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Thursday, June 3, 2010

#15: Grown-Up's Guide to Guest Lists

Imagine what it would be like if you died at a ripe old age, went to Heaven, and was greeted by a Mardi Gras-sized parade of all the people you've ever known and loved in your lifetime. Well, that's the feeling we were going for when Brian and I were preparing our wedding guest list. For us, size mattered. And we preferred to have a packed room with only burgers to serve than to feed steak and lobster to 20 people.

But then reality hit. And we realized that even with serving burgers we had to cut down our guest list due to budget restrictions. (Unemployed new graduate here. Hello.)

So today's post is all about cutting the guest list. And as usual, my advice has everything to do with the whole grown-up, ballsy, brave bride theme. Why? Because cutting the list has everything to do with saying no, dealing with guilt, experiencing discomfort with friends who you can't afford to invite, setting boundaries, etc., ...and that's TOUGH.

Before I get to the nitty-gritty, here are a few basics:

A-List & B-List
You may want to create an A-list (definite invitees), and a B-list (people who can come in place of A-listers who RSVP "no"). This may sound cold and methodic, but we sub-categorized our B-listers according to the order in which we wanted them to come. It makes things easier and straight-forward once the "no" RSVP's start trickling in.

*And to be clear, it's not that guests on the B-list are not special people in your life. Of course you love them. Of course you'd like to see them in your Mardi Gras parade in the sky! But there's a budget to adhere to, or perhaps an intimate vibe that you're going for. And if your loved ones love you like you love them, then they'll continue to love you even if they're not invited.

The "Will it suck?" exercise
It goes like this: When you and your fiance are in a cloud of bliss exchanging vows or having your first dance, will you be thinking "It sucks that ___ is not here."? If you'll be thinking about/ missing the person whose name is in that blank, then NO, NO, NO, don't leave them off the list! But if you don't think you'll be thinking about him/ her during your wedding day highlights, then perhaps they can be on the B-list.

A few thoughts on GUILT
Wanna know a secret? There are both appropriate and inappropriate feelings of guilt. It's appropriate to feel guilty when you've done something that is not in line with your core values. (e.g., Not inviting your best friend because she lost 50 lbs. and might make you look fat in your wedding dress.)

But there is inappropriate guilt, too. This kind of guilt is really just anger that you place on yourself, which you (subconsciously) wish you could direct at another person. You feel that this person has placed an unreasonable expectation on you, but because you are feeling too intimidated or embarrassed to get angry at them for doing so, you just get angry at yourself for not being able to live up to their expectations. So. If your cousin throws a fit because you didn't invite her boyfriend of 2 months, please don't cave in and move him onto the A-list. By all means, be mad at your cousin (not yourself) for enforcing her unreasonable expectation. Guilt should not be the reason you invite someone.

That being said, here are some categories of people who you might consider leaving off the A-list:

You've got 2 choices here. You can either invite a select few or none at all. If you want to invite just a select number of them but are having difficulty choosing, you should consider only inviting those who you've hung out with outside of work, or those you'd like to hang out with even if you changed jobs in the future. Or just try my "Will it suck?" exercise described earlier.

This one makes me sad. I LOVE kids. And there is something so special about 3-4 generations of families all being together all in the same room.  But if you've got a budget like ours, sometimes kids have to stay home with the babysitter. If you're feeling guilty about this, talk to the parents of those kids you can't invite. Get their honest feelings. Share yours. Get it all out. Don't let it be something you stay guilty about and they secretly stay angry about.

One caveat: Brian and I decided that if lack of a babysitter is the deciding factor in a person's RSVP response, then we'd allow them to bring their children. And this is because the parents passed the "Will it suck?" test with flying colors.

Friends who are in your "crew" but are on the fringes
Yeah, here's where guilt creeps in. They are your friends. You like 'em. You wanna give them wedding cake and do the electric slide together. So what do you do? It's all about the "Will it suck?" exercise. Oh, and again, talk with them if it seems like there are funky feelings brewing. Communication is key.

Plus 1's
Because our budget is so tight, we decided that the only people who are welcome to bring a date are those who will not know anyone else at the wedding. And by "know anyone else" I mean is friends with anyone else. (Acquaintances don't count.) Why? Because it's a party, baby! We want our guests to have fun! And aside from social butterflies, few people can have fun at a party where everyone is a stranger.

Boyfriends/ Girlfriends of guests
We'd love for everyone to have a date to slow dance with - really. But again, we've got to cut somewhere. So we only invited boyfriends/ girlfriends of people whose partner we knew and liked, and also those that are in serious long-term relationships. And, of course, if they are engaged to their beloved then they're pretty much a married couple in our book, and therefore, they travel in two's. :)

People that your parents want to invite
This can be a toughie, especially if your parents are contributing financially. Again, it's all about communication, especially your/ their expectations given the fact that they're paying. I'm going to write a separate post on the issue of setting boundaries with parents, but for now I'll just suggest that you consider the following: How might your relationship with your parents change if you don't invite their friends? Maybe it won't change at all. But you don't know unless you ask. Talk it through with the fiance. Explore it with your parents. Choose your battles. Wisely.

Family members who you can't stand
This goes back to choosing your battles wisely. What's worth a family uproar and what isn't?  It's totally subjective.

I simply recommend that you reflect on your values. Talk to your fiance about what "family" means. Define it. Use specifics. This will help you sort out your *core values* when it comes to family. It will make it easier to choose an action that reflects your values, not just your feelings of anger, annoyance, or ambivalence toward the person.

In summary...
Creating a guest list requires reflection, communication, and guts. Brave brides can say "no" in a kind way. And they can say "hell no" when they are being walked on. Brave brides are willing to learn the art of compromise. They know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate guilt. Brave brides can sit through discomfort and talk things out with their fiance, relatives and friends.

Like with any part of the wedding planning process, be open to defining and re-defining your personal values more clearly - and on your terms. (Not according to my blog or what yo' mama thinks is appropriate.) Because years from now when your wedding photos are faded and frayed at the edges, the only decisions you'll regret will be the ones that went against your personal values.


  1. Agreed!


    We decided against plus ones because we just don't have the space, but those with boyfriends/girlfriends, even if we don't know them, get to bring their significant other.

    We made this choice because, living abroad, we haven't been able to meet everyone's significant other but don't feel that should be held against them. If I were not engaged, but had a boyfriend, and was not allowed to bring him while another guest got a +1 because he/she didn't know anybody, I'd feel hurt. I wouldn't say anything but it would sting.

    We do think our guests who don't know anyone (there are precious few) are outgoing enough and the group is talkative enough that they'll be fine.

  2. We worked out our differently lettered lists. And re-worked and shuffled and moved and worked and massaged and tossed in the air in a mad bit of frustration. And then just invited the one list. If they RSVPed no, then it was one less plate we counted. We found other ways to share the wedding with the rest of the lists (announcements that doubled as Christmas cards two weeks later with a wedding photo on it).

  3. @ Jenna - Interesting point of view. Here's what I see happening: being shy, I identify and sympathize with the guest who doesn't know anyone and might feel a tad uncomfortable. (Even for those that are outgoing, I guess I sort of project my feelings onto them.)

    On the other hand, I noticed that you put yourself in the shoes of the guest who is missing their partner because of the "no +1" policy. I guess I didn't empathize with this kind of guest because I rarely ever miss my partner when I'm at a party. (In fact, sometimes I prefer going alone, especially if will know a bunch of people there already. And when my partner and I ARE at parties together we often go our separate ways the whole night, then enjoy sharing our experiences during the car ride home.)

    ...Although, I could see how you would be hurt if your +1 wasn't invited while another person's was. Still, I'd figure you'd forgive me for the sake of making my friendless guest a bit more comfortable at the party?? Not sure, but I hope you would. ;)

    So all this to say that there's no right or wrong when it comes to +1's. But who WE are greatly determines who we sympathize with, and therefore, who gets in invited and who doesn't.

    @ Giggles - OMG, everyone, Giggles is in the building!!!

    Diggin' your approach to your lists. Clean and simple. And I LOVE the idea of the wedding announcement (with photo)/ Christmas card. :)

  4. This is a GREAT post, lady! Thanks so much for sharing, exactly what I was looking for! I linked to it on that post you responded people can find it and what not - just wanted to let you know, I'm no spammer..haha.

    Couldn't agree more that family has to be taken on a case by case basis. In our family...on my dad's side..some people are estranged and what I had to pick the most important person to me (my dad) and then not invite anyone who would cause a scene with him on the day. I don't want him to be uncomfortable or anything. It's easy because I'm not particularly close with them...which is an unfortunate consequence of other people's estrangements.

    Thanks again for the advice lady, really appreciated.

  5. Hello and welcome, Lizzie! Thanks for linking this post to your blog. :)

    Your approach to inviting family makes a lot of sense. When several people are feuding, sometimes the simplest thing to do is choose the person(s) whom you most want to protect or make comfortable, and invite others accordingly. Otherwise you'd be trying to appease too many people and in the end, no one (especially not you) would be happy.


Babbling about weddings is so much more fun when people babble back. :)

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