The Pandemic Has Eased The Cultural Expectations On My Wedding

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell
Last December I was whisked away to Cuba, where I gained an engagement ring and future husband. But news of coronavirus wasn't far behind. Many brides-to-be balked when the government banned weddings in March, then reinstated them with a 15-person guest list in late September – leading three-quarters of couples to postpone their wedding until 2021 or face the other option, a micro-wedding – but I actually felt a little bit of relief. 
While I’ve always celebrated milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, promotions and career successes, the idea of wedding planning exhausted me. My partner Jay is more of a saver to my spender but we were in agreement that we wanted a smaller affair. As we traipsed around wedding fairs across the country, the mere thought of picking a venue – and sorting out seating plans so that squabbling relatives I hadn’t seen in years wouldn’t disrupt the celebrations – filled me with dread. But weddings tend to be sold in popular culture as the biggest day of your life and I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was in a battle to 'one-up' the nuptials I had seen on Instagram.
I wonder if my reluctance to set a wedding date stemmed from something deeper: the cultural pressure to have a big do. I’m half-Lebanese and half-Pakistani and, in keeping with the traditions of my heritage and expectations from my friends and family, I've felt growing pressure to squash the idea of a small celebration. Two years earlier, a close family member had flown the family and a large group of friends to her luxury wedding in Dubai on a six-figure budget, with live performances from Lebanese singers and dancers. Although my immediate family knew that wasn’t what I wanted for myself, there was still the expectation to compete. 
As a teenager I spent my summers in Beirut and the country’s preoccupation with weddings is something else. Forget less is more: Lebanese weddings are among the most anticipated events of the year and are renowned for being OTT, from the fairytale dress to the lavish displays of food and a never-ending guest list where even the most distant relatives are encouraged to attend. Lebanese designers, too, are most known for their bridal and eveningwear collections so it felt only right to pay tribute to this part of me. Pre-pandemic, I’d planned a dress fitting in a Beirut bridal boutique – before even deciding on a venue. Pakistani tradition similarly favours extravagant weddings, which are usually three-day affairs with hundreds of guests. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that if I opted for a smaller wedding, I was somehow diluting both parts of my heritage. 
When I started reaching out to other women I found I wasn't alone in trying to reconcile my personal desires with cultural pressures. Indie, 32, is British and of Punjabi heritage and although she didn’t have her wedding during the pandemic, she recalls experiencing identical relief when downsizing. "We definitely went against the grain to not have a big fat Indian wedding," she says. "We even cut out the religious ceremonies because it would have meant having three ceremonies in total." Several challenges arose – including her mother’s expectation to invite hundreds of guests – but, ultimately, Indie says that she and her husband have no regrets.  
As troubling as the pandemic has been, it has allowed me to embrace the smaller wedding I’ve longed for, with an even smaller guest list. We’re now tentatively planning a spring 2021 wedding with a small party afterwards to celebrate with friends. I was surprised to find that extended family were more understanding than I’d initially assumed. Some even voiced regret about not using their own generous wedding budgets for a house deposit!
It's clear that micro-weddings aren’t going anywhere until restrictions are lifted – live-streaming is more popular than ever – but perhaps the pandemic will give more people the excuse they’ve always dreamed of to avoid a big wedding. Whichever way future wedding trends go, one thing’s for sure: coronavirus has really highlighted that a fulfilling relationship – romantic or platonic – is so much more important than how things appear on Instagram. 
Pre-pandemic, I wonder if I would have sacrificed my personal desires (and my cash) to the pressure for a big wedding attended by family members I didn’t want to invite – even at the cost of my own happiness. Now I recognise that no matter what my wedding involves, I’ll always have the opportunity to continue Lebanese and Pakistani traditions beyond that one day. And at least one decision has been made: we’ve decided to go with a Vegas hen party. After all, I’ll have the cash to spare...

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