Tackling The Guest List (Without A Crystal Ball)


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.

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  • Smitty

    The original Slate article really resonated with me as, just rounding the bend of my first anniversary I already can identify some people who I won’t really see again. And I’m perfectly ok with this, more than ok, because I love those individuals dearly and wanted them to celebrate with me on this special occasion. If, however, you really want this to happen to you, I think a destination wedding is the best bet. People who aren’t going to remain close or who are already edging out of your life are less likely to agree to travel half way across the country/world to celebrate with you.

    For me the harder question was deciding amongst those people I knew were edging out of my life as to whether or not to invite them. I tended to invite them if we had mutual friends who were likely to travel to the wedding (I was getting married in my hometown, away from most of my friends, and knew all my friends would have to travel). This lead to some individuals who were cut and I still kind of wished I had invited, if only as a last sign of letting them know they were important to me (the chance of these people traveling to the wedding were slim to none). Ironically, just last night I had a dream about a friend of mine’s wedding in which one of them attended and I think it was a sign of me not being able to let that friendship go.

    • meg

      Interestingly, lots of the people we’re far less close to now DID fly all the way across the country to be with us. I think (having done it myself) sometimes it’s a way to honor all the things you’ve been through, sort of a gift on a grand scale, and a way to say that even though you’re growing apart, you’ll still always be there for them, even if just in spirit.

  • I met my partner my freshman year of college. When I was in undergrad, I had six girlfriends and we were something of a group, making mini-road trips in the summer, arranging our rooming assignments so we could all be together on the same floor, and generally spending a lot of time together. Over 5 years after graduation I’m very surprised at how those friendships have shaken out: Due to distance and life circumstances, I haven’t seen two of those women in about 4.5 years, another gradually retreated from our friendship because…well, I still don’t know why, and the woman from that group who was mostly an acquaintance in college? She’s become one of the very dearest, most loyal friends to both myself and my partner.

    The eddying currents of life are often surprising, but sometimes they surprise you in a good way, too. It’s not always loss and goodbyes.

  • Katherine

    “….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.” THIS. It is *so* hard deciding who makes it onto the guest list and who not, worrying about who will feel left out/insulted if they aren’t invited, etc. FH & I have simply narrowed it down to immediate family (parents, siblings, aunts & uncles), and then the friends (who are more like family anyway) whose presence we absolutely can’t imagine getting married without. It’s definitely a snapshot in time. Everyone’s lives take different paths, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. As long as they are there to support us & celebrate with us on one of the most important days of our life together as a couple, that’s all that matters to me.

  • two years ago, my childhood best friend (we met at the bus stop on the first day of kindergarten) invited me to her tiny backyard wedding. i had visited her once in college, we had seen each other at home a few times throughout, and she had called me when she was engaged. but truthfully we weren’t really involved in each other’s lives anymore, though i have always loved her as a sister.

    i arrived at the wedding and realized i was one of eight non-family members invited. as i watched her walk down the aisle and marry her (new) best friend, as i ate delicious food and laughed and cried along her family and her other closest friends, i was overwhelmed. by including me, despite the distance, she quietly said to me “i love you as a sister, too.” without the mechanism of the wedding invite, i don’t know that either of us would have had the courage to call the other up and say “you are important to me.” and “i miss you.”

    growing closer again over the last two years has been awesome, to say the least.

  • AVA

    How serendipitous that this post should be today! I have a Team Practical question, that I was desperately searching APW for earlier today but couldn’t find the answer to.

    I am at the very beginning of wedding planning and the man and I have just completed Draft 1 of the guest list. Draft 2 involves a decision on whether to invite friends’ partners to the wedding.

    I’ve been invited to others’ weddings both with and without my partner, and honestly have had more fun at the weddings I attended with partner. However, I also understand that the man may not have been invited to some weddings because the couple didn’t know him very well. I feel this way about a few of my friend’s partners – I either don’t know them very well, or (in some cases) I don’t really like them. My BFF suggests I apply some sort of “serious”/”not-so-serious” test to my guests’ relationships to see who gets and invite and who doesn’t. I have to say that this approach doesn’t sit well with me – applying some value judgment to my friends’ relationships.

    So, Team Practical – do I invite my friends’ partners (even if I don’t know/like them) so that my guests are happy, or do I ask my friends to attend solo because I don’t know/like their partners?

    • AVA

      Oh, and apologies for this being a little off topic.

    • mimi

      I say invite the partners. Even if you don’t know them very well, your guests will probably appreciate it. We invited everyone with a guest (whether married, dating, or single). Some of the marrieds are coming without their spouse, and most of the singles aren’t bringing dates, but that was their choice.

      • Peabody_Bites

        We had a big guest list crunch, as everyone does, exacerbated by both having pretty big families and in the end it was a question of inviting strangers, or being able to invite more friends / family.

        So we didn’t have a blanket invitation policy for partners, but only invited:
        – those partners who we knew (i.e. had met several times and liked) or were actually friends with;
        – the partners of extremely old/close friends
        – the partners of people who were travelling to the wedding, who didn’t know that many other people or who would geniunely have a less good time without their partner there, for whatever reason
        – people who were married / engaged / living together

        It was really hard, and we personally called all the people who had partners that we knew of and explained why we couldn’t invite them at that time. People were extremely understanding about it, but looking back it is the only thing I regret about our wedding planning decisions. Lots of those couples (there were maybe 10/12 of them) are now married, we are close to them as couples and I wish they had both been at our wedding.

        TL: DR version – if I could do it over, I would invite any partners whose name I knew and use that as the benchmark.

        • Jessica B

          We had the rule of if they were traveling from out of town to invite the partners. My FH explained to all his friends why their SOs weren’t invited if they live within a couple hours of our wedding spot, and they were all very understanding. We put the the SOs of those people on the “B” list for when we get regrets from other invitees.

          I was just talking with someone about how obligations form a wedding. For instance, if we didn’t have the obligation to invite a bunch of family members, we would have a very different looking guest list. However, you must work with what you got and know that those people will (probably) feel honored to be invited to your wedding.

          I have an uncle I haven’t seen in years who took on the difficult task of getting time off for our wedding, and I never would have guessed he would do that for me (or my Dad, more likely). It was humbling, and I’m glad to know he is excited to attend!

    • Marie

      Our general rule was to invite the partner only if the couple was married, engaged, or living together. We let both of our brothers bring their girlfriends because they both are in long-term (2+ year) relationships. We would have invited guests to bring a date if they wouldn’t know anyone else at the wedding besides us, but no one fell into that category.

    • Emmy

      I say yes, invite your friends’ partners. We invited all long-term partners of our guests (married, engaged, living together, or just seriously dating) because I see those couples as one social unit. I have a couple of single friends who I invited alone, but they know many other guests. We also have a few single guests who don’t know anyone else, so we invite them “and guest.”

      • Copper

        This is exactly the way we’re going. If they’d refer to them as their “partner” then their partner is of course invited. But if it’s a person they’ve been dating a few weeks whom we haven’t met yet and have no clue if they’ll be together by the wedding… not bothering.

    • Anyone who was in a relationship that we knew of, we invited their partner. We only gave out one +1, to a friend travelling all the way from Texas to Maine, who doesn’t really know anyone else at the wedding.

      • Karen

        This is what we did, as well. I like the person above who called people “a social unit.” We actually only have about 5 single people on our guest list. Two of them were given +1s because they’ll know very few people there and one will be coming from overseas. The other three have been told by me that we did not give them a +1 because they aren’t currently dating anyone BUT to please let me know if that changes before the wedding! We are not doing a sit-down dinner (just appetizers, cocktails, and dessert) so our numbers are a little more flexible. Everyone seemed happy with this decision!

    • Anne

      We also invited all partners, although didn’t offer plus ones. Our rationale was that if we loved you enough to invite you to our wedding, we wanted to honor the person you love, too. One of my bridesmaids had been dating a guy for a couple years who we’d never met, given that both she and he lived in different cities than we did. But I think it was really important to invite him — just because I didn’t know him didn’t mean he isn’t the most important person in my friend’s life. They’re still together, and though I don’t know him well (still different cities), I know how happy he makes my friend, and given how important she is to me, I will continue to get to know him. Had we not invited this guy to the wedding, it would probably be awkward for years.

      It’s really easy to cut down the guest list by not inviting significant others, especially ones you don’t know. But I think for us it came down to honoring our friends’ relationships, as we were asking them to celebrate ours.

      • I’ll second this. When my friend got married (about a year and a half ago) I had hung out with her and her now-fiance a handful of times, but neither of them had met my partner. They generously invited my partner as well as myself, and it was a real gift. The four of us are now friends (we just went to his birthday party a few weeks ago), and their wedding was in many ways the spirit of joy and fun that we are trying to capture with our own wedding.

        I wouldn’t have held it against them if they didn’t invite my partner in the least, but inviting both of us opened the door for a really fun friendship.

    • TeaforTwo

      We invited partners, but didn’t give +1s. If I were hosting any other kind of party, my friends’ partners would be invited, and so it would have felt too strange to leave the partners off the list.

      That said, it did involved a “serious/not serious test,” because I didn’t want complete strangers at the wedding, or single guests feeling like they needed to wrangle up dates. We invited so few friends, that it was easy to know if they were in a relationship or not, and for the cousins we may only see once or twice a year, we used a mom test – emailed their parents (all of our aunts and uncles) to confirm the cousins’ mailing addresses, and asked “is there anyone that Eric will want to bring?” I figure that if the parents know the partner, it’s serious enough to warrant an invitation. If the partner isn’t doing immediately family events, though, they probably don’t need to come to one for the extended family.

    • Stalking Sarah

      Our serious/not serious test started off as:

      -The couple is married or engaged or living together

      It ended up as:
      -The couple is married or engaged or living together
      -Our friend is in the wedding party and has whined extensively about wanting to bring their person.

      • Cait

        I feel like some of this becomes practical, too. Like two of my closest friends aren’t married, engaged, OR living with their partners, but one has been with her boyfriend for five years and I know him well and they’re just too Catholic to live together and they don’t want to “get engaged” officially while they’re both in grad school; the other just moved across the country to live in the same city as her boyfriend, but they decided to maintain separate apartments for now. In those cases, I think it’s so obvious that you’ve invite both–the test is sort of an easy way to say like, “when it’s obvious, it’s obvious” and to keep off people who aren’t obvious.

    • MDBethann

      When we got married last year, we invited partners if they were married/engaged/living together/long term relationship. I checked with single relatives & friends to confirm whether or not they were in a relationship (it can be hard to tell with cousins you only see a couple times a year) and to make sure I had the name correct if they were in a relationship. I had space limitations due to the size of our venue and I was really not comfortable with people scrounging up random dates for my wedding. A relationship is one thing, a wedding-only date is another.

      We only had one issue – my DH’s cousin, who was and is single (I checked with my MIL and her sister to be sure), decided, without checking with us first, to bring a plus 1. She was coming from the West Coast and by the time I got her RSVP, I had no idea if the +1 was someone who was local or flying in with her (turns out he was a local friend of her’s). He was out on the dance floor a lot so I ended up with a number of reception pictures with him in them (and I don’t even know his name!) which is sort of weird.

      Just be clear – whomever the envelope is addressed to is the invitee – so putting BOTH partners’ names on helps a lot, rather than doing “+1.” It also helps with consistency in case anyone raises a fuss. This also a great rule if you are or are not including children – “& family” implies that the whole family is included but adults’ names only on both the inner and outer envelopes implies no children.

    • megep

      We invited partners and gave out +1s to friends, but our cousins did not get plus ones unless they were engaged or married. Between us we have about 30 some cousins, so this cut our list down by a lot. (Luckily, most of our cousins are single or casually dating, so it wasn’t a big deal.) We felt a little bit bad–but it turned out none of the cousins cared. They had our big extended families to hang out with all weekend, and we got to have tons of cousin bonding time.

    • meg

      Yes. You do. (Sadly, if you don’t like them.) But you do.

      Exceptions are given for people who have been dating say less than six months, but even then, be careful. David and I went to some weddings together before the six month mark, and good thing they invited us both, since we’re both now in their lives forever.

      • meg

        Follow up: I think +1’s are nice, but optional (we didn’t give them, couldn’t afford to, with space constraints). Partners are not optional though.

      • AVA

        Thanks for the good advice everyone!

        Yes, my gut reaction is that as a guest I’ve had more fun at weddings that my partner has also been invited to – simply because they are celebrations of love, and he’s my love.

        I guess I’m having trouble negotiating the ‘wedding ettiquette’/’it’s our wedding, so feck your rules’ line.

        • Smitty

          It sounds like you’ve made this decision, but I think you should really invite partners. I didn’t have many space constraints and so I gave plus ones to everyone I could think of, but no one took me up on it (my cousins are mostly younger and there are a lot of them and unless they’re married were more comfortable coming alone, as was the case with all of my friends since they had to travel far). Personally, I prefer to go to my friends’ weddings, as long as I know some other people, alone because I have more freedom to party with friends I haven’t seen in a while. That said, I felt pretty disappointed a few years ago when an old friend invited me to his wedding without my partner. The old friend hadn’t met my partner (because I hadn’t seen the friend in the five years since my guy and I were dating/living together), but he definitely knew I was in a serious relationship. Another mutual friend had the same issue (they’d been together even longer than me and my guy but weren’t living together), so we went as each other’s dates and had a blast. But within 8 months both the mutual friend and I were engaged and I still reflect on it being awkward that I couldn’t even offer for my partner to attend the wedding with me (though I had more fun without him). So definitely invite partners, and don’t judge those partners on arbitrary settings like “engaged” or “living together” but on something more general like “brought home to mother” or a “social unit.”

  • Marie

    The guest list was – hands down, winner by a mile – the very hardest part of wedding planning for us. I agonized about the guest list for months. Part of it is that I have moved around a lot over the years so I have several different groups of friends, not to mention a sizable family, so the numbers were adding up to a lot no matter how I tried to cut.

    We ended up having to draw lines somewhere, of course, and I did feel some regret after, but tried not to because nothing can be done later. I I like the line about this being a snapshot in time, and that being ok – it’s very comforting.

  • Katelyn

    “the faces of some equally important people will be missing from that album, because we haven’t even met them yet.”

    So smart!! So true!! Such a lovely thought during such a not so lovely task of wrangling the guest list.

    • This was my favorite part as well!

  • Kristen

    We had the luxury (?) of having more room and welcome than guests to invite. This allowed us to be generous with folks his parents wanted to invite which was nice. It also pushed us to get over thinking no one would want to come to our wedding and we invited people we cared about who did us the honor of showing up and being super touched to have been invited, like the parents of my husbands best friends.

    In a weird way, the lack of a guest list also pushed my husband and I to focus more on socializing and making new friends which was very needed at that point in our lives. While the lack of a guest list was definitely a point of depression during wedding planning, in the end, I was very grateful to have had a wedding where genuinely every person there wished us nothing but the best. I never thought I would have people in my life who cared about me like that and my wedding was an opportunity to celebrate the healthy, beautiful changes I’ve made in my life and to honor those people who have supported me through the tough times and are still here.

    Just writing that out helped me to appreciate another aspect of my wedding that I hadn’t thought of before.

    • Cait

      That’s lovely. I’m glad you said this, because I struggle with this a bit–“who will even want to come?”–and I like the idea of people who want to come self-selecting and bringing their good wishes and joy to our wedding day.

  • “conspiracy of inconveniences” – i love this phrase.

  • Our dear friends used the “past, present, future” principle when forming their guest list. “Past” for people they had known a long time, who had played really important roles in their lives, even if they weren’t necessarily still in close contact. It was a way of honoring those relationships and the way they had impacted the forming of their couple-hood. (These friends were high school sweethearts.) “Present” was for close friends in the here-and-now. “Future” was for people who had recently come into their lives. People who, while they weren’t necessarily BFFs with, they really WANTED to become closer to and felt like, with the passage of time, they would be. We found out a year or so after their wedding (on the first of many shared vacations) that we had fallen into that hopeful “future” category. They are now our closest friends. :)

    • This is lovely, but I think, tough, namely in the future category. I’d love to do this with people in my life but negotiating the sentiments of new friendships and not making people feel awkward because your intentions aren’t reciprocated and so on just gives me a headache…

  • Class of 1980

    I once exited a friendship on purpose a few months after my friend got married.

    It was a guy friend. We’d known each other since high school and even dated briefly. I was the first person he showed the engagement ring to. He was so excited!

    Except … he was still attracted to me even during his engagement. He mentioned it once and even questioned whether it should be he and I getting married. I was astounded.

    Strangely, I didn’t interpret it as meaning they didn’t belong together. Maybe I felt it was him coming to terms with the finality of it all. He had initiated their engagement after all and was happy. Plus, I felt she was much better for him at that stage of life than I was.

    After they were married, I kept in touch. But it started feeling weird to ask to speak to him whenever she answered the phone. I always felt like a little girl asking … “Can your husband come out to play?” After a while, I stopped calling and all the rambling conversations he and I used to have went away.

    Even so, I belonged at their wedding for sure. I was around during their entire courtship. I still miss my friend after decades, but felt like I didn’t have a choice. The fact that he didn’t stop me from fading away, tells me it was getting awkward for him also.

    • Stalking Sarah

      A similar story: I once exited a friendship because I was getting married and I knew I didn’t want this person there, and I didn’t want it to be awkward when I didn’t invite her (because she wasn’t actually someone I was all that close with). I like to think I did it gracefully a la Miss Manners (slowly seeing the person less and less, and eventually letting things just fade away).

    • Not Sarah

      I went to a wedding in a similar situation. I don’t think that he still understands at all why I cut him off. I’m glad I went to the wedding, but I was also thankful I dragged a date with me. It was hard. A few months before they got married, he was talking to both of us on gtalk at the same time and accidentally messaged me to say “love you gorgeous”. He emails me every year on my birthday and I politely thank him and don’t start a conversation. I don’t email him on his birthday, though I do remember when it was.

      On the other hand, I went to a wedding recently of a guy I’ve known for about 4 years now. We kind of maybe sort of dated shortly before he met his now-wife about 2.5 years ago, but we never talked about it. About 6 months later, we started hanging out with a mutual friend on a specific night of the week and we still have never talked about the “dates” we went on. It doesn’t matter. Him and his wife are a far better fit than we were and I honestly think that we will probably still see each other in the limited capacity we do now and things will be fine, for a while. And that’s okay.

  • Tess

    Now that our RSVP’s are in and the guest list thing is decided (not only who to invite but who will actually attend) I have to air my one regret about the process. I should have invited more people. And in particular, I should have invited older friends I haven’t seen in some time. I really took to heart the idea that we should invite folks that were still in our lives and, in particular, knew us or me with my partner and not just me before my partner (we’ve been together for five years, so this is a pretty big list). But I just went to a wedding that invited a swath of old, out of touch friends, and it was such a joy to reconnect. Some of lost friendships will be rekindled from that wedding, and I wish I’d had the generosity to let my wedding be as much a reunion as a snapshot of the people that are in our lives now.

    • Cait

      We’re making our guest list now, and I find this “just did it” perspective so useful! I was wondering if I should invite the family that was childhood best friends with me and my sister. We’re all facebook friends, and my mom still sends their parents Christmas updates, but I haven’t personally messaged the girl I was friends with since we were teenagers probably. But we grew up together, and I sort of vaguely keep track of them, and I feel happy to hear about their successes and milestones, and my family still talks about them. So I feel like, what’s the harm in sending an invitation? And maybe a facebook message!

    • Teresa

      We are approaching our first anniversary and this is pretty much my only regret (except for that I wish I’d been brave enough to at least try on a pink dress!). I thought I was making the right choice, as I haven’t seen most of my high school friends in years. We don’t talk on the phone, I only see them on the rare occasions when we are both in our home town at the same time. I knew they were all glad for me, b/c they were cheering me on via the internet, but, as we were paying for the majority of our wedding on our very tight budget and we had so much family to invite, I didn’t invite them. And now, I sort of wish that I had. They may not have been around when I met my husband and as our relationship grew, but they were there for me as I grew up, and I am very much feeling like that matters and I should have seen that it matters.

      There are also a few friends of my in-laws that I just didn’t think to invite (and they didn’t ask me to put them on the list b/c they still remember my MIL’s mother making them invite all these people they hardly knew) and now that I think back, they are really important to my in-laws. I know that it’s a bit late for these regrets, but I was just so stressed about money and all the other things that go into planning a wedding at the time, that I really wish I could have been more thoughtful and less impulsive about the guest list.

    • meg

      INVITE THEM NOW. If you have space, INVITE THEM NOW.

      Some of our favorite wedding guests we invited with (get this) a week’s notice. We knew they were not easily insulted, so we emailed and told them, “Look, we wanted to invite you, but we ended up having more mandatory family invites than expected, so we couldn’t. BUT! Turns out people can’t come and we really really want you there. Don’t worry about presents or anything, just show up if you can.” They came, were thrilled, were awesome guests, and (get this) gave us an amazing present. (Talk about over and above.)

      Like you mentioned, one of them was someone we’d known since High School. And now, they’re people we see somewhat regularly and really are thrilled to have in our lives.

      SO. It’s not too late! Give them a call and explain why you want them there. People are RARELY insulted to get a wedding invite. In fact, sometimes it’s way more exciting at the last minute. (Most fun wedding I’ve ever been too, I was a last second invite.)

      • Tess

        This is great advice Meg – and I’ve followed it for a handful of people already and been really . But now that we’re nearly at the two week mark, I wonder if it isn’t rude for people that are out of town? I feel like for in town people, it’s no biggie, but inviting someone who has to book a flight this soon feels a little over the line. Of course, my last-minute invites have been very much “I realize it’s way late and you probably can’t, but I figured I’d try since we’d love to have you!”

        • Tess

          Can’t edit – meant to say it has been really nice how excited people are to get the late invite.

    • Bella

      This was something I agonised over innitially with both old friends and family I hadn’t seen in over a decade. After 18 months of wedding planning this is *my* personal take:
      Your wedding is not a family/highschool/friend reunion, and it certainly shouldn’t be up to you to pay for and organise a “reunion” – it’s a celebration of you and your partner.
      Rekindling old friendships and meeting up with old family members can be magic but you don’t need to take on board all the costs and responsibility by doing this at your wedding.

  • TeaforTwo

    This thread has made me realize that our guest list has actually been pretty straightforward, and for that I would like to thank the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control.

    Our venue will “only” hold 150 people, and I wouldn’t want our wedding to be any bigger than that anyway, because I would hate to have guests we don’t even get to see on our wedding day. That said, our families total 130 “must invite” people. And if our older siblings’ weddings are any indication, at least 128 of those family members will attend.

    I know how fortunate we are to come from such enormous and close-knit families, and there is not a single relative on that list who I would consider crossing off. But it does mean that my fiance and I each get to invite five friends (plus their partners).

    At first that really disappointed me when I realized that I can’t invite my book club, or the girls I eat lunch with at work, or an old friend from high school who I’ve mostly lost touch with, but whose wedding I attended last summer and loved. On the other hand, choosing 5 people meant that every friend on the guest list has seen me ugly cry, has held my hair back while I threw up at a party in undergrad, or has backpacked with me across Europe and Australia. They’re the friends without whom I could absolutely not get married.

    If I got to choose another 10 people, that’s when things would start to get complicated. But as it is, when I’m talking to friends who aren’t on the list, I can smile and say honestly that we had to limit our wedding to family only.

    • Also Ali

      “This thread has made me realize that our guest list has actually been pretty straightforward, and for that I would like to thank the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control.”

      I don’t actually have anything to add, except that this line gave me a LOL.

  • My rule was “I will not be introducing myself in a wedding gown”. My fiance and I had been together for 6 years when we got married, so if I hadn’t met them in that amount of time, they didn’t make the cut. I know that doesn’t work for everyone but it worked for me and helped my pushy mother in law get the picture.

    • TeaforTwo

      I WISH I could put my foot down on that. Like I said above, my fiance and I each get to invite 5 friends plus their partners to the wedding. He’s a pretty introverted guy, and there are two people on his list (of 5!) whom I have never met, and whom I can guarantee he has not seen in the flesh for the entire time we are dating. Unless they got a Facebook notification that we are engaged, I can’t imagine they even know that he has a partner, let alone my name.

      But they were his very good friends in elementary and high school and no matter how often I say “but I don’t want strangers at our wedding!” he is absolutely unwavering in wanting them on the guest list, even at the expense of more recent friends whom we both know.

      It’s been a real lesson in compromise and letting go, because he gets to pick his five, even if I don’t understand his choices. But I am certainly looking forward to meeting these people he feels so strongly about!

      • Hahah yea, they better be pretty awesome…or bring a really nice gift :)

      • That was something that I struggled with. I met a few of my husband’s family members in our receiving line, as he did with my family. It made things fun. I am very shy in some situations, but there was something about being the bride that made it a lot easier to say “HI! LET ME HUG YOU AND MEET YOU TODAY!” than it would have been at another function.

      • Rebecca

        I was super excited to meet my husband’s friends from college that he had also not seen in the flesh the entire time we were dating. Without our wedding, I probably would never have met them, which doesn’t mean they’re not important to my husband- just that in person contact isn’t a priority in their relationships with each other.

        I know they provided some support via the internet early in our relationship, and from the stories he had told me about them they seemed like people I would enjoy meeting. And honestly, they were great. It’s pretty cool to meet someone who’s known your partner at a completely different point in their lives- it’s a totally different perspective.

    • Stalking Sarah

      I tried for this, and mostly succeeded. But DEFINITELY worked with parents!

    • I love that rule! BUT my fiance has a huge family that doesn’t get together much. Also, they’re apparently opinionated and have made C and his dad something like the black sheep of the family because they don’t live up to the “right standards”. Yeah, I’m thrilled. They’re his mom’s sisters and brothers so we’re stuck with them, but we’re not expecting all of them to attend. I’m just hoping that everyone’s been exaggerating.

      • MDBethann

        There are some “interesting” relationships in my MIL’s family – she has 4 siblings, 3 of whom get along well and 1, well, not. So the “not” sibling and her husband and children weren’t invited (well, couldn’t be b/c I was never given their contact information) and the others were invited, but one lives in the South Pacific (did not make the trip), and the other 2 came but not all of their children did. In my family, on the other hand, my cousins, their kids, my parents’ cousins, and most of their kids were all invited and attended the wedding. I would say easily that 100 of our 165 invitees were my relatives. If my grandparents were still around, the list would have likely been larger – they were definitely the “invite people you don’t know just because they’re related to us” kind.

    • meg

      I think that often doesn’t work. With big extended families, there are often important family members (to in-laws or your spouse) who you haven’t met, but it’s not necessarily ok to cut from the list.

      That WAS our rule with non-relations, however.

  • Margaret Thatcher

    That Slate article really resonated with me.

    I can think of a few guests that may disappear, but the hardest thing is the feeling that it’s likely going to be one of the last times I see one of my bridesmaids. I love her dearly, and we shared a ton of really important college stuff together, but she lives 8 hours away now and stays super busy with life stuff. And I stay pretty busy too. It’s just really hard to bridge that sort of distance, but on the other hand, I couldn’t imagine her not being there. I think, either way, it would be bittersweet.

  • Copper

    A sad thing for me was confirming while collecting addresses just how much a couple of people have already drifted. I asked a couple of girls I’d lived with during a really rough but important time in my life for their current addresses to send save-the-dates to, and neither even bothered to respond. I gave a second chance… no response. It felt like a big old F-you to me that they wouldn’t even want me to bother inviting them. But I guess that means, more room on the guest list for people who actually give a crap about me.

    • Cait

      Wow, I’m sorry that happened. I hope the people who do come make you feel loved and warm and special even though those former friends didn’t do so.

    • Stalking Sarah

      I had one friend who didn’t respond to a save-the-date (which she confirmed later that she had received), an invite (which she hadn’t), an email, a text, or a twitter message. Finally I called her parents, got her work number, and called her at work. Now granted, she was an extremely busy person, but it hurt that she couldn’t get it together to respond, as we’d grown up together.

  • Margi

    “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.” EXACTLY this!

    I love this quote and think it can apply to anything in life….relationships, career, friendships, etc.

  • Jessica

    One of the only regrets I have about my wedding is about an old roommate of mine that we didn’t end up inviting. He and I had drifted apart, and I knew our friendship was on its way to being a (beautiful) thing of the past. I was right about that, but when he called to congratulate us after we were married, I realized that having him there would have meant a lot to me, and I think to him as well. So if I could go back, I would have invited him, knowing full well that it would have been a last-hurrah for us.

  • Alexandra

    One wonderful piece of advice that we got from our best man and his wife was to invite and include at least a few people with whom we aren’t great friends YET, but we would really like to be better friends with in time. Sort of the opposite of the “disappearing friend” from the Slate article.

    With that in mind, I invited a girl whom I’ve only known about ten months to be one of my bridesmaids. I like her a lot and would love for us to become close friends in the years to come.

    We haven’t agonized all that much over the guest list. We decided people were our top priority and ordered plentiful cheap food and a low key venue with a large seating capacity so we could just invite everybody we wanted. It’s a destination wedding for our family (we live in Hawaii) but not for us, so actually, the vast majority of our attendees (about 200 people) will be friends. Oh my gosh I’m getting so excited. Wheeeeee!

    • meg

      This is great advice. Some of our good friends now were at our wedding because they fell in that category.

  • We struggled a lot with our guest list because my parents, my fiance, and I each had a lot of people we wanted to invite, and all those people were way more than our venue could accommodate. It was a fairly contentious topic, which we resolved more or less by throwing up our hands and inviting (almost) everyone and just hoping for the best (ie: that because it was a destination enough people would say no that we would not be over-capacity).

    I was really worried for awhile that we’d have too many people, but it actually worked out exactly as people told us we would: about a 70% yes response rate, which was just right for our venue. And in the end, I was really glad that we invited almost everyone. There were a lot of people I thought of not inviting in the interest of saving space, and now that it’s passed, I’m glad we invited them all – even though a bunch ended up not being able to come. I know not everyone can go for the maximalist approach, but it worked out much better than I thought it would for us.

    Also, I had one friend that I cut because of numbers, and I so regretted it that I ended up emailing her three weeks before the wedding and inviting her and her husband, explaining exactly why they hadn’t been invited sooner. She was totally understanding, and I was so glad I reached out to her. So I also think that even if someone doesn’t make the invitation cut, it’s still possible to include them if you change your mind later on. (Miss Manners might not approve, but I did it as graciously as I possible could.)

  • JSwen

    This is a great post. Very helpful. I’m lucky enough to happily have a small family and opt for fewer close relationships instead of many acquaintances. I stretched “my” list to 39 people. N’s list is going to be longer with about 12 first cousins, many of whom have kids and nearly all of whom are married. My best judgement is to let him invite anyone as far out as 1st cousin, with one close family of 2nd cousins as an exception. The likelihood that his whole family will show is low for several reasons, mainly economics and geography. We’ll see if once we start pricing out the reception, our guest list gets slimmed down!