Dear Dr. Andrea,
My fiance and I have been engaged for a year and a half. We had a large and formal wedding planned for this coming spring, when he finishes law school. He comes from a very big Catholic family, and weddings are important in their family as an opportunity to gather and be together. I feel like his mother has been more involved in this wedding planning than I have. I am not as traditional of a person but have gone along with it because there is a lot of love there, and I enjoy the big gatherings as well.
Naturally, since the pandemic began, I have been doubtful about whether our wedding should go on as planned. I have come to the decision over the past few weeks that I do not feel comfortable with it at all and that I want to cancel the whole shebang and just elope. We have been engaged for so long already. My fiance wants to keep everyone safe of course but says there is no reason to decide now — that we can keep everything as is, and play it by ear. He believes there is a good chance that spring will be okay with the vaccines.
I don’t want to spend the next few months in uncertainty only to have to cancel. He has a lot of older relatives, and I just don’t feel it’s realistic that it will be safe by then. I feel like I truly need to make the decision now, but he is extremely against it and I know his family would be very sad.
— Engaged in a Stalemate
The idea of a wedding potentially carrying a life-or-death level of risk is not an exaggeration.
And in your situation, you’re not just dealing with the decision itself, but the question of when to make the decision. It appears that the uncertainty is worse for you than it is for your fiance, but I also can’t help but wonder if he is kicking the can down the road in the hopes that will make it harder to cancel when the time comes. That’s not good. It can also be argued that the sooner you make the decision for good, the more time people will have to adjust — and perhaps there is even money to be saved in the process.
But you two are on different pages about this, so welcome to your first big, messy standoff of committed life. How you choose to handle this will help set the stage for the communication, compromise, respect and empathy that should last throughout your marriage.
Of course, I can’t dictate the “correct” answer here. But I do know that a disappointed family is better than a family on ventilators. And though the latest vaccine news gives us a lot of reason for hope, spring may be too soon to expect a risk-free event, especially one with an indoor component and the word “large” involved.
So, start talking. Think about potential compromises: What if the reception was moved to 2022, with a simple elopement in the meantime? What if you had a virtual church ceremony? What if you had an in-person, outdoor ceremony with a very small number of distanced family present? Think about what values are most important to each of you and how those values can still be honored even in a changed format. Remember that there is a difference between a marriage and a wedding.
Have him talk to his family about a potential sweet spot between heartbroken and everything going perfectly according to plan. And seek extra guidance from those who may have additional ideas and perspectives — from clergy to physicians to event planners.
Now, it is quite possible that a solution — even one that is agreed upon by both of you — won’t exactly feel “perfect.” But the most meaningful events in our lives are often the ones that don’t, or couldn’t, go according to script. You love each other and are committed. His family is big and loving and enjoys spending time together. There is most definitely a way to still cherish all that as you adjust your plans.
In fact, I can’t think of a better homage to that family love than taking seriously the value of their lives, individually and collectively.