"It wasn't the day we pictured, but it was still picture perfect," Mike Del Moro says of his May 16 socially distanced wedding to Alec Vlahos. Del Moro, a booking producer on MSNBC's Morning Joe, originally planned to marry Vlahos, an OB/GYN resident at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School/Saint Barnabas, at a big, beach blowout wedding in Point Pleasant. Their wedding was going to have the works: a DJ, photo booth, and 250 guests. Instead, the day saw them say "I Do" in front of Del Moro's parents, sister, and brother-in-law, as well as Vlahos' parents and sister, all six feet apart.
To invoke the spirit of the Pride treasure Deborah Cox herself: How did we get here?
The pair met in November 2013 when a mutual friend invited Del Moro to a birthday party for his roommate, who happened to be Vlahos. Though they both were living in New Jersey (Del Moro was living in the suburbs with his parents, while Vlahos was in Newark for graduate school), the celebration took place in downtown New York City. Almost immediately, Del Moro was taken by the birthday boy being so in his element.
"As soon as I got there, I noticed Alec because he was just adorable and he was also very loving and outgoing," he remembers. And even though the party was in a straight bar, and Del Moro was never was never told that Vlahos was gay, he decided to shoot his shot."I used a cheesy backhanded compliment/pickup line, and swept him off his feet and we spent the rest of his birthday party dancing and hanging out." A couple of days later, they went on their official first date and within a few weeks, they were boyfriends.
Last year, six and half years into their relationship, the two got engaged. Though it was Del Moro who ultimately got down on one knee during a trip to Japan before Vlahos started his residency, it was Vlahos who started the conversation by asking to look at rings together.
But by late March/early April, it dawned on them that it wouldn't be safe, nor legal, to carry on with their dream wedding.
Then, on May 1, while the couple was still coming to terms with their wedding plans slipping away, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a new executive order that allowed for marriage certificates to be obtained virtually, and eliminated the waiting period. "We kind of took that and were like, you know what, we got engaged over a year ago and we don't want to wait another year to call each other 'husband,'" Del Moro says. "We know that we want to spend the rest of our lives together, so let's just get on with it."
Though they initially cancelled the wedding, 10 days before the original date, they decided to press on with a socially distant wedding instead. "We'll go down to the shore and we'll figure it out," he remembers thinking. With Vlahos working 70 - 80 hour weeks, delivering babies on his feet all day, a lot of the planning would fall on Del Moro, which he found tough.
Thankfully, Del Moro's parents welcomed them at their shore house in New Jersey, which had a separate apartment to spare. Then, his dad's friend offered his waterfront property and his big backyard in Brick Township, which would give the couple space to pull off a true "socially distanced" ceremony.
When it came down to picking an officiant, it was a "no-brainer": Del Moro's godmother, Roberta, who also lived in the shore house with his parents. Around the same time that he and Vlahos started dating, Del Moro's parents bought the home, which they split with Roberta, who they considered a close family friend. Every summer, Vlahos would come down to the shore, getting to know Roberta in the process. "She watched every step of our relationship and watched it grow," he says.
Now planning to get married, Del Moro faced an internal struggle all too common for LGBTQ+ people who grew up Catholic. Although he and his family went to church every Sunday and he was an altar boy for years, the Catholic church doesn't accept gays and gay marriage. It has caused a schism between the family and the church.
"My parents' love for me superseded their adherence to the stricter parts of the Catholic Church, not the religion, but the church," he says. "We both have a hard time seeing how can you be a part of this organization that doesn't fully embrace who you are and acknowledge you are equal and the same as all of your other parishioners are." Yet, to reconcile the two, it was important for Del Moro to include a reading from the Bible in his nuptials.
While nerves and doubts are often par for the course ahead of saying "I Do" -- on top of the uncertainty of these times -- he was all in and excited to recite the vows he worked for weeks leading up to the big day. "All I could think about was, I'm just so excited to marry this person and spend the rest of my life with this loving, kind, beautiful man, and I couldn't be happier," he says. "I didn't expect to walk away from that moment feelings overwhelmed by love. It was perfect."
The piece de resistance of the socially distanced wedding? The 'Mr.' and 'Mr.' masks made by Vlahos' mother, Wendy, that they donned for the photos. During this pandemic, she had been making masks for him, his colleagues, and other healthcare workers. "It was a perfect little symbolic way to mark the moment," says Del Moro. "It's like we marked history because we chose to get married during this awful time."
There was only one downside to the socially distant ceremony, however: not being able to hug their loved ones on the happiest day of their lives. "That moment after you kiss and the deal is sealed, you feel compelled to go hug your mom and dad," he says. "I wanted to hug my officiant, and we couldn't do that, but the smiles and the tears of joy were enough and that's what we needed."
Whereas other newlyweds ride the high of wedded bliss into a next day brunch, and a honeymoon, for Del Moro and Vlahos... that was it. "What helped me feel better was the outpouring of love and support from our family and friends immediately, who were just happy for us, sending us notes, cards, flowers and gifts."
Even if there were no travel restrictions because of the pandemic, Vlahos had to go straight back to work. In the mid to near future, the couple also hopes to take a proper honeymoon.
"It was nothing like we ever imagined, nothing like we had planned, and nothing that we had spent a year thinking about, dreaming about, and envisioning in our heads, but it was still perfect."