When I think about our wedding in the Seychelles, it was so meaningful & simple. There were no theatrics, nothing fancy or customised; my bouquet was made of flowers from trees overlooking the beach we stood on, we made up our vows on the spot, Polar cried when we exchanged our simple bands, the ‘music’ was the sound of the ocean behind us. Our witnesses were 2 local ladies who hugged us and wished us well in Creole after the ceremony. We threw the wedding rule book out the window and I’m forever grateful for that.
In my culture, getting married is the biggest milestone a woman can achieve. And the wedding day? The most important day of a woman’s life. I’m not saying there isn’t pressure on men to marry within the cultural confines of the community I grew up in. But it’s not their biggest milestone and nabbing a spouse is not a man’s biggest achievement. In the desi culture, marriage is not seen as two people falling in love. Marriage is seen as two families joining together, and as a duty and privilege by the bride and groom that will bring prosperity and posterity to their families. You can read more about that in this article.
As a consequence, I grew up hating the vulgar spectacle of weddings, and being repulsed by the excessive materialism and pointless customs. The idea of sitting on a stage in a well lit hall, weighed down by heavy clothing & jewelry, looking demure while not actively participating in anything makes me gag. Desi weddings can be fun but usually not for the bride and groom.
Don’t be fooled by what you see in Bollywood movies.
When Polar asked me to marry him, I knew he wanted a wedding. The way he proposed is an indicator of his love for romance. He is a romantic at heart, a lover of happy endings and the man has dedicated his life to an industry that produces elaborate events. But I also knew that- this being my second marriage- I couldn’t bear the scrutiny of marrying someone under the watchful eyes of a crowd. I had intense trauma from my first wedding to my ex-husband where his family did everything they could to undermine and try to ruin a wedding that didn’t conform to their expectations. It led to a point where my mother asked them to leave the wedding reception because their behaviour was absurd. I won’t go into the details, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth. Polar knew about this and respected my wishes. So when he proposed to me, we took a step back and agreed that the most important thing to both of us was simply being married to each other at the end of the day.
We compromised- we would elope & later on, he could have the wedding he wanted to celebrate with our families. I want to point out that his ideas for a wedding were not outlandish or excessive. I just needed something private.
Little did I know then that our compromise would prove to be futile. The universe was already laughing at the very idea of us making wedding plans.
With both of us being South African, the first thought was that we could do this easily in South Africa. But when I realized that it was going to take a minimum of 8 months to issue a marriage certificate we could use abroad, it was a total no-go. That very year I had already waited 8 months for a new passport. The bureaucracy of South African civil documentation continues to astound me.
When Polar suggested the Seychelles as an elopement destination, there was really nothing I could object about. It was one of the first destinations we had traveled to after moving in together and we had both fallen in love with that stunning island. Seychelles was made for weddings- all you had to do was reach out to a company, telling them what you wanted and after an exchange of documents, your wedding was scheduled. We could have an attested marriage certificate in a matter of days and register our marriage in the UAE where we were living at the time the very next day.
And that was how we executed our wedding in another country in under two weeks. We booked our flights, organised our prenup and had simple rings designed. Every other decision was out of our hands. We were no longer bound by expectation (perceived or real), obligation, or tradition as we flew to get married in a country where no one knew us and we didn’t know what to expect. It was both thrilling and terrifying.
I remember not knowing what I wanted to wear since I could literally wear ANYTHING. I googled “Beauty and the Beast Dress” and found a lady on Etsy based in Nigeria who assured me she would sew my dress and have it sent to me on time. Was I really going to get married bright yellow? Why yes. Yes I was. As for accessories, I found my Zulu beads which would represent my hometown and I ordered a random pair of sandals online. There was no Say Yes to the Dress moment for me. And to be honest… It didn’t worry me at all. I was starting to see that most of the things that are touted as important for a wedding were actually not important at all.
I flouted all the bridal practices that I had been told were necessary before a wedding. I had no henna and no make up & hair trial. I didn’t spend months avoiding the sun in an attempt to appear ‘fair’ in wedding photos. I didn’t lose any weight or do any beauty treatments. I just boarded that Emirates flight and trusted that it would be ok.
We were booked into a beautiful hotel- to date one of the nicest places we’ve stayed in- and we had one day to relax before our wedding the next day.
Polar of course lay on the beach and got major sunburn- exactly what you need the day before your wedding. I spent the night before the wedding rubbing aloe vera on his back.
I think most brides have a fairly good idea of what their wedding day would look like but on the day of mine- a Thursday of all days- I had no clue what would happen. We returned from the breakfast buffet to find two ladies sitting outside our door; they had arrived to do my hair and make up. Other than handing them my hair accessories, I didn’t have a say in what they would do. I trusted these two foriegn women with my hair and face.
An hour later, our photographer arrived, Polar zipped me into my dress, I put on his bow tie and we were whisked away- in pouring rain- to where we would get married.
I can’t even tell you the name of the beach or the names of our officiant or witnesses. I mostly remembered that the rain stopped when we got out of the car and how I was handed a bouquet. I walked down the beach grasping those flowers and smiling as my dress trailed in the soft sand.
I remember that I laughed, he cried and how special and intimate it was that our elopement featured only us. We weren’t performing anything for anyone, but staring into each other’s eyes and making a promise. The privacy of the ceremony made it all the more sacred. As we walked along the beach holding hands, the day seemed to light up with a secret glow that only we could see.
Our wedding ended up looking a lot like one of our trips: relaxed, surrounded by nature, full of spontaneity and a lot of laughs.
And afterwards, we told no one. We received our marriage certificate a week later and we continued to live our lives without meaningless congratulations or gifts. I didn’t put it on social media because I didn’t want to answer questions and deal with even more judgment that interracial and intercultural relationships have to deal with so I said nothing. We enjoyed being married- just the 2 of us. When we moved countries, people just accepted that we were married and there was no need to tell anyone how it had happened. Proof that a wedding and marriage doesn’t need to be shouted from the rooftops for public vindication. It’s just another milestone that some couples choose to go through.
Some people asked me how I could exclude our families from our special day; why we ran away and didn’t include our loved ones in our ceremony. Honestly, everyone is different. But for two people marrying in their thirties that were planning to move countries together, it was more important to execute a ceremony that would preserve our mental health than make others happy. That might not be the best path for others; but it was the best for us.
I remain forever grateful for that day in the Seychelles. In the year that followed our elopement, like so many others during COVID-19, Polar and I went on to experience what felt like every possible setback. We found ourselves unemployed and unable to see loved ones. We pushed our wedding date back by a year while we tried to keep each other mentally sane, physically healthy, and, dare I say, even happy from time to time too.
When we were employed again, we barely saw each other due to conflicting schedules and fatigue. It’s been rough.
Finally when we thought we were going to have this quirky wedding that had been in the works for the last two years, the pandemic worsened, South Africa went back into lockdown and civil unrest broke out in our hometown; we were forced to confront a harsh reality- maybe this wedding just wasn’t meant to happen. And even though it caused us sadness, we had to admit that having a ceremony that put people at risk was not a celebration worth having.
Our two-year anniversary just passed, and sometimes I tell people about our elopement. It surprises me how often someone will respond with a wide-eyed whisper, “I wish we had eloped.” Of course, eloping isn’t the only way to go. There are as many ways to celebrate a marriage as there are couples getting married.
And I think that’s what people tend to forget— that a wedding can be whatever you want it to be. That if it works for the two of you, then it works. That you’re two adults who can decide to invite everyone, or no one; that you can throw the biggest traditional ceremony this world has ever seen—or quietly get licensed at the magistrates office.You can wear green or white; have a box of Krispy Kreme or a 5 tier cake.
As long as it’s what you and your partner want- it doesn’t have to fit into society’s ideas of a perfect wedding.
In the same way, marriage is not a necessity for everyone. It doesn’t solidify a relationship and its not the only way to declare a lifelong commitment to each other. Sometimes I wonder if Polar & I didn’t live in the Gulf- with its strict policies that make unmarried couples lives very difficult- we would’ve still chosen to legalize our union. We should respect everyone’s life choices and the way they choose to navigate their relationship.
When I look back on our wedding day I recall the joy and love we felt. I don’t think about not wearing white or the absence of guests. The day was meaningful and unique to us- just like the love we share. I am grateful that our focus has always been- from the beginning- building a healthy relationship together, rather than just on 1 day of celebrations.
To anyone who is thinking of getting married or considering eloping- just do it your way. I hope your wedding will be everything you’ve dreamed of, but I know your marriage will be even better.
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