I’ll start this post with a stream of consciousness. When considering the amount of people I want to attend my small backyard wedding, my thoughts sound something like this:
I want to have an intimate wedding. That’s totally my style. I have too much social anxiety to have some big charade with 150 plus people, many of whom I barely know, staring at me for eight hours and catching a glimpse into my most intimate relationship/my soul. Gross. Plus it’s in a backyard! So that’s a pretty good excuse to put my guest list under the guillotine. If I just sort of spread that fact around, people who weren’t invited will totally understand. Cool. So time to make a list. Oh yeah… plus one’s. I forgot about that. OK so what if I allow some people to bring plus one’s, as long as I know the other person decently well? Would that work? How do I communicate that? Oh whatever, I’ll just allow them. Now what about my former college roommate– does she really need to come to my wedding? I haven’t talked to her in at least two years. Oh that’s right– I saw her last at her wedding. Shoot! I guess that means I have to invite her and her husband to mine. Alright– what about my parents’ friends? I don’t know them well nor care to have them there. But I don’t want to upset my parents. OK there’s only like 6 of them so whatever, they can come. Whoops! I almost forgot about my second cousins. Can’t leave them out. Now let’s do a count… WHAT?! Already at 60 just for my side? Double that to 120 including my partner’s guests?! Ugh. Screw it– I guess I’m having a big wedding… against my will.
And that’s when you realize that perhaps there is no such thing as a small and intimate wedding, even in a backyard… either just my partner and I go to city hall tomorrow, or we have a 120+ guest list.
But upon more determination, it turns out that there are some solutions to finding a balance. There is certainly no easy fix, and each of the actions below will require a hefty dose of tenacity to make happen. But it is possible to pare down the guest list. A lot of it requires a degree of cognitive behavioral therapy– convincing yourself that it’s okay to have the wedding you want, and resetting your brain to accept that. Without further ado, here are ten tips for maintaining a small guest list:
1. Develop a wedding mantra.
In order to stay focused on the ultimate purpose of your wedding, you will need to keep reminding yourself of it. I want a small, casual backyard wedding because I feel that a wedding should be an expression of me and my partner’s unique personalities, and a vision of our future together. A big and flashy wedding just doesn’t fit our relationship. Therefore, I chose the mantra: My wedding is honest and humble. When I find myself adding people to the guest list that I don’t truly need to be there, I repeat: my wedding is honest and humble. When I start to add something frilly to the ceremony because I think someone else wants it, I repeat: my wedding is honest and humble. It’s also helpful when deciding between two options– it gives you the clarity and focus you need for those challenging moments.
2. Let go of reciprocity.
It can be really difficult to decide not to invite someone who invited you to their wedding. And yes, they may be hurt by it. But especially if you intend to have a smaller wedding than theirs, that provides you with good reasoning behind your decision. While you shouldn’t message them to tell them that they aren’t invited, you can bring it up whenever you get in touch again. Say something like, “I just wanted you to know that I had a really small and intimate wedding with only close friends and family. I don’t want you to feel like there was some other reason why you weren’t there!”
3. Create a timeline cutoff.
For guests whom you are unsure about inviting, calculate the amount of time it’s been since you last interacted with them. Then pick a cut-off of months or years. For example, my cut-off is one year. When I think about it this way, it seems perfectly reasonable to leave them off the guest list. Choosing not to invite someone to your wedding does not mean you are declaring your relationship null. You are simply inviting people who are currently integral in your life. Which leads me to the next strategy…
4. Use the holiday party test.
If you wouldn’t invite them to this year’s friends and family holiday party at your house or apartment, don’t invite them to your wedding. Thinking about your wedding as a contemporary celebration of your life is a great way to ensure it stays intimate and that guests are relevant to you in the here and now. Would it feel like a chore to hang out and catch up with this person for an hour? If so, don’t invite them to your holiday party and certainly don’t invite them to your wedding. It sounds harsh, but it’s just the reality.
5. Divide your list in two or three.
Create a column of guests who are absolute musts for your backyard wedding– your family and closest friends (as in the ones you saw last week). Then create a second column of other friends (and maybe also family if you don’t know them well). Finally, try to divide the second column into two– people to whom you are closer and those to whom you are less close. To distinguish between the second and third column, use the holiday party test or timeline cutoff strategies outlined above. Ultimately, you can give yourself permission to cut out the third column altogether, and perhaps even the second column if you are seeking an ultra-intimate backyard wedding.
6. Make time for “column three friends.”
Consider setting up a time to grab tea or lunch with those “column three friends” within the year after your wedding. Look at it this way: all that time you spent previously planning for your wedding has been freed up, so why not use it to revive some distant relationships? If they bring up your wedding (which is pretty inevitable) and it feels necessary to comment on why they weren’t invited, refer to the wording advice in tip #4.
7. Make your wedding adults-only.
It’s totally normal to do so and it doesn’t require any awkward conversations– all it takes is to address your invitation to the adult or two that you are inviting instead of “The Cooper Family,” for example.
8. …Or invite kids but cut costs.
If you don’t want to miss out on fun of having kids at your celebration, cut costs by asking the caterers to prepare budget-friendly kids meals.
9. Remember what’s important.
Remember that when it all boils down, this day is for you and your partner. While weddings do provide social consummation of your relationship, it will ultimately be you and your partner who cherish and remember this day the most. People who aren’t invited may be upset for a day or two but then will move on with their lives. Keep repeating your wedding mantra and do what feels right in your heart.
10. Need a contingency plan?
If all else fails and you feel the need to go all-or-nothing, consider having a casual home wedding with just your very closest friends and essential family members. Then, throw a cocktail party for everyone else a couple weeks or months later as a marriage celebration.
I applied these strategies and mindset to managing my guest list and was able to cut it down by 40%. Instead of 60 people for my side, I now have 35. My next challenge is working with my fiancee to do the same to his side of the guest list. I hope this also works for you, and am curious to know your thoughts on which tip help you out the most. I look forward to your comments below!