How to handle pandemic fear and stress? For many, the answer is getting married.


If the world is ending, who do you want by your side?

Nancy Townsend selected Herb Thomas: a man she met for lunch in early March, whom she FaceTimed later that month, dined with (outdoors) in April, and got engaged to the week after Easter. They married Sept. 6, 2020, at Harriet Wetherill Park in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

“We felt like we didn’t have time to waste,” said Ms. Townsend, 66, a widowed semiretired Salvation Army officer.

She and everyone else, apparently.

Snagging a coveted wedding license during the pandemic became more difficult than it used to be to get toilet paper, as singles have been grasping the person by their side and clinging to them for better or for worse.

Getting a marriage license in New York is now done via Project Cupid, which involves filling out paperwork online and trying to snag a virtual appointment (new spots are released Thursdays at 9 a.m.).

Historically, scary, stressful times have led to increased marriage rates. Following South Carolina’s Hurricane Hugo, marriage rates increased in the areas affected by the storm (these numbers had previously been trending downward). After the 9/11 attacks, the marriage rate didn’t change but couples were less willing to get a divorce: the number of couples in New York who filed for divorce decreased by 32 percent. It was a similar situation in Japan after the 2011 tsunami.

The pandemic was no different. According to an October Brides’ survey of 4,000 engaged couples, 82 percent said that living through the pandemic had made them even more eager to get married so they could weather this — and other storms — together. Fifty-five percent said the pandemic had changed their expectations for marriage, and that they were prioritizing their relationship above anything else.

It’s not surprising, said Rebecca Haney, a licensed professional clinical counselor in Cincinnati. When you’re scared, anxious or overwhelmed, you feel out of control. Your body and mind are experiencing sensations you don’t know how to manage, Ms. Haney said.

“So to compensate for this feeling, people tend to find other ways to feel in control,” she said. “This is why some people make big changes or major decisions during times of fear.”

Getting married during a pandemic feels like a guarantee of safety and stability, said Nick Bognar, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Pasadena, Calif.

There’s also the idea that if your relationship could survive the pandemic, then it could survive anything.


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