Recently I have gotten a slew of emails from readers with the most intriguing questions and ideas. I so love when y'all write me. I do really enjoy interacting with the people who read this little blog. One reader in particular sent me a question that gave me slight pause on how to answer. Reader Kristine wants to know:
If we are having a wedding with around 100 guests, can we invite people to the engagement party that we don't intend to invite to the wedding? (childhood friends, parents' friends, etc.) And when it comes to the wedding, how to we handle families? For example, if I invite my childhood best friend, and I want to invite his parents, do I have to invite his college-aged sister also? And does she have to have a plus-one? I don't want to make decisions now that are going to bite us in the butt in 18 months!
OK, first of all - CONGRATULATIONS! You're engaged! SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
Now, down to the nitty-gritty of things. The fact that you're concerned with this means you're thinking ahead (good for you) and have concern and consideration for the multitude of friends and family you'd like to share in your celebration. This means you are a Good Person and everyone here at The Thirty-Something Bride (all three of us, Less Kitty included) really like Good People. However, you will find that being a Good Person means zippo when it comes to wedding stuff. Wedding politics can turn into a very slippery, unhappy slope if you don't set ground rules NOW. And by ground rules, I mean expectations. You probably have an idea of who you want to invite, an image in your mind's eye of what you will look like, the vibe of your day. If not, don't worry - it'll come. Just make sure that these expectations are something that you share with your immediate family and fiancé. This includes who will be in attendance at the plethora of parties that can happen surrounding your nuptials.
The engagement party is traditionally the place where families meet and get to know each other. The engagement party is not a requirement, even by traditional standards. Common sense (and Emily Post) says that you should throw an engagement party 30-90 days after being engaged and at least 6 months before the wedding. Protocol also says that it is indeed very bad form to invite people to the engagement party who you do not plan to invite to the wedding. Look at your engagement party list as you would your invite list. But you can't think about your invite list without thinking about your budget. And you can't think about your budget without first sitting down with all parties involved in the budget contribution. It's like the Circle of Life - all things lead back to The Budget in wedding planning. Always. It's infuriating, so be prepared. If you're paying for the wedding, the guest list is really in your capable hands, with absolute consideration for who all the parents want to invite. Note that I said consideration. If it's a combined financial effort, everyone has a say but keeping in mind that it is you and your fiancé's wedding. If just the parents are paying, the same applies - it's still your gig, but the parental units have more leverage.
"Protocol" also states that a couple shouldn't throw themselves an engagement party - generally it's the parents of the bride or groom who host. This doesn't mean you don't contribute though, particularly when the outcome of who is invited to the engagement party affects who is in attendance on your wedding day. So does that mean that you can't celebrate your engagement with your childhood BFF? No, it does not. The great thing about weddings these days is that you can occasionally flip the big, fat finger at protocol and do what you want.
Ask yourself some questions. Do you really want to have party that celebrates your engagement? Do your respective parents? Would you rather save the money and apply it to your wedding so that you can invite a few extra distant friends? You can throw a small engagement party for family/close friends only - those people you know for sure you want to invite to your wedding. Keep the "maybe" people off that list. If you want a bigger soiree for everyone else, I'd consider just throwing a regular ol' party and invite everyone. Don't call it an engagement party. Have it around a holiday and disguise the party that way: a Groundhog Day Bash, a Memorial Day BBQ, a Fourth of July Fiesta. Keep it casual and flash your new ring as often as possible. Just remember that this will add to your budget woes (if you have them). Even a BBQ can end up costing an arm and a leg if you've got 100+ people there.
As for the college-aged sister of the childhood BFF? No, you do not have to invite her or a plus one. In fact, you don't even have to invite the parents unless you really want them there. You're not throwing a huge wedding - you'll be surprised at how 100 people can add up super-duper fast - keep your invites for the people in your life who are there for you through thick and thin. These are the people you want at your wedding, not the peripherals of people who are related to your rock-steady friends (unless they are spouses of the rock-steady friends).
Very soon after I was engaged I attended a party for a friend who was releasing a book she wrote. I was definitely planning on inviting her and her husband to our wedding. I also know her parents. At the book signing, her mother congratulated us and said she couldn't wait to see me all dressed up on our wedding day. I think the look on my face said exactly what was in my head: OH MY GOD. I TOTALLY WANT YOU AT THE WEDDING BECAUSE I THINK YOU ARE WONDERFUL, BUT YOU ARE NOT ON OUR GUEST LIST. My friend's mom graciously let me off the hook (Southern women are so classy) but I felt terrible. However, it didn't change the fact that it was her daughter and husband who I would invite and not the parents.
So in case my ramblings are unclear, here is a final synopsis:
Engagement party? Keep it small. No friends of friends or plus ones or anyone you do not plan to invite to the wedding.
Wedding? Inviting a friend does not mean you have to extend an invitation to the friend's entire family. Additionally, plus ones should be reserved for spouses or people who are in a committed relationship, particularly if you're having an intimate wedding.
Sadly though, lots of people don't get this. I didn't get it when I was younger. I actually had the audacity to ask for a plus one once so I could bring a date. I know, I know. I was so lame. I just didn't get it. I didn't understand anything about weddings. In hindsight though, I think it was probably OK because that couple is now divorced and the groom (my friend) is now living with his male life partner. *Ahem* I think everyone involved probably wants to forget that wedding ever happened at all....
The answer is that there is no solid answer. There is a lot of bending and swaying that you will have to do. You'll be maneuvering around the guest list up until the last minute too - verbal invites a la the groom, distant relatives who think they deserve an invite even though you're closer to your hair stylist than them, people who refuse to RSVP or change their answer every other minute....the invitation thing can be a bear. Hold fast to your wedding intentions, but also be a little flexible - it will save you stress and hair pulling. Choose your battles carefully and with thought.
Having said all this, I'm sure Kristine would welcome any additional advice on her engagement party invitation issues. Discuss....
I like the sound of "evolving etiquette" mentioned in the comment below. And something I failed to mention was that I too had a party for people not invited to the wedding. It was called our Rehearsal Gathering.
There are so many ways around the "traditions" of wedding planning. Make a new tradition for yourselves! Just as long as you surround yourself with the people you love and the people who love you - then you're golden.
Remember the LOVE!