Invitees: What to Do When the Right Response Isn’t Clear

If they didn't want you there, one hopes they wouldn't have invited you.

Though we mainly address our wisdoms to brides-to-be, we don’t like to neglect the needs of wedding guests and prospective wedding guests. How to respond to a wedding invitation can be just as tricky as writing one, and that goes double when someone who’s been invited to a wedding is unsure whether she or he should happily accept or decline with regrets. Here’s a question we received a few years back – I felt like this post needed to see the light of day again in case other invited wedding guests out there were on the fence as to whether yes or no is the right response. That said, here’s the question posed by a prospective guest:


I was recently sent a “save the date” card by a friend who is, well, no longer really a friend. Not that we had a falling out, but we don’t really travel in the same social circles anymore. However, I was in the couple’s life when they became a couple, and I’m so happy for the two of them. I’m not sure what to do. I wonder if she invited me because she felt she should because I knew about the wedding? I wonder if I’ll just feel terribly socially awkward the whole time? I wonder if people will think I accepted just to get a free meal, rather than to celebrate the union of these two people? Would the bride be happier if I accepted or if I declined?

To anyone,anywhere contemplating an invitation to an event they’d rather not attend, I say this: Not replying at all is a dis of the highest order. While it might seem that dragging one’s feet until it’s far to late to reply is the easiest option, there are some things polite people simply do not do. That’s not to say I was suggesting that either party who wrote to me would do such a thing. Far from it! It’s simply a gem of truth that bears repeating now and again.

If you feel uncomfortable accepting an invitation to a bridal tea, bridal shower, or wedding, then by all means decline. There is nothing discourteous or ungracious about saying, “No.” When it comes to the invites to the main event, it’s usually as easy as pie…at least I’ve never seen a response card that reads “______ declines with regrets, now tell us why in 500 words or less _________.” If you’re asked to RSVP via phone or the individual doing the inviting just has to know why you can’t attend, things get stickier.


In the 1987 version of Emily Post on Entertaining Ms. Post wrote, “If you are declining simply because you don’t want to go or dislike the host or hostess, but have no other plans, it is best not to give a reason, if asked, other than ‘I’m terribly sorry, we’re busy that evening.’ This leaves you free to accept another invitation.” Of course, if you’re being asked to attend an event that’s still months and months away, this doesn’t work so well.

To the lovely lady who asked the original question, I would say that unless the bride-to-be is a very silly person who is inviting people just to pad her numbers, she probably invited you because she’d like you to attend. She’s likely as aware as you are that you two aren’t as close as you once were, but it may be that she still cares enough about you to extend an invitation.

If you’d consider going but you can’t fathom why she’d invite you, why not ring her up and say something like, “I received your save-the-date! I was so surprised because we haven’t talked in so long.” That puts the ball back in her court. On the other hand, if you’d really rather not go at all, there’s no reason to get in touch just yet, being that the invitations have not gone out. As mentioned previously, you can decline without going into specifics, but be aware that your friend might ring you to ask why. Popular reasons for declining an invitation include chaos at work, being unable to travel, monetary concerns, and previous commitments.

My own experience: When I was a bride-to-be collecting the response cards that came in, I honestly did not give a lot of thought to those that read “declines with regret” instead of “accepts with pleasure.” That’s not to say that I wasn’t saddened to learn that certain relatives and friends wouldn’t be there, but I certainly didn’t make any assumptions about their inability to attend. They had lives to lead and bills to pay and obligations of their own! Likewise, I didn’t read overmuch into the affirmative responses I received – for all I knew, half of the attendees were coming for the free beer… which wouldn’t have bothered me a bit, truth be told.

And now a question for all the brides-to-be and former brides-to-be out there: Did you analyze the response cards that came in? Or were you too busy thinking about other things?

P.S. – You may notice that I’m not around as much in the coming days. Well, lovelies, it’s August! Time to play! Yours truly hasn’t had a proper holiday in ages. BUT I’ll still be around on our Facebook page, so hit me up there with any questions, promotions, suggestions, etc. FYI that’s where I’m going to answer the questions you posed while I was in Europe, so head over, ‘like’ us, and enjoy all the fun extras!

8 Responses to “Invitees: What to Do When the Right Response Isn’t Clear”

  1. wildflower August 2, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    Unless I were somebody’s boss or other person to whom they ‘owe’ respect, I would always take an invitation at face value–that they’d like to have me there!

    I don’t exactly have the highest self-esteem, but it’s never crossed my mind to second guess an invitation like that! Go! Have a great time! And meet new people!

  2. bridal girl August 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    I do agree with the article. If you want to decline an invitation just say so without the details of course. But still going to a wedding is a privilege and I would never want to turn down an invitation even if that person is not that close to me at all.

  3. marvel August 4, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Our wedding was in my hometown, and most of my friends had to travel. I was not surprised at how many people declined, because I knew it would be a lot of time, money and hassle for those who traveled. (I had moved a lot over the course of my life, as had most of my friends; the hometown wedding was the best bet for being convenient for over half the guests, but when you’re in the US and inviting people who had moved to France and Australia, you’re asking a lot.)

    So yeah, weddings are expensive enough, most brides don’t invite people unless they really want them there. But if you can’t go, just say no.

  4. goa honeymoon August 4, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Declining without going into specifics is acceptable. If the person who sent the invitation is close, he/she may want to know the reason.

  5. Los Angeles Wedding Photographer August 5, 2011 at 2:57 am #

    There’s nothing wrong in declining an invitation to an event you’d rather not attend. So, don’t be afraid to say no.

  6. Katie August 7, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    I only obsessed over 2 responses. On belonged to my brother and his partner, which accepted but had added “1xprobably 1xmaybe” She was 8 months pregnant, and they live interstate, but I felt a phone call explaining the issues would have been much more appropriate. They didn’t end up coming and mostly, I was relieved.
    The other was a friend’s newish partner – we hadn’t wanted to invite her because we’d only met her once. He kicked up an absolute stink over that, saying he wouldn’t come without her, then she had a new job and couldn’t come anyway! I was pretty frustrated about that.
    Otherwise, because we’d invited more than could comfortably fit in our venue I was relieved by every ‘decline’ we received!

  7. Tina @ wedding favors August 12, 2011 at 12:06 am #

    The photo on this post is really great!

  8. Ellen August 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    What a joy to find such clear thinking. Thanks for psoitng!