We Got Married Over Zoom, From Two Different Cities

Illustrated by Naomi Blundell Meyer
Welcome to Love Lockdown: a weekly column about how people are navigating romantic relationships in the time of coronavirus. This week, Mehreen, from Essex, tells Alice Snape about marrying her fiancé Charlie last weekend over Zoom.
"I was always going to be at my parents' house in Essex on the morning of my wedding – although I didn’t imagine this. Me getting ready in my childhood bedroom, in isolation with my parents. Doing my own makeup from my party palette, rather than the bridal look I’d planned with my makeup artist. Charlie, my fiancé, all alone in our flat back in London – we’d be saying 'I do' on a screen from different cities.
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We’ve been through a lot to be together. I am Muslim and Charlie is from a non-religious, British background. We met working a ski season in France, he was such a gentleman. When we returned to the UK, we lost touch. I thought about him a lot but never initiated contact. It was a wonderful surprise when he messaged out of the blue. 
We’d both known from the start that to be together, Charlie would have to convert. In the initial haze of first dates, it felt like an abstract concept in a future we might never reach. I never wanted to put pressure on him, or force it. Then one day in December last year, a year in, he said he would do it. We got engaged right away. Although it wasn’t what my parents imagined, they knew I wouldn’t marry someone unkind.
Organising a wedding in a few months has been intense. Until the pandemic, I had been balancing it around my work in freelance advertising production as well as going back and forth to my parents' to look after my dad, who’s very ill. He’s been in and out of hospital for months and, even before coronavirus, we were worried he might not make it to the wedding. I was looking after him when everyone was put on lockdown. I couldn’t leave because he’s so vulnerable, and we couldn’t risk Charlie coming here in case he brought the virus with him.
Moving the wedding to Zoom was my idea. I’d have been devastated if we’d just cancelled – we’ve been through so much. The ceremony was at 1.30pm on Saturday 28th March, just as it would have been had everything gone according to plan. It was 7pm in Sri Lanka, where my sister lives, and my nieces spent all day asking her: 'When’s the wedding?!'
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All morning, I felt as nervous as I’d always imagined. I set everything up in the lounge, set-dressed the background, got rid of all the crap – although I didn’t have any decorations and I couldn’t exactly nip to the shops! I sorted the tech, my parents huddled around my iPad, my brother on his laptop and me on mine.
Even if I was only going to be a grainy picture on a screen, I wanted to give the event the respect it deserves. I couldn’t wear the headscarf I’d had custom-made as it’s heavy with beads, and needed to be pinned in with hair extensions. Instead I chose an outfit flecked with red, the colour of a traditional Pakistani bride. After weeks of wearing joggers, it felt extra special. We’d told guests they could wear whatever they wanted, so it was a sweet surprise logging on and seeing them wearing suits and party dresses. 
Our imam – who is sort of like a religious minister – is open-minded and was on board with our new set-up. He set the tone for our nikah (religious ceremony) with a moving speech about love. My young nieces stood still as statues, trying their hardest to be serious. I could see everyone’s faces on the screen in a way you couldn’t in a physical setting, and seeing their reactions brought an intimacy I hadn’t anticipated. It was so emotionally charged, with everyone crying joyful tears and whooping. I embraced every moment of it and appreciated what I could do, rather than crying over what I couldn’t.
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My mum had been up since 4am cooking a celebratory feast of my favourite dishes: chicken and pepper curry and dahi baray (lentil patties). Charlie and his family all got takeaway curries to keep in the spirit of it – although everyone was disappointed they were missing the Pakistani banquet we’d planned. I sat down to eat with my mum, my dad and brother. Charlie, on his own in London, had a video call with his mum and dad eating their food together. 
That evening, I felt sad. It was all so overwhelming. I couldn’t stop thinking about Charlie. Us sleeping in separate beds on our wedding night. I wanted to be with him so much, wrap our arms around each other. We stayed up most of the night talking on the phone like teenagers, telling each other how much we loved and missed each other. 
In terms of religion, we’re now married, our imam has sorted all the paperwork electronically – although we’ll need another ceremony for our union to be recognised by UK law. However, I feel like a weight has been lifted. Both sets of parents now approve of our relationship, which had been a secret. I’ve experienced what special connections can be achieved online. And although I still haven’t seen my new husband, I know it’s temporary. This is just a few weeks in the span of a lifetime together."
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