When Divisions Over Masks and Vaccines Shake Up Your Guest List

When my then-boyfriend, now-fiancé, Jesse, got down on one knee to propose
to me on Christmas morning, I knew our engagement wouldn’t be exactly how I had imagined—it would involve planning and shopping for a wedding in a global pandemic. What I didn’t foresee was the amount of time I would spend mulling over my guest list and keeping a keen eye on my guests’ attitudes about preventing the spread of COVID. 

It started when I talked about the pandemic with a relative who is an essential worker. My fiancé, always the optimist, said something like, “I’m really glad to see the vaccine rolling out. I’m getting it as soon as it’s available to younger people!”

“Yeah, I’m not so sure about it. I don’t know if I’m gonna get it,” the relative said. “At the very least, I’ll probably wait a long while.”

What we later found out is that this person, a responsible and loving parent who is a fan of all things organic, was starting to fall into some anti-vax (or at least vaccine-suspicious) sentiment because of things they had read on Facebook parenting groups or heard from friends.

Here we go. 

This was the first in the series of people on my prospective guestlist who showed hesitancy towards vaccines or preventative measures, and it got worse. One person told us they had, in the last 10 months, taken three cross-country trips involving flights and spending time in tourist destinations. Another angrily declared that, according to a right-wing YouTuber they watch who claims to be a doctor, masks don’t work because “the COVID air particles are too small and slip right through the mask.” That’s despite our knowing that the virus spreads through aerosols and multiple studies show that masks, while not perfect, help slow transmission. A friend of mine said, “There’s no way I’m getting the vaccine” before following up with, “What? It’s not like I’m an anti-vaxxer or anything.”

Naturally, I panicked. I went back and forth between rearranging our guest seating chart so that hesitant folks would sit around those who were okay with wearing a mask or planned on getting vaccinated, like a bad science project on herd immunity. My fiancé cut through the frustration with a simple idea—opt for a longer engagement and have the wedding in October of 2022. Some asked us what the reasoning behind the nearly two-year-long engagement was. Ironically, many of those people are the same ones mentioned above. 

Turns out, the political climate around the pandemic (as well as other issues) is something on a lot of engaged couples’ minds. According to a 2020 survey from Zola, an e-commerce and wedding planning platform, one of the highest stressors to couples was political tension, second only to their wedding budget. Eighty-eight percent of engaged couples reported having more political discussions at home. 

I figured that by pushing back my wedding, I could save some people from themselves. Looking for  solidarity, I took to bride-to-be Facebook groups and the subreddit r/wedding. Some brides were tired of changing the date of their big day and chose to elope instead. Others tried going for hard-and-fast rules. 

“The policy is, ‘no vaccine, no invite,’” said one bride who preferred to remain anonymous. However, she’s pushing back her wedding for one person who’s the exception: her father, who is supposed to walk her down the aisle. 

“He has begun to believe that there’s something fishy about mass vaccination and has decided that he won’t be getting it,” she explained. “He’s a medic, so I was shocked when he said he wasn’t getting the vaccine.” 

These situations affect wedding vendors as well. Wedding parties with varied mask use or unenforced social distancing are leaving those in the wedding industry feeling less safe at work than usual.  Ali Robbins, a wedding photographer who runs her own business in Matthews, North Carolina, said mask-less ceremonies left her feeling uncomfortable.

“This left me feeling awkward to wear mine, so most of the time I didn’t because I didn’t want to stand out,” she told me on social media. 

Although I wasn’t happy about delaying my wedding at first, my future husband had the right idea, as much as I hate admitting it. I felt so much more confident in our decision when I was touring a potential venue recently. The woman showing us around pointed to some décor that the last couple who got married there used for inspiration. 

“They got these cute little signs at Etsy for their seating arrangement, since there’s a pandemic and everything,” she said cheerfully. 

There stood two signs painted with flowers and in the most Pinterest-worthy calligraphy font imaginable, one read “Masks” and the other “No Masks.”

My engagement may be long, but something tells me I’m going to dodge a bullet. 

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