly that he still wanted to include a religious aspect, so we did a reading from the Bible.
Mike: We read our own vows to each other. Both of us were crying at several points throughout the vows. We turned to see that our families were in tears. They were really happy for us. When we were planning the big, big wedding, I thought I’d be a nervous wreck for it. But during this ceremony, I just felt overwhelmed with joy — nothing else. I just thought, I am so excited to be here with the man of my dreams!
Alec: Aunt Roberta touched on the fact that it was almost more meaningful that we were still able to celebrate and that our love still shone through dark times.
Mike: I remember feeling like, Okay, time to go in for a hug with my aunt who just did this beautiful ceremony for us. And I couldn’t. My mom was in tears, and I just wanted to give her a big hug. It was strange, but not sad. At least I got to kiss and hug Alec.
Alec: Honestly, my family is very affectionate. So is Mike’s — they’re a big Italian family. My dad’s Greek. We just come from families where we’re constantly telling each other we love each other, hugging, and giving each other kisses. But I knew because of my exposures at work that if anyone was going to be a carrier it would be me — even though I was careful and used PPE. At the same time, I just really wanted to hug my mom on the happiest day of my life.
Mike: That was around 6:30 p.m., and after that, we spent 30 to 45 minutes taking some pictures by the bay while the sun set. His parents had an Airbnb, so we went to their backyard where there were three tables — one for us, one for my parents, and one for his parents — all 6 feet apart. Toasts were made, but we saved the maid and matron of honor speeches from our sisters, the first dance, and the ritual stuff for the big wedding next year. We picked up food and had separate orders, so there was no cross-contamination.
Alec: The food was from Shore Fresh. We had to have seafood down the shore.
Mike: I had grilled swordfish, Alec had crab cakes — the Maryland boy loves anything with crab — and we split mussels in red sauce. We ordered a few hours before, and it was not at all difficult since there were only three families.
Alec: And there was a socially distant cake-cutting. His sister got a really good, gluten-free cake from Creations by Sabrina in Boonton.
Mike: I’m optimistic about May 2021. I’m hopeful. There are so many worse things happening right now, but we just hope that we’ll get to have the opportunity that so many of our friends and family have had over the years.