One of the most dangerous (and alluring) ideas in wedding planning is that if we just work hard enough at something, we can get it exactly right. Our wedding dresses will be beautiful and also emotionally significant. Our favors will be adorable, but also give hilarious insight into our relationships and senses of humor. If there is one place where this idea of perfection builds to a frenzied pitch, it’s the guest list. We need to invite the right people, keep it intimate feeling, and surround ourselves with the best kind of love. And the truth is, that’s impossible. Four years later our wedding album has photos of law school friends who have drifted away, friends from New York for whom the wedding was their last huge gift to us, and relatives that I can never name. But it’s okay. Imperfect and loving and okay. Today Hayley explores that idea from the trenches of planning.
A few weeks ago, Slate published a wedding article that gave me pause: “This is the Last Time I Will Ever See You.” The tagline read, “After every wedding, there is a dear friend who will immediately disappear from your life. And that’s OK.” These blunt words, at first, made me feel almost indignant. Deep in the trenches of wrangling our own wedding guest list, my fiancé and I have debated and negotiated and edited the list countless times over, taking enormous pains to balance budgetary realities with the desire to create a familiar and intimate crowd of those who are most important to us as a couple. While crafting this list with such care, it seems almost impossible that someone could make the cut that could suddenly, and soon, disappear from our lives.
But as I read past the tag line and got into the meat of the article, this line in particular brought me to tears:
“But the most poignant last-timers, the ones who really matter, are the people who once were profoundly important—stalwarts in a terrible time, co-adventurers, the dearest of dear—who, not because of geography or profession, but because of the eddying currents of life, are already drifting away from you by the time of the wedding, even if you don’t realize it. There is no break, just the conspiracy of inconveniences.”
Daunting, right? Sitting here today, how can you possibly tell which friends are here for the long haul and which will soon fade from the occasional email or text to having no contact at all? I think the simple answer is, you can’t. And if we’re completely honest with ourselves, we probably all have some friendships that are drifting in that direction already. It can be hard to detect, especially in the era of Facebook. Status updates and photos can lull us into a false belief that we know what’s going on in our friends’ lives; a “like” or quick comment on a post can create the illusion that we’re “keeping in touch” with someone. I can’t be the only one who has wondered, would we have already lost touch with this person altogether if not for social media? And if so, should we really be inviting them to our wedding?
Complicating matters further, if you and your partner met during a very specific phase in your life—say, for example, graduate school—there are likely a handful of people who were so integral to the start of your relationship that you’ve never imagined your wedding without them. Think about the roommate who waited up to hear all the details the night of your first date, or the buddy who gave your fiancé the not-so-subtle push to ask you out. These people are interwoven in the story of how the relationship came to be—but as you start preparing to send those invites, you realize you have barely spoken since graduation.
Tips and tactics for formulating your wedding guest list abound on the internet: Tiers! Flow charts! Percentages! But the advice given by these resources just didn’t ring true to us. “Was he invited to your wedding?” “Have you specifically discussed the wedding with her?” “Would his presence make the wedding more fun?” (Seriously?) Such questions might sound reasonable in the abstract (maybe?) but seemed to have little relevance to the living, breathing, friends and relatives who have laughed with us, cried with us, and generally supported us as a couple over the past few years. Personally, I found Virginia’s post on “The Dishes” extraordinarily helpful and referenced it constantly as we worked our way through the process of determining who to invite—what would this person say if I called them about The Dishes? But here’s the thing—The Dishes aren’t going anywhere, and a much more loaded question is, five, ten, fifteen years from now, will this still be someone I can call about The Dishes?
Tempting though it may be to visualize your wedding day and cast a suspicious glance around the room in your mind’s eye to guess who will be as near and dear to you a decade from now as they are today, I think that’s a pretty futile exercise. Sure, the probability of having “disappearing guests” likely lessens the smaller and more intimate the wedding, but no relationship, whether family or friend, is immune to cracks, or the “conspiracy of inconveniences” that can cause those who were once so important to us to drift away.
Yes, we may look at our wedding album ten years from now and see a face or two we haven’t seen since the day we said our vows—but I can also say with certainty that the faces of some equally important people will be missing from that album, because we haven’t even met them yet. The wedding is not the pinnacle of our relationships with our friends and family, but a brief snapshot of bonds that have spanned several decades already, and will, for the most part, continue for years to come. Without a crystal ball to guide us, we’ve tackled the wedding guest list not by asking who will be around ten years from now, but rather asking on that one day, who do we want to see looking back at us when we stand up to make huge promises to each other? And while we hope that those faces we see on that day will all stick around as we live out those promises, if some people drift away shortly thereafter, we’ll find comfort in knowing that we were surrounded on that particular day by the people who were most important at this particular moment in time. And that’s more than okay.
Photo of Hayley and her fiancé above and portrait of Hayley below by Finest Moments Photography.
Hayley is a Boston native who recently traded in her snow boots and moved to the Caribbean with her fiancé. Much to the chagrin of friends and family, who had anticipated a barefoot beach wedding, they are planning a “reverse-destination wedding” in Ohio. When she’s not busy at her grown up job, she is an avid reader, writer, and hammock-napper.