For engaged couples in the UK wanting to get married this year, restrictions on gatherings mean micro-weddings and Zoom ceremonies are the safe (and legal) options. But, as Lauren Bravo confesses, the restrictions don’t limit the craving for the big old fashioned party she’s not allowed to have.
It’s the thing you’re not supposed to admit.
“As long as you end up married, that’s all that matters!” well-meaning people tell us. “You don’t need the massive party!”
It’s a beautiful sentiment, but nope. Damnit, we want the massive party.
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Having been together for a decade, my boyfriend and I already ‘feel’ married in many ways. We have a joint bank account, we have houseplants; we are thoroughly enmeshed in most respects. But we’ve also been to 28 weddings together.
We’ve measured out our lives in canapés and mini Instax photos. And although for many years marriage wasn’t a priority – careers, travels, saving for a flat and keeping the plants alive all took precedence – ever since the first one, when he turned to me tipsily as I shook cake crumbs out of my clutch bag and said “I’d love to marry you one day”, we’ve been quietly planning how it would go.
We knew the music we’d dance to, the food we’d eat, the traditions we’d throw out and the ones we would keep. To be clear, when I say a ‘big’ wedding, I don’t mean flashy. It’s going to be as cheap and cheerful as we can possibly make dinner for 120 people (which, as anyone who has ever taken on the wedding industrial complex knows, is still not very cheap at all).
We’re not fussed about centrepieces or floral arches or a thousand hand-folded paper cranes in the shape of our initials – just bringing together everyone we love under one roof in one riotous celebration. After all, 28 invites is a lot to repay.
As it stands, our venue is booked for the end of October, but we have no idea if it’ll happen, what it’ll look like or how many people will be allowed to attend. Right now the only thing we’re sure of is each other.
As more big days are scrapped in favour of ‘magical’, ‘intimate’ ceremonies with only a handful of guests, admitting you’d rather hold out for the big shebang has started to feel almost taboo.
Still, we’re luckier than many. Having got engaged in Lockdown One, we always knew the deal. Meanwhile, for the thousands of couples who are now on their second, third or even fourth postponements, the walk down the aisle is beginning to look endless.
And as more and more big days are scrapped in favour of ‘magical’, ‘intimate’ ceremonies with only a handful of guests, admitting you’d rather hold out for the big shebang has started to feel almost taboo.
“If one more person asks me if I’m going to have a micro-wedding, I am going to lose my s**t,” says Sophie, 35, who recently postponed her wedding to partner Chris for the third time since June.
“We don’t want to elope or have a small wedding for various reasons, but I’m constantly having to justify myself,” she says. “People keep telling me it’s not about the wedding, it’s just about marrying the love of my life. Then I feel so guilty – it’s like, if I want the day we’d envisioned and planned to the nth degree, that means I don’t love Chris enough? Sorry, what?”
Funnily enough, Chris isn’t feeling nearly so scrutinised.
Even before the pandemic, wanting a big, blowout wedding was met with eye rolls in some quarters. The expense, the waste, the sexist tropes, the Pinterest obsessions… plenty of elements of the modern nuptial circus are justifiably up for debate. But now that policing other people’s behaviour and desires has become a matter of national duty, there’s an extra layer of shame on the cake.
With life stripped back to basics, weddings are seen as the frothiest of the froth; we feel shallow for mourning their loss. And if we’re not prepared to settle for a tiny ceremony with a handful of masked-up guests? Well, clearly we just don’t love each other enough.
But like it or not, the truth is that weddings are about more than just two people and a piece of paper. For starters, they’re a £14.7 billion industry in the UK, with some 250,000 celebrants, caterers, photographers, florists, bakers and other matrimonial dreamweavers all sidelined by the government as their livelihood hangs in the balance.
And low-key or lavish, weddings have a cultural significance that often extends beyond the happy couple – whether it’s uniting new families, reinforcing old friendships or just creating memories to punctuate the passing years. In the same way that birthday drinks help to ensure we actually see our friends IRL, weddings have remained a rite of passage for reasons that have little to do with looking ‘like a princess’ in a big white frock.
With life stripped back to basics, weddings are seen as the frothiest of the froth; we feel shallow for mourning their loss
For content creator Lottie L’Amour, who had originally hoped to marry her girlfriend Emma last year, the personal ritual is political too. “It feels really important to us that we have a big day that we can truly make our own, because we fought so hard to have same-sex marriage,” she explains.
“We’ve always dreamed of having our own big, queer version of a wedding and now that recent history has caught up with the world, we don’t want to let go of that opportunity.”
The couple have now pushed their wedding back to 2023, for the best chance of a fully vaccinated guestlist. “Absolutely we’ve felt pressured to ‘just get on with it’,” Lottie says. “But we want to celebrate our love loudly and proudly with the people who accepted us, raised us up and supported us when getting married was just a dream. We want our wedding to mean a celebration of love in all of its forms.”
For some, the pressure isn’t coming from other people but from time and biology. “We’ve been to so many big, brilliant boozy weddings where we’ve had the best time, and we really want that for us,” says Milly, whose partner and she have just begun the process of postponing their wedding for the second time.
“But I’m 34 this year, he’ll be 35, and we would both like to have kids if possible – so that’s a big consideration. Not that we’re religious, it would just be nice to have the wedding first.”
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I know how she feels. Many of us are staring down the same dilemma: compromise on a wedding and get on with our lives, knowing that the big day might never happen… or hold out for the celebration we’ve dreamed of while watching our future plans pile up behind the matrimonial roadblock?
The pandemic has brought a shift in priorities for almost everyone, just not necessarily in the same direction. While some couples have realised that making the commitment is the most important thing for them, for others it’s only strengthened the longing for a massive knees-up.
“It’s made me want to hug and kiss everyone and get sweaty with everyone on the dancefloor even more,” says Sophie. And don’t try suggesting a Zoom wedding. “A friend of mine went to one recently, and an auntie was genuinely making a lasagne mid-ceremony. Enough said.”
It’s not that I can’t appreciate the romance of a tiny ceremony á deux. But honestly? We’ve seen a lot of each other lately. We can slow-dance around our kitchen anytime.
It’s other people we want the big party for. The ones who’ve been invested in our relationship every step of the way, from the first dates to the ring selfies. Though we’d prioritise close family if it came to it, the idea of finally tying the knot without our friends by our sides – or even two metres away – breaks my heart.
Who knows if we’ll ever get to enjoy that day the way we’d imagined. But do I defend our right to keep hoping for it, for better or worse? I do.
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