Q: My best friend is getting married outside of the US. I am her only bridesmaid/maid of honor and we have been best friends for 15+ years.
Because of covid, things have been rocky. I have not been vaccinated. She has. The border is only letting vaccinated US citizens in. Therefore I cannot go. She basically hates me because I won’t get vaccinated. I’ve tried to explain my reasoning, but she honestly doesn’t care and has tunnel vision for the pro-vax. I feel like I am losing my best friend because of this. I plan on scheduling a photo shoot for us in her wedding dress and me in my bridesmaid’s dress for when she returns. I’m just not sure what else to do.
This might be slightly surprising to regular readers, but here it goes: I’m not going to tell you to get vaccinated. Not because I don’t want you to get vaccinated (because having two little kids who can’t get vaccinated and a family member with primary immunodeficiency, I’m depending on everyone who can get vaccinated to do so). But because at the end of the day, getting vaccinated is a personal choice.
The thing is, that choice comes with a lot of caveats and even more repercussions.
The first caveat is this: if you’re not going to get vaccinated, you need to be practicing the most aggressive kind of social distancing and masking available. In fact, staying at home would be a great choice. Because while your choice to stick a needle in your arm is your choice, what happens if you get or spread COVID is a choice that impacts lots of people. More spread means more variants, which put us all at risk. And if you get really sick, our exhausted frontline workers will have to care for you, and you’ll need a hospital bed that are in really short supply.
So if you don’t want to get vaccinated, fine. But that means you’re going to need to act responsibly. And acting responsibly very likely means no weddings for you (unless you’re all wrapped up in PPE and standing far away from everyone else), and it certainly means no traveling out of the country. And that’s what comes with making decisions: consequences. And you have to own them.
As for repercussions, well, you’re looking the first one square in the face right now. You’re not able to enter another country because of your vaccine status. Presumably, you took that into account when you chose not to get vaccinated, and if you didn’t…. well… you need to add that to your calculation right now.
But the second repercussion is to me, the bigger one. Since you have a much higher chance of getting and spreading COVID, it’s very likely that there are people who won’t want to be around you right now. (And, as covered above, you really should be socially distancing anyway.) It’s very possible your friend won’t want to do a post wedding photoshoot with you: not because she doesn’t love you, but because she doesn’t want to get COVID.
We are living through an incredibly emotionally difficult time, and all of us are doing our best to cope, and most of us are failing. So I’m sorry if your friend is making you feel like she doesn’t love you because of the decision you made. She’s probably mad, sad, disappointed, and scared all at once…. and she may not be handling those feelings particularly well (spoiler: most of us are not). Beyond that, she may feel like you were not the person she thought you were. And I’m going to let you in on a secret: this happens in weddings all the time, not just in weddings during COVID.
During wedding planning, all of our deeply held values suddenly come into public view: religion, ethics, money… and now public health. Sometimes friendships break up when these sorts of values systems come into play, and your friendship might be one of those friendships. But more than that, when we make major decisions, we have to weigh a whole lot of factors, and then figure out what’s right for us. It’s complicated as hell, and it’s pretty much the definition of being a grown-up. And the reality is: choosing not to get vaccinated will very likely mean there are things you won’t be able to participate in. (This isn’t new BTW, my kids can’t participate in public school without a copy of their vaccination records.) It’s possible that you may lose friendships over the choice. And those are all factors you need to balance out when considering your decision.
As for what to do with your friend? Well, first up, you can’t go to her wedding, and she’s hurt and sad. So try to do something nice for her, that doesn’t involve being close enough to spread germs. Send her a nice gift, or write her a nice note. Don’t make it about the pandemic, or vaccines. Just tell her how much you love and appreciate her, and how much you value her friendship. Then do what you can to support her wedding planning at a physical distance. Offer to have regular phone calls, volunteer to do some DIY craft project for her, see if you can Zoom in for her wedding. But most of all, try to switch the conversation from being about the pandemic to being about her. Offer her all the support you can, because that’s what a friend does.
And a personal request from me to you: check with your doctor, and if they say it’s safe for you to get a vaccine, please consider getting it. If you can’t, please stay home or mask and distance. The unvaccinated and immunocompromised people in all our lives need you to stay safe, as do all our frontline workers.