For most couples, trimming down a guest list is one of the most stressful parts of the entire wedding-planning process. But, while it might be easy to vet your acquaintances, co-workers, or distant relatives, deciding whether or not to invite a couple who included you in their big day is more complicated.
On the one hand, it is an honor to be a guest at someone’s wedding; out of everyone they know, the happy couple wanted you to be present during one of the biggest days of their lives. So, does that mean you have to reciprocate the invitation when it’s your turn? The answer isn’t as cut-and-dry as you’d think—especially if you have drifted from the prospective guests or are working with a tight budget.
Need some help with navigating this sticky and somewhat awkward situation? A few wedding and etiquette experts share the key questions you should ask yourself before sending a reciprocal wedding invitation.
Meet the Expert
- Ashleigh Coffie is the the co-host of the wedding podcast Hue I Do.
- Bonnie Tsai is the founder of Beyond Etiquette, a expert corporate relations and etiquette training company.
- Ivy Summer is a certified wedding planner and founder of Voulez Events.
- Jodi RR Smith is an etiquette consultant and the president and owner of Mannersmith.
Why Was I Invited to Their Wedding?
Before you finalize your own list, think back to the prospective guest’s big day. Were you a member of their wedding party? Did you spend time with the couple leading up to the nuptials? Or, were you a little surprised you were invited in the first place?
“One's guest list approval process is not the same as everyone else's,” says Ashleigh Coffie, the co-host of a wedding podcast called Hue I Do. “Some people have bigger budgets, different friend-group types, or more contentious family members. So, it can be easier to add a distant cousin or a coworker to the guest list. However, that's not everyone's case.”
If you didn’t play a major role in their big day—or were a small part of a lengthy guest list—consider placing this pair on your B or C list.
When Did I Last See Them?
Absence might make the heart grow fonder, but it can also play a big role in whether or not you send out that reciprocal invite. “If they got married within the last year and a half, your friendship hasn’t changed, and you have both the space and budget to invite them, you should definitely invite them to your wedding,” advises Bonnie Tsai, founder of Beyond Etiquette.
On the flipside, if the couple got married a few years ago and you’ve since fallen out of touch, Tsai says you shouldn’t feel obligated to send over an invitation. “Make plans that best fit your budget and venue, and prioritize the friends and family you really want to be a part of your special day,” she adds.
Another factor to consider is how often you keep in touch. (Oftentimes, physical distance is no match for a regular video chat, text exchange, or phone call.) “This doesn’t mean you are in constant contact with each other, but you care greatly about each other’s lives and provide each other with support and love when needed,” Tsai adds.
Can I Imagine My Day Without This Person?
Ultimately, your wedding should be filled with friends and family members who have a special place in your heart. So, how do these reciprocal invites compare to the rest of the guest list? “Your wedding is a party, but it is also an extremely personal experience,” says Tsai. “Therefore, think about who you want to include in this special day.”
Take a moment to consider how you’d feel if the guest in question RSVPs no. Would you be disappointed? And, more importantly, would their absence affect your special day? Your answers will be quite telling.
What’s My Budget?
Sometimes, the deciding factor might be more practical than emotional. “The budget is usually impacted by the guest count, especially for wedding events that cater reception meals,” explains Ivy Summer of Voulez Events.
Before you send your invitations, do the math to see if you have the budget to accommodate all of your reciprocal guests. “If a couple is simply trying to downsize their guest list solely because of their budget concerns, I advise them not to break their budget just because they want to invite their friend's distant cousin who invited them to their wedding,” she says.
How to Have the Conversation
Admittedly, telling someone they’re not invited to your wedding can be a little awkward. However, Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting’s Jodi RR Smith says it’s important to let the other party know in advance. “After being kind enough to include you, they should not be relegated to checking their mailbox or email for an invitation that is not forthcoming,” she explains.
Smith says that comments like “we are going to be having a very small wedding” or “I wish I could have a wedding as large as yours, but that is simply not possible” can help broach the subject. From there, it’s important to make it clear. Smith recommends sayings, “I am sorry we are not able to include you.”
But, just because you’re not reciprocating the invitation doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. “If this is a friendship you want to continue, you will need to invite them for dinner once you are settled,” Smith says.