How to Politely Decline a Wedding Invitation

wedding invitation

PHOTO BY MARK SPOONER

Have you received a wedding invitation, but you either can’t attend or don’t want to? It can put you in a tricky situation. You don’t want to be rude or insult the couple, and you want to have a positive relationship in the future. You also can’t avoid the issue; you don’t want them to pay for a spot at the table you aren’t using. To help, we’ve consulted etiquette expert Myka Meier to guide us through the process of declining the invitation.

Meet the Expert

Myka Meier is an etiquette expert and the author of Modern Etiquette Made Easy.

There is a right and wrong way to do this. A quick phone call to the couple letting them know you care can go a long way. So can sending a meaningful wedding gift or checking in after the festivities to see how they went. Here is a comprehensive guide that will leave all parties happy, even in an uncomfortable situation.

Reasons to Decline a Wedding Invitation

“You could decline a wedding invitation truly for any reason at all,” said Meier. One of the biggest reasons people don’t attend weddings, especially destination ones, is finances. If you are struggling to pay off your student debt or pay your expensive city rent, it might be too much to attend a friend’s destination wedding in Hawaii or Aspen. Those flights and hotel rooms add up quickly!

Another popular reason people decline weddings is because of overlapping conflicts. During busy seasons more than one wedding can be scheduled on the same day. You can also have pre-planned leisure or business travel that conflicts with the date. Perhaps the wedding falls during a busy time at work, and you can’t take days off to get there. 

Weddings can also be tricky emotionally. Some people find them hard to attend if they are single or having relationship problems themselves. Others simply don’t find it enjoyable to dance alongside strangers. Meier says it is totally your choice whether to attend a wedding, and you don’t even have to have a “good” reason. “If you just do not want to go, that’s totally up to you,” she said. But the most important thing is how you express yourself to the couple. “It’s more what and how you communicate the reason to the couple to ensure you don’t hurt their feelings if you simply don’t care to go,” she said. “You never want to come across hurtful.”

Weddings are even more complicated during COVID-19. There are so many reasons you might not attend a wedding ranging from an underlying health condition to not wanting to risk being around people who take off their masks. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable congregating in groups of any size, regardless of the safety precautions in place. This is particularly true if travel to the wedding is involved. Many states have restrictions or quarantine requirements for out of town guests.

Here are a few rules about declining invitations during the pandemic:

  1. Don’t lecture. Whatever you do, don’t tell the couple what they should be doing. Instead, focus on your own feelings. Say something like, “I am concerned about my health and trying to avoid all social gatherings. I am really sad to miss your wedding.” 
  2. Show empathy. Even if you disagree with the decision the couple has made, you can understand that the pandemic has put everyone in tough positions. Say something along the lines of, “This must be a tricky time to plan a wedding” or “I understand you may feel hurt that I am not attending your wedding.” 
  3. Find different ways to celebrate. Ask the couple if you can join the festivities by Zoom or schedule a Facetime call after the festivities for a full debrief.

How to Politely Decline a Wedding Invitation

It’s important to remember that you are clearly someone special to the couple. After all, they invited you to be present for the most important day of their lives. Showing compassion while RSVPing no is important. Here are some rules.

If you aren’t close to the couple.

“You don’t need a long, drawn-out explanation as to why you are not attending in most instances,” said Meier. Maybe you are a fraternity brother who was close to the groom in college but haven’t talked to him much since? Or a third cousin of the bride who only sees her once a year at the holidays? In these instances simply check no on the RSVP card, and write a little note wishing them well. 

If you are close to the couple.

Things get more complicated if you are in the couple’s inner circle. “You may want to make a phone call or send an email ahead of your written decline with more details as to why you are not attending,” said Meier. Express your disappointment and let them know you care about them and wish them so much happiness. 

To take matters a step further send a little gift (flowers are perfect) with your RSVP card. It’s another way to express your support and love. After the wedding take the couple out to look at pictures and hear about the big day. The message: I couldn’t be there in person, but I am interested in your lives. 

RSVP early.

Don’t wait to decline the invitation. You don’t want to risk sending the message that you aren’t being thoughtful or worse, that you are waiting for a better opportunity. 

Send a gift.

It’s always appropriate to still send a wedding gift, even if you are declining their wedding invitation,” said Meier. “The reason we send a wedding gift, no matter if you attend or not, is because you want to not only show support for the couple but also show gratitude for being invited.”

Get involved in other parts of the wedding.

If you can’t make the wedding, you still might be able to be part of the pre-wedding festivities like the bachelorette party or the bridal shower. Ask if you can contribute in some way. Maybe you can assist with the planning or pitch in with costs.

Examples of Polite Declines 

If you are declining through an RSVP card or an email, it should be personal and reflect your relationship with the couple. To start, here are short and sweet samples Meier suggests you follow:

“While I’d love to be with you on your special day, I’m sadly unable to attend. I will be there in spirit and can not wait to see photos!” 

 “Regretfully we are unable to attend. Best wishes on your special day!”

 “Sadly we are unable to attend your wedding day, but look forward to celebrating the next time we see you!”

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