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5 Tips to Navigate Guest List Drama

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What’s the hardest part about wedding planning? It isn’t finding the perfect dress or wrangling bridesmaids. I bet it isn’t even managing your future mother in law. Nope, there’s a demon far more ominous out there wreaking havoc on couples’ sanity worldwide--the guest list.

Why does the guest list cause so much heartache?

Well for one, we as humans generally hate hurting people. We’re not assholes and we don’t want any of our friends and family to feel uninvited. (At some point everyone has felt the sting of being left out.) So in a perfect world where time, space, and money are limitless, we’d just invite everyone we’ve ever met to share in our joy on this special day.

But in the real world, time, money, and space do put limits on how many people we can invite to our weddings. The average couple (and/or their parents) spend about $200 per wedding guest. (source: theknotinc.com) With a price tag like that, it’s no wonder couples have hesitations about inviting their second cousin’s best friend’s boyfriend--even if he is really fun at parties. Trimming the guest list is the fastest way to shave serious dollars off a bloated wedding budget.

And even if budget isn’t a concern, your dream venue may only be able to house a limited number of guests. Everyone needs a chair, a plate, and a spot on the dance floor. Your time and energy is another limited resource. When you close your eyes and picture your big day, do you envision 500 of your closest twitter followers cheering you on, or do you imagine having time to greet and hug every guest at some point during the night?

Conflicting ideas about fairness can lead to guest list squabbles as well. Whether you’re hanging on to the notion that each partner gets half the list (despite the fact that one family is enormous and the other consists of three people), or your parents are dictating a large percentage of the list, disagreements among couples and families can cause unexpected headaches.

Yeah, we get it, Emily. Planning the guest list sucks! So what do we do?

1) Set aside lots of time--and wine--to hash out your list. The guest list is arguably one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make. You’ll need to have this finalized before sending save the dates and invites, and that total headcount will dictate catering, rentals, favors--sometimes even which venue you can choose. Make sure you’re allowing yourself plenty of time to determine who’s in and who’s out. Crafting the list doesn’t have to be done in one shot, either. Start the process early in your engagement and give it room to sit and breathe. As you revisit your list over time, some of those maybes will naturally turn to definite yesses or nos in your heart.

2) Set your own rules and limits as a couple. Give yourself permission to forget archaic rules about even sides and guest list percentages. Maybe one of you has 19 cousins and the other is the only child of an only child. Perhaps one of you is more social than the other. It’s okay to have uneven guest lists as long as both partners feel comfortable. (No one wants to feel like a stranger at their own wedding.) Have a heart to heart about numbers. Have you always dreamed of a small and intimate wedding? Is it important to you that all of your sorority sisters attend? Do you want to ensure that every guest is someone you’ve shared a meal with in the last two years? Decide on these rules together and stay strong when communicating with family members who want their say, too.

3) Organize by tiers. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “I just can’t think of enough people to invite to my wedding.” It’s almost always the opposite--despite the fact that we may only see a few close friends and relatives on a regular basis, when it’s time to start writing the guest list we remember hundreds of people we care about. Inevitably your “if I could invite everyone” list will be longer than you can realistically host. Organizing your list by tiers or categories will help when it’s time to make cuts. Making blanket rules like “All first cousins are invited, regardless of the last time we spoke,” or “We have room for our college friends but not book club” will help avoid hurt feelings. (No one wants to be the only member of the ultimate frisbee team who wasn’t invited.)

4) Get harsh about +1s. If you have the space and budget to allow every single guest to bring a date, then by all means do it. It’s a nice gesture. Or if most of your guests are married and you don’t want your few single friends to feel awkward, a few random dates won’t make a huge difference. But if you’re looking for a place to cut back without causing too many waves--consider cutting out the people you don’t even know. This is another area where blanket rules helps immensely. If lots of people are going solo, they'll find plenty of ways to have fun! And no one will be whining, "Why did she get to bring a date and I didn't?"

5) Be honest and compassionate. I know that sounds really flowery and fluffy, but it’s true--honesty and compassion go a long way when it comes to people’s feelings. Start by being honest and compassionate with yourself when it comes to what you can afford, the feeling you want to create for your wedding, and the people you truly want to share this day with. Then be honest and compassionate when you need to communicate these tough decisions. When your mom throws a fit that she can’t invite her entire quilting club (even though she’s footing a large chunk of the bill), try saying, “Mom, it means so much to us that you’re generously contributing to our big day. And while we’d love to have everyone there with us, we also want to make sure the group is small and intimate enough to really connect with each guest. Let’s go through the list and pick the five friends who you just can’t imagine this day without.” And while I don’t recommend announcing to people that they’re not invited, if someone expresses hurt feelings that they didn’t receive an invitation, recognize that they just love you and want to celebrate with you. Compassionately and honestly express your limitations with something like, “Oh it means so much to us that you love and support us. We really wish we could invite everyone to share in this special day. Unfortunately, our [budget/venue/etc.] just isn’t as big as our hearts. We’ll really miss you and we hope you understand. Let’s make plans to have dinner together after the big day!”

Your single guests will still have fun at your wedding

Your single guests can still have fun at your wedding! Photo by Jenny Jimenez (yep, this is my wedding. Doesn't it look fun? It was!)

While there’s no magic bullet to make guest list planning super fun and easy, it doesn’t have to keep you up at night, either. Remember that this day is more important to you than it is to anyone else. That means you get the final say on what feels right and who you want to spend it with. It also means that people understand you’ll have to make tough decisions. Many will have gone through this tough process themselves and will understand that you can’t host everyone you wish you could. And those with hurt feelings will heal!

Need an easy (and cute) way to organize and manage your guest list? Sign up here to receive my FREE guest list manager delivered straight to your inbox! (Along with some other fun free goodies!) 

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