How to Tell a Loved One You Don't Feel Comfortable Attending Their Wedding

Turning down a wedding invite can be hard, but if you’re not comfortable attending due to COVID-19 concerns, here’s how to say ‘no thanks’ nicely and effectively.

By Laura Hensley

Turning down a wedding invitation
Photo by Zola

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many couples’ wedding plans. Some have postponed for a later date, others have opted for virtual ceremonies, and still, others are forging ahead with a scaled-down guest list and/or health protocols in place.

If you’re invited to a wedding but don’t feel safe attending—whether it be because you’re high-risk, prefer to avoid travel, or just don’t want to risk exposure to COVID-19—it can be hard to let the couple know. We get it, and we’re here to help you (kindly!) tell a loved one you don’t feel comfortable attending their wedding.

Still nervous? We got you. Here’s how to tell a loved one you don’t feel comfortable attending their wedding due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How to tell a loved one you don't feel comfortable attending their wedding Photo Credit // Marisa McDonald Photography

Speak Up Sooner Rather Than Later

Wedding planning takes a lot of work. If you’ve been there, you know the months-long process involves many moving parts—including building a wedding guest list.

If a couple has invited you to their wedding, it’s likely because they value your relationship and want to celebrate their special day with you. If you’re invited to play a major role in the wedding ceremony, like a member of the wedding party, for example, being upfront right away is key, so the couple can move ahead with alternative plans. Backing out close to the wedding date is inconsiderate and can cause tension. Even if you're just a guest, you should let a couple know as soon as possible that you won’t be attending their wedding, so they can adjust their seating chart and menus.

When you tell a couple that you don’t feel comfortable attending their wedding, it’s best to deliver the news on the phone or in a manner that’s as personal as possible, like a video call. Sending a text can come across as insensitive, and the tone of your message can get lost in translation. If you’re a close friend, don’t just check “unable to attend” on a virtual invitation either and leave it at that. Your loved one deserves to understand why.

Be Kind and Honest

You want to be kind when telling the couple you won’t be attending their wedding during the pandemic—not come across as judgmental or hurtful. You may not agree with their choice to move ahead with their wedding, but that’s not your decision to make. Don’t make up an excuse or lie about why you can’t make it, either—that will only cause trouble down the road.

Let the couple know that you are honored to be invited to their wedding, but you are unable to attend due to the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Be honest about why you’re not attending, be it concerns over a large gathering or the fact that you’re a frontline worker and worry about unknowingly exposing elderly guests to the virus. If you live with an immunocompromised family member or are not comfortable traveling right now, let the couple know. When you explain your reasoning, it makes it easier for them to understand it's not personal. Tell them if COVID-19 wasn’t a thing, you’d be there in a heartbeat.

It’s important to note, however, that you don’t need to over-explain or justify your decision. It may be hard for a couple to hear that some guests are unable to attend, but your personal decision should be based on what’s best for you and your lifestyle.

If your loved one is upset that you’re not attending their wedding, listen to their feelings, and acknowledge them, but don’t respond with anger or pettiness. Remember, weddings can be emotional in the best of times, and amid a global pandemic, it’s understandable that people may be having a hard time navigating all the uncertainty. Once things cool off, there’s a good chance emotion will level and your friend or family member will understand where you’re coming from.

Show Your Support in Other Ways

If you don’t feel comfortable attending a wedding during the pandemic, you can still show your support for the couple in other ways. Consider sending a gift from the wedding registry, or at the very least, a thoughtful card. If the couple is live-streaming their event, tune in to the virtual wedding instead of attending in person. Show them you care about their nuptials by partaking in as many physically distant activities as possible, including sending flowers on their wedding day or offering to help contact guests about any logistical changes.

Tell the couple you want to celebrate their wedding in person as soon as it’s safe to do so and that you can’t wait to help keep the festivities going. Again, as long as you make it clear that your discomfort around attending a wedding isn’t personal, people should be reasonable and understand. If they don’t, that’s OK, but it’s not on you.

Bottom Line

How to tell a loved one you don't feel comfortable attending their wedding Photo Credit // Cory Lee Photography

To plan or attend a wedding during the COVID-19 pandemic is a personal choice—one that can only be made by the couple getting married and you. While it may be hard to tell a loved one you don’t feel comfortable attending their social gathering, it’s best, to be honest and upfront with them right away. Let a family member or friend know how much you care about them and wish circumstances were different right now. Remind them that once things return to a level of normalcy, you’ll be ready to celebrate extra hard.

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