The heartbreaking reality of planning a wedding in lockdown

Grace Adeniji ‎shares the agonising truth of what it’s like to prepare for her wedding in the midst of the global pandemic. 

I’ve always been a planner. I knew what university I wanted to go to at the age of 13; I started seeking out opportunities to get ahead in my career at the age of 16. Quite frankly, I’ve planned almost every area of my life since I was able to write to a to-do list.

So at the beginning of this year, when my fiancé Jonathan and I discussed getting married towards the end of 2020 – planning went into full gear. Within a week we had booked our dream wedding venue and set a date in October. Within a month, I had all our potential vendors lined up. All that was left was to sign contracts and start paying them. I remember at one point thinking, “I really don’t understand why people say wedding planning is stressful.” I was winning.

But as this year unfolded, all of my plans fell by the wayside and organising my wedding became an emotional rollercoaster. A week before we were due to send our save the dates, the UK went into lockdown.

Initially, when I heard the announcement that weddings and all other ceremonies were postponed from 23 March 2020, I was far from surprised. But I thought to myself, and almost cockily told my friends and family: “The lockdown won’t last past June. I’ll just take a break and get back to wedding planning when everything is back to normal.”

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June came, June went and nothing was back to normal. I started to try to get in contact with the venue. Every call went straight to voicemail. Every email was left with no reply. Every comment on their social media pages was left unanswered. I think that’s when it dawned on me - my October wedding might actually be affected by the pandemic.

I slowly started to whittle down my guest list from 120 (which honestly is already quite small for a typical African wedding) to 30. Reality hit when I deducted both our immediate families, ourselves and essential vendors from the 30 person guestlist - we only had eight seats left.

Through everything, that’s been the most heartbreaking part - telling my closest friends, not only could they not be bridesmaids, but they couldn’t even be at the ceremony. I couldn’t bring myself to do it over the phone, so I tearfully wrote a WhatsApp message explaining the predicament. Thankfully, they all took it well, but the guilt still remains. I’m always torn when I think of these friends and find myself asking: “How much do I involve them? Does it sting for them just as much as it does for me?”

Planning a 30 guest wedding has been one of the most brutal things I’ve had to do. In the process I found myself questioning which family members I could cut from the guest list (turns out, no one) - placing close friends in preferential order and telling our siblings we might not be able to have our nieces and nephews present.

When someone who isn’t on our 30 person guest list asks me how wedding planning is coming along, I immediately feel saddened that they won’t be there. The celebration isn’t necessarily just about us, but also all our friends and family that have witnessed our journey over the years.

Every time I walk past an over-crowded bar or restaurant, anger starts to well up in me. “How can you effectively track and trace these strangers, as opposed to a guest list where the bride and groom know EVERYONE?”. Despite the government announcing that it aims to have business events and conferences resuming by 1 October, I’ve had to relinquish any hope of my guest list expanding for the sake of my own sanity. But hypocritically, I still find myself turning on the news daily praying for an update.

Oh and our dream honeymoon – it’s now a far and distant dream. Our travel agent went bust in August. So we’re constantly checking travel advisories on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website and seeing what country would work best if we decided to take the risk and book a last-minute honeymoon. The nature of Jonathan’s job means he can’t self-isolate and work from home if the FCO suddenly change its guidelines, and the risk of having to catch an emergency repatriation flight doesn’t sound the slightest bit romantic. We’ve mentally prepared ourselves to spend our three-week honeymoon in the comfort of our new home.

Planning and getting quotes has been challenging even for a type-A planner like myself. Am I planning a wedding for 120 or for 30? What if they change the number of guests allowed at the wedding a few weeks before? Am I willing to call each vendor for the third time, get a new quote, arrange a new plan and re-brief everyone involved? The answer is no - planning a wedding during the pandemic has really knocked the wind out of my sails. 

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At first, I tried to console myself that having a 30 person wedding would mean we could save more money. But to my surprise, it turns out it’s more expensive to cater for a smaller group of people than it is for a larger group. Thankfully, we haven’t lost large sums of money but the cost per guest has nearly doubled, which has been a real blow to our savings accounts.

On the brightside, throughout this journey, I’ve come to appreciate the essence of marriage. It’s not about the dress, or the afterparty or even being reposted on popular wedding blogs. It’s about the commitment made between two people to love and honour each other. There’s no point being angry or dwelling in frustration because realistically, there’s no one who you can direct your anger towards. Everyone is going through the pandemic themselves. So, my only option has to be to roll with the punches and choose to remain joyful in the process. 

Image: Remi Benson

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