Wedding season approaches, and with it costly weddings, especially when they include travel. With inward groans, we get those acquaintances or distant relative invites and wonder, what is the proper etiquette? Do we really have to go?
There are all sorts of reasons to not go: financial burden, a past friend who wants to rekindle a closeness that isn’t reciprocated, relatives that know you won’t come but may want your gift or you simply have a prior engagement that falls on the same date. Maybe you are going through a bad breakup or divorce and feel that emotionally you’re not in a good space for a wedding. The relief comes in knowing you can say no.
When To Say No
Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert, advises, “I would say you definitely can say no to coworkers that you don’t have a terribly close relationship with, childhood or college friends that you have not been in contact with for years. Also, individuals that you just don’t know well – say, for example, individuals who you may both be members of a professional or volunteer organization.”
Ms. Swann adds, “My advice would be in trying to make the decision, gauge how well you know the person. And it may not be how much time you spend with them, because we spend a lot of time with co-workers; it’s more about your relationship and how close you are.”
Saying no to relatives may be a little trickier. According to Ms. Swann, “If it’s a distant relative, you can say no. If it’s a relative that lives out of state and you haven’t spent time with them in years, you can say no. If you’re fighting and you haven’t resolved your issue enough to be cordial at the wedding, it’s my advice to bow out and say no.”
Most wedding etiquette states that you can respond ‘no’ and nothing else is required of you. The polite thing for the bride and groom, if you’ve declined their invitation, is for them to not challenge your RSVP, but not everyone is polite. “Prior commitment”, “plans you can’t break” or “previous engagement” are all good phrases to toss out. Try not to go into the little white lie territory or you may find yourself weaving more lies.
If the person presses for more of an answer, don’t be rude, just stick with telling them that it’s impossible for you to attend. Remember, the more specific you are with obstacles, the more the bride or groom may try to come up with solutions. Put your loveliest smile on your face and let them know that you look forward to seeing the pictures from the wedding and that you wish them all the happiness on their special day and all the days to follow.
Most wedding invites will include a formal R.S.V.P. card to which you can check no. That might be enough, but if you know the person well, you might want to include a short, hand-written note of regret that you can’t attend and a brief explanation why, i.e. a previous engagement. Add a few words of congratulations and you should be set.
Gifts…To Send Or Not To Send
According to the Emily Post Institute, purveyors of all things etiquette, “Guests invited to the wedding have an obligation to send a gift, whether they are attending or not.” There are some exceptions. If the wedding is far away and you’ve “been out of touch with the couple for several years, and are not planning to attend…there’s no need to send a gift.” The Institute also instructs, “Another myth: guests have up to a year after the wedding to send a gift. Not so. Gifts should be sent before the wedding.”
Ms. Swann adds another reason for no gift: “Financial hardship–you are not required to give a gift.” The same holds true for attending a wedding when it might break the bank – “If you are having a financial hardship and you cannot go, say it’s a destination wedding or out of state, be honest and say this is not a good time for you financially…and do follow up with a card that would wish them well. And the reason I say be honest is, people really do understand in these economic times when you say it’s really tough. They are less apt to hold you to it.” Consider this–the average cost just to attend a wedding is $611.00. Travel, meals and drinks before or after, wedding present, an appropriate dress with accessories all do add up. That’s quite a chunk of change.
It’s good to keep in mind that you will not be the only one who can’t attend. For the bride and groom who are watching their pocket book, your no just might be as much a relief to them as to you.