What You Do When You Need More People to Invite to Your Wedding

bride and groom walking in front of barn

The most important thing is to gather the people who love you. Once you do that, the details will iron themselves out. —Meg, in the book

Unlike a lot of people, I never had to worry about having to cut down on my guest list; I was more concerned about expanding it. I have far more friends than I or my parents would ever have expected in my years as a nerdy shut-in (I don’t remember anyone from my primary school, but I sure remember all the books I read then). But socially speaking, I’m still more of a spider—spinning my little web of friends and sticking to it—than a butterfly. Also, living in a country other than your country of origin means you have a lot of friends elsewhere, no matter where you are.

I sent a lot of invitations to people who, if they lived in the same country, would definitely attend my wedding, as I would theirs. But some of them have visa issues that mean they have to stay just where they are, and some of them can’t manage the amount of leave it would require, and some of them just plain can’t afford it. This didn’t bother me with the English wedding, but I was a little worried about the Malaysian wedding, which in its very structure is set up for a raucousness that demands large groups. A tea ceremony is a bit naff if there’s nobody to serve tea to.

Fortunately the Malaysian wedding guest list turned out not to be a problem. At first it was! My mother sent me anxious emails asking me to scrounge up more friends, because, “It’ll be nice to have more people of your age group around.” It was my sad but necessary task to explain that her daughter had no other friends, and really she should be pleased at my progress considering there was a time when a Simpsons hand would have had three fingers too many if we were gonna use it to count my friends. (Or, to be grammatically accurate: friend. And now Maid of Honour. Thanks for saving my adolescence from total loserdom, BFF!)

Then, when I called and explained that I’d been trying my best but it appeared my friends’ various siblings and cousins didn’t seem that keen on coming to the wedding of someone they didn’t know to someone else they didn’t know, but good news, all was not over as we could ask my sister to ask all her numerous friends—my mother said: “Don’t invite any more people! We sat down and counted everyone we’ve invited and now we’re going to ask the restaurant if they can fit a hundred more people. Dad asked his business contacts and take-up has been very good!”

Pleased (though it is always an odd experience to hear your wedding described in similar terms to a business conference), I left her to get on with it. But without the presence of my parents’ business contacts and half-forgotten cousins, we’ve ended up having a relatively small wedding in England—we just about made the minimum number for our venue.

This small guest list is partly my own fault, to be honest, and not just because I have no friends. I was picky about the people I invited. If I wasn’t completely sure I’d enjoy spending a Saturday afternoon with them alone—the kind of meandering afternoon that ends with you having green tea ice cream at a random restaurant just because you don’t feel ready to go home yet—then I didn’t invite them. There are lots of people I like, but not as many I like that much. I had the occasional wobble about people who were on the line, but overall I felt I’d made the right decision.

It didn’t really have to do with money—it was just a matter of honesty, and perhaps the vague idea that a wedding is a community-building event, and so I wanted to build in only the people I was sure I wanted to be part of my community. (Relatives were excluded from the strict criterion of membership of the green tea ice cream fellowship. Relatives are inbuilt into the community and so they don’t have to be kindred spirits, though ideally they should be non-awful.)

But if the guest list was a bit tricky, the seating plan was a whole ‘nother level of difficulty. The way we did it was we drew some tables on a piece of paper, wrote down a list of names, and then tore our hair out for a few hours. It was like playing a particularly evil variant of Sudoku.

Should I seat my friends who were all from one school but who had scattered across the globe at one table, because they’d want to see each other after so many years? But there were just a few too many to all sit at the same table, and if the two or three left over were sat somewhere else, they’d be looking over wistfully at the fun table all night.

I’d break up the group and mix them with Cephas’s friends. After all, it was only for dinner—they’d have the whole rest of the day to clique it up. But how to mix them with Cephas’s friends? I wanted to avoid gender disparity at any of the tables; I wanted to avoid, as well, having one table of mostly white people and one table of mostly not.

But at the same time I wanted to have people together who would get along—who would have synergies, to be all business-speak about it. So I probably wasn’t going to sit the avid slash fanfic reader with the evangelical Christian who talks about God a lot. They might well get on like a house on fire, but if not, I wasn’t about to be the one responsible for pinning them to a table for an evening.

When I started seeing the synergies it became kind of enjoyable, like when you finally start knocking out those rows in Sudoku. I would put the two really fancy girls I knew at school together, they’d get along and wouldn’t have seen each other in a while—ooh, and her boyfriend is in a rock band and has also played in an orchestra, and here are all Cephas’s friends who are professional musicians! And she’s doing a PhD, and so are these two other people, and one of them is from Manchester, as is rock band guy….

You do end up relying on stereotypes a bit; I don’t know if my classifying people by interests and origin and yes, religion will prevent the blossoming of some beautiful serendipitous bit of chemistry. But eh! The chemistry can wait for the silent disco.


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  • Erica

    Sudoku is EXACTLY the right metaphor!

    I felt the same way when doing my seating assignments; that it was very difficult and near impossible at times (probably the first 10 times we tried to make arrangements), but there must be a correct answer alluding me! There must be a way for all of the puzzle pieces to go *click*! I made the same generalizations that you did: well they both play ultimate frisbee, and they are both from Boston, and they like music, and they are from the same generation, and they studied abroad at in Spain at the same time and never even met, and they can talk to ANYONE, etc. etc.

    Heck if we figured it out with 2 sets of divorced parents…anyone can.

    Congrats on figuring out the puzzle! (Also, the hosts of the party care wayyyy more about this than anyone else dose apparently. Rest easy.)

    • It’s such a pain but over all rewarding. When I realized that my wife’s uber-geeky friends would probably enjoy my computer nerd younger brother, I did a dance of triumph.

  • Audrey

    I almost liked doing the seating arrangement for our wedding – I got a real feeling of accomplishment once I had one that was “good enough”.

  • Rebecca

    Oh Goodness this is my upcoming wedding to a T. I am introverted and only have a few close friends. I have handfuls of acquaintances from college but it felt weird inviting people I haven’t not had a conversation with in close to 2 years to such in intimate event?

    I have not had to create the seating arrangement just yet. Wish me luck, because I foresee a lot of agonizing.

  • Anna

    “So I probably wasn’t going to sit the avid slash fanfic reader with the evangelical Christian who talks about God a lot. They might well get on like a house on fire, but if not, I wasn’t about to be the one responsible for pinning them to a table for an evening.”

    I have been the former, seated with the latter, and I want to thank you personally for not doing that to someone else, as it was an incredibly awkward evening.

  • Carrie

    Hahaha. This was why I flatly refused to do assigned seating.

    I guess I’m a bad hostess for not caring more about faciliating serendipitous conversation. But there wasn’t really anyone at our wedding who didn’t already know some other people, so I didn’t have to worry that some of the guests would be all alone if I didn’t give them a pre-formed group. And it was a buffet dinner, so people could get their own plates and move around as they pleased, without worrying about a server being able to find them again. And it was at a restaurant with a bunch of smaller tables, so people could easily pull up extra chairs or combine tables or whatever.

    And mostly, I just did not have the mental energy to play guest list sudoku. So we just had open seating at the reception. Everyone still seemed to enjoy themselves.

  • I love the green tea ice cream test for whether to invite people.

    Also, we had a knock-down-drag-out fight with my future in-laws last week about the seating chart that involved them threatening to ask people to move seats at the reception if they didn’t get their way. What is it about sitting and eating dinner with new people that gets people so damn riled up? It’s only for an hour or two! You will live!

  • J

    Our biggest “problem arrangement” was whether the two couples who each had babies would feel forced together- I felt it was a little forced, and they would each enjoy other people, but the maths meant that any other way would have other friends who had been trying to conceive for five years next to a baby… that didn’t seem fair.

  • Ari

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    It’s so awesome to read about other introverts with small guest lists. My partner and I are both more introverted than not, and our circle of friends is small. Once we whittle it down to people we feel close to and community-ish with, we might have trouble filling any venue larger than your standard living room, and we don’t have all that much family between us to round things out.

    I feel like the idea of guest list stress and having to pare numbers down is so pervasive, so much a part of the wedding mythology–I admit that it makes me feel awkward, sometimes, just for being myself, for having a small circle of friends, like something’s wrong with me.

    I’m pretty good about putting on my sensible shoes and kicking that feeling back to the curb, but it’s always nice and affirming to see awesome people rocking similar circumstances!

  • Taylor B

    I didn’t feel especially strongly about this topic until a few weeks ago. My fiance and I were recently seated at what was clearly the left-overs table at a reception, and it felt really awful! Even though we made new friends for the evening, no one had anything in common other than our ages and the fact that we were seated at Table 10. Our table was also in the exact center of the dance floor, and was cleared and broken down during dessert (no cake for Table 10) and we stood in a corner during all the various first dances. We had a good time, and enjoyed all the rounds of ice-breaking, but if I had been on my own I would have felt really uncomfortable. I’m officially committed to the seating chart!

  • Claire

    I gave the seating arrangements at my wedding almost zero thought. As in, I thought about creating a seating chart and immediately decided it was easier to just let people seat themselves wherever they wanted. So we did and it was fine. It suited the casual house-party feel and buffet dinner.

  • Paranoid Libra

    I didn’t feel compelled to make a seating arrangement….but I also didn’t want one made for me sooo I had to do the guest list Sudoku. Luckily we had varying sized tables so some tables just went perfectly easy to seat. It didn’t take too long, but still not sooo fun.

    I also did this the weekend before my wedding. Nothing like last minute!

  • Cassandra

    We’re another set of introverts with an itty bitty guest list (like… less than 20 people including us and our child kind of tiny guest list). I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who has a small number of friends, who all just happen to live in very different places – our wedding is taking place in the SO’s new town, away from his hometown (where I live now and have a few friends) and away from my hometown (where I haven’t lived in years and have a few friends), and far away from all the fabulous places my nearest and dearest have found themselves over the years. These are people who I’d love at my wedding, but who just can’t come for all the practical reasons people can’t go to weddings sometimes. So we’re using a similar green tea ice cream test for those few who we’re having – are they lovely to sit around the kitchen table with having a beer after all the other dinner guests have gone home (and do they ignore that we haven’t made the house spotless prior to said dinner party)? Only a few people make that list, and I’m okay with that.

  • Sounds a lot like how I do my classroom seating chart! Race, gender, height, personality, you gotta take it all into account! (Well, maybe not height at a wedding, but very important in the classroom seating chart!)*

  • Ms Fran

    I loved doing my seating plan. In fact I re-did it many times. It’s so fun to matchmake your friends with other people they might like and want to chat to.

    I did discover later that a few of my matches were fairly disasterous but nothing that caused any punch ups so I still consider that to be a success.

    It is a funny process and so hard to find the right criteria to make the decisions on.