My best friend is planning a 60-plus person engagement party in August — how can I graciously decline?

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Hi, Group Chat,

Right before quarantine happened, one of my best friends got engaged and asked me to be a bridesmaid. She didn’t want to have a prolonged engagement, so she quickly planned to have an engagement party this August and a wedding just a few months later in November. Though I was initially excited about all of the wedding planning, now the idea of attending a party makes me nervous. States are starting to open up again, but I still don’t feel safe going to a party with 60-plus people, especially when some of them will be coming in from other states and countries.

As a bridesmaid, I feel weird telling my friend I don’t want to go to her engagement party. However, my health has to come first, and I simply feel unsafe being around so many people for the time being. Am I being crazy? How do I explain to my friend that I might not attend her engagement party when I know how much it means to her? The last thing I want is for our friendship to be ruined over this.

— Sincerely, Terrified Bridesmaid

Dear TB,

Lisa Azcona, who received a panicked call from a close friend with the same dilemma this month, says — An engagement (and a wedding!) is such a beautiful and exciting thing to celebrate. However, the global health crisis has turned what would typically be a yes-in-a-heartbeat decision into one that involves careful consideration and forethought. Trust me when I say this: You are not alone and your feelings are completely valid. I applaud you for thinking about your health. In doing so, you are not only thinking about the health of your loved ones, but of others around you, too.

As daunting as the conversation may seem (no one likes to see their bestie upset), I’d suggest opening the lines of communication between you two as soon as possible. In your conversation, it’s important that you communicate that your hesitation is not, by any means, a reflection of what she means to you.

If you do ultimately decide not to attend, I think it may be a good idea to show your bestie that, although you are not there physically, you are thinking about her on that special day. Consider working on a DIY project that reflects your awesome friendship — one that can either be displayed at the party or received the morning-of. Perhaps you may even be able to arrange a surprise virtual appearance at the party on a big screen or a projector. If there’s anything we’ve all learned during this weird time, it’s that virtual celebrations can still be memorable and special. 

Morgan Greenwald, who’s (hopefully) getting married in 2021, says — As both a bride-to-be and a bridesmaid in several upcoming (albeit postponed) weddings, I understand how frustrated you must feel right now. You want your friend’s special day to feel special, but at the same time, you don’t want to sacrifice your safety to make it special.

Though some states are starting to ease restrictions and allow for outdoor gatherings, it’s up to you whether you feel comfortable actually attending said events — especially when there are going to be 60-plus people there. If you know that your feelings aren’t going to change and you’re not going to feel comfortable attending your friend’s engagement party, I would be honest with her sooner rather than later so she can make arrangements accordingly.

If this is a true friend, she will understand where you are coming from and support you putting your health and safety first. When things start to become normal again (hopefully soon — fingers crossed), you can plan another small celebration for her with her other bridesmaids — perhaps a brunch or even a park hang!

AmiLin McClure, who’s been a bridesmaid one time, says — I would feel exactly the same way! I think that you’re probably not the only person in the bridal party who’s thinking of declining attendance due to the pandemic. My biggest piece of advice is this: don’t wait too long to tell your friend if you’re not going to attend. It seems as though you’ve made up your mind that your health comes first, which is wise on your part.

Maybe you can even convince the bride-to-be to postpone the party altogether so that her friends and family can all attend without putting their health at risk. I think it’s safe to say your friend wouldn’t want any of her loved ones to get sick. More importantly, though, I think it would be helpful to express your concerns so she knows where you’re coming from, and the earlier you do it, the better.

If she is totally not down to reschedule the party, I suggest working out an alternative engagement celebration for just the two of you. This way, you can still honor this special time in her life — just without 60-plus people around you. As a close friend, I’m sure she will understand.

Dillon Thompson, who’s never been invited to any party with 60-plus people, says — As a single man, the closest I’ve gotten to being a bridesmaid was when I re-watched “Wedding Crashers” last weekend. That said, I actually don’t think this problem has anything to do with weddings. You said it yourself: Your health has to come first. That’s true whether we’re talking about an engagement party, baby shower or graduation ceremony. 

If you’re worried about your safety, then you have to be honest. Tell your friend the truth now, and be straightforward about exactly what you would be comfortable with. If you’re worried about her reaction, maybe reach out to the other bridesmaids and see where their heads are. Ultimately though, you’ll have to confront your friend — and if she cares enough to put you in her wedding, she should be able to understand your perspective. 

Alex Lasker, who had three friends postpone weddings this year, says — I was set to be a bridesmaid (my first time!) in one of my best friend’s wedding this summer until she postponed the event until 2021, and I think her reasoning on the matter will provide you with some clarity here.

You see, she simply didn’t want the entire process leading up to her wedding to be a nightmare and a danger to her friends and family — the engagement party, the bachelorette weekend, the bridal shower, etc. More or less, she wanted to avoid putting guests in your exact situation. It was so sad to delete all those events off of my calendar, but it was also a relief to know my best friend was thinking about her loved ones as she made one of the most difficult decisions she’s ever had to make.

Maybe I am being a negative Nancy here, but I do think it is very selfish to hold an engagement party or a wedding right now — and I don’t think you need to feel guilty in the slightest for declining attendance. The good news is, you already seem pretty resolute in your decision not to go. All you have to do now is tell the bride with grace, ensuring this isn’t something you want to do, it’s something you have to do to protect yourself. If she doesn’t understand or accept your call (which, to be fair, I’m pretty confident she will), then it’s high-key time to reevaluate your friendship.

TL;DR — Oh miss bridesmaid, you are not crazy in the slightest, please trust your gut on this matter. 60-plus people is a lot at this exact moment in time, especially as we delicately ease back into in-person hangouts (with proper safety precautions, of course.) That being said, time is your friend right now — but it won’t be later. Tell the bride soon: Rip it off like a bandaid that you will not be in attendance. Sure, it will sting, but it will prove that you put a ton of thought into this important decision and didn’t just decide not to go on a whim one week before the party.

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