Inviting only *some* family to our wedding?
June 24, 2014 12:26 AM   Subscribe

We’re in the very earliest stages of wedding planning, trying to come up with a guest list so that we have approximate numbers in mind when we look into venues, etc. How can - or should - we balance a seriously lopsided family tree with our desire to have our friends there (and not go bankrupt/remain engaged forever)? Details inside.

We both have very small immediate families. We’ve agreed that there are several groups of close friends without whom a celebration of our marriage would not feel right, either. A gathering of all of these people, plus our immediate families, would total about 50 people.

Things become more complicated when we start talking about our extended families. My fiancé’s extended family is tiny, and all live near where we’ll be getting married (MN). Even if we invited them all, and they all came (which his parents think is unlikely), that would be about 15 people – not something that would alter the the group described above too dramatically. However, my dad is one of nine children, all of whom are married and have multiple adult children, some of whom are now married with children of their own. There are over 50 people on this side of my family alone. Inviting all of them would make for a much larger, not to mention a more expensive, celebration. (We are paying for the wedding on our own; my dad has been struggling to make ends meet for years and really can’t offer any help. FWIW, my relationship with him is not great, but his family doesn't know that.)

I'm close to a couple of my aunts and cousins, but I only see the rest of these family members once every few years. However, they all live near one another in the area where I grew up – some in the same housing development – and vacation together, get together multiple times a month for birthdays, holidays, etc. Most of them send me Christmas cards. They’re so close-knit that it seems like it would cause hurt feelings and confusion if only four or five of them were invited. My dad announced my engagement to them, so the cat’s out of the bag there, and I’ve received “congratulations and YAY FAMILY WEDDING”-type messages from several of them that indicate that they expect to be invited.

We’re having a hard time figuring out whether, and where, to draw lines here. On the one hand, I don’t feel especially close to most of these people and am unlikely to see them again on any sort of regular basis in the future. Most of them have never met my fiancé. Inviting them would literally double some of our expenses, and prolong our engagement, as we've been saving up for whatever we end up doing from scratch while taking care of student loans, living expenses, etc.

On the other hand, I do value my relationships with a few of them, and it seems strange – and potentially hurtful – to invite some but not others, or to invite friends but not invite some/all of my family members (especially those with whom I have a relationship). It feels similar to this dilemma, but different in that these are closer relatives – my dad’s siblings – so things feel more fraught.

Would it be awful of us to invite some of my family members and not others?
… invite my fiancé’s extended family, but not mine?
… not invite our extended families at all?

If we stick to close friends and immediate families only, how could we explain it? (Resorting to “wanted to keep it small” seems bound to fail once folks learn – as they inevitably would, via my dad – that approximately 50 people not related to us were in attendance.)
posted by Austenite to Human Relations (47 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We ended up having a 4 total person wedding just us and our witnesses. We burned a lot of people who would have liked to go doing it doing it this way. If they're decent people, they'll forgive you for not inviting them, if not, they're probably not people you'd want around long haul anyhow.

My opinion is that there isn't a way out of this where someone won't get hurt. It's your wedding, don't let the person who gets hurt be you or your spouse.
posted by Ferreous at 12:53 AM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is it possible to invite only your aunts and uncles? My mother is one of eight, and that's how many (but not all) weddings in my family have been dealt with.

Alternatively, can you bill it as two celebrations, one where his family is and one where yours is? Smallish wedding followed by Large Family Barbeque is more expensive than just smallish wedding, but it gets most people past any hurt feelings, and still gives them the big family gathering that I suspect they want.
posted by MeghanC at 12:59 AM on June 24, 2014 [16 favorites]

Resorting to “wanted to keep it small” seems bound to fail once folks learn – as they inevitably would, via my dad – that approximately 50 people not related to us were in attendance.
I'm not sure I understand this part. Even if the number of guests is limited, it doesn't mean that every spot in the list must go to someone you're related to.

I agree with MeghanC's suggestion of two celebrations, if you can afford it. My partner and I that, and it worked out well. And it gives you the flexibility of throwing a party that's almost as dressy as a wedding reception or having a more casual event, like a BBQ.
posted by neushoorn at 1:11 AM on June 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

50 people is a pretty small wedding, relatively. Adding 65 more people to that makes it not small. You can definitely justify not inviting the extended family. Also, it's your wedding and you can invite whomever you want! I also justified it by choosing a venue that would not accommodate a larger group (a small B&B I rented out) because that was the wedding I wanted.

Stick with the immediate family and close friends, and have the post-wedding celebration with the extended families (i.e. picnic/BBQ). This is what I did (45 people at wedding with immediate family and friends, another 50 invited to a post-wedding BBQ) and I am not aware of any hurt feelings, everyone who wanted to got to celebrate with me and we got exactly what we wanted out of our wedding celebration. I think it was actually a relief to some of the people that they were just invited to a fun BBQ and didn't have to attend a ceremony/formal occasion. Get ready to enjoy your wedding and please don't make it stressful for yourself! Good luck!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:16 AM on June 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

We had the same problem. (My husband's family totals about 15 people, my mother had 5 siblings, two of which have more than 10 kids each). We drew the line at cousins. Cousins didn't get invited. Parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts did.

For what it's worth, I still regret the family/friends balance at the wedding a bit. We had to keep numbers to 70-something, and even with the line drawn to not include cousins, that only left about 15 spaces for friends who weren't family. There are more friends I wish I had invited, even if we had had to change to having a picnic on the beach instead of a real reception.
posted by lollusc at 1:17 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having attended entirely too many weddings, it's seems generally true that most people wind up inviting the people they think they're "obligated" to invite. We did this, too (for a total of ~300 people). This would be the reality that a very large part of the wedding isn't really for you.

We've also attended destination weddings that were ruthlessly curated to only invite a very small number of people the couple knew very well and actually wanted to celebrate with them, relations be damned.

It's YOUR wedding (though again - it's not really yours due to all the social obligations). You get to decide how big or small you want it to be. Unfortunately, that means you also get to own the ire of people you don't invite, but who feel entitled to be there. Not knowing your family, there's ultimately a balance here that we can't possibly help you find.

All that said, if it were at all possible to have gotten married with only the people I wanted in attendance (and without starting my own personal world war III), I totally would have done so.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:50 AM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe be explicit about the fact that you have a limited budget?
Contact that branch of the family, mention in the email that due to funds (plus any other reasons you could mention, like having one on one time for everyone, or a more intimate venue) you'll accept RSVPs on a first come first served basis, then fudge it a bit so that the ones you really want to see but have replied later do get to come. That should avoid giving any offense and gives you some room to tailor the list a little.
posted by Tobu at 1:50 AM on June 24, 2014

This sounds like a situation that calls for separating the wedding from the reception.

Have a downright tiny wedding, with nothing more than your respective parents and siblings (no aunts, cousins etc.) plus an equal number of your very closest friends. At a later date, have a casual party for a larger group.
posted by easily confused at 2:34 AM on June 24, 2014 [12 favorites]

I feel your pain. There are literally hundreds in our two families so we invited the aunts and uncles and the eldest cousin from each family but that will still be very large for your numbers. Is having an evening reception something that happens in your culture? Here people either receive a "wedding invitation" or an "evening invitation". The wedding invite is for the ceremony and the dinner, then the evening guests arrive for the DJ/band stage, normally about 8-9pm. There's no extra cost involved (some people put on a buffet about 11pm but it's not obligatory) and it means you can invite lots of friends and cousins etc for the party part of the day. Try not to stress too much though, people who care about you understand the pressures and costs involved. Enjoy your day!
posted by billiebee at 3:08 AM on June 24, 2014

Think of your wedding as an investment. For every dollar you spend on your wedding (for inviting guests, not freaking silk napkins), you can expect more dollars back in the form of gifts, and niceties in the future.

Or just think of it as a way to cut down on the family you want in your life.

So yeah, it's an investment...or kinda "protection money".
posted by hal_c_on at 3:13 AM on June 24, 2014

Invite whomever you want to actually be there. Some people will get over not being invited, some won't. The best answer to their questions is no answer at all, because the premise of the question (that they're somehow entitled to attend your wedding) is ridiculous. "Hey Austenite, why didn't you invite Aunt Judy and her twenty children?" "..."

We had 10 people total at our wedding. My brother has about 200 at his, most of whom were friends; about a third of his guest list was his wife's extended family --- they were invited at her mother's insistence, with the mother picking up the tab for her "required" guests. My mother is one of 11, only the really close aunts/uncles/cousins were invited on our side, because my mom didn't care enough to pay the underlying cost for them.

If you're paying, invite who you want. Just because someone is genetically related to you doesn't make them "family." Invite the people who have supported you two individually and as a couple.
posted by melissasaurus at 3:50 AM on June 24, 2014

One obvious way to give yourselves more flexibility on who you have at the wedding would be to cut down on the unit cost per person. The standard wedding invoice comes with all manner of line items that you may care to question: flowers, place settings, a band, bar bills, cake maker, fancy car, prestigious looking venue, and so on. Have a look at this list and start by eliminating anything that you don't feel is actually related to the proper joint celebration of your union. Next look at any items which you do feel are important but which you consider unnecessarily costly - could you rent a village hall or somewhere in a local park rather than a five star hotel for example? Finally consider the idea of asking those guests invite to contribute gifts that will help defer costs - particularly those friends who love cooking, baking, photography, flower arranging...

Making the "production team" for your wedding larger than just yourselves and some third parties so as to include a good proportion of your guests has another advantage apart from cost: it also means that the ownership of the wedding (and responsibility for whether it is any good or not) spreads from just being on your shoulders to being on everybody's.
posted by rongorongo at 4:10 AM on June 24, 2014

I was not invited to several cousins' weddings where my grandparents absolutely were and in one case my mother was--and not being super close to said cousins, I didn't find anything weird about this at all. "We only invited close friends and family" is totally valid, you don't have to invite distant relations over friends, any distant relations who make a fuss about this can safely remain distant relations.
posted by Sequence at 4:31 AM on June 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Sit down together, look deeply into each other's eyes, and say: "We are free. We are not bound by precedent nor definition."

And then invite whoever you want without saying "We invited Cousin X Brideside, therefore we must invite Mirror-Equivalent Cousin X Groomside." If anyone from either family tries to say you should do something like this, repeat "We are free. We are not bound by precedent nor definition."
posted by Etrigan at 4:55 AM on June 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

It sounds like your dad is a major carrier of information between family members - maybe you could talk to him about it, mention your budget concerns (or venue size, or even preference, or any other non-personal reasons) and ask him to pass the word along that you guys are planning to (or "forced to", if you prefer) have a very small wedding. 50 people is small, so you're not misleading anyone. Ideally, he would make it very clear to everyone that you can't invite the whole family for reasons XYZ, without directly singling out the person he's talking to or mentioning the number of guests or names of people invited. That's pretty unlikely to cause hurt feelings but will still ease people away from their expectations of being invited. The earlier he starts that, the better.*

FWIW I'm similarly not close emotionally or physically to my cousins and aunts/uncles, and don't expect to be invited to their weddings (and wouldn't care if equally-related people were invited). Anyone who isn't a very close friend or immediate family member has no business "expecting" to attend someone else's wedding anyway. People always have and always will, but I don't think you need to worry too much about their hurt feelings.

*keep in mind if he emphasizes the budget aspect too much, it could be seen as a hint for money, whether that's a bonus or drawback for you.
posted by randomnity at 5:00 AM on June 24, 2014

You could do a separate reception in your family's hometown (perhaps one of the aunts you are closer to could help with this or even host). Because what us "yay, family wedding!" really, other than a big family party?
posted by vignettist at 5:00 AM on June 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

We are dealing with kind of the same thing right now - my brother got married a couple years ago and invited the whole family, but we're only including immediate family and a couple of aunts and uncles. I think there are two things that helped it not become as big of a deal as I expected it to: we're funding the whole thing ourselves and we started managing expectations early. Like, the phrase immediately following "We're getting married!" was "...and it's going to be a small wedding."

If you're paying for the wedding yourself, I feel like a) there's less guilt involved not inviting Aunt Sally or whoever simply because she's mom's favorite great aunt and mom just gave you the check and b) (at least for us, since we're young and this is our first wedding) people seem to just expect you to have less money available for the wedding so a small guest list isn't going to hurt anyone's feelings if they think you can't afford it.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:12 AM on June 24, 2014

Where I live it's standard with large families to invite just uncles and aunts, not cousins, to weddings. In your case, that sounds like 16 extra people on your side, which would match the 15 extra people on your fiancé's side.
posted by Azara at 5:14 AM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Invite who is important to you, your fiance and and you both as a couple. No more. Don't invite his family just because they're close and small. Don't invite your family out of any sense of obligation. The only people who get a bye to the end of the invitation line are immediate family and godparents. Then invite family and friends who mean a lot to you. Then stop.

There's no way to invite everyone and have everyone be happy with you in a good financial ground. Don't stress the marriage before it even happens. Accept that you can't invite everyone, set that expectation with everyone and see it through.
posted by inturnaround at 5:29 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

My husband has a huge family and they generally break it down generationally. It's sometimes hard as there are some second cousins we're closer with (in friendship and in age) than other first cousins, but having a fair breakdown makes it easier to avoid hurt feelings. It might mean inviting fewer of your small family, but if it's broken down the same way, they can't say you're being unreasonable.
posted by Mchelly at 5:52 AM on June 24, 2014

We did this, although its my wife with the huge family that sees one another all the time. Money wasn't an issue, we just didn't want a big wedding. We only invited one aunt from each side of her parents families, their four kids and their four partners.

We got no blowback. People who aren't insane get it. Actually I wish we got some blowback. I'd like to be invited to a few less parties celebrating the sacraments.

One thing we found was much easier was just to present our parents with a list of who was being invited rather than asking them who they thought should be invited given a size constraint.
posted by JPD at 6:08 AM on June 24, 2014

I have a cadre of cousins in another state who have had many kids get married. My sister and her husband, because they are able to travel a lot, are close to this branch of the family and are usually invited to the weddings. I like these relatives, but I am not close to them, so I am not invited to the weddings.

As JPD said above:

People who aren't insane get it.

I'm not insane. I get it.
posted by Dolley at 6:15 AM on June 24, 2014

On both sides, invite the people you want to have present. So don't invite his Aunt that he's not close to just because you're inviting your Aunt that you are close to. Then see if there's a family member who has a big house or yard where you could have a family party, inviting his relatives, too. Make it pot luck, show off wedding pictures, and spread the word that there are no presents expected, just a family get-together.
posted by theora55 at 6:17 AM on June 24, 2014

I had a tiny wedding with parents, siblings, and grandparents (and our best friends). Maybe 14 people total. Then we had a biggish reception later that night.

There were people that were confused by this, especially the ones who came from out of town for the reception. We just put the mothers on clarification duty. I don't think anyone's feelings were hurt, and we had a great, intimate day.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:20 AM on June 24, 2014

We are currently smack in the middle of this (we're getting married in August) and it's hard. My dad is 1 of 5, my mom is 1 of 5 (though one is deceased), and my dad's parents were 1 of 8 and of... 12? It gets fuzzy. I have a legion of second cousins and aunts once removed and so on. Then there's her family and friends and army buddies. We're paying for it ourselves. It was really getting out of hand and we were seriously tempted to just elope and be done with it (this was compounded by the fact that we have to get legally hitched elsewhere), but there were folks we really wanted to be there.

So we decided we wanted to go small, and we rented a small venue, and I am practicing prioritization and saying "I'm sorry, there are so many folks we wanted to have there, but we got a great deal on a perfect venue and had to keep things small." I did invite all of my aunts and uncles and first cousins on my dad's side, but these are the folks I grew up with. I'm not inviting any of my mom's family; I'm just not that close to them (though my sister is, and I'm sure someone is going to complain to her). I'm not inviting the older members of my dad's family. She's inviting some friends and some family and some army buddies. I fit in my close friends that are family (anyone who wants to get fresh and tell me I'm not 'related' to my best friend of 13 years is going to have to cope). We're making it work by saying "do we really want this person there?" Some of my immediate family is (not surprisingly) bowing out, and I'm able to fit a few more friends in there (and my friends, thank goodness, understand the family, small wedding, and b-listing thing very well). If I have to grow a thicker skin to get the wedding we want where we can actually sit down and talk to everyone that came, then that's what I'll do. (If everyone comes that I think will, we'll be around 60; if everyone invited comes it'll be about 80, which is about as big as it can get before we both get hives.)

It sucks, but it's going to be worth it to have the wedding we want and not put us in debt. I'm practicing saying "We did get married, it was really small, but I am so thrilled you want to meet Wife! She can't wait until the next family gathering either." If you can afford two parties, then that is an option, but we can't, so we'll make the rounds at the (many) family reunions and it's going to be fine in the end.

So, that's how we're doing it (sorry for the ramble, I'm pre-coffee). I hope you're able to work something out that you're happy with, and enjoy your day. Congratulations!
posted by joycehealy at 6:28 AM on June 24, 2014

I know this may seem like an unthinkable suggestion, especially given the kinds of social pressures that surround weddings, but I have to suggest it because nobody else has and it may help:

The Miss Manners solution is to decide on your guest list FIRST, without worrying about money. THEN, decide what kind of reception to have (including cheap options like "punch and cake" or "picnic on the beach") so that it fits your budget constraint. Maybe that isn't what you want to do, because you have your heart set on a certain level at your wedding reception, but I think it is worth keeping in mind as an option. I wanted a small-ish wedding at the time, and my only regret is that I didn't invite many more people, even the ones I didn't know that well at the time.

I'll add that I've been to lovely weddings like this (carry-out BBQ in the basement of a Catholic church in Texas) and never for a moment wished that the bride and groom had traded away half the guests for tablecloths or non-styrofoam.

(Miss Manners would also say that no, you absolutely cannot pick and choose among different relatives of the same degree of distance -- i.e., you can say "no cousins" or "no aunts/uncles" but you can't pick and choose one side's cousins or one side's aunts/uncles. I don't feel quite as strongly about this one, but regardless of whether we agree with her or not as a normative matter, I think violating this rule is in fact a recipe for starting family feuds and bad blood.)
posted by willbaude at 6:28 AM on June 24, 2014 [11 favorites]

The wedding is just one day. The marriage is the rest of your life. Your family is in it for the long haul. Your friends, maybe some, probably not all, will be with you forever.

It is perfectly okay to not spend a lot of money on a wedding. You can have a cake and punch reception (no meal) for a 2:00 wedding. If you really, truly need to have a big, catered party with your friends, why not save that for your 1 year anniversary?

Instead of thinking about which relatives you are close to and which ones you should exclude, it might be more helpful to sit down with your mate and decide why you want the type of wedding that you are planning. Is it because it is what other people do? Is it something that truly fits your personality as a couple?
posted by myselfasme at 6:30 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Invite who you want to invite (i.e. not everybody) and make plans to spend a bit of time with the whole family. If you and your dad aren't super-close, and he's not super-close with the sibling pack, maybe another person to talk with would be your aunt (the one you like, who lives in siblingville). As a side question, is siblingville close to where you're having the wedding? Is there any chance that all the aunts and uncles wouldn't come?

You say they all vacation together - maybe you could float the idea with your aunt that she'll be their delegate to the wedding itself, and then this summer when everybody goes to the beach house (or wherever it is they go), you and your new spouse will meet them there so everybody can get to know spouse outside of the pressure of a wedding; maybe you can "host" a celebratory bbq on vacation.
posted by aimedwander at 6:33 AM on June 24, 2014

"One obvious way to give yourselves more flexibility on who you have at the wedding would be to cut down on the unit cost per person."

Yes, all you need is a ceremony and a party. Everything else is optional. If your priority is inviting everyone who wants to be there, you can invite them all, set a budget, then figure out how to make it work.
posted by bfields at 6:39 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

We had a similar lopsided amount, though much smaller-- in our case, it made much more sense to keep it to aunts, uncles, and first cousins (no one has young kids.) All those second cousins fifteen states away who "definitely wouldn't come" just didn't get an invitation-- we knew every single person there (~80) at our (small, catered, mildly fancy) party with our friends and close relatives, and it was great. We absolutely wanted a smaller event for personal reasons, and we wanted to say our vows in front of people who could pick us out of a lineup. No regrets.

I think the celebratory family barbeque would be a great idea, if you're up for it, especially since it sounds like they're further away. To be honest, even given the size of our event, the most time I got to talk to anyone was at the bridal suite beforehand-- there just isn't enough to see and talk if you break the minutes/number of guests down. Having a casual thing later means you'll actually get to spend more time talking to the relatives you are close to.

And just to reiterate this: it's your wedding. Host it properly, but don't apologize for choices you have to make, whether they're financial* or emotional or practical. If someone tries to causes family drama over your wedding, an event that is sacred and meaningful and hopefully full of love-- well, they should feel bad.

* haha and oh man are they expensive, especially if you don't actually have any local cheap spaces or friends with conveniently large lawns or barns or useful skills they barter
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:45 AM on June 24, 2014

Do you have an idea of what your total budget is? You can kind of ballpark from there the range of guests you're talking about.

(We planned our wedding earlier this year)

I read the metric often that usually about half your budget is food & booze related (the actual food, the tips, the bartender etc). So a $4000 wedding will spend $2k on food & booze. 50 guests on that budget = $40 a person, you can get a pretty nice catering package for that depending where you are. 100 guests on that budget = $20 a person, which starts to get harder to do a catered dinner + booze on so maybe you're doing just cocktails or a simple buffet.
200 guests = $10 a person and then you are probably talking backyard BBQ.
Any of these are fine but probably one sounds more like your style.

It seems harsh at first but I am very, very glad we followed the advice to plan your budget before anything else - it makes it much easier to make EVERY decision, but especially to realistically know what your guest limit is going to be within the constraints you have.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:55 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, we happened to have a LOT more friends/coworkers than family. I don't think this is particularly rare. I agree with the points about your family being in it for the long haul; but at the same time, my friends are the ones that are around me and in my life, and having them surround and support me in my marriage is going to be a lot more of an influence than having somebody 100 miles away that I see at Christmas supporting me in my marriage.

Also for what it's worth, if someone told me that I wasn't welcome to come see them get married but that I was welcome to come later and fete them and bring them a gift, that invitation would end up in the cat box; but I understand this may vary by culture.
posted by ftm at 6:58 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also for what it's worth, if someone told me that I wasn't welcome to come see them get married but that I was welcome to come later and fete them and bring them a gift

oh I forgot to add that to my suggestion about the later BBQ: general etiquette says absolutely no registry information, card box, or asking for gifts if you go that route, it's just a party. I think A Practical Wedding has had a number of good articles on multiple receptions/parties. Tiered weddings are pretty common in the UK and in some other countries, I think-- so inviting people for the evening bit vs. the morning bit or reception on the same day-- but really not common in the States, so that's definitely culturally dependent.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:06 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth: one of my sisters got remarried a couple years ago; her 2nd, his 3rd. They held the entire thing in their backyard; basically it was a day-long potluck picnic, with a break for the ceremony itself on the deck.

They asked that if anyone wanted to gift them, anything for the picnic would be great: my own 'gift' was a big ol' bunch of carry-out from the local BBQ joint. The 'wedding flowers' were taken care of by some of their (grown) kids, who took over making the yard look great. The wedding photos were by anyone who felt like bringing their cameras. Guests brought everything from booze to paper plates to charcoal for the grill, and we all helped with the clean-up afterwards. All in all, it was entirely a group do-it-yourself effort, a good time was had by all, the expense to the bride & groom was kept way down, and they weren't stuck with yet more unuseable stuff as wedding gifts --- just great memories of everyone pitching in.
posted by easily confused at 7:12 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's tricky, but at the end of the day, invite only those people you actually want at your wedding. It's okay to say, "I never talk to Uncle Ezra, so he's off the list."

Tell your father that you're limiting the guest list, and that he can be the one to tell his family. "Dad, we're constrained by budget to only X people. We've thought long and hard about it. I know that your family may be disappointed by the fact that we can't invite everyone, but our finances just can't accomodate it. Maybe you can throw us a party at some point in the future."

You may want to talk to the individuals you're close to and give them a heads up, "Aunt Molly,we're only inviting family members we're close to. It's mostly an expense thing. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings but I never talk to Aunt Francine or cousin Helen, and it just doesn't make sense to invite them. Dad's told the free world, and I'm afraid people are going to expect to be invited. I wish we could, but we can't. I hope they understand."

If people you never talk to are torqued about not getting invited, at the end of the day, it's not really a big deal.

If that whole side of the family gets in an uproar over it, again, who cares? They're jerks and who needs 'em?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:15 AM on June 24, 2014

I haven't read all the answers so apologies if I'm repeating stuff but we are in a similar position to yours and what we have gone for is for a small wedding and then a party later to celebrate with our friends.

So we have invited more family members from one side of the family because they all live where the wedding is held, told the other side's family members we are only having a small wedding and really just having it where we are so my grannies can make it (true), and asked our friends to celebrate with us at a later stage. We've explained to the people who aren't invited to our teensy wedding that we just weren't up to the task of planning a big wedding because there have been so many things going on in our lives (we've moved countries, changed jobs, buying and fixing up a house). We've also given my partner's parents the option of hosting a little thing at their home if they want to include more family. We'll be hosting a party for our friends at our home and this will cost as much as a (hopefully kickass) party does. Drinkies, nibbles, and music. I love my friends, it will be a great party that I won't actually spend half a year stressing about. YMMV but you could totally do a version of this that works for you. The fact you're holding the wedding close to where your partner's extended family live is enough reason to justify inviting more of them, imo. You may also not invite the extended families and explain again that you're having a tiny wedding for x reason.

Our solution is not ideal but it's the best we can do right now.
posted by mkdirusername at 7:15 AM on June 24, 2014

Would it be awful of us to invite some of my family members and not others?

I don't think it would be awful. I did this. I invited 3 of my aunts/uncles and zero cousins from one side but all of my aunts/uncles/cousins/cousins' kids from the other side. Only one person asked me about it. I was not invited to any weddings on that side of the family and I was not insulted, so I hope they would not be insulted in return. The fact is that you are closer to some than others and that is okay.
posted by soelo at 7:35 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's awkward to invite some cousins (or aunts/uncles or whatever group) and not others. Honestly. Especially if they're in frequent contact and you hope to be in contact with them in the future. The suggestion to invite only aunts/uncles is fine, as is just not inviting extended family; you can't really pick and choose among members of a group unless you're cool with the fallout.

Here is what I will say: we both invited everyone in our sizeable (though not as big as your) extended families, and many of them were not able to come. Have your wedding on a holiday weekend or a summer Saturday, and you might find that your RSVPs shrink considerably. (Or, if you want to really go for it, have a Friday night wedding.) Our venue was smallish, so there were people we didn't invite, and I regret it. There is no one I invited who I regret inviting, and there are a good handful of folks who, in retrospect, we should have tried harder to include. People want to celebrate with you, and if there is a way to make that happen without breaking the bank (the punch and cake wedding!), IMO you should do it.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:54 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you want to invite immediate family and close friends only, and that's perfectly okay. (A lot of wedding stuff comes down to introversion/extroversion, with extroverts happier to go cheap if that supports big, and introverts wanting something small and intimate.) There is no answer that will make everybody happy, so you should suit yourself: it's your wedding. Anybody reasonable will accept whatever rationale you give.

Also --- the small intimate reception followed by large cheaper party later is a popular solution and it's what I did when I got married. But if I were having a do-over I'd probably skip the big party part. Two events was twice the work, and for me the big party didn't feel special or particularly fun: it just felt like I was paying off a bunch of social debt. Also FWIW in the years following my wedding I hardly ever thought about it, and certainly never with any serious regret or reservations. Weddings are a lot of work, but in the grand scheme of things they don't matter much. So don't worry -- whatever you choose will turn out fine.
posted by Susan PG at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Similar situation when I got married, including lots more aunts uncles and cousins in my family, plus his much smaller family right near where we would be having the wedding, while mine were not. My parents threw an engagement party to which our family was invited and told everyone we were doing this because we would just be having a small wedding. I still had an uncle who was pissed off that he didn't get invited to the wedding, especially when he heard a few-- and it really was a few-- friends of ours were invited. But mostly people seemed OK.
posted by BibiRose at 8:04 AM on June 24, 2014

If it makes you feel better, most people I know who are invited to a wedding out of obligation, only go out of obligation. Invite only close family and friends. I'd stop at Aunts & Uncles. I've never heard anyone say they wish they had a larger wedding.
posted by wwax at 8:34 AM on June 24, 2014

We're going through this right now. We want to keep it small, short, and simple, but our families are big. To make things worse, we just attended the wedding of a cousin in which my entire extended family was present. Everyone was asking about our wedding. There were some hurt feelings from aunts/uncles and cousins, but when we explained that we wanted to keep it small, short and simple by only inviting immediate family, they seemed to understand.

These were our options:

1. Just parents and siblings = 11.
2. Parents, siblings, sisters/brothers in law = 15
3. Parents, siblings, sisters/brothers in law and nieces/nephews = 40 (lotttts of kids)
4. Parents, siblings, sisters/brothers in law, nieces/nephews, aunts/uncles and their spouses = 66
5. Parents, siblings, sisters/brothers in law, nieces/nephews, aunts/uncles and their spouses, and the first cousins = well over 120
6. Parents, siblings, sisters/brothers in law, nieces/nephews, aunts/uncles and their spouses, first cousins and other relatives (great aunts, kids of grown cousins, etc) who would be offended if we invited the others but not them = too fucking many

Oh yeah, and we have friends too.

After much hemming and hawing we decided to go with option #3 and also invite six close friends (and three kids of these friends). Mr Vortex also got to add in one aunt/uncle because they are his godparents and have a role in the ceremony. One of Mr Vortex's siblings cannot attend, so we are at an even 40 attendees.
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:35 AM on June 24, 2014

I did want to add since I was one of the people who took and was advocating for the option of having a later BBQ that you could invite all family members to - no, we specifically told everyone who we invited to that party that we did not want gifts. In fact, our wedding was a bit unusual in that even for the wedding itself, we had no registry and requested no gifts, and said that if anyone wanted to give a gift we prefer they donate to one of our favorite charities.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:15 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of people think of a wedding as a time to live out a dream or fantasy, but I think the most meaningful weddings I've been to have been more about a couple expressing their values, the values that they are building their marriage on.

So, what is important to you? This web of relationships on your father's side, how important are they to you? Do you want them to continue to be important to you? To your children, if you are planning for them? How important to you is including and facilitating family bonds, and the compromises that takes, versus carving out space for the two of you as a discrete unit, and the compromises that takes?

Start by seeing that anything is possible. If it's really important to you to include your family, there are ways to do that (and you'll pay for them either via money/time or compromising on the wedding setup). If it's really important to you to only have people whom you feel are at the core of your life together, there are ways to do that (and you'll pay for them by dealing with the emotional fallout and impact to your family relationships). You can literally do whatever you want.

Then I suggest thinking about what will make you look back with pride in you and your husband and positive memories of the official beginning of your married life, what will look like starting as you mean to go on together. Then take responsibility for either decision - implement it with as much compassion and grace as you can and deal with the consequences, knowing that you and your spouse are a team in this.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:25 AM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, and yea, I want to ditto what treehorn+bunny said, down to the suggestions to donate to charity. A second party doesn't have to be a gift grab, or even appear to be so, but you would want to make that clear.
posted by joycehealy at 11:11 AM on June 24, 2014

Sounds like we might be in the same family.

My wife and I had a similar issue, though both of our families lived in different parts of the country. She has a tiny extended family, and I have a huge one. And we very much didn't want a huge wedding. We had the same early reactions to the engagement news from my family, "Oh great, we're packing our bags for the big wedding in Colorado!"

Erm, no. Geography presented a bit of a solution to our problem: we decided to hold a small wedding near where we live, and then setup receptions in both of the hometowns. She wore her dress to all 3, I wore my tux. We also asked our parents to run some interference for us and break the news to all of the well-meaning aunts and uncles. And we also had the problem that I'm closer to a couple of aunts and uncles than I am the others. After some handwringing, we decided to just invite those aunts and uncles and not the rest (my mom's from a family of 8, dad a family of 7). And it was fine, dear reader. If there was any backlash it didn't work its way back to my wife and I, and I think for the most part people are understanding and happy for you, which overcomes a considerable amount of angst.

We ended up with a wedding that very much reflected who we are and what we value, and I don't regret it for a second.

Also, this was mentioned above, but the best advice I received for wedding planning was "get together with your partner and pick 3 things that you want to be perfect. do not compromise on those things. then let the rest slide." For us, the guest list makeup/size was one of those 3 things. Your mileage may vary.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:54 PM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks so much, everyone. We've obviously got a lot to think and talk about, but it's really helpful (and calming) to hear what so many of you have done and how you feel about it in hindsight.
posted by Austenite at 10:37 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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