You Are Cordially Invited (or Not) to Our Socially Distanced Wedding

Lara Eurdolian’s dream roof deck wedding with 160 guests in Brooklyn was planned for Sept. 26, 2020. But like thousands of couples, the coronavirus put an unexpected halt to her plans. “I still wanted to get married but I wanted to be sensitive to what people were going through,” said Ms. Eurdolian, the founder of Pretty Connected, a lifestyle blog and fashion accessory line. “Some have lost loved ones; others have lost their jobs. People have been traumatized. They’re concerned about their health and about traveling.”

Ms. Eurdolian, 36, who lives in Long Island City, Queens, with her fiancé, James King, 41, a creative director at the Manhattan ad agency Razorfish, has yet to send out wedding invitations. They’re unsure what to include and how to say it now that they have to think about social-distancing measures.

“James and I have been together for 14 years,” Ms. Eurdolian said. “We’ve amassed a lot of friends and wanted to invite them. And we wanted to celebrate us. I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable or unsafe but we aren’t sure how to say that.”

They’re not alone in this quandary. To help navigate this new terrain, we’ve called on wedding professionals and industry experts to help answer some of your wedding invitation questions.

The 200-person guest list you painstakingly made doesn’t have to be thrown out. But the truth is only about 10 percent can probably be invited to your in-person ceremony. Disinviting guests is the new reality. “In these cases, honesty is the smartest approach,” said Maryanne Parker, the founder of Manor of Manners, a company for business, social and youth etiquette in San Diego, adding that simple language used to inform guests is best. “It’s perfectly reasonable to say, ‘We would be very happy for everyone to join our wedding via Zoom. Due to the pandemic, only immediate family can participate directly. We hope you’ll understand.’” Ms. Parker said this includes close friends who have become part of the family, and thus, the ceremony. “Before Covid, people got offended if they weren’t included,” she added. “If something is out of your control, you don’t have to apologize. Right now, many people are going to be relived rather than feel left out.”

“Even though everything has changed, people still want the formality of a wedding and to have that memory,” said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and the founder of the Protocol School of Texas, a company in San Antonio specializing in corporate etiquette training. “Standards have loosened. Now it’s permissible to let them know on the invite that they can attend in either two ways, in person or via Zoom.

Ms. Gottsman suggested including R.S.V.P. cards with the option to check off one of three boxes: I will be there in person, by Zoom, or unable to attend.

“A Zoom option allows guests to be involved,” she added. “If the guest has the option to attend in person but accepts Zoom they probably wouldn’t have come regardless.”

“Invites are going out in different formats highlighting things we’ve never done before: We’ve changed dates, locations, and for some couples, changed them twice,” said Shari Lebowitz, the owner of Bespoke Designs, a wedding invitation studio in Westport, Conn.

Since the pandemic started, Ms. Lebowitz has created what she calls comfort copy. “It’s a deeply personal note that’s included in the invitation,” she said. “It addresses how the couple is choosing to celebrate while acknowledging what is happening in the world and the level of anxiety people might be feeling.”

Ms. Lebowitz says she has helped 25 to 30 couples create personalized notes for their invites. “Mostly they offer assurance and thoughtfulness,” she said. “They say, we want you there but of course we will understand if you can’t come.” It also asks guests to check the couple’s website for updates as rules and restrictions change daily.

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Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert and the founder of the Swann School of Protocol in Carlsbad, Calif., says the ultimate goal of etiquette is to make others feel comfortable.

“You want to share as much information and as specifically as possible,” she said. “Telling guests your celebration will be practicing social distancing, if you will be supplying masks and asking them to wear them throughout the wedding, along with any other pertinent information, lets guests know exactly what to expect. And what’s expected of them. Then they can make an educated decision beforehand rather than be unexpectedly confronted at the event.”

This is the one time you can enjoy the freedom from having to invite those you would rather not, Ms. Swann said.

“It’s important to share this upfront in order to avoid any confusion or embarrassment at the wedding,” she added. “In your guidelines you can say, ‘We would like to respectfully inform you that since we are following social guidelines please refrain from bringing an individual that has not been explicitly invited.’”

For those wanting to do a prewedding offering, the handwritten note reigns supreme. “Parents are ordering stationary and writing notes to the guests they can’t include,” Ms. Lebowitz said. “It’s a personal, special way to express your feelings and to let people know this was a difficult decision to make, that while the pandemic was out of their hands, they’re still sorry they were unable to include them.”

Ms. Lebowitz suggests keeping these notes short and thoughtful. “Etiquette usually goes with the host of the wedding,” she said, “but if the couple are the host, then it’s appropriate for the note to come from them.”

If you would rather share a note with guests post-event, the photograph remains a tangible treasured item. “It says, we still want you to feel included and to be a part of the experience,” said Valerie Gernhauser, a wedding planner and the owner of Sapphire Events in New Orleans.

Ms. Gernhauser said a wedding photo to announce their marriage should be mailed out on beautiful stationary, in keeping with the formal wedding invitations. “These say the couple’s name, the parent’s name, the date and location,” she said. “A photo is attached, usually of the couple during their ceremony or in an intimate setting so that it’s clear this was not a massive celebration.”

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Ann C. Toledo

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