If I were to write our love story as a dramatic blurb for a movie, it would go something like this…
Two people from opposite sides of the world meet in an unlikely place. After their relationship endures months of long-distance, just days before their planned reunion, a fatal disease sweeps the world. International borders slam shut and the two star-crossed lovers become indefinitely separated. Will their transpacific relationship be able to withstand a global pandemic?
Now I’ve hopefully got you hooked in, here is the real-life story of how I met my husband (plus all the scoop on our lockdown wedding)!
Meeting the love of my life when I least expected it
In September of 2019, I felt a strong and unexpected calling to leave my life in New Zealand and move over to a small town in Australia to volunteer for a missions organization. I arrived at the volunteer house, where I was greeted by a handsome Canadian man (who very graciously lugged my three oversized suitcases inside). I instantly remembered that this must be James, who I was told would be one of my two flatmates and the only other member of staff at the organization I was volunteering at.
Inevitably, we started spending a lot of time together. In fact, we were spending so much time together, that after two weeks, we both admitted we had feelings for each other. The only problem was, James was ending his time at the organization and was planning to move back to Canada in less than two months.
We relished every moment we had with each other during this time, knowing that it was soon going to come to end. A few days before James left for Canada, he asked me to be his girlfriend. We had no idea what the future held for us, but at this point, we both knew we really wanted to be together. A month later, I had booked a flight to Canada to see James and meet his family. Everything was going wonderfully, except for the fact that we lived on opposite sides of the globe.
Once I got back to Australia, long-distance quickly became gruelling. It was during this time that James made the decision that when I returned to New Zealand, (once my time volunteering in Australia came to an end), he would move over there with me.
Why March 19th was one of the worst days of my life
On March 13th 2020, I returned to Auckland, just as COVID had begun to rear its ugly head. Completely by luck, I made it back on one of the last flights into New Zealand where no form of isolation was required. James was booked to fly over to New Zealand two weeks later. However, there was a hold-up with his visa, and we were anxiously waiting on an email confirmation that his visa had been approved. If he didn’t receive that email soon, he’d have to rebook his flights for a later date.
The days that followed were some of the most stressful days of my life. Borders were rapidly closing all over the world, and the window for James to get into New Zealand seemed to be narrowing. On the morning of the 19th of March, he finally got the all-important email saying his visa had been approved. He booked onto the earliest flights he could get, which would arrive in Auckland in just two days’ time. I have never felt so relieved in all my life.
Unfortunately, this relief was very short-lived. Just five hours after James had received the good news about his visa, our prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, delivered some very unfortunate news. New Zealand was closing its borders to all non-residents, effective from midnight that night. James was no longer allowed into New Zealand at all.
A few days later, we went into our first intense lockdown. The severity and longevity of the pandemic began setting in, as did the realization that James and I could be separated for a very long time. The weeks that followed were excruciating. I spent my days obsessively checked the news and Immigration New Zealand to see if there was any hope the border restrictions would loosen, or exceptions would be made. The situation felt more hopeless by the day.
We considered all of our options. The borders to Canada were closed, so I couldn’t join him there. The borders to Australia were closed, so we couldn’t meet there. We both have British passports, so the only country we could technically meet in, was the UK. We considered the option. However, COVID was running particularly rampant over there at the time, we’d have nowhere to go once we arrived, and flights to the UK were becoming astronomically expensive. We decided it wouldn’t be a wise decision to go. This meant we had to face our only other option: to wait this thing out.
Then came the biggest miracle in the world…
One day, as I went about my daily routine of obsessively checking the Immigration New Zealand site, I noticed something new. There was now a form for a border exemption to enter New Zealand on the grounds of partnership with a permanent resident. Immediately, I phoned James and told him to apply, hope sparking in my heart. This spark of hope was quickly diminished upon further research. It didn’t seem like our partnership matched all the criteria for eligibility. Also, I was seeing that thousands of applications were coming through for the exemption and being denied. The odds of James getting approval for this exemption looked very slim. However, this was now our only chance of being reunited. I have never prayed so hard before in my whole life.
The week that followed, I was a nervous wreck, constantly checking my phone to hear news that the request had been denied so at least I could let go of that little bit of hope. Seven days later, I got a call from James. He had just received an email that he had been granted an exemption and could now enter New Zealand!
One week, two COVID tests and three flights later, James finally arrived in Auckland. During the two weeks he spent in hotel quarantine, I sat around like a child counting down the seconds till Christmas. Finally, the day of his release arrived, and we were reunited for the first time in almost half a year. Words cannot express the feeling of relief the moment we were in the same country and knew we wouldn’t have to be separated again.
Caught off-guard by a surprise proposal
Fast forward one year, we went away to the Coromandel with a big group of friends for a joint birthday celebration for one of my besties and I. On the Saturday night, James mentioned that we should all go down to the beach to watch the sunset. I was slightly taken aback that he was the one to make this suggestion as normally I am the one dragging him to watch sunrises and sunsets. Nevertheless, I happily obliged, and a group of us started making our way down to the beach. One person suggested we take a trail up a hill to a lookout point, so we all followed along like sheep. I was blissfully unaware of what was about to take place.
Suddenly, James grabbed my hand and led me around the corner to the most magical candlelit set up in the forest. Before I knew what was happening, he was down on one knee asking me to marry him. I went from a state of complete shock to bursting with uncontainable joy. I LOVE surprises but I always seem to unintentionally ruin them. I was certain that I would have an inkling if James was to plan a proposal. But I was completely blindsided by this, in the absolute best way possible.
Expectations vs reality of our wedding
Growing up, I dreamt of my wedding day the way that most girls do. Firstly, the wedding would be meticulously curated, perfect in every one of its Pinterest-worthy details. Secondly, it would be a (celebration on a grand scale), a once-in-a-lifetime moment to gather all my friends and family from around the globe into one room to celebrate one of the most significant moments of my life. Of course, reality seldom matches the ideals in the head of our younger selves. My wedding day turned out to be almost the antithesis of what I had dreamt up. Yet, the reality of the day was better than I could ever have imagined. But the planning process certainly was not smooth-sailing…
The struggles of planning a wedding in a pandemic
After a few days of riding on the high of engagement bliss, the reality of planning a wedding set in like a ton of bricks. Planning a wedding is stressful in itself. Planning a wedding in the midst of a pandemic is at a whole new level. Factor in both of your families, all of your relatives and many of your friends being overseas, and New Zealand’s borders being indefinitely closed. We had quite the predicament on our hands.
We considered our options:
- Wait an unknown amount of time for the borders to open and COVID to settle down so we could have a wedding that everyone could attend
- Run away and elope
- Have a low-key micro wedding now and a big celebration in the future
After weighing up the pros and cons of each option, we settled on option three. We planned an intimate micro wedding in Auckland and a honeymoon in Tasmania. Not quite the big wedding in the South of France and elaborate 6-continent honeymoon I had imagined I would be planning, but at this point, I had let go of all my prior expectations, and was just excited to be marrying James. At the time, New Zealand’s borders were open to Australia, so we figured we could at least have my parents attend our small wedding ceremony as well as some of our closest friends in New Zealand.
And then our wedding plans got thwarted…
We set our wedding date for the 29th of August 2021. A few weeks prior, New Zealand shut its borders to Australia. This meant my parents were no longer going to be able to attend our wedding, and we were no longer going to be able to have our honeymoon in Tasmania. Still, we pushed forward, making the necessary adjustments to our wedding and honeymoon plans.
On Tuesday the 17th of August 2021, after months of normality in COVID-free New Zealand, the first case of COVID appeared in the community. That evening, we went into a full lockdown. Absolutely everything except essential services closed up. It started to dawn on me. My hens party was meant to be on Saturday. We were meant to be moving into our new apartment on Monday. Our wedding was meant to be the following Friday. I tried to stay positive. Surely this would just be a snap lockdown, a few days at most. Surely this wasn’t going to ruin all of our plans.
Five weeks later, we were in the longest and most intense lockdown we had faced since the beginning of the pandemic. Finally, after what felt like five years and not five weeks, an announcement was made. We would be staying in lockdown, but restrictions were slightly easing. For most people, that meant they could now get takeaways. For us, it meant we could now move house and have a small, 10-person wedding. Lockdown was about to get very eventful…
Cue the most eventful week of my life
Following this announcement was one of the most eventful weeks of my life. My best friend was due to move to Scotland at the end of the week, so we needed to have our wedding before she left. We moved out of our flat and into our new apartment on Wednesday, planned a wedding on Thursday, and had the wedding on Friday. After five weeks of not even leaving the house, we really went from 0-100!
Our intimate forest wedding in Auckland
Despite all the tears, the cancelled plan, the stress and the chaos that preceded the 24th of September, our wedding day was without a doubt the best day of my life.
I spent our wedding morning journaling, praying and walking along the beach, relishing the blessing of the day being so relaxed and without time pressure. Almost all businesses were still closed, so I couldn’t exactly do the normal bridal pampering. The closest I could come was a trip to the chemist to buy fake tan, stick-on-nails and false eyelashes.
My amazing bridesmaids got to work on my hair and makeup, and despite my hair’s regrowth and slightly patchy fake tan, I truly felt like a bride by the end of it. Thankfully, I could still pick up my wedding dress, and I managed to find a florist that was open to do a quick bouquet. Everything somehow came together in a matter of just a few days.
We had our ceremony in a little clearing at Riverhead pine forest. It had always been my dream to get married in a pine forest, and it was as perfect a setting as I had imagined. We didn’t have time to organize any decorations or adornments, but it didn’t matter. The beauty of the forest spoke for itself.
As we stood at the altar, singing worship songs and listening to readings from our friends and pastor, heavenly light streamed onto us from the branches of the pine trees. It was an incredible moment, staring into the eyes of the love of my life and feeling the presence of God like never before. With eight of our closest friends standing by as witnesses and our families watching via live stream, we then said our vows, and officially became husband and wife!
The whole wedding was raw, unfiltered, and oh so intimate, and looking back, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
All the details of what I wore at our Wedding
I came across the wedding dresses at Hera Couture a few years ago and was instantly infatuated with Katie Yeung’s designs. As soon as I got engaged, my first point of call was to try on dresses at the Hera Couture showroom in Auckland. There was a wedding dress that I had seen online, and I was pretty convinced that it was going to be the one, so I tried that on first. It was a beautiful dress, but when I tried it on, it didn’t feel quite right on me.
The designer Katie then handed me another two dresses, in styles that I would never have thought to try on. When I put the third one on, the Francois, it fit perfectly. I instantly adored it. Everyone I had talked to had advised me to go to multiple shops and try on lots of styles before making a decision, so that is what I did. Nothing else I tried on came close to comparing to the quality, detailing or fit of the one I tried on at Hera Couture. Before I knew it, I was back saying yes to the dress!
My engagement ring was a solitaire diamond ring with a gold band, so I had the blessing and the curse of being able to choose just about anything for a wedding band. I looked both in-store and online and I honestly really struggled to find any wedding bands that I liked. That was until I was over in Australia and I randomly walked into a beautiful jewellery shop called Molten Store.
I tried on the first ring that caught my eye, the petal diamond enhancer, and it was exactly what I had been looking for. When I found out that all the new jewellery at the store was made sustainably from recycled gold and diamonds, I was sold. James also chose his wedding band from Molten, and we were able to get them custom-made and shipped over to New Zealand.
Other Wedding Accessories
Shoes- For my wedding shoes, I wore Chaos and Harmony Eternal Heel in powder blue (which very fittingly ended up being my something blue). They were surprisingly comfortable for heels and I even managed to traipse through the forest in them without tripping over.
Bridal gown & lingerie– I got my bridal gown and lingerie set from a beautiful bespoke wedding shop called Dell’Amore Bridal. They sell a really beautiful unique range of wedding dresses and lingerie from European designers.
Other accessories- I went fairly simple with my accessories. I wore pearl earrings and pearl pins from Amelie George Bridal and carried my grandma’s vintage beaded clutch.
A big wedding celebration in the future?
As much as we adored our intimate wedding day and wouldn’t change it for the world, we still feel very sad that we haven’t been able to celebrate getting married with either of our families and many of our friends. However, we chose to go ahead with a small wedding knowing that we could have a big celebration down the track. Our dream has always been to have an epic destination wedding in one of my favourite locations in the world. The unpredictability of COVID has inevitably put a delay on planning this, but if all goes well, we will be going ahead with a wedding celebration in 2023. I can’t wait to reveal where we are planning to have it…
Given our wedding was planned so quickly and we were very limited on what we could do, we decided we’d just get a photographer to cover the ceremony. It actually worked out well as it meant we could enjoy our whole wedding day without having a large portion of it taken up with a photoshoot as most couples do. I absolutely adore the photos we did get on the day (thanks to the incredible Mikayla Bollen who stepped in at the last minute to shoot it for us). However, we thought it would be fun to plan another photoshoot down the track with some of the vendors that couldn’t be involved on our actual wedding day.
We got so many incredible photos from the shoot that I felt it deserved its own post. If you want to see these photos, go take a peek at our Notebook-inspired Wedding Shoot!
Does anyone else have a crazy pandemic love story? I would love to hear it in the comments below!