“We were really reminded of the purpose of marriage – we love each other and we want to be together.” For Louise Goswell, that meant pandemic or not.
January 25 was a big day for Louise – she became engaged to Caleb Schultz, and the first case of COVID was recorded in Australia.
At first, the 24-year-old procurement coordinator says she was “wedding planning as if nothing was going on”.
In Victoria alone, 4030 weddings took place in January and February without a hitch.
“It didn’t really feel like we were in a pandemic. We were going wedding dress shopping, we’d locked in our venue and date, no problems.” It wasn’t until mid-March that things started to go downhill very quickly, she says.
Victoria was by then allowing sit-down services with a maximum of 20 guests, with social distancing restrictions and no dancing. Louise says she told herself: “It’s fine. No matter what, we’ll get married. But there is a big difference between telling yourself that and being told that may not be a reality.”
“It was a bit of a slap in the face seeing those restrictions in the news. Restrictions came in March and we’d planned to have our wedding in July – so we had to postpone planning anything else,” she says.
Honeymoon plans also had to be put on hold as all overseas travel had at that point been banned for the foreseeable future.
“When we found out in May that guests were allowed up to 20 – we were hopeful it would keep going up,” Louise says.
However, changing government restrictions meant Louise and her fiance had to cancel their wedding venue one week before their wedding and find a new place. Sadly for many couples, less than half of the major insurance companies cover cancellation expenses for weddings and honeymoon travel.
Louise says she and her fiance found solace in the fact everyone they dealt with was understanding, particularly the venue people, who were just as devastated as they were. The venue, as with so many small businesses, faces an uncertain future.
Although there were many challenges, Louise managed to “get it together in the space of two weeks”. She says she now realises there were benefits to having her wedding during COVID.
Many brides want all their friends and extended family at their wedding and don’t consider the economic implications of over-inviting. The average Australian wedding usually costs about $36,000 with 28 per cent of couples having to dip into their savings. The biggest costs are usually the reception venue and extended guest lists.
Louise says they minimised the overall cost “like crazy, which was definitely a benefit”. Some estimates suggest COVID couples were spending more like $32,000, which is about 11 per cent less than before.
The important thing in planning is to understand what bits are not-negotiable, Louise says. For her it was refusing to delay the wedding until things returned to normal. It wasn’t the wedding she expected, but it was beautiful.
She says her best advice for couples planning a wedding, whether it is during COVID or not, is to make a list of non-negotioables so that they can figure out their priorities to make their special day everything they hope.
Wedding photographer Abigail Assender knew this wedding would be unusual.
“I knew going into it that this wouldn’t be like any wedding I have shot before – the atmosphere was definitely different from the usual uproar of people clapping and cheering,” she says.
A bride-to-be herself, Abigail has now photographed several weddings during the COVID restrictions.
She says one benefit was she was able “to move around a lot easier when shooting without all the extra guests”.
“Couples have had the chance to be a lot more relaxed and spend more intimate time with family – with no crowds of people constantly asking for photos.”
Celebrant Nick Arundell enjoyed a simpler approach to the big day.
“Having a smaller, simpler wedding gives engaged couples something to look forward to and to plan, even though it might not be exactly what they had hoped for.”
Nick’s advice to couples planning their wedding remains the same whether during COVID restrictions or not.
“Focus on the marriage, and not the wedding day itself. If you have realistic expectations, things may work out as you hope and, as I saw at Louise and Caleb’s wedding, the excitement of the day will take over on its own,” he says.
A final word
Planning a wedding during COVID is “not your typical wedding planning experience”, Louise says.
There are, however, some positive takeaways for couples who are facing the same pandemic predicament. It isn’t about the wedding day – it’s about “committing to each other for life”, for better or for worse.