Q: Hi APW,
I’m (finally) getting married at the end of October after planning and re-planning my wedding more times than I can count. While I’m normally able to roll with the punches I’m in a predicament with three of my bridesmaids (half the bridal party). They aren’t vaccinated and my venue just changed their policy to require proof of vaccination for all attendees.
TBH, I’m trying not to lose my mind right now. I was expecting to have changes to our guest list due to our venue’s new policy, but potentially losing half my bridal party wasn’t anything close to what I was planning on or mentally prepared to deal with.
Now I have to let them know that if they aren’t vaccinated before the wedding, not only can they not be in the wedding but can’t attend the wedding at all anymore. I’m heartbroken and anxious. The bridesmaids have already paid for their wedding related expenses (bridesmaid dress, bachelorette party, etc.) and I feel horrible that they’re going to lose a good amount of money on an event they can’t attend anymore if they choose to remain unvaccinated. And for what it’s worth, I’ve already tried to talk to them about getting vaccinated but haven’t been able to change any minds.
How do I pass this info along without damaging my friendships? Should I just be prepared to deal with the fallout?
—I Should Have Eloped
A: Oh, friend. I’m so sorry. Wedding planning and managing all the feelings that comes up and relationships that are impact is hard during the best of times, and we are without question in the worst of times.
First up, I just want to note that you clearly want to keep your relationships with all your bridesmaids, and I respect that I know there are people out there cutting off everyone in their life who hasn’t been vaccinated, but I don’t personally think that’s the best move. Mostly: we want people to change their minds and get the jab, and screaming at them and cutting them out of our lives is only going to make them double down. (Because that’s how the human brain works.) But more than that: relationships are vital to our happiness and self worth, and we go through all sorts of pain and disagreements with people we love. There are times when we realize we just have to step away, but I remain unconvinced that (we hope temporary) vaccine hesitancy has to be one of those friendship deal breakers.
But all that said, actions have consequences. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. While each person can make a personal choice about if they get vaccinated or not, they also have to deal with the ramifications of that choice. And increasingly, not getting vaccinated means that you cannot enter some businesses and you cannot attend large group events, and that just is the way it is.
I’m Jewish, and it’s almost time for the High Holidays—our big, in person holidays, that generally have services with thousands of people. Last year we all had to stay home and do our best with a mix of Zoom and personal observance. But this year, we’re starting to figure out how to split the difference. And as I’ve watched the way different synagogues have handled issues around vaccination, I’ve realized that the easiest and kindest way to manage it is simply with good boundaries and minimal apology. The synagogue we’re attending for High Holidays this year handled it particularly well. They said: to attend in person services you must have proof of vaccination and wear a mask at all times. Otherwise, you can access our streaming services on Zoom in X location, and we welcome your participation in that way. Boom. Done. None of this “it’s complicated, everyone has a personal choice, the rules are blurry.” Just: to attend in person you have to meet these requirements. If you can’t attend in person, we look forward to having you participate online.
The truth is, your bridesmaids very likely know what’s coming. If venues in your area are starting to require proof of vaccination, that’s not going to be news to them. And in a way it simplifies things because it takes the decision out of your hands. Whatever you think personally, you now get to play good cop to the venues bad cop. “I wish you could be there in person, but you can’t.”
The trick is to have this conversation as soon as possible. Let them know the venues policy, and then tell them that you’re so sorry they won’t be able to attend in person (because vaccine politics aside you are quite sorry). Then let them know that you’ll be streaming it (if you will be) or they can participate with you in X way online. Then remind them that you love them, because you do, and move on.
If the pandemic has reminded us of anything, it’s that there are some things out of our control. And unfortunately, this is one of them. I very much hope that your bridesmaids don’t choose to take out their feelings on you. But if they do, remember this isn’t about you. This is about their decision to remain unvaccinated. And as you already know, there isn’t a lot you can do about that.