What is it about weddings that encourages people to be so astonishingly indiscreet? I remember one best man starting his toast, “I’ve known the groom for twenty years. I’ve seen him through…” Long pause. “The dark times…” Naturally we all leaned forward, agog to learn about his misdeeds, but sadly there were few specifics. Another time, the mother of the bride remarked to me at the reception, “I’m so glad my daughter is marrying your friend. He’s nice, and she is such a bitch.” Groping for a suitable supply, I fell back on, “Waiter, we need more champagne over here!”
Every wedding planner has a horror story worthy of The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty. “We had a bride who literally lost it on the wedding day,” recalls JoAnn Gregoli of Elegant Occasions. “She fired her maid of honor and her best man, and she wouldn't dance with her dad because someone challenged her attitude. The entire family left the wedding because of her attitude. The priest was literally performing an exorcism on her in the church and almost would not marry her — I had to beg him to complete the job.” Glossing over whether any self-respecting priest should have consented to perform that ceremony, my heart really goes out to the groom. I picture their wedding night much like the one in So I Married an Axe Murderer.
My stroll down wedding-memory lane was prompted by the recent announcement that one of my nephews is engaged. This happy news has naturally sparked endless discussions about nuptial plans — none of which involve me, because I won’t be going unless the wedding is postponed until the pandemic is genuinely under control (and who knows when that will be?). Until then I'm viewing big weddings — along with family reunions, motorcycle rallies, and White House gatherings — as potential super-spreader events and intend to avoid them like the plague-vectors they are. But that's me. Opinions obviously vary.
“Weddings are so different from going into a store or sitting in a restaurant for 45 minutes,” an Arkansas wedding planner explained. “These receptions last for three, four hours, and everyone is in an indoor space, breathing the air. They aren’t wearing masks and they are dancing. And when they start drinking, it’s like there is no pandemic.”
Drinking is famous for convincing us that it's OK to do foolish and irresponsible things. As Dorothy Parker famously said, “I like to have a martini. Two at the very most. Three and I’m under the table. Four I’m under the host.” If you need yet another cautionary tale, just watch this video.
We always start out with the best of intentions, but sometimes things just spiral out of our control. An August wedding in Millinocket, Maine has been linked to 87 cases of Covid: 30 attendees caught it and spread the disease to 35 friends, relatives, and coworkers, who passed it to 22 others, including residents of a jail and a nursing home. Much as I’d love to be part of my nephew’s big celebration — and finally tell all those embarrassing childhood stories about him I’ve saved up over the years — I’m sending my regrets.
Which brings me to the question of how we can gracefully, lovingly, and firmly decline social invitations that significantly increase our risk of catching our death.
It’s tempting to glance at the invitation and dash off a note saying, “Are you insane? Why would you even consider holding a large, indoor wedding/family reunion/Halloween party/dog adoption jamboree during a pandemic?” But in the interests of family unity and long-standing friendships, you'll want to strive for a trifle more finesse.
All the articles I’ve read suggest that before you accept or decline you should ask for event details and safety protocols. Is it indoors or outdoors? How many people are likely to attend? Will social distancing be possible? These same articles convinced me, when Rich and I first returned to California in May, that inviting people over for drinks and nibbles on the deck was safe so long as everyone agreed on safety measures in advance. Sometimes this worked beautifully. However — and I feel certain Dorothy Parker would back me up on this — often those safety measures disappeared along with the first martini or second glass of wine. We drink to relax, and that can mean letting down our guard and taking risks which seem insignificant in the moment yet loom large in our memory the next morning, causing us to break out in a cold sweat as we review our behavior and that of others.
Rather than focusing on the event, I find it more helpful to begin by assessing our own situation. An article in the Houston Methodist Hospital newsletter suggests considering whether or not you:
The answers may help you find the clarity to make a firm decision one way or the other. If you are going to decline, don’t beat around the bush with elaborate excuses or effusive apologies. Houston Methodist suggests you say something like, "It's great to hear from you! I miss seeing you, but I'm avoiding in-person gatherings due to Covid-19 right now. How about we plan a virtual hangout soon? I definitely miss hanging out with you!"
I have delivered various versions of that statement to everyone I know and now have a very active Zoom social life. Most people have given up inviting me to anything IRL (in real life), but recently one couple found a format that actually worked: attending a drive-in movie in separate cars, chatting by phone before the film. As it happens, the film is Blithe Spirit, the Noël Coward classic ghost comedy, which ties in with our spooky movie theme for October. Perfect! It was only after accepting the invitation that I realized the one teeny, tiny flaw in this plan. As far as I know, there are no rest rooms at this event, which with drive times and previews will last three-plus hours. Guess I won’t be having any Coke with my popcorn.
Adapting to the new abnormal isn’t easy for any of us. I don’t envy my nephew, his bride, or the family members helping them plan their pandemic wedding. Will they opt for a micro wedding (50 guests max) or even a minimony (no more than 10) followed by a sequel wedding (big reception later)? Will there be a belated bach (delayed bachelor party) or wifelorette (post-wedding substitute for a bachelorette party)? Will they avoid travelling after the ceremony and schedule a latermoon?
I’m saddened to think that I won’t be there in person to wish the newlyweds all the happiness they deserve. But I’ll send a nice gift, which is far more useful. And I’ll be with them in spirt, hoping that these words will be as true for them as they have been for Rich and me over the last 34 years:
A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short.
— Andre Maurois
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
As we journey through the pandemic together, my blog provides a regular supply of survival tips, comfort food recipes, and the wry humor we all need to lighten our hearts on dark days.
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