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

Posted by
Everyone at ceremony
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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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!

  5. We invited some friends who were getting married a month later, and didn’t invite us… but we knew we were in a totally different situation, since we were having a big wedding with a flexible guest list, and they were having a smaller affair in a place that could only hold 100 people, 60 of whom were obligatory family invites. Not a big deal, as long as people realize that every wedding is different.

  6. We have/are going through the same thing. There’s a couple who’s wedding we flew out to Vermont to attend and were some of their only friends there, but they’re not on our invite list. Their wedding was two years ago and just before it they moved away and we just haven’t really kept it in touch since. We went to theirs I think partially because we knew we were two of just a few friends invited (we weren’t super close but were friendly) and felt that we should (we did genuinely enjoy going, though). On the flip side, there are 2 couples on our invite list who weren’t initially planning on until we got their wedding invites. Once we got the invites and thought about it we decided we did want to go to their weddings and that we’d then like to have them at ours – we just hadn’t considered it before.

    The fiance was a groomsmen in one couple’s wedding who we haven’t kept in touch with since and that was 4 years ago, so they’re not on our invite list either as we’re just at different times in our lives now. I also chose my oldest friend as a bridesmaid but hope she doesn’t feel obligated to do so for me in the future. We all have different criteria.

  7. Our “not wanting to invite someone to our wedding” situation resolved itself pretty easily… when she decided to hold her own wedding on the same day as ours!!! What I wasn’t counting on was how our other friends would react. Most of them were happy to attend our wedding instead of hers (she isn’t particularly well liked by some friends) however, one of my bridesmaids had to ask was she definitely a bridesmaid for me as she was considering going to this other person’s wedding. Given we had known each other longer than we have known this other friend, I felt rather upset that this other person had no care about the dilemma other people would go through (including that of my bridesmaids), choosing which wedding to attend! It hurt ME most, knowing our friends had been pushed into this situation by a jealous and selfish person who has to have everything that other people have!

  8. The problem with this etiquette is that it assumes all weddings are the same and have the same parameters for choosing the guest list. There’s a huge difference between who you invite to a 300 person wedding vs a 100 person wedding vs a 50 person wedding. Someone invited to a 300 person wedding should NOT feel obligated to invite the couple to their 50 person wedding. That’s just unfair.

    One of my fellow teachers invited me to her wedding last summer, along with probably half the school, plus her other friends and her family. All totaled, there were probably over 200 people there. We had wine and beer, and gourmet pizza from a local food truck, with local cupcakes for dessert. I went, and had a gread time, but I’m not planning to invite her to my wedding. Why? We’re trying to keep our guest list to 100 people, and at least 75 of those people are obligatory family members. Our venue is a bit on the more expensive side, and also in another state. If I invited my coworker, I’d have to invite probably at least 15 other people that are part of that same group of teachers. There were other teachers in that same group whose recent weddings I was not invited to as well.

    In that same idea, my fiance and I agreed to invite all family members up to first cousins and spouses. That means I’ll be inviting some far-flung cousins who I haven’t seen in years (along with their spouses who I’ve never met), and to whose weddings I was not invited. I’m okay with that, because they probably had different parameters for picking their guest lists, and I won’t be heartbroken if they can’t make it (especially because many of them have small children now, who are not invited).

    At the end of the day, I figure people invite other people to their wedding because they want them to be there, and can afford to have them there in the venue they’ve chosen. I say if you’re invited to a wedding, go, and don’t feel obligated to invite them to yours. If it’s someone you’re somewhat close to, you might want to give them an explanation as to why (I readily tell my coworkers that our wedding is small, mostly family aside from a few close friends, and out of state), but I think most people should be able to wrap their heads around the fact that weddings come in all different shapes and sizes, and that not all guest lists are created equal.

Read more comments

Comments are closed.