'Everything is gone': UAE brides-to-be share heartbreak over cancelled weddings

The Covid-19 crisis has put weddings across the world on hold, but these Dubai brides are trying to stay positive

Maria Marlowe and Kush Nijhawan put their Dubai wedding on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo Abby Lawson
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On Friday afternoon, Maria Marlowe and Kush Nijhawan shared their first dance. It was a moment they had spent months preparing for. A moment they should have shared with 400 friends and family from around the world.

Instead, they danced alone in their back garden. Maria, dressed casually in trousers and a cream blouse; Kush, in a relaxed shirt and white jeans. The wedding day they had been planning for a year may not have happened, but still, they danced.

Like thousands of couples around the world, coronavirus stole their wedding day. Not forever, of course. But at least for now. The pair made the decision to cancel their plans days before the official ban on weddings came into place in Dubai.

“I guess we started to realise back in February,” explains Marlowe, a New Yorker who has been living in Dubai for a year. “We had a lot of friends that started getting scared of coming and were cancelling. Even two of my bridesmaids from LA cancelled. At first I was really upset and, honestly, I thought they were overreacting. But I tried not to let it get to me, you know, it is what it is.”

But the phone calls kept coming. Friends. Family members. Another bridesmaid. As the gravity of the Covid-19 epidemic began to take hold around the world, the reality of their Dubai wedding going ahead as planned began to dim, and the pair made the difficult call to postpone things.

Last week I saw a girl whose dress I've been working on for a year. She came and picked it up and she just burst into tears as she was wearing it

“We just decided what's the point of having a wedding if none of our friends are here?” says Marlowe. “That's the whole point of a wedding, especially an Indian wedding. Everyone is supposed to be up dancing together and all of that. Right now, people are not going to want to be near anybody. So we just decided it wasn't the right time to celebrate.”

Though the couple are already married legally, after a civil ceremony in New York – where they met – last year, their official celebration was set to take place on Friday, March 20 and Saturday, March 21 at the Four Seasons Hotel at Jumeirah Beach. They hope to now have that celebration later this year, but for now, things remain in limbo.

It’s a situation that thousands of betrothed couples currently face, as countries ban large-scale gatherings, ground flights and close venues. In the UAE, the government has called for a ban on all weddings until at least March 31, although, that’s best-case scenario. And with most venues boasting wait lists of a year or more, spring 2020 brides face much longer delays.

“It’s heartbreaking,” says Barbaranne Heaton, founder and designer of Dubai bridal wear boutique House of Moirai. “There isn’t a bride that isn’t being affected by this right now because even if their wedding isn’t imminent, they're thinking ‘are things going to be OK by August, are things going to be OK by September?’ I think the April and May brides are the ones with the biggest concerns at the moment.”

Jasmine & Jassem wedding Yas Links

In the past fortnight, Heaton has seen around 20 brides for fittings, many of whom have been forced to make the tough decision to put plans on hold. “Two weeks ago, brides were coming in and I was saying to them, ‘oh don’t worry, everything will be fine, you have to think positive’, but I think two weeks ago, no one quite realised the severity of it all.”

Since then, the boutique has been filled with many emotions – fear, sadness, relief.  The couch, Heaton says, has become something of a makeshift therapist’s chair. “Last week I saw a girl whose dress I’ve been working on for a year. She came and picked it up and she just burst into tears as she was wearing it. It wasn’t happy tears, it was just genuine devastation, because she knew in that moment that it wasn’t going to go ahead. It took everything in me not to cry, too.”

Ghida Jamal is another anxious bride stuck in limbo. She is due to marry her partner of three years, Hassan, in his native Lebanon this August. “We were supposed to be there this week for wedding preparations,” she says. “I was about to put a dress on hold but now everything is gone. We had to cancel our flights due to the recent announcement as we were worried we would get stuck there for months, which will ultimately impact our jobs.”

The couple, who live in Dubai, remain hopeful. But with no end in sight, Jamal says she is keeping her expectations realistic. “We are just hoping that things will eventually get better and we would still have enough time to plan,” she says. “We have given up on the idea of sourcing anything for our wedding for now, so no special or customised souvenirs. If we end up having a wedding, our expectations are much lower now.”

If there is a silver lining to this situation, though, it’s the overwhelming sense of positivity from brides who have had to let go plans they have spent months, sometimes years, working on, and even longer dreaming about.

“There’s a lot going on in the world at the moment and a lot of brides I have seen think they are being silly and it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, even though it is a big deal to them, it’s a huge life event,” says Heaton. “But I think they are all thinking that there are bigger things happening and this will happen for them when it’s meant to happen, there’s a lot of positivity.”

Maria Marlowe and Kush Nijhawan put their Dubai wedding on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo Abby Lawson

That’s certainly the approach of Marlowe. “I think life is stressful enough and I don't want to dwell on any negativity or sadness,” she says.

“So, of course, we're disappointed. But I think we're more disappointed that we're not going to see our friends and families. We are putting as much positivity and good energy out there because I feel like that's just what's necessary now instead of dwelling on all the negative aspects.”