Around here, we get questions from lots of brides who are struggling with guest lists that grow larger than Jack's proverbial magic beanstalk. "I am not made of money! I simply can't invite everyone I know to my wedding," they say.
We understand. We on the Etiquette board are not made of money either (and if we were, we would probably be off doing something much more exciting that noodling around on the internet). So here is the easy, etiquette-approved way to manage your guest list without alienating the people you love. Q: Who must be invited to my wedding?
A: You must invite your fiance and your officiant. They are, obviously, required in order for a marriage to take place.
If your parents, your FI's parents, or any third party is paying for the wedding, you must also invite those people.
Q: My parents/ future in-laws say I have to invite X. Do I have to?
A: Yes and no.
If your parents or your FILs are paying for your wedding, they do get a certain amount of input on your wedding. For example, if they have chosen to give you $10,000 towards your wedding, you must consult with them on how it is spent; it is likely that they meant for that money to pay for a number of guests, rather than a designer gown. You should ask them who they want to invite, and do as much as you can to accommodate those requests, within reason. If they are asking to invite 100 guests but have only contributed $100, you will need to have a difficult conversation with them about how many guests you can afford to invite, and how many of those guests you will allow them to choose.
If you are paying for the wedding on your own, you can disregard all suggestions. However, remember that stamping your feet and demanding to get your own way did not go over well when you were a child and will probably go over even more poorly as an adult. Remember that when your mother-in-law wants to invite her best friends, it is because she loves your FI and she loves her friends and she wants to share this day with all of them. Consider whether the hurt feelings you may cause are actually worth it.
All bets are off in the case of estranged or abusive people. If someone has threatened or hurt you or a guest you are close to, that person does not have to be invited. No amount of "but he's your uncle" or "but she's trying so hard" should make you put yourself or your guests in danger.Q: I have a lot of friends and family, and a very small budget. How can I cut the guest list?
A: How lucky you are to have so many people who love you! Take a moment and be thankful for all the love you have in your life.
Now, start making some lists. Make a list of people who have to be there in order for you to feel happy about how the day went (your parents, your best friends, etc). People who you'd like to see there, if they can make it (your sorority sisters, great aunt Elsie, etc). People who would probably come, but you wouldn't cry if they didn't (your boss, your FI's little league coach).
In those lists, make circles. You know that if you invite Uncle Fitz, you also have to invite Aunt Gracie or you will hurt her feelings. If you invite your best friend from high school, will your second best friend from high school also need an invitation? Make circles of your aunts and uncles, your first cousins, your work friends, and your knitting circle buddies.
Now, you should have a basic list of about how many people you'd like to invite, based on all those circles. Double-check the list to make sure there's room for every guest to come with a significant other (it could happen, even if they are single the day you make your list). Now shop for venues that will allow you to invite the people you want. You can check at multiple price points this way: maybe your "must have" list is 40 people, but the list that would feel best to you is actually 120. Use these as your guides.Q: Lots of my friends/ family are single. Why do you say I have to give them a guest?
A: What kind of single do you mean? Definitions vary. If by "single" you mean "not romantically attached to another person," then no you are not required to give them a guest. (It may be kind to do so, especially in the case that they know nobody else at the wedding, or need a travel companion, but that is certainly up to your discretion.)
However, if by "single" you mean "unmarried"... well, I'll let an expert do the talking:"Miss Manners is all for inviting couple wedding guests as couples - indeed, there is a new rudeness, which she is trying to stamp out, of inviting only half of an established couple Those who are married, engaged, or otherwise firmly attached must be asked in tandem to social events (as opposed to office gatherings, which are still office gatherings, no matter how many drinks are served). This is not the same as being expected to surrender control of a guest list to the guests themselves."
~Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding
As you can see, any established couple should be invited as a couple. How do you determine who is a couple? Why, you ask them. These are your nearest and dearest family and friends--if you do not know who they are seeing, it is quite simple to call, email, or otherwise reach out and ask "may I have the name of the person you are seeing, so they can join you at the wedding?" You as the host should never be guessing whether or not someone is in a serious relationship. Ask, and you can avoid lots of hurt feelings and drama.Q: I am a nontraditional person. Why should I follow these rules?
A: Good for you for breaking out of the mold! However, being non-traditional does not preclude being a good host or hostess. If you want to carry a monkey instead of a bouquet and have churros instead of wedding cake, feel free! But please make sure that any guests who are invited to your delightfully unusual wedding will feel that they are welcome there, and that you respect their relationship as much as you value your own. A wedding is a celebration of love, and love is what you want to feel all around you--not resentment, frustration, or disappointment.
If your next thought is "But it's my wedding! I can do whatever I want because this day is all about me!" then please take a deep breath and consider what I am about to say. Yes, on your wedding day people are there to see you and your fiance get married. Practically, you can do whatever you want, and most of your family and friends will not say anything to your face about it. But that does not mean that they are happy about it. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe they will go about their day, come to your wedding, smile, and make nice. But while they're smiling, they'll respect you less because you've showed them a lack of respect. When you say "it's all about me," you are forgetting that you love these people. If they matter to you, please consider their comfort and happiness when sending out your invitations.