Love in a pandemic: After rushed engagement, COVID-19 crashes party

Mission Viejo, Calif., senior Daniel Strickland and Orange, Calif., senior Bridget Chagollan plan to marry in the summer of 2022 in Orange County, California. Photo Courtesy of Kasia Turek

This is the second article in a series about weddings, wedding planning and love in the age of a pandemic. Read the first story here.

By Madalyn Watson | Editor-in-Chief

Mission Viejo, Calif., senior Daniel Strickland and Orange, Calif., senior Bridget Chagollan grew up about a 30-minute drive away from each other, only to meet in Waco.

“We met at life group, and then we got to know each other on a mission trip,” Chagollan said.

Challogan and Strickland crossed paths through that life group and then the Awaken mission trip at their church, Antioch Waco.

“We went down to Tijuana, Mexico, so a 26-hour bus ride both ways,” Strickland said.

Although they started their journey together as friends, the newly-engaged couple just celebrated their one year anniversary on Aug. 27.

Since they’re both from Orange County, Calif., Strickland planned his proposal to coincide with their return home this summer break.

“She knew, like the week before it happened. I’m not good at secrets,” Strickland said.

Chagollan suddenly received a call. She had to return to Waco for work weeks before they had originally planned.

“We knew that we wanted it to be in Orange County so it’s now or never,” Chagollan said.

The time frame for the perfect proposal was becoming narrower and narrower.

“I was running around trying to get a reservation for dinner, talking to her family about the little get together we were gonna have,” Strickland said. “Because I thought that I had a month to plan this, and then I had two weeks.”

Even under a time crunch, the proposal was a success. After a dinner by the beach, the couple walked to a nearby park where their friends were waiting to photograph the special moment.

Strickland wanted to end the night with an engagement party, but the preventative restrictions on gatherings and travel at the time made this a difficult feat to achieve.

“When I pictured an engagement party, it had both of our families and a bunch of friends together but obviously with everything that happened that was hard to do,” Strickland said.

Since he started at Baylor, most of Strickland’s family has moved out of Orange County, but Chagollan’s family and some of the pair’s close friends welcomed them home as an engaged couple.

One in four engaged couples in the United States host a party like the one Strickland and Chagollan hoped for, according to a 2019 survey conducted by the Knot.

Even though the couple replaced a large party with a small gathering, they still hit a slight snag in their plans when the get-together led to a small outbreak of coronavirus.

“Two people at that party ended up testing positive for COVID-19,” Chagollan said. “That was kind of a nightmare.”

Although neither Strickland or Chagollan caught the virus due to the party, one of Strickland’s friends tested positive.

“Truthfully, I thought all my friends were smart enough to not do anything that would put them at risk but I guess not all of them are … but I still love them to death,” Strickland said.

Their engagement party was on a Saturday and Strickland’s friend told him she had tested positive that following Monday.

“She was like, ‘Hey, someone I went out to the bars with tested positive and I tested positive’ and I’m like ‘Dude, what are you doing going out to bars with these people during a global pandemic?’” Strickland said.

Although the virus only spread to a few of the people who attended, several of the guests — including Chagollan — had strep.

“It caused a little bit of chaos in our house for a little bit,” Chagollan said. “In hindsight, maybe no party during pandemic.”

The couple plans to marry in the summer of 2022.

“People are going to reschedule their weddings for next year if they didn’t get to get married this year,” Chagollan said.

While they were still in California this summer, they discovered a venue and started to plan the number of guests.

“We are trying our absolute hardest to keep it at 150 which is kind of big, but also we could have invited 300 people if we wanted to,” Strickland said. “We both have really big families, and then factor in all the friends that we want to invite.”