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

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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?

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

  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….

  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.

    • 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.”

    • 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.

  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.

  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!

      • 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?

    • 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.

  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… 🙂

    • 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!”

  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 🙂

  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.

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

      • 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”.

  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.

    • 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).

  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.

  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.

    • 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.

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