By Jason Menard
There are few spectacles as wondrous as the celebration of the union of two loving partners in the bonds of matrimony. But there are also few things more uncomfortable than getting to the ceremony, being asked, “friend of the bride or the groom?” and not having an answer.
Maybe it’s reflective of an insular society that finds us with fewer true friends and less of a community feeling, but acquaintance invitations appear to be the fashion in modern weddings. In fact, just recently, my wife and I received an invitation to the wedding of a person to whom we’ve only spoken a handful of times.
Generally, I base my acceptance of whether or not I know the bride and groom’s first and last names. When I’ve only got a fuzzy notion of the bride’s first name and couldn’t pick the groom out of a police line-up, I think I’ve got grounds for not attending. But now we’re in that uncomfortable matrimonial nether-region of how to bow out gracefully.
It’s not like we have to worry about doing irreparable damage to a friendship, because exchanging pleasantries with someone who lives in close proximity to you does not a friendship make. Hell, if that was the case, I’d have invited the clerk at the grocery store we frequented, the guy behind the counter at the Lebanese restaurant we often got take out from, and the entire staff at the local Blockbuster Video. But that’s not how we saw our wedding. We chose to celebrate our wedding day with those who were closest to us – the friends and family that we saw every day and those we saw less frequently, but held a close emotional attachment to the both of us.
Our wedding was an intimate affair – which is just a fancy way of saying small. However, we made the choice to pare down the guest list out of respect for those we barely know.
Anyone who’s gone through the process of planning a wedding knows that the creation of the guest list can be one of most stressful aspects of the whole venture. The dreaded spectre of family politics inevitably raises its ugly head. We’ve all played that game – if you invite one aunt, then you have to invite the other. And if you invite those cousins, then we have to factor in spouses and children. A simply 60-gathering can easily increase exponentially three or four times just by climbing the family tree.
In many cases, these are family members that you never, ever see, except for weddings and funerals. A couple of years back, my wife and I were invited to the wedding of a cousin of mine of whom I had not seen for over a decade – back in her early teens. Yet, because of those thin family ties, we were invited. Work obligations forced us to miss the event – and we ended up dodging a bullet as the marriage lasted under a year.
And that’s where those doing the inviting have to take into consideration the investment required of the invitees. Weddings aren’t just an expense for the bride, groom, and their family – it also represents a substantial financial burden for those who choose to attend. Beyond the inflated prices for gifts, attendees must bear the cost of travel and taking time off of work. Those that are close to you will gladly bear that burden to share in your day, but is it really fair to expect that type of investment from those you don’t know? The fact is that family ties loosen and they shouldn’t be used to tighten the noose around our necks and oblige us to attend the ceremonies. And even if you believe that those family ties bind for life, acquaintances should not be held to the same standard.
Of course, as it turns out, not even the word no is free. Apparently some sort of etiquette commandment implies that, even if you don’t attend the wedding you’re obligated to send a gift in gratitude for having been invited. Personally, I think that’s a crock – I’m more than happy to send the barely known couple my fondest wishes for a long and happy life together, but those sentiments don’t need to be accompanied by a fondue set – but my wife is responsible for all things involving social graces in my family, and we’ll end up ponying up some cash for the right to decline.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think weddings should be about the gifts – they’re about sharing a special moment in your life with those who are most important to you. But many people look at wedding gifts as a means to an end – a way for the guests to pay back the expense you’ve incurred through inviting them. So maybe this shotgun approach of inviting distant relatives and casual acquaintances is a way to maximize one’s return while minimizing the risk that they’ll actually show up to the event.
Nor should weddings be a socially paralyzing experience. Just because I work with people doesn’t mean I have to invite them to my wedding. Why should I feel obligated to invite my eighth cousin, six times removed, because we spent a wonderful weekend at the beach together when I was five? Especially when I haven’t seen hind nor hair of that person since.
And if you need to enter into the realm of deductive reasoning when the question “friend of the bride or the groom,” is posed, then it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t be at that wedding – or compelled to attend.
But just make sure you drop off your gift on the way out.
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