I recently ran into an acquaintance I had not seen for some time. The last time I had met him, he was planning on getting married and that was some years ago. It was the period before the coronavirus pandemic.
Wanting to know if he had managed to succeed in his quest to get married, I was somewhat surprised when he answered in the negative. He had just turned forty and that is an age when men have settled down into family life and started a family. “Is that because you changed your mind?” I asked.
“No, that is not it. And you know who the culprit is? It is the bloody pandemic! When it swept through the region, it killed off any chance of bringing into union couples. Who could get married when they were stuck in their homes and could not go out? And now, for some reason, nobody wants to get married. What a bloody curse!” he lamented.
Perhaps my friend was stretching it a bit too far but a big survey did disclose that wedding couples had also been significantly impacted by the pandemic.
Emotional and financial stress
Many had to postpone or cancel their weddings, leading to emotional and financial stress. Nearly 65% of couples who were planning to get married in 2020 had to change their plans. Many had to cancel or postpone their weddings, while others opted for smaller, more intimate ceremonies with just close family and friends.
Some couples also had to navigate the challenges of planning a wedding during a pandemic. This includes finding new vendors, downsizing their guest lists, and complying with government restrictions on gatherings and travel.
The pandemic caused disruptions to daily routines, increased stress and anxiety, and led to financial difficulties for many people. One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic on marriages was the rise in divorce rates. The pandemic created new challenges and stressors that put a strain on relationships.
Navigating new circumstances
Couples had to navigate new circumstances, such as working from home, homeschooling children, and caring for sick family members. All these added stressors made it harder for couples to stay together. And it also made marriages less attractive to a lot of people.
According to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers that could well be applied anywhere, 70% of respondents reported an increase in divorce inquiries during the pandemic.
The top three reasons cited were quarantine and lockdowns leading to increased conflict and tension, financial strain due to job loss or reduced income, and betrayal related to the stress and isolation of the pandemic.
Similarly, divorce rates in China surged after lockdowns were lifted in the country. According to the Chinese newspaper Global Times, some cities saw a 300% increase in divorce filings in March 2021 compared to the same month in 2020. This trend has been dubbed the “quarantine divorce” or “Covid divorce” by some.
And as elsewhere, the challenges faced by couples planning to get married had not only been emotional but also financial.
The wedding industry in Saudi Arabia was a booming venture with wedding halls and hotel banquet rooms hosting glittering weekly unions of couples getting married with hundreds of invited guests in attendance all dressed in their fanciest attire.
Those halls sat empty during the pandemic and many reported losing more than 80% of their business in 2020, forcing the closure of some of them.
New social phenomenon
Post-pandemic and a new social phenomenon had taken over. The newly acquired freedom that women had suddenly found themselves thrust in gave them more of a say in the matter of choosing whether to let their families select their partners or continue on their road of economic and social ventures without the confines of a marriage. It is indeed becoming noticeable that post-pandemic the wedding halls are not exactly bustling.
The previous age of couples getting hitched in their early twenties seems to be slipping towards the thirties and beyond. The male guardianship law that has slowly ebbed into the horizon in the Kingdom is not as strong a factor as it was then when it came to the selection of one’s partner.
Today it is more about social and financial freedom, a freedom that many are not quick to exchange in return for a union. And this is precisely why my friend is having a hard time finding someone who could be his life partner.
Was it the corona pandemic or is it the new Saudi Arabia? Both have played a significant part in the shape of things that have evolved today.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena