Siham Arif took her sweet time responding to her classmate Aazim Haque, 27, after he asked her out. Two years, to be precise. By then, they’d both graduated from the American University of Sharjah, become good friends who shared hobbies and interests, and coincidentally ended up working at the same media relations agency.

Siham, 28, sheepishly explains her protracted decision: ‘I wasn’t looking for a short-term relationship and wanted to build my career and life before bringing in a partner.’ And growing up as an independent, career-oriented girl who relished her freedom, commitment was the last thing on her mind. Until one day in 2017 when she shook his hand and it hit her that these were the hands she’d liked to be able to hold forever. ‘They felt really nice and safe. It’s why I married him,’ she jokes before clarifying it’s a synecdoche for the whole attentive, mature and expressive man she fell for.

[A whirlwind romance: from an Instagram love affair to a big fat wedding]

Reaching out for that same hand to make her way up to the stage is one of Siham’s favourite moments from their wedding day last December at the Pearl Continental Hotel, Karachi.

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It’s the moment that melted away all the stress of the nightmarish six-month-long planning process – trying to accommodate her parents’ wishes while ensuring the elders didn’t usurp the functions, to treading the minefield that is expectations of extended relatives, who disapproved Siham’s maverick choice of a dark blue wedding lehenga paired with oxidised jewellery over traditional bridal gold.

‘The irony was I was spending hundreds of thousands of dirhams to worry,’ Siham says. What she really wanted was a low-key, intimate ceremony similar to the civil nikah ceremony they had in the court on June 2, 2018.

The three-day-long celebration in Karachi comprising a Dholki (a pre-wedding function combining haldi and henna rituals with music and dance), the baraat (the procession of the groom’s family, relatives and friends to the venue for the official wedding ceremony) and walima (a reception hosted by the groom and his family), had its silver-linings too.

Siham’s girlfriends from Dubai brought in more good cheer to the festivities: they performed choreographed dances at the Dholki, badgered Aazim at the playful ‘neik’ ceremony holding on to his fingers until he coughed up an eye-watering Dh5,000, and then they brought Siham close to the verge of tears by playing a surprise video montage of her childhood and teenage years, documenting her love for travelling and fitness, her eco-consciousness and ambition – qualities that drew Aazim to her.

From classmates to workmates to life partners – Siham and Aazim's union seems almost destined
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A quality the couple share is their appreciation for privacy, which is why Siham decided to keep both her wedding pictures and the announcement of it off social media. ‘Social media is a great and natural outlet to share all of life’s big moments but I didn’t think I could handle even 50 congratulatory messages from former classmates, colleagues and teachers.’ Siham’s supportive friends have been on board with her offline rule, only posting pictures of themselves from the wedding.

Signing the papers during her nikah felt more like marriage – ‘like a responsibility had been placed on my shoulders’ – to Siham than the brouhaha of her big Pakistani wedding with 400 guests. Nevertheless, she’s glad she had it: ‘walking towards the stage, where Aazim was waiting for me, as our family and friends looked on joyfully – especially my parents since this was the first wedding in our family – made all the stress worth it. It finally felt like it was my day.’

*This article came out in the Real Wedding section of Friday's Bride magazine special published on September 27, 2019.