Brides-to-be share their experiences of rethinking their dream weddings amid a global health crisis
For many couples whose weddings were planned for 2020, the intended celebration has become no longer realistic as COVID-19 took hold.
The global pandemic has brought new and unforeseen challenges to the task of wedding planning. The restrictions imposed on social gatherings and travel have made it impossible for destination weddings to happen, causing frustration for excited brides- and grooms-to-be and their families.
It has left couples being faced with a tough decision: either postpone their dream celebration until the world is in a better place, or go ahead now by altering their plans. Within Qatar Foundation (QF), different couples have taken different routes.
Dana El Tawil, a Strategic Marketing Specialist at QF, had her wedding planned for May 2020. “When coronavirus started, we never thought that it could affect us,” she says. “We thought that it was on a different side of the world. Even when the situation started intensifying, I was still in denial that it had anything to do with me.”
The wedding was set to take place in Vouliagmeni, Greece. “We come from different places: I am half-British, half-Dutch, and Dana is Palestinian and has a family in Canada, so it was the perfect place for our families to meet and enjoy a vacation as well as our wedding” said Sebastian de Groot van Embden, Dana’s husband.
The moment when the couple realized that their plans may have to change was when they were supposed to attend a friend’s wedding in the UK in March, and had to cancel their tickets at the last minute because the peak of the virus had struck.
It had an impact on things that we did not think twice about before, like getting on a plane or having gatherings with people
“That’s when it started hitting me,” said Dana. “It had an impact on things that we did not think twice about before, like getting on a plane or having gatherings with people.”
Realizing the fact that her dream wedding was not going to happen as scheduled led to Dana “going through different phases of emotions”, especially after more than eight months of planning only to have to revisit those plans again. But she says the way the world has responded and adapted to the pandemic has helped cope with the disruption and disappointment.
“We were lucky that the whole process was seamless – the vendors and planners were so accommodating, and we didn’t experience any financial loss,” she says. “Their willingness to change made us stay firm to our plans and our destination, and we decided to push our wedding back until next year”.
Dana and Sebastian also say they were able to see the bigger picture, realizing that the world was suffering something far greater than what they were facing. “Everything that was happening helped us put a lot of things into perspective, draw it down to its core, and realize our priorities,” says Dana.
Living through this experience, the key thing I have taken away from it is that as long as you are happy and healthy, nothing else really matters
“We live in a time where there are so many social pressures and demands, and we may sometimes feel that we have to live up to them. But now the whole world is experiencing the same thing, and living through this experience, the key thing I have taken away from it is that as long as you are happy and healthy, nothing else really matters.
“We are hoping to celebrate our wedding next summer because we want to have our loved ones around, but we are not attached to any dates or details anymore, and I will be happy no matter how it works.”
For Dima Wahbeh, who graduated from QF partner university Georgetown University in Qatar in 2015, the lesson she has learned from this pandemic was that “we should not wait to start our lives”.
She had also planned to have a destination wedding in Turkey in July, where all her family from around the world could meet and celebrate her special day. But when the pandemic reached Qatar, she realized that she would need to start rethinking her plans.
It was very difficult to set up another date because we would have to be sure that it was going to work, and we did not have that answer due to the uncertainty of the situation
“It was a waiting game in the beginning” said Haitham Malkawi, Dima’s husband. “People had their flights and hotels booked, and we kept waiting and hoping that the situation would get better. It was very difficult to set up another date because we would have to be sure that it was going to work, and we did not have that answer due to the uncertainty of the situation.”
Dima and Haitham made the decision to think about other ways to maintain their wedding plans. “We decided to move forward with our wedding, and we signed our marriage contract in April,” says Dima. “We had a virtual celebration through Zoom, with more than 50 people joining from countries including Canada, the US, the UK, Jordan, and Palestine. We used three screens – one for my family, one for Haitham’s family, and a third one for our friends.
“The emotions were already there. It was a little bit hard to see how some people were sad because they could not be there in person. But everyone had their own set-up at home, and they were all dressed up and ready to celebrate. That was definitely something to remember, and something we will still be talking about in the future.”
If this pandemic had taught us anything, it would be not to not to wait in terms of starting your life. Start it now
Despite the virtual celebration, the experience was still frustrating for Dima and Haitham, not least because of the uncertainty over when they will receive back any of the deposit they paid for their original wedding venue. But the chief frustration was the necessary change of their plans, and how the long months of searching for a venue and intense planning for their special day were ultimately in vain.
“Even when we were preparing our house, everything was closed because of lockdown,” said Dima. “We had to shop for furniture and household items online, even for my wedding jewelry, and that was not easy.”
The couple are still intending to have a celebration once the pandemic is over, but it may be smaller and in a different location. “We just want our families to be around, because it is their right to celebrate it as much as it is our right,” Dima said.
“If this pandemic had taught us anything, it would be not to not to wait in terms of starting your life. Start it now. You do not know if this situation is going to last for a while or if anything else may arise.”
And sending a message to couples who are going through the same experience as she and her husband did, Dima says: “Always look at the bigger picture. Details may be essential sometimes, but they do not mean as much in situations like these.
“Life goes on. Your wedding day is about what you want as a couple, and you do not have to do anything to please anyone else.”