Welcome to Part 3 of our ongoing series about couples who committed to forever during COVID-19. Today’s couple is Meredith Grabek O’Connell and Billy O’Connell, an outdoorsy duo from Melrose who love beer (Night Shift Brewing is a favorite, and they visited their 100th brewery when getting engaged in Switzerland) and adventure. Grabek O’Connell shares the details of their love story and wedding.

How did you meet?

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We met five years ago at Aeronaut Brewery. We both swiped right on Hinge. It was based on a Facebook friend; we had this one guy in common and therefore we were matched up. We closed down the bar that night. It was really easy talking to him, and ever since then, we have never looked back. It was actually five years on Dec. 3, so we got married the week of our anniversary.

Why are you compatible?

We both love snow sports. He’s a snowboarder, I’m a skier. We found love around visiting breweries. We moved in together in 2017 and got our puppy, Luna, a year ago. We also share many of the same values and make each other laugh. We love adventuring together.

How did you know it was meant to last? Was this love at first sight?

It’s a good question. There was just something about him, and I said this in my vows, which was special. There was something about me that kept him out late at the bar that night, closing down the bar—something neither of us ever did—but clearly there was something special about one another that just works. It always felt easy with him.

We’re very different people. I’m incredibly extroverted; he’s incredibly introverted. He pulls me in while I pull him out, and that’s just been really good. I was the kind of person who would seek out plans every single day after work, and he was the person who always went home after work and watched TV and hung out, and now we kind of get each other out of the house more. I look forward to coming home after a long day because there’s someone at home who is ready to hang out with me.

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Meredith Grabek O’Connell and Billy O’Connell (Photo: Meredith McCarthy)

Tell us your engagement story.

We always do a big ski trip every year. We typically go with extended family, somewhere out West. Last year we had decided, let’s not do the big family thing, let’s do our own thing. We went to Switzerland. We’d never gone abroad alone. We’d gone on school trips and things like that, but never just for us.

The first day that we were on the mountain, we actually got lost in the woods, which is really bad when you’re abroad and you don’t know where you are. It was scary. That kind of killed our first day. We went back and mapped out everything we needed to do for day two. The only thing I wanted to do was ski from Switzerland into Italy—you can do that—and have an Italian meal, slope-side in my ski boots with red wine. For our second day, we had booked a reservation at this place on the mountain, and we were like, “We cannot get lost!”

That next day we got up, found all the right pistes (trails) and came into Italy. As you’re coming around, it’s like this panorama, mountains on mountains on mountains. Just so many peaks, and you’re literally on the base of this Matterhorn, this iconic mountain. Billy is snowboarding out in front of me, and I’m skiing behind him and I start to cry. As you do when you ski, you pull over, take a little break every once in a while and take in the view. So he pulled over, just to pull over—he had no intention of proposing in that moment—and I pulled up to him and I was like, “I’m crying!”

I pulled out my googles and was wiping my eyes. He took off his backpack. I thought he was getting water, and I was looking at the Alps. I turned back around, and this guy was sitting on his butt with a snowboard out in front of him still strapped to his feet and said, “It’s a little hard to get on one knee right now, so will you marry me?” He pulled out this beautiful ring, and I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” We’re literally on the side of Matterhorn in Italy. So then we both cried. Then we had the most wonderful Italian meal on the side of the mountain, and all the Italian waitresses were bringing us champagne and giggling with us.

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Meredith Grabek O’Connell and Billy O’Connell (Photo: Meredith McCarthy)

When did you originally intend to get married, and what did the pandemic do to your plans?

After getting engaged, we looked ahead at summer 2021. And basically, as soon as we got home from that trip, the pandemic rolled in. We were initially thinking we’d have a picnic and get a bunch of really good beer and some good barbecue and invite a whole bunch of people to this really low-key wedding. But it was getting really overwhelming to think about when in the future we could actually get 150 people together under one open-air roof.

We were planning on driving to Colorado in November for Thanksgiving, since Billy’s family lives there. So I asked my parents, “Would you want to drive too? We could get married while we’re out there.” Billy laughed at me and was like, “Are you serious? As long as you’re not sacrificing the big party you wanted to have.” From that moment, this weight was lifted off my shoulders. And so it was Billy’s mom, dad and sister, my parents and brother and our puppy. And that was it, and it was just perfect! Everybody got a COVID-19 test before.

For our road trip, we packed all the food we needed for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, water and Gatorade and Red Bulls. And we only stopped to walk the dog, feed the dog and get gas, which we used gloves and hand sanitizer for. We stayed in two hotels. When we got into our hotel rooms, we Clorox-wiped everything. We brought our own pillows and blankets. We drove up to Estes Park, Colorado, where we had booked a location in Rocky Mountain National Park called Lily Lake. It was gorgeous! I had some girlfriends put together a fun playlist for me to listen to since they couldn’t be with me. We did a Zoom call right before the wedding, so I got to see my girlfriends. And then we got married, and it was just epic. We actually married ourselves; you can self-solemnize a wedding in Colorado. So Billy and I officiated our own wedding!

Billy’s dad said a few words to us, and then his mom, and then my parents stepped in and said a few words to us too. My mom recited the Shehecheyanu. I’m Jewish; Billy’s not. And then we said our vows to each other, exchanged our rings and both stepped on glasses. We’re going to put that glass into a mezuzah that will hang in the doorpost of our home. My mom made up a beautiful ketubah. We used language that was written by family friends that’s very egalitarian and modern. My mom painted it with scenes from Rocky Mountain National Park in watercolor. It’s a beautiful piece that we’ll hang on our wall.

We stayed and took photos with our photographer, who was actually a girl I went to high school with who happens to live in Colorado now. Then we went back to the condos and ordered Italian food from a local spot. We did our first dance in the living room, took a couple of photos with our puppy, and that was it.

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Meredith Grabek O’Connell and Billy O’Connell (Photo: Meredith McCarthy)

Did you feel like you had to reconcile or compromise on anything?

I feel like if anybody was compromising, it was probably me because I’m the social one who likes to have everybody around me all the time. On the next Saturday, we got our family and friends together over Zoom for celebration, and Billy joked, “I got my tiny wedding ceremony, and now Meredith gets her party.” For the Zoom, we had over 200 people log in. We streamed a recording of the ceremony, and then we had five friends and cousins pre-record speeches that we hadn’t seen yet, so we got to enjoy those with everyone. My dad had pre-recorded himself singing a song on guitar, so then he and I got to dance on the Zoom, which was kind of cool. I’m getting emotional.

What advice would you offer to future couples, even if they’re not dealing with a pandemic?

I wish this was going to change the wedding industry, but I don’t think it will. I think the industry is too powerful, for better or for worse. As someone who doesn’t come from money—we live a wonderful life and we’re saving up to buy a home, but we both have a lot of student debt—I’m really grateful that we decided to do this and not set ourselves even further back for a day of celebration. I think we would have ended up sacrificing our ability to buy a home sooner if we had spent a lot of money on a day or weekend. I wish the industry allowed for people to feel OK doing what we did, because it was super special.

As the extrovert and party planner that I am, I never would have thought that that’s how my wedding would be, but I’m so glad we did it the way we did it. I have no regrets, and hopefully someday, for our one-year or two-year anniversary, and we can throw a housewarming party.