The truth is, it doesn’t feel good to list and prioritize the people in your life.
Once you start getting serious about creating your wedding guest list, you might realize that this social challenge is not only logistical, it can also be pretty emotional.
I’m willing to bet that when you think about your wedding day you probably see those you love most surrounding you and your partner. Your besties, your parents, siblings, and if you’re like me, maybe your dog is there too! But as soon as you sit down and start to go through the list of your immediate families, friends, coworkers and extended families, your guest list is already out of control. You start tallying up the total headcount, eyes growing wider and wider by the second. How is it possible that you have a guest list of 147 people?! Do you even really know 147 people?!
You start to call into question all of the names on your partner’s list; accusing them of being too dang friendly and having too many friends! Racing through your coworkers and cousins, rating them silently with a numerical value from 1-10, to try to find where you can make some cuts. TBH, It can start to feel like a chess game of social and familial political pressure.
Contrary to what you may have originally thought, it’s not about choosing who to invite; deciding who not to invite is key.
In “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters”, Priya Parker suggests that with every gathering there is a social contract, “Why is a gathering a social contract? Because it proceeds from an understanding between host and guest, sometimes stated and sometimes unstated, about what each is willing to offer to make it a success.” Weddings are no different. Especially your wedding. Because you’ve already defined your purpose and vision for your wedding (right??) you can now think about the people who should be invited to the wedding to help you bring this vision to life.
It’s your guests who are going to be tasked with the job of upholding the integrity of your celebration within this social contract, so it shouldn’t feel like you have to invite certain people out of obligation, because your guests now have a higher purpose beyond just showing up.
With that in mind, there may be people in your lives who are integral to the purpose of your celebration and there may be people who threaten or challenge it (like those cousins who like to complain about the temperature of the chicken Kiev and who probably won’t participate in your plan to play dress-up at midnight).
If you and your partner have figured out that you want to dance barefoot in the sand until the sun rises, you can now apply that filter to how you select guests. Sure, your cousin Geoff invited you to his wedding, but are Geoff and his kinda-basic wife Gail going to be able to uphold their end of the social contract and help you to realise your sunrise vision? Perhaps not.
I was at one of my best friend’s weddings a few summers ago. He comes from a big, extended international family, so his mother extended an invite to her entire family. On the day of the wedding, I watched as his new wife met some these distant family members for the very first time. She later told me that making small talk was not something she wanted to do on her wedding day at all! She wanted to play beer pong, dance to 90’s hip hop, and love on her new husband.
Long story short, there may be people in your lives who are integral to making your celebration as amazing and you envision and there may be people who could end up making it into the exact opposite, so don’t let yourself feel guilty. Remembering the purpose of your wedding is a good reminder of why it isn’t suitable to invite everyone to your celebration. And the reality is that your budget has limits. So be firm if you have to be. There are no rules that say you must invite the people who invited you to their wedding, and if your dream venue simply hasn’t got the capacity for all of your first cousins, there is nothing you can do about it. The beauty of planning a gathering that doesn’t look like a traditional wedding also means you have the liberty to skip these kinds of formalities.
If you think there is a possibility that someone will be upset or offended about not receiving an invitation then just reach out and explain yourself. Put yourself in their shoes and acknowledge the fact that you would have loved to invite them if space or budget permitted. Often this acknowledgment can help avoid any long term hurt feelings. As long as you’re clear about what you want, and you stick to a plan, your guest list will feel great, and it will get you started on planning the next steps.
Guest List Hot Tips
Family: With so many extended and blended families these days, if you and your partner have a high family head-count, feel free to create boundaries to maintain a meaningful group size. You can keep it to immediate family members only, or create a separate event especially for celebrating with the larger group.
Plus Ones: Plus ones can add up quickly and if you are not careful, you could be seeing a few too many unfamiliar faces at your gathering. And hey, if you don’t feel like dropping $100 to buy your friends’ Tinder date whom you’ve never met dinner, then that’s completely your call.
That said, you want your guests to enjoy your celebration, so remember to take a moment to consider whether your single friend knows other people at the wedding well enough that they won’t feel like they’re on their own. We all know that awkward feeling of showing up solo to an event with a bunch of strangers (or exclusively couples), and this is enough to make some people decline an invitation no matter how significant the event is. If their attendance is important to you, then consider offering your single guests a wing-person.
Co-workers: Realistically, are you actually friends with your coworkers, or does this invitation stem from a sense of obligation? Generally speaking, there is no expectation for you to invite people from work unless you spend a lot of time with those people outside of work as well.
When it comes to your boss, it really depends on the nature of your relationship. If you would spend time with your boss outside of work and feel like you can be yourself around them (including busting out your inner Beyoncé dance moves at 1 a.m.), then go for it. But if your boss’ presence at your wedding could potentially add unnecessary stress or hold you back from really having fun, consider avoiding the whole situation from the get-go.
The Kiddos: Based on your vision, it may already be obvious whether your event will be suitable for younger guests. If your vision is to host an intimate eight-course dinner at your favourite fine-dining restaurant, that’s likely not the most kid-friendly situation. Likewise, if your event requires sitting for long periods of time or if your venue doesn’t have a suitable space for kids to play, that might result in total chaos. On the other hand, an outdoor festival-like celebration with live music and lots of room for running around could be even more fun with a gaggle of barefoot kids running around enjoying themselves just as much as the adults.
If you do want to impose an age restriction, most people will understand. You may find some guests would rather not attend at all if their kids aren’t invited, so consider whether you are okay with missing out on having some of these people around for your celebration if that’s their situation. You could also consider hiring a childcare worker to babysit off-site during the event, especially if there are a handful of parents who could benefit. Choose a central location to host the gathering, like the hotel where your guests are staying.
The B-List, AKA The Back-Up List: If you find yourself with any last-minute guest cancellations you don’t need to go on a text message frenzy trying to find a seat filler. Yes, it may be too late to cancel with the caterer and you’ll still be on the hook for the cost of their meal, but there are more important things for you to be focusing your energy on so close to the wedding day. A friend of mine was the recipient of a day-of wedding invitation recently, and let’s just say she didn’t exactly feel “honoured” to get the invite. (And nope, she didn’t go.)