The Emily Post Institute, America’s “definitive source” for social etiquette, has an entire website devoted to wedding etiquette. But the guidelines leave a lot to be desired, particularly for any of us planning weddings in the 21st century.
How do you handle those difficult questions that the Post family never envisioned? For example, in the age of social media, how do you decide which of your several hundred “friends” to invite after you’ve posted your engagement photos online? Do you put anyone on a wait list? Having attended dozens of friends’ and family members’ weddings and seen these questions come up repeatedly, I decided to investigate what the relevant etiquette sources had to say on the subject. And finding them lacking, I ultimately came up with my own list of rules that I have been sending friends for years to help them in their quest to generate the best and most appropriate wedding guest list.
If you or your betrothed has had sexual relations with a person, then the one who did not engage in such relations has veto power over the invite.
First, start with a master list. This includes all the people you think you should invite, are thinking about inviting or whose wedding you (willingly) attended within the past two years.
Then you start cutting. Here are 10 rules to keep in mind as you decide who makes the cut.
- If you live in the same city as the potential invitees and don’t see them outside of events organized by mutual friends, then you shouldn’t invite them. These are not your friends; these are your friends’ friends.
- If when you visit the town where the potential invitees live, you don’t call them or plan to see them, then they shouldn’t be insulted when you don’t invite them to your wedding.
- If you wonder “What do they want?” when a person calls you, then they should not be at your wedding.
- If you or your betrothed has had sexual relations with a person, then the one who did not engage in such relations has veto power over the invite.
- For co-workers, apply the “but for” test: If the company dissolved tomorrow, would you still be friends with them? But for your job, do you have anything in common?
- If the potential recipient has never met your significant other (and especially if they don’t even know who they are), then don’t invite them. They shouldn’t meet your spouse at the wedding. That’s for your weird uncle.
- Family matters: If your parents want to invite friends of theirs that you do not know (or barely remember), then your parents should help offset the costs. It isn’t fair for them to ask you to play without helping to pay. If the bride’s family is paying for the wedding, she gets more invites than you do. If the bride and the groom are paying for the wedding themselves, they should share invites equally.
- When it comes to “plus ones” or guests of guests, “no ring, no bring” is a nice goal, but it isn’t realistic. People in your wedding party get to bring a guest, but for everyone else, if you haven’t met the person’s significant other or heard much about them, then you shouldn’t feel obligated to extend an invitation. Let the burden be on your guest to ask about bringing someone. “Plus ones” can drive the number of guests and the and cost of your wedding sky-high.
- For any potential invites still on the fence, think about your relationship with this person five years from now. Is there a chance you will look at wedding pictures and say, “Who is that? I cannot believe they were at my wedding!”
- For any other potential invitees on the margins, one final factor to consider is what kind of guest they would make. In particular, can they carry a table? Table carriers are those people who can play the role of MC/host because nobody knows each other, which is particularly good at a “leftovers” or “scrubs” table. Incredibly, many people just won’t bother to talk to fellow wedding guests at their table for hours unless they are prompted.
Like any set of rules, there are always exceptions, so use your best judgment. Finally, you need to be prepared for that incredibly painful moment when someone says, “Congratulations! Am I invited?” Here’s a wonderful opportunity to deploy a phrase that you’ll use countless times after you have said your vows: “Let me check with my spouse/partner and get back to you.”
Why you should care
They’re going to be in your wedding photos for the rest of your life, so you’d better make sure they’re the right guests.