Covid-19 has thrown a wrench in many couples' plans to get married.
Some have opted to postpone their weddings, while others have decided to get married sans every distant relative in the family.
And then, there's the route of virtual weddings.
On Jun. 10, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) announced in a press conference that wedding receptions, which were prohibited from May 16 onwards, will be allowed to resume again from Jun. 21, with up to 100 attendees, if the situation remains under control in the coming weeks.
Wedding solemnisations will also be allowed to have up to 250 attendees from Jun. 14, 2021, an increase from the current limit of 100.
But despite the easing of restrictions again, the Covid-19 situation in Singapore continues to be uncertain, and it's likely that virtual weddings will continue to be a relevant and common occurrence.
While physical weddings have always come with their share of uncertainty about societal expectations and norms, virtual weddings open up a whole host of other questions.
Whether or not to attend
The first question you need to think through after receiving an invitation to a virtual wedding is, similar to a real wedding, do you know the person well enough to attend?
Except, in the virtual world, there's more to consider than just whether or not you like the person.
On one hand, if an acquaintance invites you, there’s less at stake — no awkward conversations with people you don’t know that well, and you don’t have to leave the house, or even put on pants (arguably... more on that later).
On the other hand, though, does attending someone's wedding via Zoom or livestream wedding make your presence less meaningful?
You might find yourself wondering, "Would you have invited me to your actual wedding, or did I just make the namelist because it’s a Zoom wedding and you have a premium account?"
Or "Would my presence even matter at all, among a face of tens (or hundreds?) of other virtual attendees? Would you notice my absence?"
How do you go about turning down an invitation? If attending a virtual wedding takes less effort and time, does that make the rejection even more rude as compared to a physical wedding?
The issue of what to wear
Okay, so let's say you decide to attend the wedding. Maybe they're a good friend of yours and you wouldn't miss it for the world, or maybe they're an acquaintance whom you are fond of. Now what?
There are a whole host of other things to consider.
First up — attire.
Most physical weddings have a dress code. But what happens when you're attending a wedding from home?
If you're just tuning into a livestream, opting to stay in your pyjamas is unlikely to hurt anyone's feelings. But for a Zoom wedding, one surely must be expected to dress at least somewhat appropriately.
Is one expected to show up in formal wear and all, or is a t-shirt acceptable? And the million dollar question: Are pants mandatory, given that the video call would most likely only feature from the torso up?
This particular article says that virtual weddings are not an excuse to dress shoddily, but what dress code is appropriate? Perhaps it boils down to the couple's expectations of the attendees.
But no matter what you end up wearing, one fun flair could be choosing a nice Zoom background. Maybe a picture of you with your friend who's getting married? Or a silly picture of them to embarrass them on their big day?
"Do I need to give an angpow? How much?"
And now we're onto the big question: how much money does one give to the happy couple in a virtual wedding?
Societal norms tend to dictate that there is a more-or-less a "right" answer for how much money to put into a wedding angpow, which usually depends on where the couple hosts their wedding (e.g. a church, a temple, a 5-star hotel, a function room etc).
There are even websites online that annually update the "breakeven" rate for covering your own meal at a wedding banquet, based on which hotel it is.
But whether you buy into these social norms or not, virtual weddings definitely shake things up.
Given the status quo understanding that angpows are to "cover costs", what costs would you even be covering in the case of a virtual wedding? The cost to book the venue and setup the livestream?
This disruption of the status quo opens the door to more people — many of which may have normally bought into the idea of covering your own meal at a banquet — to reconsider what giving a gift to a friend who's getting married means (and why).
Maybe this is the chance to give what the heart wants and not what social norms (and wedding website tables) dictate. After all, it's the thought that counts.
In case you do decide to give an angpow, considerations on how much to give might revolve around how close you are and how long you've known them for.
Another factor to consider might be the recipient's own views on the angpow-giving practice and how they might interpret your gift (if their wedding had been in-person, would they have expected you to cover your table and been offended if you gave less than that, or are they more laidback and would prefer for you to give from within your means?).
And finally, how does one even give the angpow? By PayNow?
If you have other friends attending, would it be better to gift the money as a group angpow, rather than individually?
Perhaps this way, the bride and groom will not have to constantly receive emails that read: "Dear Sir / Madam, We refer to a PayNow Transfer dated..." throughout the ceremony.
Other questions on virtual wedding etiquette
For in-person weddings, being late for the ceremony or banquet would be highly, highly frowned upon. Don't do that.
But sometimes, life happens. If you are five minutes late to your friend's virtual wedding, have you committed as big of a faux pas as compared to if it happened in-person? Would it be reasonable for the host to not let you into the Zoom call?
Also, most of us wouldn't fathom bringing a plus one or to a physical wedding unannounced. But does this rule apply to virtual weddings?
Apparently yes, according to this article on virtual wedding etiquette, which says that it is only respectful to observe typical RSVP protocol. But perhaps it depends on whether you're attending a Zoom event, or just tuning into a YouTube livestream link.
Then, there's the matter of how attentive you are expected to be in a virtual wedding. Let's be honest, many of us have a hard time paying full attention to our Zoom meetings, so are you a jerk for sometimes losing focus during your friend's wedding ceremony?
Would it be considered rude to be texting your friends who are also attending the wedding while the ceremony is ongoing? After all, in a physical wedding, you'd probably be sitting with them and be sneaking in a couple comments anyways, right?
Then there comes the part of the ceremony where the officiant would say "Should anyone present know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace".
While most of us have probably never encountered any guest who has interrupted the ceremony to object to a couple's marriage, there's the awkward question of how someone tuning in might reasonably object.
Do you raise your hand over Zoom? Frantically unmute yourself and yell unceremoniously, "NO [insert name here]!!! DON'T SAY YES, RUN AWAY NOW! I STILL LOVE YOU!!"? Nobody knows.
Celebrations just won't be the same
Some couples have opted to just stream their ROM — short and sweet. But is it possible to make Zoom weddings more interactive, to replicate what in-person weddings are like?
Perhaps the physical act of socialising with others at your table could be recreated through breakout rooms? Cue the awkward conversations with acquaintances that you haven't seen or spoken to in years.
If you're into games and competitions, maybe the shoe game (so that guests can get to know you better) or a lip sync battle? But would guests actually enjoy watching and participating in these kinds of activities, or would they prefer getting back to their lives ASAP?
While the most fun part of weddings are the festivities, it's obviously very hard to recreate the same atmosphere over Zoom or livestream.
Giving a toast during a virtual wedding just wouldn't be the same if you typed your entire speech into the message box of the livestream.
Also, there's no way to yam seng, or cheers – do you coordinate with the other guests to unmute yourselves at the same time, and chime in with a cacophony of "CONGRATULATIONS!"?
Or perhaps you can opt to draw a congratulatory sign for them and hold it up to your camera after they've said their vows.
Alternatively, you can film yourself toasting the couple and then chug the full bottle of champagne alone at home, later posting it on Instagram and tagging them to immortalise the happy occasion? ... Maybe not.
Virtual weddings here to stay
Clearly, we don’t have the answers to all of these questions we've raised.
But what we do know is that with the end of the pandemic nowhere in sight, we should all probably accept that virtual weddings are here to stay, for a good while at least.
With that in mind, thinking about virtual wedding etiquette can maybe help prevent you from being perceived as the stingy, underdressed friend.
But at the end of the day, it’s about celebrating your love for the couple’s love. When in doubt, maybe just ask your soon-to-be-married friend what they'd prefer.
Top photos by Tanya Ong and Getty Images / Mongkol Chuewong.