More Wedding Guest List Woes

Not everyone wants a 500 person wedding!

Not everyone wants a 500 person wedding!

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

My son and his fiancé are adamant about keeping a tight rein on their guest list. They do not want a large wedding and they have a finite number they want to invite.  My husband and I agree and support their decision. 

One of my cousins desperately wants her son to attend and he’s just not on the list.  Now the suggestion is that he’s a substitute for someone else in the family who can’t attend.  How do I politely say there’s no substitution.  My son and fiancé have other friends they want to move up to fill the spot.  They are not giving automatic “plus 1” invites.

Groom’s mom


Victoria: As a person who has planned a wedding, why don’t you start?

Jaya: So, I think we can all agree that, while you might be disappointed at not receiving an invitation to an event, trying to coerce your way in, ESPECIALLY after one of the planners has said no, is just not a good look. And kudos to this mother of the groom for supporting her kid and backing them up on this.

Victoria: Yes!

Jaya: It’s hard, because it’s family so you really don’t want hurt feelings, but I think reiterating that they’re keeping the wedding small, and that while you’re very sorry, the answer is no, is about all you can do. And you may just have to accept that the cousin is going to be pouty about it for some time.

Victoria: Yeah, I think you don’t want to try to explain or make excuses. Just keep repeating, “I’m sorry, but we can’t accommodate him.”

Jaya: Right, making excuses just opens up more negotiating.

Victoria: Yeah, and hurt feelings of friends being invited over family, etc.

Jaya: And you want to make it clear this is non-negotiable.

Victoria: Aaybe once you repeat it a couple of times say “Cousin, I’m sorry, but I have already explained multiple times that we will not be able to accommodate your son. I will not discuss the subject further.”

Jaya: Yes. And yeah, weddings make emotions run high. You may be risking pissing this cousin off a lot, or the cousin holding a grudge for a very long time, but if your son has made that choice and you’re supporting him, that’s how it’ll be.

Victoria: Yeah

Jaya: It always baffles me, the lack of self awareness some people have about this stuff.

Victoria: I know.

Jaya: I obviously don’t know their family situation, but I’m not super close with most of my parents’ cousin’s kids!

Victoria: Hahaha yeah, me either.

Jaya: And just, the reaction that not getting invited to a wedding is the end of the world. And begging to get in.

Victoria: I’m interested to see if there is a shift when our generation are the parents of the couple, since we have seen a shift in weddings from being about the whole extended family and kinship/business circles to being more centered on the close relationships of the couple/the couple paying for a bigger portion vs the parents of the bride being the sole payers and hosts.

Jaya: Yeah, that will be interesting. Because right, for so long it was a party thrown for the bride and groom, not by them, and thus usually up to the parents who to invite.

Victoria: Yep, so all the aunts and cousins and stuff expected to be invited. Whereas when we are the older generation, we might not be as focused on that (but maybe it’s an old people thing, who knows?)

Jaya: Even within our generation it’s interesting to see the breakdown, between weddings where it seems like the couple got to invite a lot of their friends, or weddings where the parents got control of the guest list and there weren’t many friends.

Victoria: Haha yeah.

Jaya: It’s still such a cultural difference, depending on where you were raised, whether your family is all in one area, and your religions/traditions.

Victoria: Yeah, and even just individual family traditions.

Jaya: But even then, even if you grew up down the street from your 2nd cousin and have known him all your life, you’re still not obligated. This question is really sticking with me. I cannot fathom a situation in which, after being told that there is no room for me, I try to continue to make room for myself.

Victoria: Yeah, it’s absolutely mind boggling. Like, you just don’t try to negotiate invitations.

Jaya: Because then what, you’re there, and the bride and groom have in their mind everything you’ve done to get there when they’re interacting with you.

Victoria: I do kind of feel like with unreasonable people its probably better to just separate yourself from them, even if you are related. I mean, it depends on your family and blah blah blah, but by the time you are old enough to have a kid who is getting married, you probably aren’t going to be forced to interact with your cousins that much! Like, your grandparents and parents/aunts/uncles are probably dead or about to be, and those family ties tend to be easier to sever the farther apart everyone gets.

Jaya: Right. At some point those relationships pass to the next generation. And at this point, you’re talking about the relationship between your son and your cousin’s kid, who I’ll assume are closer in age. And if they haven’t forged that relationship on their own, that’s their business. This is also an instance where I hope, going forward, weddings become less of a *thing*. Treating them like the MOST IMPORTANT EVENT EVER makes people act crazy when they’re not present.

Victoria: Haha yeah, it’s weird, I feel like for a loooong time they weren’t a big thing. And then they became a HUGE thing.

Jaya: Right! Maybe that’s just because we’re in the thick of wedding age right now? But yeah, not getting in invitation turns into this huge personal affront instead of like, just not being invited to one thing.

Victoria: Yeah, I also have found it so freeing to turn down invitations. I have a rule that I am not getting on an airplane for someone I wouldn’t get on an airplane to see just for a visit.

Jaya: That’s a good rule!

Victoria: Yeah! So like limited to really close friends and my cousins/sister (who are awesome). Although, I suppose if it was a cool destination and a lot of other people I knew were going, that might make it worth it.

Jaya: Yeah, I mean obviously use your discretion. If it’s someone you like reasonably well and you can afford flying to Hawaii, go for it!

The Wedding Guest List

If you are a princess, everyone wants to come to your wedding. [Via Library of Congress]

As we are coming to the end of “engagement season” and Valentine’s Day, we probably have a lot of newly engaged readers who don’t know where to begin. While we can’t help you pick out your napkin colors (trust us, we are too busy picking out Jaya’s napkin colors), we can help you throw A Perfectly Polite Wedding with our new series of posts on hosting a wedding.

When you begin to plan a wedding, the first two things you have to decide are your budget and your guest list because everything will come from there. The budget is up to you (but just let me say that you can have a beautifully polite wedding on $500 just as easily as you can have a $1 million wedding that is full of faux pas) but when it comes to your guest list there are a few things to remember.

Miss Manners’ advice about guest lists is to decide who you want to invite before you start looking at venues and getting limitations on the number of people you can include. Her opinion is that the day should be more about sharing a special time with the people you love rather than having the perfect venue that can’t hold all the people you love. This is pretty subjective of course. [Ed Note: We decided that we couldn’t handle being at the center of more than 150 people without a lot of social anxiety triggering, so we looked at venues with that limit, which gave us room to invite everyone we really cared about without there being a guest list of 300 4th cousins and “family friends” we’d never met. -Jaya]

Sometimes though, the people you love have people they love and those partners also need to be included. People who are married, engaged, or living together (in a romantic sense) are considered social units and must be invited together. Sorry if you’ve never met your kindergarten best friend’s husband, you must still invite him. Many people also extend this to long term romantic partners who don’t live together.

Luckily, there is no obligation to invite single people with an “and guest” or “plus one.” If you do know that a friend might want to bring some “special” that you don’t really know, you should ask them for the name and address the invitation to your friend and that person by name rather than just as a plus one. This way you also prevent a rude situation where a guest brings a plus one who you didn’t want at the wedding.

Invitations for people you know won’t be able to attend are a kind gesture for people whom you are very close to. However, be cautious about sending them to people who aren’t very close friends or family as wedding invitations often make people feel obligated to send a gift and sending them out willy nilly to far away people can seem greedy.

I used to be very against A lists and B lists, because duh, no one wants to be on the B list and it can be very hurtful if they find out they are. But I encountered a situation where a couple was having a wedding and in their long planning process had made some new friends that they weren’t able to invite as everything had already been set. However, a couple days before the wedding, they heard that a few guests weren’t able to make it, so they called up some of their new friends and explained the situation and said that they would love it if they would be able to come on such short notice. The friends were thrilled and came and had a great time. The moral of the story being that it can work, but it deserves a very personal phone call.