Though it’s really difficult to look at a global pandemic that is responsible for more than 566,000 deaths in the United States alone and identify anything positive that has come from it, there have been a few aspects of the public health measures that some people have found convenient.
Whether it’s the ability to work remotely or a legitimate excuse not to have to socialize, there have probably been times when the social distancing and no-large-gathering requirements made things a little easier for you. In fact, they may have gotten you out of something you didn’t want to attend in the first place.
Your desire (or lack thereof) to socialize aside, you may still be (rightfully) concerned about attending in-person events, and wondering how to handle the invitations that have started trickling in. Some people in your life will probably be completely understanding.
Others, however, will push back and explain to you why they think their event is actually safe—typically some version of “but it’s going to be outdoors and everyone will wear masks and be super careful.” Fine, but also, no. Here are some ways to help navigate the discussion where you decline their invitation.
Yes, we are 100% still in a pandemic
In 2020, people (for the most part) accepted not wanting to spread or contract a deadly virus as a reason why you’re not attending their wedding, graduation, birthday, Thanksgiving dinner, etc. But now that we’re a few months into the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, people seem to think that the whole thing is done and dusted and we’re in the clear.
We’re not going to get into all the reasons why that’s not the case here (not even 25% of the country has been vaccinated yet!), but if someone is giving you the ol’ “but COVID’s basically over and most people attending will at least have had their first dose of the vaccine” line, don’t let them guilt you into accepting the invitation. You are not “going overboard” or “making too much of this,” or resisting the fact that “people have to live their lives” and that “the world has to get back to normal someday.” Just wanted to get that out of the way first.
You may be avoiding conflict
Telling your cousin that you can’t attend her wedding is hard on a lot of levels, and for some people, that includes anxiety over conflict situations. In an article for Well+Good, Mary Grace Garis spoke with psychologist Dr. Aimee Daramus, who explains that your bandwidth for dealing with stress—including the kind that stems from potential conflicts—is probably pretty low right now.
And in addition to not wanting to hurt your relationship with your cousin, you may not be in a place where you can handle any other types of risk—like, just as an example, transmitting or contracting a deadly virus. But again, don’t let that make the decision for you. “Although it’s hard, try not to let politics or your friends’ choices affect your health decisions—unless your friends are experts on viruses or risk management—because a virus isn’t a popularity contest,” Daramus told Well+Good.
What to say when turning down invitations to events
According to Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life—who Garis also interviewed for her article—have the tough conversation (or send the note declining the invitation) as soon as possible. And be sure to keep it “short, sweet and polite.”
At a loss for words? Gottsman provides this sample script that (with some minor language adjustments, as needed) could help:
“I wanted to contact you in person and thank you for the invitation. Unfortunately, I’m still not comfortable traveling or being in crowds of any kind at this moment. I appreciate your understanding and want you to know we are wishing you the very best of luck and will celebrate as soon as the pandemic comes to an end.”
Ideally, the person will understand—though they may be disappointed. But again: we’re still in a pandemic, so pre-2020 social norms and expectations have gone out the window (that you’ve likely left open for fresh air and ventilation).