How to turn down a wedding invitation during the coronavirus pandemic

August 23, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC

The coronavirus pandemic caused Katelyn Stanis to reschedule her wedding not once, but twice.

“I cried for about an hour when we officially decided to change the date, but then I went into re-planning mode and felt a sense of relief. Now, I had a concrete plan, even if it was different than the original one,” Stanis explained. “Third time’s a charm, right?” 

Each time she communicated with guests, she says, they were extremely understanding. Some texted to say they were impressed with the decision.  Others shared their excitement via email. All that worry about how her loved ones would feel was met with understanding and acceptance––and the same would be true, she says, if roles were reversed.

Couples are aware of just how hard it is to attend weddings during the pandemic, no matter how much guests want to be there for the big day. Wedding etiquette right now comes down to how couples can prioritize not only their health, but also the health and safety of their loved ones. That means honoring guests’ concerns about their health.

Still, it’s not easy for wedding guests to RSVP no. Tell help you find the words, Fortune spoke to wedding experts like Stanis for ways to let couples know you won’t be able to make it.

Short and sweet

In addition to being a part of the strange club of 2020 brides, Stanis knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the bridal party––after all, she’s a professional wedding vow and speechwriter. She recommends still sending a wedding gift and a thoughtfully written card that explains why you’re RSVP’ing no. 

Here’s an example: “Congratulations Nick and Alex! We are so happy for you both. Unfortunately, our family does not feel comfortable attending an event during these unprecedented times. Sending our love and best wishes to you both as you start your new life together.”

“No need to go into any further detail,” she says.  “The majority of people understand that what’s happening in the world will affect our decisions in new ways. Both guests and the couple need to remember this isn’t personal, it’s a pandemic.” 

Lead with honesty

Etiquette expert Lizzie Post says guests don’t have to choose between being a supportive friend and respecting their comfort levels right now.

Here’s how she would deliver the news: “I love you so much. And I’m so excited about your wedding. But I need to admit to you that I am not feeling comfortable about going. I would love to support you in other ways.”

Guests can ask the couple what they need and how they can support them, she says. Whatever guests choose to do, Post says the most important thing guests need to remember is to be honest. 

Don’t over-explain

Elaine Swann, the founder of The Swann School of Protocol, says guests should utilize RSVP opportunities provided by the couple.

“If someone sends you an invitation in the mail, and they provide an RSVP card, fill that card out accordingly. Do the same with an electronic invitation and wish the couple well––very simple. I do not recommend giving explanations,” Swann says.

Because the couple is already deep in the process of planning a wedding and dealing with everyone from their own family members to vendors, Swann says guests shouldn’t give them anything else to think about. 

“When you come in and you bring your explanation and your details and so forth, there’s a bit of an overload of information that the couple will experience,” she says. “In this instance, it’s more thoughtful to withhold details.”

Post says no matter your relationship to the couple getting married, the best thing guest can do is to be considerate. Planning a wedding can be overwhelming, she says, and the pandemic makes it that much worse. 

“Along with the fact that we are all living under extremely stressful conditions right now, if someone seems a little out of sorts over their wedding, it’s because that’s going on and the pandemic,” Post says. “Just take it with a big, big grain of salt.”

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