Un-effing-fortunately, we’re not in a much better place than we were last year regarding social gatherings, leaving many guests wondering: How do you navigate the uncharted waters of attending a wedding (or not) during a pandemic in a way you can feel good about?
First off, no need for RSVP guilt. We’re still very much in the midst of a global health crisis—and with vaccine distribution sluggish, it's a tall ask to put 150 people in a ballroom, serve them buffet style, and make them dance to [shudder] "I Gotta Feeling." That can go from 0 to superspreader real quick.
But let's say it's an intimate gathering and everyone else is game. You can’t understand why you’re the only outlier, and feel broken up about it. There could be a cocktail of reasons behind discomfort, but psychologically speaking, it’s likely dependent on your level of comfort with conflict...or lack thereof.
"Your conflict avoidance is often driven by your fear of losing important relationships," says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. "Your bandwidth for handling stress right now is also going to be a factor. When it's low, it will depend on whether you think that going to this wedding will help restore you or just drain you even more."
Generally speaking, a low risk tolerance can skip hand-in-hand with uncertainty anxiety, which can be elevated by fear of the unknown. This is why risk tolerance also plays a big role in this decision-making process, according to Dr. Daramus. It’s why if you’re still on the fence about attending a wedding, knowing full details about the attendees, protocols, and so on might make you feel safer about showing up but that comes with a caveat.
"Uncertainty and ambiguity usually make people less likely to take risks, so if you’re going into a room full of people when you don’t know their exposure to COVID, that’s going to shape how much risk you can handle," says Dr. Daramus. "Information makes us more risk-tolerant because it gives us a sense of certainty, but the problem is that it doesn’t matter if the information is correct or not; if it makes you feel safer, you’re likely to take more risks."
So, while knowledge is power, don't just take everything you're told at face value. Your friends telling you it's safe because of XYZ protocols in place is not the same as science. As such, Dr. Daramus recommends cross-referencing that intel with the latest best practices of reliable medical sources, and if you feel comfortable reading research articles, Google Scholar is great.
"You should also be aware of what you’re afraid of and what you want to hear the most, so you know the difference between your emotions and the actual information," she says. "Although it’s hard, try not to let politics or your friends’ choices affect your health decisions—unless your friends are experts on viruses or risk management—because a virus isn’t a popularity contest."
On that note, let’s say there’s no way you can RSVP yes, and now you’re looking for an out. While we’re giving ourselves grace and understanding for bailing on a wedding, we also want to give the happy couple a heads up ASAP. "Don’t put the conversation off until later," says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life. "As soon as you receive the invitation, send back the RSVP card and consider making a personal phone call if you are close friends. A RSVP decline is all that’s necessary if you don't have a close, familial relationship."
If you’ve already RSVP'd yes and change your mind, same rule applies. Let your loved one know immediately (like, right now) that you can’t attend, and ideally get on the phone. No need to belabor the conversation—Gottsman says to keep it short, sweet, and polite.
Need an example script? She recommends something like this:
"I wanted to contact you in person and thank you for the invitation. Unfortunately, I'm still not comfortable traveling or being in crowds of any kind at this moment. I appreciate your understanding and want you to know we are wishing you the very best of luck and will celebrate as soon as the pandemic comes to an end.'"
You can adjust the language based on how close you are to the intended recipient, and depending on the person, yeah, there might be some grumbling. But the delivery itself really doesn’t have to extend past three sentences.
As far as next steps go, you still want to show your support and congratulation in a way you feel comfortable with. Getting something from their registry or a gift basket could work if they skipped on the Zola account. Money is also always good, but it’s a pandemic, so you do what’s right for you.
Its heart wrenching that we can’t party with our friends and family like we used to, even if we know that a day will come for those big reunions eventually. But if you can make your loved ones feel celebrated in the meantime, they'll be less concerned about the headcount.
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