We Were Invited to a Friend's Wedding—Do We Have to Invite Them to Ours?

It's not always black and white—sometimes you should invite someone who invited you to their wedding, other times you don't have to. Let's break down the etiquette around this tricky guest list question.

By Jenn Sinrich

couples dance at wedding reception
Photo by Glasser Images

You’re deep into the wedding planning process—and it’s time to finalize your wedding guest list. Family: check. Best Friends: check. College roommate: check. That couple you aren’t super close with anymore that invited you to their wedding: ...uh?

There’s the time-honored etiquette question of whether to invite someone to your wedding because they invited you to theirs. It’s a touchy subject, to say the least, as some people do truly expect an automatic invite if they invited you to their nuptials. You may have been close once before or you never really were—either way, they felt close enough to have invited you, so you may feel pressure to return the favor.

Unfortunately, the answer’s not black or white. There are a myriad of things to consider when deciding whether to invite a friend, or anyone for that matter, to your wedding, especially when it’s someone who invited you to their big day.

1. Your Budget

Most people are familiar with the fact that weddings are expensive. One of the biggest factors that determines just how expensive a wedding will be is the number of people invited. Even at a relatively affordable venue, you’re still paying per person—and the dollar signs add up fast. If your budget is tight—and you’re keeping a similarly tight guest list as a result—don’t feel obligated to invite anyone simply because they invited you.

On the other hand, if you’re inviting friends and family by the masses and money really isn’t an object, you should probably extend the invite. At the end of the day, you’ll hardly know they’re even there.

INLINE EicharPhotography 1080x720 Monica&Emir (1) Photo Credit // Eichar Photography

2. Your Guest List Size

Even if you’re not keeping your guest list small because of budget reasons, you may simply prefer a more intimate celebration (no random plus one’s at your shindig!). That’s certainly reason enough to not invite certain people, including a couple that invited you. It’s also possible that you made their guest list because they threw a massive bash and invited, well, just about everyone. Most people will understand that, if you’re having a smaller, more intimate affair, they might not be considered close enough to make the cut.

3. Your Relationship With Them

The most important detail to factor in is your relationship with this person. Ask yourself a few questions to help gain some clarity.

  • How long have you been friends with them, or known them?

  • How has your relationship changed through the years—and especially since you attended their wedding?

  • How often do you keep in touch—and do you talk on a regular basis?

  • Will this person likely be in your life 10-20 years down the line?

It’s important to look at the big picture here. What you’re really trying to determine is: Will there be larger social consequences if you don’t invite them? If you don’t invite them to your wedding, how does that impact the friendship—and do you care? If it won’t (or you really don’t), cut them from your list. If you don’t want to lose the friendship or are nervous about how it may impact other friendships of yours, you may want to reconsider and re-establish their spot on your guest list.

4. They Are A Co-Worker

Co-workers and weddings can get tricky. If you invite one co-worker, you risk offended other co-workers that don’t get wedding invitations. So, even if a work acquaintance invited you to their wedding, don’t feel obligated to invite them to yours. And if they ask why? You can simply say that you’re keeping your wedding small (whether that’s true or not)—and because you can’t invite all of your work friends, you’re choosing not to invite any.

Now, keep in mind, if you are inviting other co-workers to your wedding, you may have a harder time justifying why this person isn’t invited—especially since they included you in their big day. If you’re planning on inviting a ton of co-workers, it likely makes sense to include any co-workers who invited you to their weddings to prevent any post-wedding work drama.

5. They Are Not Close To You Anymore

Friends come and go throughout your life—and while you may have been super tight with someone in the past (like your childhood next-door neighbor or your college roommate), if you’re not close with them today, you might not want to invite them to your wedding.

If you’re not close with someone anymore—and they are, for all intents and purposes, out of your life—chances are, thye won’t be too bummed to miss your wedding day (you’re not close friends anymore, after all!). But if you’re still in touch and you suspect they might comment on not being invited, you might need to have an honest conversation about how you’ve drifted apart.

6. Family Members or Relatives That You Don’t Want There

Do you have a cousin that you just can’t stand? Or do you have two aunts that are a years-long feud—and end up having blow-out arguments every time they’re in the same room? You don’t want tension between family members to cause any issues during your wedding ceremony or reception—so feel free not to invite any family members to your wedding that either a) don’t get along with each other or b) you don’t get along with or want at your wedding.

However, keep in mind that if you leave certain family members off your wedding guest list (particularly if they're close family), other family members might have something to say about it—so be prepared to stand firm in your boundaries.

7. Their Wedding

As we’ve mentioned, weddings come in all different shapes and sizes (mainly sizes). So, wedding guest list etiquette doesn’t support a tit-for-tat strategy. If your friend’s wedding was a huge affair with 300+ guests, including childhood friends, camp friends, colleagues, but yours isn’t, then it’s a truly different situation.

Consider how long ago their wedding was, too. If it was within the last calendar year, it makes more sense to invite them to your wedding than if their wedding was 3-5 years ago and you no longer keep in close contact.

Another interesting component to consider: Was their wedding a destination wedding? Oftentimes, couples invite more guests to a destination wedding than they normally would if they were having their wedding in their hometown. This is to make up for the fact that more guests will likely decline than usual due to the financial and time implications of travel.

All of these factors play a role in why they may have invited you and why you may or may not invite them. See what we mean? It’s never so black and white.

INLINE CinderAndCo 1080x720 Rashida&Phillip Photo Credit // Cinder and Co

How To Break The News

When it comes to letting someone know they’re not invited to your wedding, the most important thing to do? Keep the conversation simple and straightforward.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you want and what works with your special day. Be sure to let them know it’s not personal—and also be sure to cite any reasons you didn’t invite them as back up. Whether it was budget, a venue size issue, or you prefer a smaller ceremony, let them know.

What you can’t do, though, is lie. If you’re not having a small wedding, they’ll find out—and that could really sting. If you’re not inviting them because of personal concerns or you just don’t feel close to them, you need to say that. Remind them that you enjoyed attending their wedding and are sorry that you’re facing limitations that prevent you from extending the same invitation their way.

When navigating these conversations, it’s also important to consider the other person’s feelings. While you’re not obligated to invite anyone to your wedding that you don’t want to (even if they invited you to theirs), you also don’t want to tell them in a way that’s unnecessarily harsh or phrased in a way that’s likely to hurt their feelings. Instead, put yourself in their shoes. Imagine if the situation was reversed—and break the news to them the way you would want someone to tell you they weren’t inviting you to their wedding.

If you’re still stuck on what to say, here’s more on how to talk to friends who weren’t invited to your wedding.

POV From The Uninvited Guest

At this point, you know that you don’t have to invite anyone to your wedding—even if they invited you to theirs. But what if you find yourself on the receiving end of that situation? What if you invited someone to your wedding—and come to find out you’re not invited to theirs?

  • Try not to overreact. When you find out you’re not invited to someone’s wedding, it’s going to sting a bit. But try not to get too upset! In many situations, your lack of invitation isn’t personal—and even if it is personal, overreacting to the situation isn’t going to help anything.

  • Consider the reasons why you might not be invited. Before you make any moves, consider the reasons why you may not be invited. For example, do you know your friend is working with a super tight budget—and may not be able to afford a long guest list? Or were you super close with this friend when you got married—but you drifted apart and haven’t talked in years? If you think about it, you can probably guess why you’re not invited to the wedding—and that understanding can help to soften the blow.

  • Talk to the person. If you feel like this is a close person in your life and you genuinely don’t have a clue why you wouldn’t be invited to their wedding—and the lack of an invitation is bothering you—you can ask them for their reasons behind it. How you approach it will depend on your relationship—but go into it with the goal of understanding why you weren’t invited, not in getting them to change their mind.

  • Let it go. Regardless of the reasons why you weren’t invited to someone’s wedding, the fact of the matter is, you weren’t invited—and there’s really not much you can do about it. Let yourself feel your feelings around the situation, but work to accept it and let it go.

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