SINGAPORE: I was invited to no less than six weddings in the first quarter of 2020. Clearly it was a good time to get hitched.
The January weddings were still fairly straightforward as Singapore weddings go: in-person solemnisation for the bridal party followed by a celebratory meal with friends and family.
One of the weddings I attended, with the groom being a public servant, came with a COVID-19 advisory for under-the-weather guests to leave their FOMO at the door, stay home and rest.
By the time the February weddings rolled around, wedding guests were told to arrive early for temperature taking and travel declarations. No full-blown safe distancing measures yet, but that was to come by March and April.
I watched my niece get married in early April on Instagram Live, with the bridal party itself numbering 10.
It didn’t matter that I was half a Singapore away, and that her original plans for a full-on wedding got tapered down to a simple ceremony.
Her father walked her down a small corridor instead of a church aisle. I teared up—while riding shotgun in the car no less, then sent her an e-hongbao.
READ: Commentary: Virtual solemnisation - weddings could return to basics, with opportunities and challenges
Ironic for someone who, no less than three months ago, in another commentary, wrote about my slight disdain for digital red packets.
I suppose new times call for new ways of being.
CIRCUIT BREAKER WEDDINGS
As Singapore moved into circuit breaker mode, getting married was deemed a non-essential service and couples who had planned to get married in the weeks and months ahead had to unceremoniously figure things out alongside government officials who were trying to pivot hard as well.
My youngest sister was due to get married in the middle of April.
At DORSCON yellow, she culled her guest list viciously. By DORSCON orange, she cancelled her wedding dinner, opted for a home-based ceremony with us siblings videoing in to adhere to the 10-person rule.
When the circuit breaker was announced, she postponed her wedding till the end of May.
Now with the extension of the circuit breaker announced until June, date-wise, all bets are off.
On May 5, Singapore parliament passed a bill that allowed couples the option to get married during the pandemic virtually via live video links.
And both the bride and groom need not even be in the same location to do so, as long as they are both physically in the country. The solemnisation will be conducted in the virtual presence of their witnesses.
VIRTUAL SOLEMNISATIONS – AN ECONOMIC CHOICE
I am a traditionalist at heart, but there is a growing part of me that feels that virtual solemnisations and wedding celebrations are a much needed option we never knew we desired.
And maybe it could continue to stay relevant in a post-COVID-19 world as well. After all, experts expect it could be a while before a vaccine materialises.
With the coronavirus-hit economy expected to see a long recovery period, it is wise for all of us to also be more financially-prudent, including when it comes to organising weddings.
Do you really need that hand-embossed, gold-foiled, heavy art-card wedding invitation?
The Wedding Vow, an online industry publication, estimates that on average, weddings in Singapore cost between S$30,000 to S$50,000 and can skyrocket up to S$100,000 and beyond, depending on how lavish one wants it to be.
That’s a hefty outlay for a single event.
Media reports state that in 2018, over 50 per cent of couples interviewed either didn’t think they would incur any debt in organising weddings or thought that their nett outlay would be less than S$10,000.
American survey-house Student Loan Hero found that a third of couples planning to getting married whom they had surveyed in the US had plans to borrow up to US$10,000 (S$14,138) to finance their wedding, with another 16 per cent taking on US$10,000 to US$19,999 in debt, while 11 per cent are expecting to borrow US$50,000 or more.
The reality is, however, over three-quarters of engaged couples invariably find themselves starting their new lives in the red trying to cover their wedding bills.
COSTS OF ATTENDING
Singapore weddings breed a sort of a vicious spending cycle: The couple picks a fancy wedding package which they assume their red-packet takings will help cover. The guests, conversely, know that and feel partly obliged to gift, at least, the bare minimum to cover the cost of their meal.
It’s a bad habit that people seem to gripe about behind closed doors, in the backseat of taxis or in tongue-in-cheek opinion pieces that decry: Congrats on your six-star hotel wedding, but please don't expect a 6-star hongbao from me.
It does not help that bridal magazines publish recommended red-packet rates for guests “so you’ll never have to ask yourself how much you should give or question whether you are giving the ‘right’ amount or not.”
Because, clearly, there is a right and wrong amount to give.
Going to a wedding at the Grand Hyatt? That will set you back between S$180 to S$230 depending on whether you are invited for lunch or dinner, weekday or weekend.
Going to one at the Capella? Your wallet might feel a bigger pinch; you should be gifting between S$190 and S$320, day and meal depending.
To make matters worse, each red-packet is named and labelled so that post-dinner, the couple can record for posterity how much—or little—you gave.
Perhaps, virtual weddings will finally offer some sort of panacea for us all.
A PRAGMATIC OPTION FOR ALL
Imagine this: Couple opts to get hitched virtually with a small wedding celebration where they can live-stream the events of the day.
Family members and close relatives are, perhaps, bound by familial expectations to give large hongbaos but the rest of their friends get to gift as they wish while showering the couples with oodles of likes and happy comments without guests needing to go too far out-of-pocket.
And if you don’t quite fancy sitting through a long wedding that not only started late but also ends way past your bedtime, virtual weddings allow you to politely leave when it best suits you. Or leave for that business call or putting the young one to bed and come back after.
And for those that still need some pizzazz, don’t despair.
Media reports state that in India, couples have begun experimenting with online wedding celebrations with some couples opting to do so over Zoom. Shaadi.com, a popular online matrimonial service, has helped coordinate several digital weddings.
Guests, dressed to the nines, log-in from their homes, bear witness to the marriage and then dine on the same food thanks to a well-coordinated food delivery service.
Feedback has clearly been positive. The site now plans to build a separate resource for digital nuptials.
And why stop there? In the name of smart tech, venture into the realm of augmented reality, virtual reality or mixed reality for a real futuristic wedding.
You can be sitting in your flat in Hougang but getting married in front of the majestic Niagara Falls, on a beach in Bali or in New York’s Central Park.
It seems like COVID-19 is not going away any time soon.
Safe distancing measures, even if whittled down, might be in place for a while more. There may still be caps on big-group events that will hugely impact how we conceptualise large events like weddings.
This period gives us pause, amid the inconveniences and disappointments of not having that fairly-tale wedding, to refocus on what matters in a marriage.
I guarantee you, when you strip it down; the choice of flowers, or whether you need sharks fin served at your wedding for face sake (you don’t, really) or if you get to take destination wedding photos, will not matter.
There will be time, yet, for the nice-to-haves.
But there should also always be that option for those who want to only have the essentials. That will be both an economic and pragmatic choice.
Cherie Tseng is Chief Operations Officer at a local fintech company, a mother of three and editor with The Birthday Collective.