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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

  4. …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.

      • 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?!”

      • Or “Wedding tat for wedding tit”? How tattoo placement could affect your choice of dress and what’s the accepted ettiquette for showing cleavage?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.”

  8. 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.

    • 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    • I just want to chime in that this totally happened to me! I had moved between the save the date and the invite, and the invite for some reason didn’t get forwarded to my new address. I didn’t know until I got a message from my friend asking if I was coming to her wedding! However, I think that it is the responsibility of the couple to send a quick, “hey, are you coming?” to people who didn’t RSVP, especially if the lack of response is out of character.

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