Slate advice columnist Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, was online at Washingtonpost.com to take readers’ questions about weddings and the etiquette for planning, attending, or buying gifts for the big day. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.
Emily Yoffe: Let the drama begin!
Aurora, Colo.: Dear Prudence,
Recently, two dear friends of mine were married. Included in the invitation was card that stated the couple was registered at Retail Place A and to visit the retailer’s web site to select, buy, and ship a gift. How convenient! Except the registry for the couple was an “account” at the retailer that wedding guests were to donate money to so the couple could presumably buy something large(r). Upon further research, I discovered that the newlyweds had the option to completely cash out their account, in the event that they were unable to decide on what to spend their gift. Please comment.
One More Way to Ask for Money
Emily Yoffe: First, wedding invitations are supposed to be invitations to a wedding. The instructions included should be when the event is and how to get there, not what to buy.
Is this retailer Fannie Mae? I’m astounded there isn’t even a pretense of registering for specific gifts. You can feel free to ignore the deposit instructions and purchase an actual gift if you are so moved.
Miami: Dear Prudence,
When I got engaged, my parents gave me $25,000 with the unspoken agreement that this would help pay for a lavish wedding. Weddings are a BIG deal in their culture. I already got mom and dad to accept that the wedding will be at city hall, not a church, so now, mom expects the $25K to finance the reception. The proposed guest list has almost 200 people and is still growing. Her wedding dream requires a hall, catered food, $4,500 for an open bar and even a babysitter in case people bring rowdy kids.
Meanwhile, my guest list is closed at 22 people and the total price tag is $1,600 including the dress, food, rings, a champagne toast and 20% gratuity for the waiters at the restaurant hosting the wedding party. How do I convince my mother that she’s not the one getting married? My older brother did the same thing I’m planning without a single question or fake anxiety attack. I have another six months of my mother breathing into a paper bag before I’m married and this ridiculous issue can be buried forever. Part of me knows the simple way to solve this is to give back the money and have my small, affordable wedding, but it irks me that my brother got to use his wedding money for a luxury honeymoon and to pay down student loans while I’m like the family leper for wanting to use the $25K for the down payment on our apartment.
Emily Yoffe: You need to have a serious talk with your mother about her gift and about your plans. You need to clarify if this is a very generous nest egg for your new life, or an account with strings—the strings being you can only use the money to pay for the kind of celebration your mother wants. In either case it’s your wedding (and your new life) so you have to be respectful but firm and not be guilt-tripped into a hosting an event you have no desire to have. But I am always astounded that parents would rather see their hard-earned money go to roast beef for 300 than to a down payment on a home.
St. Louis, Mo.: My best friend was recently incredibly hurt by what she perceived as a bride’s rudeness and selfishness during the wedding weekend’s activities. My friend felt close to the bride, “like a sister” and had picked up the slack when the maid of honor (and only attendant) dropped the ball for the shower and the bachelorette party. My friend was invited to some but not all of the weekend’s events for out-of-town guests (she lives in-town), so she felt hurt when the bride said she wasn’t invited to the Sunday brunch, but several people expected that they would see her there. (The bride’s excuse was that she didn’t have control over the guest list, but my best friend was there as she gave the list to the host over the phone, so she knew that was not really true.)
My question is: what are some etiquette guidelines for out-of-town guest events? Is there a way to include in-town people to show appreciation? Also, what you do when you feel like you have gone out of your way and you are not appreciated?
P.S.: My friend’s solution to the last question was to get violently angry and swear to never speak to the bride again—I don’t recommend that…
Emily Yoffe: Usually I hear from people who complain about the forced march of events they are required to attend, not that they didn’t get invited to twelfth celebration. Your best friend sounds a little martyrish here. Yes the bride should express her profound appreciation, but it sounds as if your friend wanted more attention than she was ever going to get. She should be glad she got to sleep late and skip the brunch.
Anonymous: My fiance’s father constantly makes negative comments about how much we are spending on vendors despite all the research I do and truly great deals I am getting. His family is paying for photography and video and his father just does not understand how much these services cost and compares the prices to his wedding 26 years ago. Is there a polite way to tell him to keep his opinions to himself?
Emily Yoffe: Imagine that you hadn’t bought a car in 26 years—you, too, would be shocked at the outrageous inflation. If everything goes right, this man will be your father-in-law for many years to come. Do not tell him off just because he’s sounding off over wedding prices. Just smile and explain you’re searching for the best bargains, but you agree all this stuff is really expensive.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Dear Prudie:
Lucky me, I’m engaged! Not so lucky us, we’re paying for the wedding ourselves. We’re both older (mid-30s), so we have a clear idea of what we want: classy, individual, and not over-the-top. Unfortunately, my husband-to-be has a large extended family that will probably be hurt if they’re not all invited. My list is modest, and I’ve never dreamed about a big wedding, but if cost wasn’t an issue, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.
We’re thus presented with the classic dilemma: How do we not offend, do what we’d like to do, but yet not severely compromise our financial situation in the future? The destination wedding probably won’t work because of my immediate family, and my husband to be isn’t excited with the idea of a casual affair—with less cost—that we can invite more people to.
Any ideas on how to have it all would be appreciated.
Full of Class, Not Cash
Emily Yoffe: You need surrogates to spread the word around that you two are having a very small wedding—that you wish you could invite everyone, but you can’t. I know the small wedding is becoming a quaint concept, but surely people can still grasp it. Then, later, you might want to have a picnic or some kind of more informal gathering (again get the word spread you’re not expecting gifts) that’s for you as a couple to get to spend time with his extended family.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Is it really the world’s worst sin to invite friends to an engagement party and not the wedding? I’ve actually been invited to many in the past, but I recently read how rude it is to do so and I am feeling sheepish about having invited a small group to an engagement party and not the wedding… How bad is this?
Emily Yoffe: The world’s worst sin? Yes, yes it is—that’s why Leviticus goes on at such length about engagement party invitations. Yes, it is considered rude to invite people to pre-wedding events who aren’t invited to the wedding. An exception is if the people in your office decide to throw you a celebration/shower with no expectation that they will be on the invite list. But why would you invite a select group of people to bring you engagement gifts whom you didn’t intend to invite to the wedding? Nonetheless, it’s done, so as long as you’ve written gracious thank you notes, don’t dwell on it.
San Francisco, Calif.: Dear Prudence, I am a bridesmaid in a wedding and am looking forward to spending time with the couple and their family and friends, and celebrating the start of their new life together. The families of the couple seem eager to show off, and I have been invited to multiple showers, in addition to a lavish bachelorette weekend, which involves another shower-type party. How many times am I expected to give a gift? I have already given one gift I am comfortable with, and of course, bought a dress and the additional accessories necessary for the wedding. How do I attend another shower, and not feel awkward showing up empty handed?
Emily Yoffe: I have heard from so many couples who said they simply could not refuse their many loving friends and relatives the opportunity to throw them a dozen showers. I hope down the line they are able to tell their children, “You get one birthday party a year.” There should be a lid on the number of showers, and the guest list should be distinct so people aren’t invited to serial gift-giving events. Show up empty-handed and with a smile (or decline). One engagement gift is enough.
New York, N.Y.: It seems like every engaged person I know is having engagement parties, then bridal showers, plus bachelorette parties, and then the actual wedding. Plus, with coworkers, I am usually asked to attend the wedding and also chip in for a joint gift from the office. Obviously, all of this, at least 3 times a year, is financially draining. I have a set amount of how much of a gift I feel is appropriate for a wedding, and I usually spend that much total on gifts. I thought weddings were for the couple to celebrate their new life together, not an excuse to get as many gifts as possible. But lately I’ve noticed that people seem to give very lavish gifts for each occasion, and I wonder if I am being cheap. Should I consider the cost of shower and engagement gifts independently of the wedding gift?
Emily Yoffe: Yeah to cheapness! It says something about how out of control this has all gotten that guests need to think about taking out a second mortgage to pay for all the gifts. Set a budget and stick to it.
Help!: I need a definitive answer, please: Are registries tacky? Yes or no?
If you can’t tell people about the registry, and you can’t list the registry in the invites, is it better not to have the registry in the first place?
Emily Yoffe: Etiquette opinions vary. The Emily Post franchise says they’re fine, Miss Manners says no. I find them helpful, so I don’t have a problem with them. But to reiterate—the registry information DOES NOT GO IN THE WEDDING INVITATION. If guests inquire about a registry you or a family member can point them to it. And people are not obligated to give gifts just from the registry either. Actually, they’re not obligated to give gifts—but people usually want to if they don’t feel they are being held up at gunpoint by the couple.
Glover Park, D.C.: I’m recently engaged, and have started the process of making a list of wedding invitees. There are obvious inclusions, but what do I do about people whose weddings I went to within the last 2-4 years who I am no longer close with (as a result of just drifting apart, as opposed to a falling out)? Is there a rule of reciprocity that states that I have to invite them?
Emily Yoffe: If the first communication between you in four years would be your wedding invitation, no you are not obligated to them. This is a judgment call and it might help you to think if the situation were reversed. Would you be offended at not being invited to X’s wedding or would you think, “How nice for her. I should drop her a note to catch up and to congratulate her.”
Miss Manners Fan Club: I’m sure you’re getting inundated with this same comment right now, but Miss Manners has never said that registries weren’t okay! In fact, she has lots of suggestions about selecting appropriate items and patterns for them. What she is indeed very strict about is the promulgation of the registry information—NEVER in an invitation or similar, but only as a word-of-mouth response to a specific inquiry by a guest.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks for the clarification. I was just reading her on asking for money and I think I think I was confusing her view of asking for that with her view of asking for china. (Although she doesn’t seem crazy about registries in general.) I worship Miss Manners and would not want to distort her advice!
Rockville, Md.: Hello! Why is it so terrible to have a destination wedding?
Emily Yoffe: I know many people who have been guests at destination weddings and have had a great time, so I don’t make a blanket statement about beach blanket weddings. And yes, every wedding ultimately has a destination. What I object to is forcing people to give up their vacation time and spend thousands and thousands of dollars to schlep to the couples’ idea of a vacation. If the couple wants to go for an extended trip to an exotic destination, why don’t they just go by themselves and call it a honeymoon.
Ann Arbor, Mich.: Is it okay to register for more things than you have people invited? I wanted to give people a great selection so they can pick something they would like, but my cousin recently said I must have invited 500 people to my wedding if I’m expecting to get all those gifts. Should I cut back on my registry? I wasn’t expecting all the gifts, I just want to give people options… but the absolute last thing I was is to appear greedy.
Emily Yoffe: Yes, you appear greedy if you look like you think of your registry as a version of Supermarket Sweep. The registry should have a reasonable choice of things within various price ranges, but not look as if you are saying, “What I really want is the whole store!”
DC: I recently got married and a number of my guests have yet to give us a wedding gift. While I know etiquette states that guests have up to 1 year to give a gift, does that really hold true? Is it wrong of me to expect a wedding gift of any value from those who attended the wedding? Is it wrong of me to be personally offended if a guest did not give a gift at the end of the one year period?
Emily Yoffe: I don’t know where this “You have one year to give us a gift or else” idea comes from. Probably the same place that the “I have one year to write you a thank you note” idea comes from (that is false, by the way—write the note asap). Repeat three times: “No one is obligated to buy me a gift.” You presumably married the guy of your dreams and have started a happy life. Why not dwell on your good fortune rather than the seething about lack of loot from your guests?
Troy, Mich: What if anything should be included on the wedding invite regarding gifts? The bride and groom have lived on their own for 20 years and have everything necessary to set up their home. They are not registering, but would like cash donations to help with the wedding expenses. Is the best way to just let family know so they can spread the word if guests should inquire?
Emily Yoffe: I’m always curious about how excited friends are family are supposed to be that a couple who have lived together for TWENTY YEARS, are getting married. If in that time you haven’t saved enough cash to put on a wedding, you have bigger problems then how to hit up people for gifts. You say you have all the household goods you need, so why not spread the word that you since you’ve been a couple since before people had heard of the Internet, you don’t actually expect any gifts.
Dover, Del.: My sister is getting married and would like both of my parents to walk her down the aisle. The only problem is…they’re divorced and don’t get along. My sister feels that the father of the bride gets a lot of special treatment at weddings. He gets to walk her down the aisle and give her away and he gets the father/daughter dance. Our mother played a very large role in our lives and my sister wants to celebrate that. Now, my father is pitching a fit and says that he doesn’t want to walk her down the aisle at all and doesn’t want to wear a tuxedo. My sister is obviously upset. Prudie, how do I get my family to enjoy this great occasion and get my father to grow up?
Emily Yoffe: You can’t get your father to grow up, sadly. But you can be the grown ups. I think it’s lovely when both parents walk the bride down the aisle. If your father says he won’t if your mother does it, so be it—Mom walks the bride. Your sister should try to be as gracious as possible to your father and say, “Then, Dad, I look forward to having the first dance with you.”
Lewes, Del.: My 20-year-old granddaughter is being married on the beach in Florida in October. I will not be attending a shower being held in Maryland, but have sent a set of dishes from her registry. I am flying to Florida and my son has made accommodations for housing for me. There is another “gift card shower” being held in Florida the day before the wedding that I am obligated to attend. The wedding in Florida is just for parents and grandparents with a dinner afterwards. One week later the groom’s family is hosting a “reception” in Maryland that I will be attending as well. I am retired on a fixed income and want to do the right thing. My daughters are telling me that I am only obligated to give one wedding gift (probably cash) for the two events. What is the right thing to do? Is the second shower gift expected as well? What is the appropriate amount for a gift given my other expenses? Thank you in advance!
Emily Yoffe: The appropriate amount is the amount you feel comfortable with. Period. I hope your granddaughter has been raised to simply be happy that she has a grandmother around able to witness this wonderful event.
Waldorf, Md.: Hope I’m not submitting this too late…
This year will be my 5 year anniversary. My mother died shortly before my wedding, at the time, I relied on her for etiquette knowledge. When I did my invitations, I didn’t realize how cheesy it was to include the registry information. (I certainly do now!) I included it discreetly on the back of the directions insert. Here I am, 5 years later, still bothered by my lack of etiquette. Is there anything that I can do short of individually apologizing to 150+ guests?
Emily Yoffe: Forget it! Everyone else has. Be glad you’re the kind of person who can recognize she makes mistakes. Everyone does, and this one is a minor one.
Minneapolis: I am a teetotaler for non-religious reasons, my fiance rarely drinks, and most of my family and friends drink. Am I expected to serve alcohol at my reception, or would I be able to have a dry reception (which I would prefer for many reasons)? Any light you can shed on the matter would be greatly appreciated.
Emily Yoffe: You obviously get to choose the kind of reception you want. But in the absence of a religious restriction, etc. a dry reception will have the air of a temperance meeting, which perhaps you would rather avoid.
Small town, Mich.: Hello,
I received an invitation to a wedding that had no RSVP card. Should I let the couple/the bride’s parents/anyone know that I will attend? And what is the best way to do so.
Emily Yoffe: An rsvp card is a courtesy to nudge people into fulfilling their obligation to rsvp. Get a piece of paper, write that either you look forward to attending, or will be unable to, put it in an envelope, stick a stamp on it and mail it.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone—and best wishes for long and happy marriages.