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Thursday, September 2, 2010

#77: The Thank You Card Predicament (plus balls and deeper matters)

I might be the last person you'd ever want to ask about wedding etiquette. Really. There are 2 reasons for this:

(1) Sometimes wedding etiquette irks me. You know - the expectations, the stiff standards, the judgment (from others and from yourself) if you stray from proper formula. I believe that what we do and what we offer should be based on oh, I don't know, kindness and generosity. I detest when it's about a well-intentioned (or torturous) obligation to follow tradition. (Not that there's anything wrong with those who follow tradition if their heart and wallet allow them to. I got nothin' but LUV 4 U folks.)
(2) I believe that etiquette is totally subjective. It depends on your culture, the region of the country in which you were raised, your family upbringing, and your personality. So it's just not fair to throw a 3-inch thick book of wedding etiquette tips at people and judge them for not making it their Bible. (Or Torah, or Koran, or Bhagvad Gita, or New York Times, or Glamour Magazine, etc...)

So when my recently wed chum tagged me in a Facebook note asking if she should send thank you cards to guests (mostly her relatives) who did not give her a wedding gift, I was in no rush to chime in. That is, until I read how other tagged people were responding. 

My friend's etiquette question started a war. Here's a summary of the responses:
  • What?! People didn't bring gifts? How effing rude!
  • I think not giving a thank you card is more rude than not giving a wedding gift.
  • The thank you card is sent in gratitude for a gift, not for merely attending the wedding.
  • The thank you card is sent in gratitude for attending the wedding and being a great friend/ family member, not just for bringing a gift.
  • You might find that gifts come in the mail over the next few weeks. Give it some time.
  • Be a bigger person than the non-gift-giver; send a thank you card.
  • People who don't give gifts are a$$holes. They don't deserve a card.
  • Some people don't give gifts because they are having financial trouble. Be understanding.
  • Umm..did you throw a party because you wanted to celebrate with loved ones or because you wanted nice gifts and extra cash?
Like I said earlier,  wedding etiquette is (as it should be) subjective. Personally, I'm giving thank you cards and a thank you video to all of our guests, whether they gave us a simple card, a homemade quilt that's still coming in the mail, a $25 gift card, or a $600 check. Why? Because my intention behind hosting a wedding reception was not just to celebrate love for my partner, but also to celebrate the love that I experience with the many meaningful people in my life. But that's just me.

So what did my friend end up deciding to do after the etiquette war? I'll tell you in a bit.

Because what's more interesting than the end of this story is what was happening while she was making her decision.

I noticed was that every time another person's 2 cents were thrown into the pot of this debate, my friend responded by sharing a story about how the non-gift-giving relatives had "borrowed" money in the past without much gratitude or repayment, and how after years of not seeing these relatives they teased her for days up until the wedding. The teasing brought her to tears just moments before the ceremony, and the venue staff had to calm her down. I know - yikes.

And then it hit me: her Facebook poll had nothing to do with thank you cards. 

So I informed my friend of this theory. I encouraged her to vent about her anger toward relatives who have a long track record of unkindness and ingratitude. I also suggested that she take a few days to let her anger thrive then subside before making a decision about the thank you cards. That way, whatever her decision was in the end, it would be one that reflected her *true* values in regard to how to respond to those who have hurt her in the past.

She took my advice. And then decided to send the thank you cards to them.

Like so many logistical dilemmas and "simple" wedding-related decisions that we have difficulty making, if you dig deep enough you'll find that the issue lies in frustrating relationships, finding your voice, discovering/ re-shaping your values, reflecting on your personal pain, standing up to people, letting go, recognizing your own weaknesses, and letting your unrecognized strengths shine. 

In short, making wedding-related decisions, whether it's an etiquette issue or something larger, takes balls. (Damn, it's always about the balls, isn't it?)

*More versions of above card here.


  1. True dat lady. It's all about balls. Wedding etiquette is COMPLETELY subjective and that is quite the predicament.

  2. I tend to agree with the comment 'The thank you card is sent in gratitude for attending the wedding and being a great friend/ family member, not just for bringing a gift.'

    I see thankyou cards on any occasion as an opportunity to tell people how much I care about them.

    I will also admit to a slight peeve that one of my best friends never wrote thank you cards after her wedding. I think there are courtesies that should be observed and a thank you card really isn't that much. I wouldn't care if it was months after the event, but maybe that's just because I love correspondence.

  3. I love your realization and help for your friend. She needed to be just ANGRY and upset and feel those things without it being wrapped up in wedding mish-mosh.

  4. This might be bridal advice 101. Anytime a (seemingly simple) question is really irking you as a bride, there is most likely a much more important issue in the midst of it that you need to take time to decipher. And when (seemingly simple) wedding issues irk others (family, bridal party, etc), it's often for the same reason. Remembering this can really help when you can't figure out why your centerpieces are pissing off your mom so much, or why you're flipping out over the seating plan.

  5. @ Moz - I must say, I sure do like getting thank you cards in the mail. Not so much because I expect gratitude, but because it's nice to know that someone liked what you picked out or used the money you worked hard to earn in a way that was helpful to them. It's kind of like planting a seed and wanting see if it grew.

    @ Libby - Totally. ;)

  6. I have to say, for me, wedding etiquette is no different from normal etiquette. In my world, thank you cards are for gifts. I don't send thank you cards to people who bought me a drink at my birthday party. & I would feel ridiculous getting a card thanking me for a card. I don't think it's ungrateful to throw a large catered party, give people favors, thank them all for coming, and not send them a card. If they go the extra mile of getting you a gift, great! They get a special card thanking them for it. And maybe they'll send a gift later (after all, traditional etiquette says they have a year), in which case, that's when they get a card.
    If you're in the habit of sending cards, it's a nice gift to give someone some mail to read. But I would consider it an unnecessary gesture to get one just for attending.

  7. @ O'Reilly - Yup, I hear you. And I fully support people's wedding choices as long as they reflect your values.

    In my opinion it goes back to your intention and purpose behind having a wedding. If your perspective is that it's a party like any party you might throw, then yes, thank you cards only for gift-givers is fine if that's how you normally roll. But for us, the wedding wasn't actually to celebrate our marriage per se. It was an expression of love for the people who have loved us all of these years. So thank you cards simply for attending was right for *us*. And that's my whole point about etiquette being subjective.


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

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