How to Graciously Decline a Wedding Invitation

A woman holding a smartphone and looking at a paper calendar.

You get the fancy envelope and pull the thick paper invitation out to read it, anticipation rising. Someone you know is getting married! You imagine the dancing, the dinner, the celebration of love—until you see the date. Whether it’s a busy time of year at work, a far-off destination, or simply a day when you already have plans, you won’t be making it to the wedding. Here are a few wise things to do as an invitee to make sure that you decline as graciously as possible.

RSVP Promptly

The biggest kindness you can show to a person planning their own wedding is to give them a heads-up as soon as you know you cannot go. This applies in a lot of circumstances: whether you know you have another wedding to attend the moment you see the invitation, or your realize two days before the wedding that your car has to be in the shop too long, it’s kindest to send your RSVP (or revised RSVP!) as promptly as possible. Brides are arranging tables, ordering catering, and frankly will be surprised if you don’t show up or call her the morning-of. It only makes sense to take that weight off her shoulders and let her know, even if you worry that you’ll be asked why.

Many people do indeed delay their RSVP, hoping that something will change so they can attend the wedding and avoid an odd phone call where they have to state why. Obviously, for distant family weddings you won’t likely have to explain your absence, but for those you are relatively close to, you may have to push through an odd conversation in order to complete the declining of the invitation. Think carefully about your “excuse,” and make sure it is simultaneously as honest and as kind as possible. This means that vague things like “I had prior plans I cannot get out of” may be better than “I really want to go to this one concert,” if your friend or family member is likely to respond poorly to the specifics. At the same time, for any excuse they are likely to understand, honesty is the best policy.

Get a Gift and Send a Note

A small box wrapped in kraft paper and surrounded by green and white flowers.

While people don’t always abide by this policy, a good way to show your love in spite of declining a wedding invite is to send a gift and a note. If you really don’t think a gift is warranted, a note with a small gift card can go a long way to showing you are thinking of the happy couple and wish them well. However, a creative or much-desired gift can be a way to show how important this event is to you, even if you cannot be there.

When Asked to Join the Wedding Party

A woman sitting in front of a laptop and using a calculator.

One of the hardest kinds of declines is an invitation with a wedding party role attached. Often, part of the reason to not want to join the wedding party is financial: many bridesmaid weekends and showers end up being quite expensive, not to mention the wedding arrangements themselves. Consider carefully how to protect your friend’s feelings and, if at all possible, talk to them in person, since text, email, and calling can make your decline seem more cavalier than it is. Again, honesty and kindness go a long way. There is a chance that your friend or family member will be very disappointed at first, but as long as you tell the truth and explain what won’t work for you, they usually recover. Make sure, though, that any objections you raise aren’t things that they may try to change for you: sometimes it is better to have a reason why you cannot go, for instance, rather than mentioning finances if you know you won’t accept any financial help from the bride.

When You Could Go, but Don’t Want To

Whether you’ve been asked to be a bridesmaid or simply to attend the wedding, you will sometimes simply not wish to be there, period. Often, someone you don’t want to see, such as an ex-husband or girlfriend, might also be attending, and you could go but want to avoid the circumstances. In this case, you will have one of two options: one is to simply decline and not mention anything, since most people who aren’t your closest friends will be polite enough not to bring it up. The other option is to develop a plan for how to “be busy” at that time. A retroactive appointment is a valuable way to avoid conflict and, as long as no one has a reason to find out, can be a way to explain your inability to attend. That being said, the more expensive the trip to the wedding and the less well you know the person, the less likely you are to have to explain not attending. Most people will not pry as to why you don’t have extra thousands of dollars lying around for an impromptu trip. Even in these cases, a kind but simple card and a gift aren’t a bad idea.

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