What’s a party without guests? One of the hardest (but most important) parts of planning your wedding is creating the guest list. It’s a little more complicated, though, than simply making a list of everyone you’d like to celebrate with. There are people you’ll have to invite, others you really want to skip, and those who may or may not make the cut, depending on your venue’s capacity. So how do you decide who does—and doesn’t—get an invitation to your wedding? Here are six guidelines to help you and your families figure it out.
1. Make a preliminary list with just your partner.
Before you involve your families, sit down with your partner to start the guest list. Begin with your immediate families, then add those close family members you really want to have there. Next, move on to your closest friends—the ones you simply can’t imagine getting married without. This probably won’t be your entire guest list, but it’s a good place to start, and should cover those must-haves your parents will be looking for. But don’t involve your families just yet—you’ll want to get this starting point ironed out first so you can make sure everyone is equally represented down the line.
2. Decide where you’ll cut off family invitations—and stick to it.
Extended family invitations are tricky. Who even knows the difference between second cousins and first cousins, once removed, anyway? The general rule of thumb is that, if one uncle gets an invitation, all of your aunts and uncles need to get an invitation—the same goes for cousins or second cousins too. This isn’t much of an issue for small families, but with a large extended family, this can take up the bulk of your guest list.
Start with your closest relatives first, then work your way out until you reach a level you’re comfortable with, one that (hopefully) leaves room for a few friends, too.
3. Give both families the same number of extra guests.
After your families have been invited, determine how many extra spots you have left and divide it evenly between both of your families. Let your parents use these seats however they’d like—and make it clear that there are no more seats available. This way your mom can invite her best friend, while your father-in-law can include his business partners (you know, the same ones who invited him to their son’s wedding last year).
4. Make the call about children.
It’s entirely up to the couple whether or not children are invited to the wedding. Decide whether you want little ones there or would prefer an adults-only celebration, and then put your foot down. That means no exceptions. Not sure what counts as a “kid”? Most caterers consider children guests under 12, so you can definitely skip your cousin’s teenage kids but still include your college bestie’s toddler—just make sure you’re applying that age rule across the board. And if someone calls to ask if they can bring their kids along, let them know what you’ve decided, and stick to your guns.
5. Return the favor.
This one’s tricky. If a friend invited you to her wedding five years ago, there’s no need to invite her to yours—even if you were a bridesmaid. However, if you attended a wedding in the past 18 months (and especially if you or your partner was in the wedding party), that couple should be on your guest list as well.
6. Follow modern plus-one protocol.
You’re not obligated to offer every one of your guests a plus-one to your wedding, but if they’re in a serious relationship of any sort (dating, living together, engaged, etc.), their partner should be included. Buh-bye, “no ring, no bring” rule.