How can I politely decline a wedding invitation
September 7, 2009 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Please help me decline a wedding reception invitation.

I've received an invitation to a wedding reception that I can't attend. I'd like to RSVP, but I'm a little unsure about the correct etiquette.

The invitation is addressed to myself, just a card with the usual stuff about the couple, the time, the place, etc. There's no card to RSVP with.

1] Is it good form to send another card back, or should I write a note? Or maybe both? Should I explain why I can't attend, or just say that I can't?
2] Is it still appropriate to send a gift even though I won't be attending? I was thinking about something along the lines of a gift card to the local shopping centre - is this OK? The couple have been living together for a few years now, so I figure they have toasters and such.
3] Who do I address the RSVP envelope to? Inside the invitation, it says "Mr & Mrs [name of bride's father] request the pleasure.....".

Is there anything else I should/shouldn't do?

Possibly relevant info: I know the couple through work, but we're not really close - I've seen them once in the past year. I'd have liked to have gone, but work commitments prevent me from attending. Anything else you need to know, please email
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1. You can do either, as long as you're clearly stating whether or not you'll be attending.
2. Of course! I can't think of any occasion on which it's inappropriate to send/bring a gift.
3. The return address on the envelope, which I'm guessing is going to be the couple.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:28 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the etiquette rules are that you RSVP with a hand-written note mailed to the bride. But, since they live together I'm sure it's ok to send it addressed to both of them. You should tell them that you regret you will not be able to attend, but that you wish them both lots of happiness on their wedding day and the years to come. You don't have to give a reason, but you can.

You can always send a gift. A gift is always optional, though.
posted by Houstonian at 2:40 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

If the address the invitation came from is that of the bride's parents, simply send a plain white card that says:

Jane Anonymous declines with regret the kind invitation of Mr & Mrs [name of bride's father] for Friday, 13th June.

In other words, formal regrets for a formal invitation. No personal relationship, job done.

If the address the invitation came from is that of your friends, then send them a congratulations card, saying you're so sorry you can't attend but wishing them a joyous day and enclosing the gift card.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:43 PM on September 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Nice piece of paper, your best penmanship, black ink only, please:

Mr. (or Ms. or Dr., whatever) Anonymous
regrets deeply
that he(she) is unable to accept
the very kind invitation
on the occasion of X wedding
March Twenty-First

Also, bringing a gift to a wedding ceremony or reception is EVIL AND YOU WILL BE DESTROYED. Sending a gift, however, is always a nice touch, but completely optional.
posted by ebarker at 2:43 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

If your reason is "have to pay the bills" (as seen in your tags) and that it would simply be too expensive to come, I would not recommend giving a reason, *especially* if the wedding is in the town in which you live. If it's far away and you've been invited as an out of town guest, or it's a destination wedding, they will absolutely understand (expect) that not everyone they'd LIKE to be there will be able to make it. So again, no reason needed.

If your reason is that you already have a prior engagement that isn't awkward to bring up (i.e. your sister is getting married), you may do so if it helps alleviate their expectation for you to be there.

On the RSVP: Wish them the best on their happy wedding day, say you will look forward to seeing the photos, and wish them a lifetime of happiness together. Thank them again for the invitation.

Gift: pick something small off their registry, if you're inclined to do so. It's a great gesture of goodwill but not necessary at all. They are very very likely registered somewhere - you can ask someone close to the couple if you don't feel comfortable bringing it up with them directly.
posted by barnone at 2:54 PM on September 7, 2009

I'm just going to second DarlingBri on both the RSVP and the gift - and I can tell you, as a bride who is awaiting RSVPs at the moment, that an explanation for why you can't attend is not necessary at all.
posted by echo0720 at 3:13 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

ebarker: Also, bringing a gift to a wedding ceremony or reception is EVIL AND YOU WILL BE DESTROYED. Sending a gift, however, is always a nice touch, but completely optional.

Bringing a gift is evil? I went to two weddings in the last month and in both cases I brought a gift with me, as opposed to sending it. In both cases plenty of other people had too. This might vary by region, though, or even by ethnic background of the people getting married. (I'm in Philadelphia.)
posted by madcaptenor at 3:25 PM on September 7, 2009

These suggestions are perfectly polite but it seems odd to me that their invitation doesn't include an RSVP, as that's the norm. Does it list a wedding website or a preferred response type? Some wedding websites now include an RSVP form, a way of being eco-friendly, or say "Please RSVP via email," for similar reasons. I've missed information like this before on invites because of tiny, scripty print. A wedding website would also probably list registry options you could use to buy a gift, which is nice but not necessary.
posted by itsonreserve at 3:26 PM on September 7, 2009

madcaptenor: I was raised (old Southern family with British overtones, which explains a lot), that you do nothing to cause the couple or their families any extra stress or work on The Big Day. Hence, NEVER BRING A GIFT. Send it before or after, but not during.

I freely admit that this is one of those things I obsess over. :)
posted by ebarker at 3:47 PM on September 7, 2009

Etiquette rules do not require a gift just because you've been notified of a distant acquaintances upcoming nuptials, so you are not breaking any taboos if you don't send a gift when you are not attending the ceremony or reception.

A polite note, as DarlingBri has enunciated, is more than enough for a response, especially if rsvp information was not part of the invitation.
posted by dejah420 at 5:29 PM on September 7, 2009

Personally, if I sent out reception invitations without an RSVP function, I would not be offended if someone didn't RSVP and also didn't show up.

...In fact, to be honest, mulling it over--I think getting a short note saying simply "I decline" would almost seem unnecessary or mean, at least a little off-putting. A warm note explaining that "golly-gee you are otherwise engaged on that date" would be touching, but hardly something I would expect from every person who couldn't make it, especially given that there wasn't a proper method for an RSVP in the first place. That being said, I am perhaps not the person to ask concerning etiquette in these situations. It all seems a bit overblown to this reporter.
posted by Phyltre at 8:23 PM on September 7, 2009

I think people tend to overthink this. Here is what I can tell you about who didn't attend my wedding, and who didn't give a gift: nothing. You want an RSVP, you include a pre-stamped RSVP card. You don't do that, you're signaling you're easy either way. If you do nothing in response at this low level of acquaintance it will be fine.

Although there will always be those who deem cash or a gift card gauche, but my honest reaction to such a gift has always been, sweet, I'll spend that. If you'd like to go the extra mile it would be to my mind perfectly fine to send a card that says "I'm sorry I can't make it to your special day" with a modest cash-equivalent gift. No need to get into specifics, everyone has schedule stuff and if you're not close friends or family they don't need to know and won't really care.
posted by nanojath at 9:42 PM on September 7, 2009

Miss Manners had something about this today: A new trend of not sending an RSVP card with an invitation, as a way of indicating that you are not really invited to attend. Pretty rude, but maybe this is what's meant.
posted by Houstonian at 2:12 PM on September 17, 2009

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