In a perfect world, every couple would send out wedding invites, get the same number of response cards back, all with some iteration of ‘YES, WE’LL BE THERE!’ They’d be happy, guests would be excited, etc. But inevitably there will always be that 15-18% drop off - and a lot of the time couples actually welcome it - as they’re watching that target guest count come and go and total expenses climb and climb and climb. Even so, anyone who realizes that he or she can’t go to the wedding really can’t use ‘well, at least you don’t have to pay for us!’ as an excuse. Cute, but no.
Saying ‘No’ to a wedding can definitely be done, but it certainly isn’t the easiest thing to do, either. So, to help out anyone who’s currently stressed about dropping that decline in the mail (and yes, you need to stick with formality, if you got a hard copy invite, then you need to send in your response card), we’ve put together a few tips - starting with the biggest ‘DON’T.’
Don’t say ‘No’ if you’re a close family member of the bride or groom.
We’re talking parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, first cousins, grandparents. This is just family decency. Once you get the Save the Date, that date should pretty much be locked in with noooo wiggle room. You’ll be talking about the wedding at most family gatherings for the foreseeable future, so it shouldn’t just dawn on you when you get the invite that that day doesn’t work for you. And the worst thing you can do is sit back and watch the bride and groom getting psyched about their big day, only to let them know with all the rest of their ‘NO’ RSVPs that you won’t be able to make it. It’s real 💩 to say the least. Save yourself any awkwardness and potential family feuding and just commit. That’s what family does.
Don’t wait on sending your regrets.
A regret is a regret is a regret. So, it shouldn’t matter if you say it now or later, right? Nope, so wrong. As the RSVP deadline gets closer and closer, the couple inevitably starts to get pissed about all the cards that haven’t come back yet. I say this because I definitely did and so did my sister. It’s pretty normal for a bride to start freaking out about her guest count, who’s coming, who’s not, and who hasn’t taken 30 seconds to fill out a response card and stick the (already-stamped) card in the mail. That’s why if you know you won’t be there, send your regrets in as soon as possible. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in a real uncomfortable place, being hunted down by the bride or groom just a few weeks before the wedding - even if your excuse is legit (and of course there are legit ones) - and having to say ‘omg, yes I’m so sorry we couldn’t let you know sooner - because you could have, you absolutely could have - but we’re unable to come.’
Don’t overshare, but don’t be vague, either.
See above. A regret is a regret is a regret. That’s true, whether you have another wedding that day (perhaps one of your family members’), you’re attending someone’s graduation, you have an already-scheduled business trip you can’t bail on, or you just have so many weddings to attend this year that you just feel like you can’t afford a gift for another one, if you can’t go, you can’t go. But the couple doesn’t need to know every detail about why you’ll be absent. A simple “we regretfully can’t make it, as we’ll be on a family vacation in Florida that week” will do. Getting too fluffy with the explanation isn’t all that great (i.e. ‘our kids haven’t gone to Disney yet, and they just love Mickey’ doesn’t have to be said). Alternately, just sending in your response card with an X next to your decline - or the words ‘scheduling conflict’ is also insanely ill-advised. The couple invited you to witness a very special day in their lives, the least you can do is provide some justification as to why you’ll unfortunately have to miss it.
Do thank the couple for your invitation.
As I just mentioned, it’s important for guests to understand how wonderful a gesture it was for the couple to extend them an invitation. So, if for any reason they can’t accept it, then there should at least be some exchange of pleasantries. AKA any form of ‘thank you so much for asking us to be a part of your wedding day, we’re sure it will be beautiful, and we’ll be thinking of you two! Congratulations!’ It goes a long way, really. For my sister’s wedding, she and her fiancé extended an invite to my husband’s best friend, 1) because he’s become such a big part of our family and 2) because my best friend was invited as well, it felt right! He had to decline, due to his busy season at work, but not only did he send in his response early, he sent the sweetest note about how much he appreciated being invited and how upset he was that he couldn’t be there with all of us!
Do make an effort to celebrate them at another time.
Look, every couple gets that they’ll have people who just can’t come and they deal with it. Such is life. But it definitely makes things better when a guest (and his or her +1) makes an effort to celebrate the occasion in some way at another time, at the couple’s convenience. Offer to take them out to dinner after they get back from their honeymoon - so you can hear all about their wedding and how married life’s been since saying ‘I Do.’ Or send them a gift (something you should always, always do, whether you can make it or not) and mention in the card how much you’re looking forward to spending time with them since they said goodbye to their singlehood! It’s YOUR time to send a ‘save the date,’ in their honor, of course!
Do try to make it to everything else.
Granted, there are some guests who get invited solely as a token of respect (to the couple’s parents, to workplace proximity acquaintances, etc.), and if they can’t make it to the wedding, they tend to be no shows for the pre-wedding parties, too. Might not make a huge difference to the couple either way. And then there are those close friends who know when the wedding date is, wayyy before any Save-the-Dates have even been sent, and know they can’t make it 😔. So, they do everything in their power to make sure they’re available and ‘on call’ for any event the bride or groom wants them in attendance for. My best friend who got married in September was understandably depressed when one of her college besties said she couldn’t make it to their wedding (she was literally going to South Africa with her boyfriend and his family, for three weeks, it was a trip at least 1 year in the making). But to make up for it, she attended all of her pre-wedding events and offered to help the bridesmaids in setup/cleanup, all the things.
Consider all of the aforementioned tips if you can’t attend an upcoming wedding. And if you ARE planning to go, but can’t make it at the last minute - which can happen, if you have a sick kid, if an accident happens out of the blue, if you yourself come down with something nasty and can’t make it out of the house - make sure you deal with it this way.
Consider any + all avenues to keep your OG plans in place first, whether that means calling in a favor for babysitting, etc.
If you just can’t go and have exhausted all of your options, pick up the phone and put in a call to one of the couple’s bridesmaids or groomsmen (because let’s be honest, on top of bailing at the last minute, you don’t want to have to call the soon-to-be-wed couple in a panic and stress them out). Extend your sincerest sorries and explain that despite your best efforts, you can’t make it to the wedding.
Think about any ways that you can send something special to the bride or groom’s suites - flowers or mimosas for her, cigars or whisky for him. On-demand services+apps work magically for something like this.
Don’t forget to send your gift - or if you live close to the couple, consider delivering it in person, when you know they’ll be home ((and after they return from their honeymoon or days after the wedding, when the dust has settled!)). Explain how sorry you were to have missed it, and how thankful you were to have even gotten invited.
Whatever you do, don’t just not show up to spite them. Ever. And if a friend couldn’t make it to your wedding, because she was sick, but she still apologized profusely and sent a super generous gift in her stead, don’t just ‘return the favor.’ If you commit, you commit. Maintaining a friendship takes work and energy from BOTH parties. There should be no ‘getting even.’ This has been a PSA from someone who’s seen something like this happen…. 😉