Wedding tit for wedding tat: Am I obligated to invite someone to my wedding if they invited me to theirs?

Everyone at ceremony
Who to invite, who to invite… Photo by RJ Stills
I'm getting married this fall, and we've done our best to keep the guestlist under 100 people. Of course a smaller guestlist has meant making a lot of tough decisions about who not to invite, but them's the breaks.

…Except for now I just got an invitation to an acquaintance inviting me to HER wedding! Needless to say, this is an acquaintance who I'm NOT inviting to our wedding. I feel bad — if I say yes to her invitation, do I owe her an invitation to our wedding? If I say no because I can't afford to invite her to our wedding, am I basically punishing her twice?

UG. Of course wedding planning is fraught with all sorts of challenges, but guestlist drama is definitely top of the list when it comes to producing mad amounts of social anxiety.

Let's start with the opinion of the Official Guardians of Tasteful Wedding Etiquette (aka random people posting on mainstream wedding forums):

Etiquette says, that any time you are invited to a social event involving a meal or some significant entertainment, you have two obligations. You must send a thank-you note to your hostess within a day or two. And, you must return the invitation with an invitation to an event of similar significance, sometime within the same season.

So, unless you are getting married in the same season as everyone else you know, the return obligation isn't likely to be a wedding. "Similar significance" means a dinner invitation in return for a dinner invitation; a theatre or concert party in return for a theatre party; an afternoon coffee in return for afternoon coffee. This social debt expires at the end of the season: so, even if you didn't know that you were supposed to have the new couple over for dinner some time in the weeks following their honeymoon, you're still in the clear for all but the most recent weddings.

Similar significance! Social debts! Return obligations! Who knew this would start to feel so… transactional. That said, the Official Guardians of Tasteful Wedding Etiquette aren't totally wrong: there are a lot of complex factors that come into making a decision like this, and none of them are easy.

The first thing to consider is your future relationship with this person. You say she's an acquaintance, which implies that she's not a close friend. Regardless of what title you'd give this person, think about whether you'd like to keep in touch with her in the future. Is this a relationship you'd like to continue? Then it might be worth trying to create the space in your guestlist, in the interest of that future relationship.

If, however, she's truly an acquaintance who you don't have a strong connection with, then there's no need to invite her. I'd suggest declining the invitation to her wedding, but sending a lovely gift so as not to feel like you're "punishing" anyone. This is more than just about tit-for-tat: do you want to attend the wedding of a person who you're not that close to? If you're not inviting her to your wedding, is she a close enough friend to attend her wedding?

Alternately, you could consider going with the whole "transactional" approach, declining your acquaintance's invitation, but invite them out for a nice dinner after the weddings are done, as a way to celebrate y'all's new married life. (Trust: parties and entertaining shouldn't stop with your wedding! Married people need to keep having more parties!)

Keep in mind also that people have vastly different weddings, with vastly different budgets and family situations. Your acquaintance may be having a large, family-funded wedding while you're budgeting out of your own pocket. We all know this: engaged couples have all sorts of different priorities, all sorts of different budgets, all sorts of different reasons for inviting guests. All weddings are not created equal, and this is not necessarily a game of wedding tit for wedding tat. That said, there's no guarantee that feelings won't be hurt. The best you can do is go into the decision with your eyes open to that fact, and a sense of loving open-heartedness toward your fellow bride.

In summary? Don't feel like you have to invite anyone, but don't expect to not feel bad about the decision.

Would you feel obligated to invite someone to your wedding if they invited you to theirs? How long do the social debts last? Can you repay a wedding debt with a pound of flesh?

  1. It's an even trickier area when it comes to friends. I feel slightly awkward about 2 friends with regards to our wedding. 1. They invited us to their wedding 5 years ago. However, aside from Facebook I don't hear from this friend any more. I still like them and wish them well (and feel "friend" is still a better word than "acquaintance") but it seemed odd to invite them to our smallish wedding. 2. Similar situation, except with an old school friend. We've known each other so long I invited them to the evening reception, since we have that nostalgic tie, but not the whole day, though I went to their whole wedding day. I wondered if they might both be slightly offended, but I think these days most people realise how tight everyone's wedding budgets are and that nos need to be kept down….

    1 agrees
  2. Oh man… the idea of having to reciprocate for being invited to an event with an invitation to a like event just makes me nauseous. I love all the people I invited to my wedding, but if they all felt compelled to reciprocate with a similar event in the season, I wouldn't have time to do anything else (and I'm not even having that big of a wedding!) While etiquette is supposed to help keep the peace and make everyone feel happy and respected, it can be really weird sometimes.

    12 agree
    • While etiquette is supposed to help keep the peace and make everyone feel happy and respected, it can be really weird sometimes.

      Exactly that, which I why I generally think it's bullshit and opt for the more basic Wheaton's Law: "Don't be a dick."

      23 agree
    • I would just modify it slightly so that it reads "IF your significant event is happening in the same season." So if you are invited to acquaintance A's wedding in September, and your wedding is coming up in November, it would be super awkward to not invite (unless you're having an 8 person wedding or something). But if acquaintance A's wedding is in September 2013, and your wedding is in March 2015, you are no longer "obligated" to invite. It allows for evolving relationships.

      11 agree
  3. I got lucky in that the one person I wasn't sure if I should invite to my Memorial Day wedding gave me a save-the-date for her Labor Day wedding. So I made sure to invite her to mine.

    We also had a pretty big wedding (150) so it wasn't a problem to add a couple.

    3 agree
  4. I had the opposite problem. There were people I wanted to invite who had also been married within the past year or two who had NOT invited me to their weddings. I just went for it and invited them anyway. They all came!

    3 agree
      • My guess (forgive me for responding for you): 1. The lack of invitation could make you worry that they don't see your friendship on the same level as you. Will they think it's weird if I invite them? And/or 2. Will I unintentionally make them feel bad for not having invited me to their wedding if I invite them to mine?

        32 agree
    • Same. I invited one friend who has been married TWICE during our friendship and did not invite me to either wedding. Invited him anyway because I like him! Didnt feel bad because I knew his weddings were both small, so me not making the cut wasnt super personal.
      Conversely, there were people who's weddings I actually stood up in that I did not invite, because we just arent close friends anymore and their weddings were 10 years ago.

      0 agree
  5. This is the exact reason we are having a destination wedding at a place that only holds 50 people. That way, we invited only the closest family and friends, everyone else will get invited to an appetizers and beer/wine holiday party to celebrate later. I didn't want to feel pressured in to inviting people from college, high school or even family members. Just cause I was in your wedding when I was a 3 wear old, doesn't mean I want you at my actual wedding now that I'm 35… :)

    7 agree
    • Yeah, I think we're going to go for the "we love you all, but y'all live scattered to every point on the compass, and instead of trying to coordinate something like that in a really limited timeframe, we'll have a party the next time we're in your neck of the woods!"

      1 agrees
  6. Excellent topic. I have typically taken the first approach described here (MBA, anyone?) since I sensed from an early age that I was probably not going to get married in my twenties. During those years, my approach regarding the wedding invitations I received was to very seriously consider the state of my friendship with the couple:

    – Hope to still be good friends in 10 years? Attend in person.
    – Could go either way? Purposefully DID NOT attend, but DID send a gift with my regrets.
    – Who again? Regrets only :)

    3 agree
    • I want that on a sticky note. What an excellent cheat sheet!

      2 agree
  7. We had something sort of similar happen… a friend with whom I'd mostly fallen out of touch invited us to her wedding after we sent invitations for ours (but with time to add her if we'd decided to). We decided to go to hers, but not invite her to ours at the last minute.
    As my husband pointed out, she knew she hadn't been invited to our wedding, but invited us to hers anyway. So she had to have been okay with that situation. We got her a nice gift, and I'll invite her over for dinner, and that can be that as far as wedding tits and tats go.

    2 agree
    • Please see my comment below to see how she might have felt.
      Or maybe she was okay. I suggest you ask her.

      0 agree
      • Oh, I think you misread what I typed… we didn't not invite her at the last minute. It was the last minute when we got the invitation to her wedding, and we couldn't add her to the guest list (we had literally sent our total attending number to the caterer the day before).

        Plus for us, I knew we were on the "B list" for her wedding, so I didn't feel pressured to add her to our (nonexistent) "B list".

        1 agrees
  8. I have a related question (for me). I have a friend, who I told when I got engaged that she'd be invited. Since then we've both moved states and are no longer close though still friendly. Do I send an invite (chances are she wouldn't come anyway?).

    This is complicated by the fact that I have another set of friends in the same state that she is still relatively close with whose wedding I WAS invited to several years ago, but with whom I've never been as close. I'm guessing the answer is invite neither? But I don't want the first friend to feel snubbed.

    Blegh, so political.

    1 agrees
    • I would say it depends on how long ago it was that you got engaged, how long you've been less close, etc. If you told your friend she'd be invited, but that was two years ago, you have more wiggle room to not invite her if you don't want to. If it was six months, I'd be more inclined to advise that you invite her… unless there's a dramatic reason that y'all aren't as close (other than simply distance).

      I would look at each friend/set of friends separately. If you still feel close enough to your first friend to invite her, do! But if the only reason you'd want to invite the second set is because you went to their wedding, that's not enough of a reason (to me).

      0 agree
  9. I don't think I've ever been miffed at not being invited to a wedding. If you're truly a close friend, either you'd invite me OR I'd know why you did not invite me because the subject would've come up when we REGULARLY TALK (small space, limited budget, family only, etc.) If we're not close enough that I'd know the story because we don't actually keep in touch on a regular basis, then probably the invitation wouldn't be something I'd expect in the first place.Wedding invitations should be about your actual feelings for and relationship with the invitee, not grim duty.

    9 agree
  10. Allow me to weigh in from the other side of the table:
    I got married 3 years ago. We invited an old friend who had been spending more time with a new group of friends lately, but there was no enmity between us. I chose to invite her.
    She actually showed, which was nice. Here's where it gets not so nice: she didn't RSVP, and brought her new boyfriend whom I had never met. They brought cheapo gifts, got free dinner and drinks, and left immediately after dinner.

    Now, she's getting married… And didn't invite me.
    I'm hurt and disappointed. I guess it really says a lot about her though…

    So, to you brides to be: I guess you have a few questions to ask yourself. First, why did this acquaintance invite you? Are they trying to be polite? Does she possibly have an overbearing relative pressuring her? Is someone else at the helm altogether? Perhaps she views you as more than an acquaintance?
    Ultimately, I think you can politely decline. You're in the midst of planning your own wedding and are busy enough.

    I think the quid pro quo approach only comes into play if you actually attend an event. It's incredibly rude to go to someone's party but not invite them to yours.

    6 agree
    • Wow, I could totally be the person you mention. I was invited right after I graduated college to a friend's wedding. That weekend was the weekend my outta town almost-boyfriend was visiting and I couldn't ditch him for the entire day. I had just graduated so their present was cheap, but bought with good intentions. I stayed for the ceremony & dinner, but since I don't like to dance, I bowed out and left the fun making to those who enjoy it.

      Fast forward 5+ years later – we've grown apart and barely see each other once a year. My wedding count is severely limited by large family and I have current friends who have been with me through thick and thin. While it would be nice to have all friends from all times, it's just not feasible.

      8 agree
  11. Having been ruthless with our guest list, I've experienced all the permutations of this: not invited people to our wedding then been invited to theirs, and not received an invite for people's weddings after they'd been to ours. I always think that a guest list is a incredibly time-limited snapshot of a particular moment in friendships – our guestlist would have changed if we'd have been married 6 months before or 6 months after we did – things move on, people get closer (or drift apart), and each couple's priorities are different. And that's nice.

    My general feeling is that if I've been invited to someone's big day, I'd hope it's because the couple genuinely want me to be there (rather than out of some sense of obligation), so I'd always try to attend if I could, regardless of what's gone before.

    I try to think that the obligation is on the part of the guest (or non-guest) to accept the couple's choice of guest list, rather than an obligation of the couple getting married to do what they 'should'. Otherwise, where does the 'tit for tat' end – is it reading for reading, bridesmaid for bridesmaid?

    I think: Invite who you genuinely want to share your day with, and take non-invites with the non-offence that was probably intended.

    15 agree
  12. If weddings were all about couples reciprocating with invites to their own wedding I imagine singles would never be invited. And yet, they come and there's no expectation of them (aside from maybe a gift, well-wishes, and good behavior). Maybe it would help to think of the potential invitees as individuals and not fiances.

    10 agree
  13. Reading this post made me anxious! FH has a few friends whose weddings we've attended who will NOT be invited to our wedding. Then again, they had ~125 person weddings and we're keeping ours down to 30! I think he's going to arrange for them to do something fun together to celebrate at some point. And I think they'll understand the "immediate family and very old friends" thing — we will have known everyone at the wedding (minus significant others) for at least 10 years!

    2 agree
    • Dude, WRITING this post made me anxious! Etiquette freaks me out, and my typical vote is "ignore etiquette, and just act with integrity and respect for the people whose feelings might get hurt." Because people's feelings get hurt no matter what — all you can do is try your best to be respectful and feel good about your decisions.

      13 agree
    • This is right where we are, and I'm just hoping that being transparent with friends and family (save the ones who will cause trouble, period) about the challenges involved and why we've made the tiny choice we did will go a long way towards alleviating any "but you came to my wedding eight years ago, why aren't you inviting me to yours" feelings.

      0 agree
  14. …Am I the only one who is disappointed that this wasn't about proper bra and tattoo etiquette at weddings? Because that's totally where I thought it was going.

    18 agree
    • Oh man. Yes. This should have totally been that post!

      8 agree
      • Now I want you to write that etiquette post!!

        "I don't normally wear a bra, but I've been invited to a wedding, am I obliged to wear a bra?!"

        13 agree
      • Or "Wedding tat for wedding tit"? How tattoo placement could affect your choice of dress and what's the accepted ettiquette for showing cleavage?

        12 agree
  15. This isn't actually etiquette! It's just some bullshit people think is etiquette. Miss Manners is pretty clear that social engagements shouldn't become some sort of tit-for-tat debt. You should invite people to your wedding whom you love and want to celebrate with.

    16 agree
  16. I would suggest having a really good talk with her. Tell her how much you would love to go to her wedding and explain that you and your sweetie are keeping your guest list very small. You do not want to hurt her feelings by attending hers and not return the invitation.

    Could you and your significant other express your appreciation for the invitation in another way? Take them out to dinner/ a show/ a home cooked meal? (Basically something that strikes the interest of both couples and would be considered thoughtful by your friends.

    If you're open and honest about your small guest list and would love to express your enjoyment of their wedding in anotehr way, I think you'll be ok. And it has nothing to do with 'meeting etiquette standards' but rather expression affection for a relationship (acquaintance, friendship, or otherwise) that you would like to continue fostering in a postivie manner.

    3 agree
  17. You know, any time I hear anybody talk about seasons in the context of social obligations, I just assume they're not talking about me or anybody I know. My friends and I rarely send each other thank you notes and never just because we had dinner together. So I find these type of rules completely useless.

    In my group a wedding invite has a much longer shelf-life than a "season". In fact, if somebody I'm still in contact with had invited me to their wedding at any time in our lives, I would feel obliged to consider their feelings a little more carefully. I'm not saying I would necessarily invite them but I would definitely consider the previous wedding invite evidence that they might harbor expectations of a return invite.

    You know what works best with you and your friends and you better than anybody else know if you're at risk of hurting somebody's feelings. Ariel's advice above is worth more than any amount of alleged social rules you could find anywhere:

    "Ignore etiquette, and just act with integrity and respect for the people whose feelings might get hurt."

    5 agree
  18. In a twist on this subject, we were invited to hub's cousin's wedding this month. They came to ours in May, but we can't afford to go to theirs.

    If it was in Colorado, where they live, we could probably pull it off — but its in NY and the plane tickets are astronomical from Seattle. Add to that we're in the process of buying a home and its just off the table.

    I am going to get them a cool gift, but I still feel bad that we can't make it. Le sigh.

    0 agree
    • Dude, we weren't able to attend his SISTER's wedding! Granted, it was a very small backyard gathering with the ceremony at a dog beach, and it was both of their second weddings, but we still felt awful. However, neither of us had the time off and extra money for plane tickets, so we couldn't go. No one has said anything, but it's still something I feel guilty about. Especially because his sister was a huge part of our wedding six months earlier!

      3 agree
  19. My Fiance was on the receiving end of this sort of situation.

    We've been engaged 2 and a half years, and, consequently, we've had our guest list sorted for a while. On it, were one of his oldest friends and his other half. We found out they were getting married when we were at a mutual friend's dinner party, and their save the date card was taped to the fridge…

    Suffice it to say, my OH was very upset at this turn of events, as he had grown up with this person and believed them to be close.

    We ended up taking them off the guest list. H2B felt snubbed by this, and didn't want to be reminded of this by a) sending them an invite and b) if we did invite them, by seeing them at the wedding.

    I think if this person had called or emailed to let my OH know that he wasn't invited, and given a reason (even if the reason was utter bullshit), he would have felt a little better about it. But now, he just feels as if he's lost a very close friend.

    It's made me angry, only because I hate seeing OH sad about stuff. And because we had to find out through a mutual friend, which, in my opinion, is just plain rude.

    3 agree
  20. Occasionally, an invitation or two will get lost in the mail.

    When I was calling/emailing to follow up on people who didn't RSVP I found one friend who had gotten our save the date, but never received an inviation!

    So it is possible for Laura that the save the date was lost in the mail… might be a stretch, but weirder things have happened.

    2 agree
  21. I have a similar worry about bridal parties. If an old friend who I used to be close to me asks me to be her maid of honor, do I have to ask her to be mine? What if she and I use different qualiftcations to pick our bridal parties (She could just go with honoring her oldest friend, while I limit my selection to locally available detail oriented people who can help me craft my wedding…and much as I love her she wouldn't qualify)? Or what if we just aren't on the same page with our friendship because we've moved on at different rates since moving away from each other? I still am fond of this person, and don't want to offend…but there just may not be an appropriate place to honor her in my wedding party!

    0 agree
  22. I invited those closest to me, period end of story. If the relationship had run its course, i wasnt and did not feel obligated, i also told parents there would be no obligatory invites. Send announcements to whomever you wish. This was about me and my guy and those we felt the closest too. Not about obligations! And 88% of those invited are attending. We will be surrounded by love, NOT OBLIGATORY invites and people we dont know well, care mich about or have broken or little ties too.

    2 agree
  23. This is something we're facing right now with a set of acquaintances of ours. We went to their wedding three years ago and gave a lovely gift, but of course, we were much closer to them at the time. Now as we are going over guest list ideas, we're on the fence about them. We want people at our wedding who truly happy for us and want to take part in the joy we're starting in, not people we see very rarely and coming because they know we throw kick ass parties (which we do, but I'm not shelling out 65 bucks a plate plus booze when I don't see you maybe twice a year if that.) My fiance wants to invite them, to return the favor and maybe rekindle a friendship. I'm against it. Any advice?

    0 agree
  24. Somewhat similar dilemma, but with my future MIL. Fiance and I want a smallish wedding of family and our closest friends. Future MIL wants to invite everyone in all her social groups plus their spouses, mostly because she was invited and went to all their kids' weddings. We're both older (40-45) and it's the 1st wedding for both of us, and we want our guests to be people we actually know!

    0 agree

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