So you opened your mail one day recently and found a shimmery pale pink envelope (or a lush, chocolate one, or an austerly elegant ivory-colored one, or one you could barely read through the bright purple printing on cherry red paper) containing a wedding invitation. Perhaps it was one you’d been expecting for weeks. Perhaps it was one you had no clue was coming. Perhaps you are so close to the couple you took part in the invitation addressing party. Perhaps you have to desperately scan your every childhood memory to even figure out who the happy couple might be and why they sent you an invitation to witness their marriage.
Whatever the case, there are things you can do to make sure that you’re the sort of guest people want to invite to other events after this one is over and done with.
1: Please, please, please RSVP! This is probably the number one faux pas wedding guests make today. The bride and groom need to know how many people are coming. The answer will affect everything from favors to the seating arrangements to the catering bill. Look! They’ve even made it easy for you to do! Simply either check the yes or the no option on the reply card and send it back in the pre-addressed, postage paid envelope, or call the phone number at the bottom of the invitation and tell whoever answers whether or not you’re coming. Many couples even include an online option at their wedding websites for easy response.
Oh, and when you reply, only do so for the people who were actually listed on the invitation. If your name is the only one on the envelope and there is no ‘and guest’ on it, then do not attempt to reply for yourself, a date, your three-year-old child and your next-door neighbor. The bride and groom have spent a lot of time organizing their guest list. There may be any number of reasons why these people were not invited. If you do not feel you can go without your mother, your child, or a date, then the proper thing to do is to decline the invitation and send your best wishes for the couple’s marriage along with them. Don’t try to guilt the bride and groom into inviting your guests to their wedding.
On the other hand, the mere receipt of an invitation does not mean you have to say yes for everyone listed. If you’d rather leave your small child behind with a babysitter than watch to make sure she doesn’t take a header into the wedding cake before it’s cut, you’re perfectly free to do so.
Don’t feel the need to make excuses or stand on soapboxes. Just say, ‘I’m terribly sorry, but little Agatha-Petunia (or Joe Bob, or Auntie Mildred) won’t be able to attend with me.’
2: If at all possible, send your wedding gift before the wedding. Bringing gifts to the wedding itself can be awkward. You have to juggle it along with everything else, there may or may not be a designated place for it to go during the festivities, and that place may or may not be adequately guarded against theft. It’s an ugly fact of life that some people do crash large weddings in public places and help themselves to goodies off the gift table while nobody’s looking. It really is easier for everyone concerned if you send the gift to the address the invitation was issued from at least a couple weeks before the big event.
3: Remember that the registry list is a helpful suggestion, not an order. By all means, take a look at the registry list if you can. It’s a great way to get hints as to what the happy couple may or may not need and to get a general idea of their tastes if you are not entirely familiar with them. It’s also a great way to give something you know for certain they can use and will enjoy…but you are not in any way required to use it. Feel free to use your imagination as well. Some brides may disagree, but some of the best wedding gifts Mr. Twistie and I got were the sorts of things you just can’t register for. Whether you choose to give a place-setting of the couple’s formal china, a set of guest towels, a spa day for two, some of your homemade persimmon jelly, a check, or simply a congratulatory note, send it with love and without worry. It’s perfectly polite and appropriate.
4: Arrive in good time looking like you belong. Yes, I know, most weddings run late, but that is no reason for you to deliberately do the same. Do your best to arrive on site at least ten minutes before the ceremony is scheduled to begin, but no more than half an hour in advance. You want to have plenty of time to be seated and arrange yourself comfortably, but you don’t want to show up while the altar flowers are being arranged or the pew decorations are being hung or while a frantic bridesmaid in curlers and a robe is trying to figure out where the bride’s eyeshadow got to. Worse yet, you don’t want to enter the room just as the officient is asking whether there is anyone who objects to the union!
And you never know. Every once in a blue moon, a wedding does actually begin on time.
Looking like you belong is a trickier issue. It means taking stock of a variety of clues (time of day, location of the ceremony, whether the reception is in a different place and what that place might be, formality of the invitation, etc.) and working out what seems best for that time and place. For instance, if the wedding is in a fairly conservative house of worship, it would be politic to keep knees and shoulders covered at bare minimum. If the wedding is held during the day, don’t go for a sequinned evening gown, even if the reception will run until everyone is simply out of steam. An outdoor daytime wedding is the perfect excuse for a great hat, but that might look out of place in a banquet hall during the evening. If you’re invited to Pamela Anderson’s next wedding, I’d advise dressing down, since there’s a good chance the bride will appear in a bikini again.
Whatever you wear, though, make sure it’s clean, neat, and at least a reasonable attempt to fit the time of day, setting, and level of formality. Oh, and never turn down a wedding invitation simply because you don’t have the money to buy a special outfit. Simply do the best you can within your available means. If they really want the honor of your presence rather than the honor of your presents, the happy couple will not care much about what you’re wearing so long as you show up.
5: Get into the spirit of the party. I can’t believe the number of people I have heard over the years insist that they couldn’t have fun at a wedding without alcohol, a date, the precise music they like best…and all sorts of things that really shouldn’t make that big a difference. If you go in with that attitude, I guarantee you won’t have fun. What’s more, I’ll tell you right up front it’s your own damn fault. I’ve been to dozens of weddings in my day, and there have only been a couple where I had a grizzly time. Whether or not there was something ‘adult’ to drink, whether or not I had a date, whether or not I was wild about the music, whether or not there was dancing, whether or not I was familiar with the customs being observed, even whether or not I knew many people there, I managed to have a great time nearly every time. The ones where I had a bad time…well, there were good reasons why I had a bad time, but at least I know I went in game to enjoy myself.
If you go in expecting to have a good time, that’s pretty much half the battle. So try out a food you’re not familiar with. Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. Ask someone the significance of a tradition you’re unfamiliar with. Just remember, if you walk in defensive and negative…you will almost certainly leave the same way having dampened someone else’s good spirits into the bargain. Don’t rain on the bride and groom’s parade.
6: Thank your hosts. At some point during the reception, be sure to give the happy couple your best wishes and thank them for the invitation. It’s easy to do this if there is a receiving line, but if the bride and groom don’t have one, take it upon yourself to do it anyway. Ideally, they should come to you at some point, but it’s perfectly polite to be the one to initiate the conversation if they don’t. If you don’t manage to make contact with them during the reception, be sure to find a way to let them know later on what a great time you had and what a beautiful wedding it was. At absolute minimum, let them know you appreciate being included in their big day.
A wedding is a celebration of a happy event. It’s a great excuse for a party. And unless everyone involved is doing it completely wrong, it’s not a minefield. So just remember these simple rules, relax, and have a great time knowing you’re doing your best to add to the day.