Viral love: Love stories nudged forward and challenged by the pandemic
SINGAPORE – Confusion, uncertainty and separation – the global pandemic has disrupted wedding plans, thrown a spanner into conjugal living arrangements, and torn asunder long-distance romances.
But it has also forged tighter bonds among sequestered couples, clarified the life priorities of many, nudged matrimonial plans forward for some and formed the backdrop of unique masked and virtual wedding ceremonies.
The past few months have been a long honeymoon for newlyweds Rakeeza Sheren, 26, and Ashekul Ameen, 27.
Ms Rakeeza, a freelance graphic designer, was introduced to Mr Ameen, a medical social worker, by family members last year, and they got married on March 28.
“The circuit breaker has been a honeymoon of sorts for us, even though we were at home. It gave us the opportunity to get to know each other so much better – from our daily habits and quirks to preferences,” says Ms Rakeeza.
The Indian-Muslim couple now live with the groom’s family in a Housing Board flat in Sengkang. Before Covid-19, they lived with their respective families, had separate social lives and had never gone on a holiday together.
“During the circuit breaker, we got up together, bought groceries together, baked kueh and ate together. To have a partner to do all these activities with me now, it feels very nice,” she says.
On her 26th birthday last month, Mr Ameen got a cake, flower arrangement and presents – a pair of wireless earbuds and make-up products – delivered to the house.
She says: “It was very sweet and thoughtful of him. I am not sure how he managed to buy all of that as most physical stores were closed. He might have ordered them online and got to our mailbox before I did.”
During the circuit breaker, she also got to taste his favourite food – thuli, a dish made from broken wheat.
“When we were dating, he always raved about it, but I never had a chance to try it,” she says. “After I moved in, my in-laws prepared it and I understood why he loves it so much.”
If not for the last two months, the couple would not be as close as they are now, she says.
“Before the Covid-19 situation, our plan was to have a large wedding with 1,000 guests, a honeymoon in Lombok, and to start house-hunting. While that did not happen – we ended up with a small ceremony of 10 people – we got the time to develop a stronger bond and get a better understanding of what being married to each other is all about, which is companionship, comfort and love.”
TYING THE KNOT VIRTUALLY
Another Singaporean couple Chung Deming, 39, and Choy Zhen Fang, 34, had long planned to say “I do” with a 25-table wedding dinner.
But after Covid-19 put paid to those plans, they plumped for new legislation allowing marriage solemnisations to be conducted remotely during this period.
Mr Chung, who is chef-owner of The Quarters bistro and grill at Icon Village, says: “We are open to new experiences and had never planned to have an ostentatious wedding anyway.
“So why not be one of the first few people in Singapore to have a virtual marriage solemnisation? We love being spontaneous and going with the flow.”
The big day, he says, came together perfectly like a jigsaw puzzle. They had a hand bouquet, balloon column and customised cake delivered to their Housing Board maisonette, which they share with his family.
The dress of Ms Choy, who works as a sports massage therapist, was ready just in time. Even though Mr Chung had to work earlier in the day, he made it home in time for the solemnisation.
He says: “The beauty was that all the moving parts came together, and we had complete trust in each other throughout.
“We know these are not ordinary times, and are thankful that we could still have a simple and unique special day.”
Meanwhile, public relations executive Joshua Yap, 28, and educator Melody Chew, 27, were set on tying the knot on May 4 – Star Wars Day – because they are massive fans of the space opera movie franchise.
As the rules tightened, their plan for a 150-guest reception was pared down to a 30-guest event, then reduced further to a six-man affair at a semi-detached house in Bedok, where they live with Mr Yap’s family.
It was eventually attended only by the couple, their fathers, a solemniser and a photographer. The event was broadcast on a Zoom call and YouTube Live video that reached more than 100 friends and family members.
Face masks stayed on throughout the ceremony. The only exception – when the groom kissed the bride.
They are happy with the outcome and the date on their wedding certificate, Mr Yap says, but plan to throw a big banquet next year.
For others, especially Singaporeans with foreign partners, distance enforced by closed borders during Covid-19 has made the heart grow fonder.
Ms Low Shu Min, 34, who runs a heritage shophouse co-living business here and shuttles between Singapore and London, has been apart from her Greek boyfriend George Konstantakakis, 33, for more than two months.
He lives and works in London as a naval architect. They met there in April last year and have been inseparable since.
In February, they moved into a London apartment together, but barely a month later, Covid-19 became a pandemic and Singapore began calling for overseas Singaporeans to return home quickly.
“It dawned on us how serious the situation was becoming… I tried to hold out for as long as I could in London, but my family in Singapore was worried about me,” says Ms Low.
Given that she has an autoimmune condition, and the British government declared its “herd immunity” strategy around that time, she faced mounting pressure to return.
On March 24, she made the difficult decision to book a one-way ticket back to Singapore, leaving that very day.
“I packed my bags for the airport, not knowing when we would be able to see each other again.
“We had planned to move to Singapore this year, but are now learning to navigate uncharted relationship territory from opposite sides of the world amid a global pandemic,” she says.
On the day she left, they had only one face mask and a tiny bottle of sanitiser as panic buying in London had wiped out the shelves.
“George gave me our last mask and told me not to worry about him. He said he would be okay and would hold out for as long as he could in our home until we could send some over to him from Singapore,” she recalls.
Her family sent a “care package” of sanitisers, gloves and face masks, which reached him two weeks later.
For now, they are Facetiming daily, mailing each other surprises, and ordering food deliveries for each other on virtual date nights.
“Our long-term plan is to settle down together once this is over. For now, we are just focusing on taking each day as it comes,” she says.
There is a silver lining to all the pining, waiting and distancing, she acknowledges.
“For those in long-distance relationships during the circuit breaker, there are less distractions from your usual social life, so you end up having more time to connect on a deeper level with your partner.
“We have both found that person worth going the distance for, and we believe that this time apart will only make our relationship stronger.”
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