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Successfully negotiating who to invite to your celebration is no one’s idea of a good time. Which friends or family make the cut? Do you send save-the-dates to coworkers? Get all the answers and master the method by following these simple etiquette guidelines.
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Just because you traded friendship bracelets on the playground doesn’t mean you owe them an invite to your wedding. A key question to ask yourself when deciding which pals to include: Can you imagine having dinner with them sometime in the next year? If yes, add them to your A-list. If you were once tight but haven’t been in regular contact for ages, keep their name on the B-list.
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Picking the Right Relatives
Your immediate family is a no-brainer, as well as aunts, uncles, first cousins, and grandparents. But for more distant kin, a good rule of thumb is to group like with like, and either invite the whole bunch, or don’t. For example, you wouldn’t include your favorite second cousin and not her siblings, unless you’re ready for the most awkward Thanksgiving dinner of your life next year.
Something else to keep in mind? Though most etiquette advisors will say that inviting one of your first cousins means you should invite them all, this rule does not mean you must treat both sides of the aisle the same. It’s best to treat each family according to the closeness (and the reality) of that family’s ties. Your family won’t be as aware of the family-tree breakdown on his side; but should they discover that his first cousins were included while yours were not, there’s a simple reply: “His family is much closer than ours is.”
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The same grouping rule applies here, too: Invite everyone in your department, or none at all. An exception would be any colleague you see socially outside of the office—in that case, the coworker is truly a friend, not just a person you enjoy ordering lunch with occasionally.
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Inviting the Boss, or Not?
The stickiest issue is with your boss. If she’s someone you collaborate closely with, or if the office environment is such that it would reflect poorly on you not to ask her, go ahead and address the invite. Of course, the nature of your celebration should be taken into consideration, too. If you’re throwing an intimate destination wedding, it’s unlikely that your boss would be insulted to be left off the guest list. But if you’re throwing a rather large affair and work at a small organization, it’s polite—not to mention smart politics—to invite the head honcho.
Finally, don’t worry that it will be seen as a ploy to score a present; most managers, regardless of whether they’ve been invited, give wedding gifts to their employees who marry.
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Whether or not to let guests bring dates is a quandary nearly all couples face. On the one hand, you don’t want a single person who might not know much of your crew to feel left out. On the other, writing “and guest” on envelopes means that there will be a good number of people you don’t know sharing your special day (not to mention that you’ll be treating these strangers to a rather pricey dinner and dancing).
If a relative or friend is engaged to be married, their fiancé (or fiancée) must be invited. Beyond that, many people draw the line by inviting only truly significant others, meaning long-term or live-in partners. If you make a rule like that, be sure to apply it across the board.
Also draw your cut-off line at a clearly identifiable place if you do decide to let guests bring a boyfriend or girlfriend. Make an effort to communicate the reasoning to everyone who is not allowed to have someone to accompany them.
Beware, many unmarried people find it tremendously upsetting to not be allowed to bring a date. Prepare them for the idea and pay careful attention to where the singletons sit during dinner. As for your attendants—letting them bring an escort would be a considerate gesture. It’s not required, but they’ve done a lot for you.
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First off, it’s totally acceptable (and common!) to not invite kids to your wedding, especially if you’re planning a formal, local dinner. (It might be more difficult to exclude them during casual, daytime celebrations or destination weddings, though.)
When it comes to inviting some kids and not others, opinions vary, so choose a clear rule and stick to it. Settle on an age threshold (older kids tend to be better behaved), or restrict it to immediate family (most children who have wedding duties are close relatives, such as a niece or stepchild—though even they needn’t stay for the reception).
How do you communicate your wishes for a kid-free fête? Let your invitation do the talking, says Anna Post, author of Emily Post’s Wedding Parties. Let’s say you’ve chosen not to include kids younger than 5, and your friends have an 11-year-old and a 4-year-old. You’d write the friends’ names and the older child’s name on the inner envelope, indicating that the youngest isn’t invited. If you’re worried guests won’t get the message, call beforehand. Says Post, “You can say, ‘We just sent the invitations and we’re excited to have you join us, but we’ve decided not to include young children. I wanted to give you advance notice so you have time to find a sitter. I hope you can make it!’” Don’t grant any exceptions; that would be rude to guests who’ve abided by your wishes.
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Teens or No Teens?
There’s no clear etiquette guideline for inviting teenagers. You could use the “old enough to receive their own invitation” rule (which is 18, per Crane’s, and 12 to 16, per other sources). If you set the age at 18, however, you may really hurt the feelings of any younger teens. Teenagers especially hate being treated like children, so they may resent it even more.
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They Invited You
Etiquette’s rule of reciprocal entertaining is pretty strong: If your friends’ wedding was recent, and you are still close—and if your wedding is on a similar scale as theirs, or is larger—they should already be on your guest list. But if your friendship has faded some since their nuptials, or if your wedding is of a smaller size, it is completely appropriate to leave them off your guest list. Exercise some caution if you have mutual friends who are invited; alert those people to the restriction in your guest list, so that they won’t gush on and on about your wedding in front of those not invited, and create an awkward moment for everyone.
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They Sent a Gift
Do you need to invite people who send engagement or early wedding presents? The short answer is no. Simply think of this gift as a message to you and your groom that you are important to this person.
If you’re worried that he or she is expecting an invitation, review the situation with whoever is closer to them. If it’s a friend of your mother’s, for example, ask her. She will know what sort of information has gone out to her friends about the guest list—in fact, that information has likely come from her—so she’ll be your best guide to what her friends’ reaction is likely to be. She’ll also tell you if inviting her friend will open a can of worms (for example, will your mother then have to invite her entire yoga class?). If you do decided to add this person to the list, make sure her invitation goes out right away if the others have already been mailed.
If you send a save-the-date to someone, but then you have a falling out, are you still obligated to invite them to the wedding? It’s a pretty big no-no to tell someone about a party and then not invite them. It’s right up there in the top etiquette violations. The question you need to ask yourself is, “How serious is this falling out?” To not invite them would be a signal that you didn’t want them in your life at all anymore. To invite them after all would be an olive branch—a sign that you consider the estrangement to be temporary. So before you renege on the invitation, decide which message you want to send.