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Dear Pam,

My husband and I have been invited to a wedding in October. Under normal circumstances, we would be delighted to attend, however, due to the COVID-19 virus, we do not feel comfortable. We have no idea how many have been invited to the ceremony, if social distancing will be accommodated or if people will be wearing masks. We are both over 65 years of age, and my husband has several underlying health issues that make him more vulnerable to the virus. Therefore, while it is very disappointing to us, we have decided it is best not go. Is there a graceful way to decline this invitation?



Dear Disappointed,

I must admit, I am such a sucker for a wedding. Big, small, indoor, outdoor, destination, surprise, it doesn’t matter — I love attending them all ... until now. Sadly, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the way we gather to celebrate has changed, so I do realize your concerns and disappointment. You should consider your comfort level before attending any event. If you decide that a social gathering involves too much risk for you and your husband, it’s OK to say, “No thank you.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to protect yourself, and it is certainly not necessary for you to have to persuade anyone that you’re making the best decision for you and your husband. Below are a few suggestions on declining an invitation during the pandemic (or anytime).

When declining an RSVP

1. Be polite. Now is not the time to be judgmental or preachy in your response. It’s not necessary to elaborate or go into detail about your reason for declining. A simple, “Thank you so much for the invitation, it means a great deal to us. While we would love to celebrate your special day with you, unfortunately, we are unable to attend. We are so sorry to miss, and we know it will be lovely.” While you are not obligated to explain why you are not attending, keep in mind that even in in the best of times (in other words, NOT during a pandemic), weddings can be an emotionally charged occasion for the bridal couple. If there are hard feeling because you declined, then try not to take it personally.

2. Do not make up an excuse or lie about why you are not attending. It’s not worth the cost of getting caught and possibly harming your relationship with the couple.

3. Since you won’t be attending the wedding, consider sending a video message to the newlyweds with your good wishes for their future together.

4. Even if you do not attend the wedding, you should still send the couple a gift, unless they request no gifts.

Planning a wedding during this time?

If you are planning a wedding during this pandemic, be considerate of guests who, because of the virus, may be concerned about attending your big day. Try to accommodate them as much as possible by being as explicit as you can on your wedding website or invitation about how you plan to address COVID-19 concerns. For example, post something along the lines of, “During the ceremony and reception, there will be room for social distancing. We request that you please wear a mask. If you do not have one, then one will be provided. In addition, hand sanitizing stations will be available ...” The more guests know how you plan to handle their concerns, the easier it will be for everyone.

As a reminder of how insidious and quickly this virus can spread, according to a spokesman for the State of Maine’s CDC, an Aug. 7 intimate rural wedding reception (where 65 people attended) is now connected to at least 147 COVID-19 cases and three deaths. Please take the necessary precautions for your guests. You certainly would not want a COVID-19 outbreak to be the legacy of your special day.

Pam Harvit BSRDH MS is a certified international corporate protocol and etiquette advisor and speaks nationally on business and medical etiquette, as well as other related topics. You may request her services or email your questions to