Have you made your guest list yet? Some invites are obvious, whether they are best friends or closest family members, we know who we really, really want to invite. For a lot of us, it’s easy to run wild with our guest lists. From childhood friends to long lost relatives, who else can we invite? Sometimes, though, it becomes necessary to trim the guest list—yikes!
First let’s get something out in the open: any person with whom you have a poor or even toxic relationship needn’t be invited—no questions asked and no excuse necessary. And I’ll add, compiling and pruning your guest list is a collaborative effort with your betrothed.
Nailing down your guest list is something you can—and should—do early. There are a few moving parts here that all must come together and getting an early start will give you time to attend to them all. Your guest list depends on your budget and venue, but of course, venue depends on budget and expected guest count, and so on. A rough guest count (I like to call it an order of magnitude) will help you narrow down your venue options, and help you figure out what you can spend on catering, tables and chairs, etc.
There are times when you need to not invite certain people. Here are a few.
Wedding finances are a big deal. Your budget may not allow for a 150-person event. In such a case, you might very well need to curtail your guest list. A budget for 10 will not accommodate 100.
Logistics might limit who you can invite. A tiny venue with room for only 25 people means only 25 people can be there, regardless of how many you’d like to have join you in celebrating your nuptials. This is a particular consideration as some larger venues are restricting occupancy to comply with COVID safety measures.
You might find there are people who, in a perfect world, you would invite to prevent hurting their feelings; this is a tough one. At the end of the day, it really is your event, and you are not obliged to invite people who are only tangentially in your life. This could extend to distant relatives (you know, the 14th cousin 5th removed who you spoke to once in your life), long lost acquaintances, and colleagues.
And finally, sometimes friends and family have strong opinions on who you should invite. Not inviting those people may not be tricky in that you might have little relation to them but could introduce strife with the family or friends pushing for their attendance. Some etiquette holds that anyone contributing to (read: paying for) your wedding has input on the guest list. This may open the door to dialogue, but again, you are under no obligation whatsoever to invite someone with whom you have an unhealthy relationship.
This is the time to actually list who you want to attend with pen and paper or spreadsheet. Consider casting the net broadly so that later in the process you don’t wake up in the middle of the night thinking “we forgot to include Brian!”; it is easier to trim the list than add on after the fact (maybe even having to bump someone).
Start by thinking of your list in tiers. I like to call them the Must, Might, and Maybe invite tiers, but the important part is that they represent a hierarchy of probability of receiving an invite. This is also a judgement-free task; putting someone in a lower tier is not an indictment of them or your relationship, it’s merely logistics. Your lifelong friends and close family could go in Must, friends you aren’t as close with may find themselves the Might bin, and a colleague could be a candidate for the Maybe category (these are all hypothetical, and your groupings very well might differ).
Think also about the scope of the invitation. Are you inviting plus-ones or only individuals? What happens if you love Jane and her wife but want to invite only your cousin without a plus-one? And of course, what about kids?
What To Do
Your approach can save you a lot of headaches. Sending save-the-dates to everyone in your address book when you know you won’t invite that many is a recipe for heartburn.
You might find it easiest to start with the decision to invite children to your wedding. This needs to be an all or none decision, with the exceptions being the couple’s own children and any children participating in the ceremony. Specifically state on the invitation address who you are inviting; The Wilson Family is not the same as Mr. & Mr. Wilson. You can be even more clear in the wording on the invitation or information card as well as your wedding website. Don’t think of this as being redundant so much as helping people understand how the event will unfold.
Next can come plus-ones. Limiting the number of additional people, who you very well might not know, is an effective way to reduce your guest list. One route here is to invite the person who would be the plus-one directly (similar to above). This allows you to invite other couples who you know, and signal to the couple that you want both to join you, while filtering out loosely affiliated dates.
Look back at your three tranches of invitees. Is there are clear division that will get you to your desired guest count?
How To Say It
You will be extremely lucky if, in sharing about your upcoming wedding, someone doesn’t indicate they’d like to attend who is not on the list. This will go a lot smoother for both of you if you have given thought to the reason for the curtailed list, how it might hurt feelings, and what to do about it.
Sometimes simply acknowledging that you wish the person could attend is enough. People appreciate knowing they were thought of. A simple “we are only hosting family due to COVID restrictions” might be all that is necessary to let this person know that you would have invited them, if circumstances were different. In other instances, an alternate investment in the friendship or family relationship will help with hurt feelings. In such a case, you could ask them to spend time with you and your new spouse in another way, such as dinner or an outing to a special place.
If close family or friends (particularly if they are paying for some or all of the wedding) express a preference for you to invite someone who you do not want at your wedding, you are OK in not inviting them. This needs delicate handling. You could begin by asking why they would like that person included, and then, if the conversation permits, explain why you don’t want to invite them. My husband and I found ourselves in this situation when planning our wedding: a close family member strongly wanted us to invite a more distant family member with whom we had no relationship. I completely appreciate how hard these conversations can be! They are tough, but you can make it through.
Whatever the situation, be gracious and honest with tact, letting the person know that they matter to you. Ultimately, your guest list, both invited and not, should be made up of people who love and support you. If they cannot understand the constraints of the wedding plans, they probably aren’t worth inviting, even if you could.