A Wedding on Your Terms

The Guest List (With Fewer Tears)

May 3, 2012 in
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Meg Keene
Meg Keene

Meg Keene is the founder and executive editor of A Practical Wedding and Reclaiming Wife. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was released in January 2012.

As wedding planning tales go, mine was not that difficult. Sure, I was maybe a tiny bit angry about the wedding industry and the way it was trying to get me to Buy All The Things, but in lots of ways, I had it pretty good.

But then there was the guest list.

The number of tears I shed over the guest list easily made up for all the tears not shed in other areas. And having talked to about a million brides (and some grooms) over the last four years, I can tell you that if your guest list is unexpectedly fraught, you’re not alone.

The tricky bit is, the guest list is when things really get real. First, there is something painful about boiling down the people you love to a single list and deciding who makes the cut. Second, the guest list is all about sharing control, and when your mother-in-law suddenly has rather firm opinions about who’s coming to your wedding (opinions she probably has every right to), it can be a bit of a reality check. And, for me, the minute we sent out invitations, the wedding stopped being the-magical-party-I-was-throwing-in-my-head-where-everything-went-right, and became the-real-life-party-with-other-people-involved. And while it turns out those real life imperfect people really make the wedding, it’s painful to give up the dream version of the celebration.

So, with the hope of sparing you some of the tears I shed over the guest list, let me share my most important lessons.

Make Your Own Rules.

There are a tremendous number of rules that have sprung up around wedding invitations. The thing is, all these rules tend to start swirling around in your head when you’re creating your guest list, confusing the crap out of you. So a quick sum up: The rules you need to pay attention to are the rules that protect people’s feelings. Yes, you need to invite your friend’s long term live-in partner. Yes, you probably need to invite your grandmother to your family-only elopement. Beyond that, you just need to figure out what’s right for you and your family.

It will make your lives tremendously easier if you actually write down a set of guidelines to (mostly) stick to. Rules I’ve seen used with great success are: If they are not in your cell phone, it’s been too long since you’ve talked. Friends of your parents who you’ve never met don’t make the cut. No dates who you don’t already know. Figure out what rules work for you and write them down as arbitrators of debates to come.

RSVP Time Can Be Painful.

I wish someone had warned me to brace for the weeks that RSVPs came in. When people RSVPed “No” who I was sure were going to come, I cried. When people RSVPed yes in slightly rude ways, I teared up. When people didn’t bother to RSVP at all, I considered slamming my head against the wall repeatedly. Mind you, all of this was made up for by the people who sent us love-filled notes (and drawings!) about how excited they were for us (whether or not they could come), but I would have been in far better shape if I’d prepared for the whirlwind of emotions that was about to hit me.

And please, if you remember nothing else, remember that if people don’t show up, that doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Sometimes an “I can’t make it” is simply a statement of logistics, nothing more.

Break Your Own Rules.

Remember how ten seconds ago I told you to write down a list of rules that work for you? Particularly in the 11th hour, remember to break those rules (and hell, break with etiquette) whenever you feel like it. Some of our favorite wedding guests ended up being the friends we really wanted to invite, but couldn’t fit on the list. When we figured out that we had empty seats the week before the wedding, we called them up and begged them to show (and to not bring us a present). They were not even the slightest bit offended (and totally did bring us a present) and were the life of the party.

The People You Need Are The Ones That Show Up.

This is the single most important lesson I learned during wedding planning, and the one I hope I can impart to you before any tears start flowing. After all of my worry about who should come and what it all meant, it turned out that the people who show up to see you get married (and the ones you hold in your heart) form the perfect community. All of them (even the random friend-of-a-friend, who totally crashed the party) form a whole and hold you up in that moment. They are exactly who you need them to be, spreadsheets and rules be damned.

For more wedding advice, visit Meg’s blog or check out A Practical Wedding, available from Amazon or an independent bookstore near you.

  • 26Sorts

    Alexa Sheraton from 26Sorts says:

    Totally true - great article! We wanted to keep our wedding as small as possible and the guest-list pruning process was painful. In the end, I am so thankful we omitted all those "well we have to invite Bill if we invite Bob, and if we invite Bill, we have to invite June too" types - and stuck to the people we really love and care for. I was so caught up with worry about offending people, I almost forgot what the wedding was all about - marrying my best friend and celebrating with those we love! Decisions can be tough - but here is a quick and simple tip: ask yourself "if the roles were reversed and I didn't get invited to this person's wedding - would I be offended?"

    11 years ago

  • krl2876

    krl2876 says:

    I love this! Totally needed to read it today, too, after my future Mother-in-Law (who definitely means no harm, but who has rather definite ideas about "what's right" for our wedding) asked my fiance in horror, "Wait, you guys aren't sending out a second wave of invitations, are you?!" (Yes, we are, having received some unexpected Nos, and realizing there will be room for them!!!)

    11 years ago

  • jillypbeans

    Jill B says:

    In the thick of the invite process right now, Meg! This article made me laugh cry and bang my head against the desk. Dear God, you get me. :) Thank you for this!!

    11 years ago

  • AnnouncementbySandra

    Sandra from AnnouncementbySandra says:

    So true, so true! I would add, order just a few extra invitations for the inevitable last minute "Plan B" invites. I learned this firsthand from my wedding !

    11 years ago

  • reneeyou

    Renee Yu from myjunebugg says:

    great ideas!

    10 years ago