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Here's How COVID-19 Has Impacted Proposals This Year

According to the official data.
couples engaged pandemic covid 19
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Esther Lee - Senior Editor, The Knot
by Esther Lee
Esther Lee - Senior Editor, The Knot
Esther Lee
Senior Editor
  • Oversees all news and trending content at The Knot.
  • Defines new terms for the wedding industry.
  • Thrives in interviews both for her stories and in reverse, for the brand.
Updated Dec 17, 2020

COVID-19 has certainly impacted big life milestones that we hold so dear—weddings, birthdays, and importantly, engagements, the latter, confirmed by The Knot 2020 Jewelry and Engagement Study. Roughly half of all couples engaged in 2020, 48% to be exact, said their proposal had been affected by COVID-19, whether it was planning for the moment or popping the question. 

The impact on pandemic proposals is largely linked to additional considerations around health and safety measures. Our study, which surveyed 5,000-plus couples, found that while COVID has certainly resulted in deliberate and cautious planning, the love between couples hasn't been stalled with engagements and wedding planning continuing en masse throughout 2020. Along with the definitive data, read additional COVID engagement stories from couples who've said a resounding "yes" during this time. 

Yes, Proposals Were Largely Delayed

In 2020, 63% of all respondents said the original timing for their proposal had changed due to COVID. Furthermore, 61% of additional people surveyed said the originally-planned date was further delayed by several months due to restrictions and ever-changing precautions across the country. 

There Was a Rise In Of-the-Moment Proposals

Interestingly enough, the data revealed another pattern among 2020 engagements: some were more spontaneous than expected. In 2019, 41% of all proposal plans were made one to three months in advance. In 2020, however, the proposal planning cycle has shifted with about 50% of all engagements being planned within the month. This shift is likely attributed to the changing nature of COVID-19 restrictions. As rules and regulations continue to evolve, a precautionary question of "when" to propose is especially impacted.

'The Ask' to Loved Ones Was Modified

Roughly one in four respondents had to adjust how they asked for engagement blessings from parents as a result of COVID. Indeed, the year has been popular for virtual hangouts instead of in-person contact, especially considering risks when traveling. Since asking for a parent's hand in blessing is often more of a furtive act, it's also challenging to quarantine depending on the location where the person popping the question might have to visit. Therefore, over 60% of respondents in our study asked for parental blessings virtually, largely over platforms like FaceTime, video hangouts or email.

The Majority Shifted the Proposal Destination

Whether local or international, the majority of respondents (67% in fact) said the original proposal location was changed. Despite two out of every three couples having to swap the scene, there was consistency from 2019 in terms of the "where." Popping the question at a scenic location still remained the most popular for 2020 couples, followed by at-home proposals. Thankfully, both remain largely COVID compliant options as more couples are spending time together in nature and at home.

Ring Shopping Was Largely Impacted by COVID

Like so much of the wedding industry, jewelers and retailers have certainly met the demand for digital shopping experiences. According to our study, roughly 70% said their ring shopping and purchasing experience was impacted by COVID, and mostly where virtual demand was met. In 2020, many traditional brick and mortar retailers pivoted their businesses to offer virtual shopping experiences and private consultations during lockdown measures. Among respondents, a third of all couples (33% to be exact) did more research online as a result of COVID. 

Post-Engagement Celebrations Were Impacted

For the couples whose proposals were impacted by COVID, the stage in their engagement that was most severely affected was their engagement celebration. One in 10 couples ended up celebrating their "just engaged" status virtually with loved ones; a departure from the in-person congratulatory party often held after a proposal. Of course, sharing the happy life update across social media still remained an important step in the proposal process: 93% posted about their engagement on social media, and from there, 90% of all couples made it a priority to do so within 48 hours of getting engaged. 

Nevertheless: Most Couples Are Setting a Date

So what's next? According to our data, 80% of couples who got engaged in 2020 have moved on to wedding planning and have already set their wedding date. In fact, from that group, 73% have set a date for 2021, meaning it's a big year ahead for celebrations across the country. Whether these couples are opting for a microwedding or simply waiting until late 2021 to exchange vows with their original vision, what's certain is that weddings will continue through the year. Finally, among the remaining 20% of couples who've yet to set a date: 59% said the reason for the delay is, in fact, due to COVID-19. 

Real COVID-19 Engagement Stories

For some couples who were on the brink of taking the next step in their relationships, the reality of the pandemic has actually reaffirmed their love and commitment to one another in truly beautiful ways. An overall sentiment of "why not now?" and "when else?" has emerged from couples we spoke with who got engaged since the pandemic landed in the States, and the excitement toward imagining a new life together even amid uncertain circumstances feels like a shared one. Here, The Knot spoke with couples who decided to choose joy—and each other—and say a heartfelt "I will" to love in the time of corona.

The Couple Who Got Engaged (With Acceptance Letters Too)

acceptance letter couple
Courtesy of Megan Berkowitz

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit the States, Sionnain Buckley and Wes were already uncertain about what the future might hold. Both Buckley, 26, and Wes, 24, had applied to graduate programs in fall 2019, and were awaiting acceptances in early 2020. What they did know, however, was that they would be supportive of one another no matter what happened. Then, they found out they'd excitedly both been accepted to the same university. 

"We discussed getting engaged before moving for grad school this fall, so I knew that [the proposal] was coming at some point before then, but the rest was up to Wes to plan," Buckley tells The Knot. "They are not quite as sneaky as they think they are, so I managed to catch on that it would be coming around my birthday."

And indeed, Wes had been planning the proposal some time, which would entail a "walking tour of all our favorite places in the area," Wes says. (The couple currently live together in Somerville, Massachusetts.) "It was going to be a scavenger hunt that led us home, where the video would be set up to watch." The video in question was also its own elaborate plan, involving videos from Buckley's family and friends expressing "all the ways they love Sionnain and how much she means to them."

When states began to issue lockdown orders as the pandemic intensified, however, Wes knew the scavenger hunt part of the proposal wouldn't work—but the video, and bringing all of Buckley's loved ones together to share in their special moment, felt more meaningful than ever. "I hung up a bunch of twinkle lights in our room and laid out all of the love letters Sionnain had written me during our three years of being long distance," Wes says. "I got dressed up and asked her to come upstairs to help me move something, and then surprised her with the video. We both cried. A lot."

The couple, who met on the dating app HER in 2016, say they both knew there was something special about the other person following their "whirlwind" first date (Buckley had planned the whole date, which included a visit to the Brooklyn Museum, strolling through a farmer's market, perusing a used book store, and of course, ice cream.) "We pretty much knew then and there that this was it," Wes says.

So much so that Buckley actually gifted Wes with a special ring that she had bought for herself back in 2009 one year into dating. "I bought a titanium band ring for myself that had 'Love now and forever' engraved on the inside, and 'Gra anois agus go deo' (the Irish translation) on the outside," Buckley says. "I told myself that when I met the person I wanted to be with forever, I would give them that ring. Chalk it up to 15-year-old melodrama if you want to, but I wore that ring every day until 2017, when I gave it to Wes. Wes actually bought the same ring to propose to me, so we match: one ring a decade old, one shiny and new. The past and the present, as we step into the future." 

For now, Buckley and Wes are taking things one day at a time and looking ahead to their big move in the summer, though they envision a wedding in Columbus, Ohio, where they'll both be attending graduate school. "Community means a lot to us, both as individuals and as a couple, and it's really important to us that all of the people we love are a part of the day," Wes says. "In lieu of wedding parties, we've been talking about having our community participate in our ceremony in different ways, namely, having a series of loved ones officiate different sections of the ceremony. 

"Also, because I have a physical disability and we're both queer, we've always imagined our wedding day as a space of radical inclusivity," Wes adds. "We are so excited for the chance to rethink and reshape wedding traditions in a way that works for us and for the people we love. It's a time to celebrate our shared resiliency and the resiliency of our communities."

The Couple Who Got Engaged With a Pug as Their Witness

jabba pug engagement
Courtesy

For Sara Abrams and Matthew Welter, the beach and the sea have always been central to their relationship. The couple met when Abrams, now 26, was a senior in college at Fairfield University more than five years ago. She and her friends were celebrating her roommate's 21st birthday with a beachside bash at Fairfield Beach when they stumbled upon Welter, 25, and his rugby teammates hanging out after practice.

"My friends and I decided to crash the rugby party and from there, it's history," she tells The Knot. The pair grew to love their routines and rituals together, grabbing food and drinks at Colony Grill, the site of their first date, every Sunday. So when it came time for Welter to propose, he knew that he wanted to do it somewhere meaningful: Fairfield Beach, where they first met.

The only problem, of course, was that the coronavirus pandemic quickly escalated and lockdown measures began to foil his plans bit by bit. First, the beach—along with parks, restaurants, and all other public areas—was shut down by the town in keeping with social distancing regulations (this included, unfortunately, Colony Grill, where Welter had been planning to surprise Abrams with "both of our parents, grandparents, and siblings," she says. Then, Welter's plan to fly the couple out to Disney World also fell through when Disney announced that it would be temporarily shuttering all its parks for the month of March. 

"As precautions around COVID grew, Matt couldn't even travel out to see me the weekend he had planned on proposing," Abrams says. But determined to see (a version) of his plans through, Welter adjusted and instead devised a way to work the proposal into one of Abrams' regular routines: walking her beloved pug, Jabba.

"The following weekend, as our jobs and classes became remote, we decided we would quarantine together at my house in Southold," she says. As soon as their work days ended, they decided to take Jabba for a walk to a nearby beach. "This is something that I do every day, so I didn't suspect anything yet!" she says. 

Once the couple got to the beach, however, "Matt was acting very weird." They spread out a towel to enjoy the sunset, but before Abrams could sit down, Welter told her to "look around and enjoy the moment." When she wasn't looking, he got down on one knee and proposed with a custom oval diamond ring set in 14K white gold. "Even though plans changed, I couldn't be happier with how things turned out and wouldn't change a thing!" she says. 

Welter's mother, who couldn't be there for the proposal itself, sent the couple a gift basket that included, among other essentials, customized wine glasses and a bandana for her pug, Jabba. 

The Couple Who Recorded Their Proposal for Fans

Sports broadcasters Nikko Ramos and Bea Fabregas shared their exciting news with fans almost in real time, with what appeared to be a self-timed series of photos of Ramos's proposal in their shared apartment. "Today I asked her if she would be interested in becoming my wife," Ramos captioned a sweet black-and-white post to Instagram. "She said yes."

Added the veteran broadcaster, "God is great. 60. Carpe diem. Wash your hands. Good health and love to you all!"

Fabregas similarly shared a series of black-and-white still photographs of the proposal in progress, with a sweet caption: "ALSO: Stay safe at home, stay informed, wash your hands and pray for our country."

The Couple Whose Romantic Trip Around the World Ended at Home

engagement
Courtesy

The Maldives will have to wait. When Steve Silbernagel met Ariel Strauss in real life following some spirited back-and-forths via Tinder back in 2016, he knew she was the one. "Our first date was at a bar near his hometown, and we stayed until they kicked us out that night," Strauss, 29, tells The Knot. "His mom tells me all the time that he came home that evening saying that he was going to marry me one day. I was definitely less confident, especially after years of disappointment with online dating. But Steve knew right away!"

Then, last October, Silbernagel, 31, asked Strauss to plan for a week off from work in March, but wouldn't give her any details about where they might go. "I figured we were going somewhere tropical—he gave me a bunch of cover ups, dresses, and sarongs for Hanukkah—but really had no idea what to expect."

In the weeks leading up to the trip, however, it seemed less and less likely that the trip would go ahead as planned, and Silbernagel had to make the tough decision to spoil the surprise: he had planned a weeklong trip to the Maldives with the intention to propose.

"A mix of emotions went through my mind as we had to cancel this dream trip," Strauss says, adding that the couple worked together to cancel flights, hotels, and even the engagement photographer. "I was angry at the situation in general, but felt absolutely horrible that he had spent months planning the most amazing engagement surprise, just for it to be cancelled."

Ultimately, though, as the realities of the pandemic grew more intense, Strauss and Silbernagel knew it was the right call. Then, on March 21, after the couple had been quarantined in their "tiny apartment" in New Jersey for two weeks, Silbernagel decided to surprise Strauss anyway.

The couple was on a walk with their beagle mix Kimo at their favorite park when Silbernagel "found" a dog collar on the ground that happened to have an engagement ring hanging from the collar. (Importantly, the ring features her paternal grandmother's round brilliant cut diamond and the band was her maternal grandmother's wedding band.) And there, with the Manhattan skyline, and not a tropical beach in the Maldives, as their backdrop, Strauss said yes. A photographer who stayed a safe eight feet away from the couple captured the special moment.

"This engagement was not what either of us had in mind," she says. "It was during a time of economic devastation, loneliness, and overall stress. … However, nothing was going to stop Steve this time around, despite all of the uncertainty in our lives." 

For the time being, the couple don't yet have wedding plans—wanting instead to wait for friends' weddings that have been rescheduled to take place first—but do know one thing for certain: their honeymoon will be, without a doubt, in the Maldives. 

The Couple Who Celebrated a Birthday and an Engagement

 Kaelee Cornell and Danielle James had been planning Cornell's big 30th birthday trip for over a year when the coronavirus pandemic began to quietly put a damper on their vacation. The trip to Thailand, which they were supposed to take with 10 of their closest friends, would also double as a chance for James, 33, to propose "on the beach at sunset," Cornell, 30, tells The Knot.

The proposal was a long time in the making (the pair met through mutual friends 10 years ago), with "many moving parts," Cornell says. So despite the fact that their trip fell through, James was determined to go through with the proposal—even if it meant bringing Thailand to their backyard. "She rallied an entire community for this!" Cornell says of the elaborate decorations that James pulled together to recreate a fun tropical vibe in their Sacramento, California, home. "My bosses at work provided a lot of the props, friends came to help decorate, [and] just seeing everyone rally was so moving and overwhelming for me." Decorations included monkey-shaped balloons, tons of flower garlands, and grass skirts hung up on their wooden fence out back.

The couple celebrated Cornell's birthday, but she and James "were so wrapped up in the moment with our friends and family [that] her plans to propose during our shoot never happened," Cornell explains. "So twice, her plans had been foiled. [But] the next morning, she called our furry children onto the bed and asked me to marry her in the most beautiful, intimate setting."

Just as special was the ring itself, which James had worked on with her friend and jeweler, Gary Guzzetta, to produce something that symbolized the couple's relationship. "There is nothing traditional about us as individuals and as a couple, and she wanted something special to reflect that," Cornell says. "She knew I loved the vintage and classic emerald cut, so she incorporated that into my ring. What I love is that it doesn't connect into a full circle: it has two independent ends to it, and to me, it is so symbolic of our relationship—bound together, yet leaving space to forge our own paths."

The ring box held its own significance, too: Cornell's father handcrafted it himself, with a gold coin embedded on the top of the lid and Celtic knots on the interior, in a nod to their Celtic ancestry, and his brand burned into the bottom of the box. "I will surely be passing [the box] down to our children," Cornell says. 

The takeaway? The canceled trip didn't get in the way of the couple's great love for one another, and if anything, actually made the proposal all the more special. "The way everything worked out has been so much more personal and meaningful to us both," Cornell says. "We were able to have all our friends and family involved in one way or another, and when the moment struck, it was just us in one of our favorite places to be. I could not have dreamed a better situation."

With contributing by Joyce Chen

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