There’s a funny thing about our culture when it comes to weddings: Everyone seems to expect an invitation, no matter how tangentially they know the bride or groom. Even when a wedding is casual, with no formal invitations but only verbal ones, there’s an assumption that of course you’re welcomed. How could you not be? You knew the groom in kindergarten/work with the bride/are friends with someone’s mother or cousin, so you’re clearly a member of the friends and family category — even if a wedding is intimate and intended only for a small group of people, you are, naturally, one of the group.
For weddings, of course, this has serious implications. Putting on a wedding is expensive, even when you keep it as simple as possible because that’s your style or you want to save money for something. Short of heading down to town hall, you’re looking at renting a space, paying an officiant, organising seating, paying for a banquet or buffet — things get very expensive, very fast. Some friends who held a low-key wedding that was really more like a giant party for everyone they loved best still ended up spending around $7,000, even if most of that was for the venue they rented.
Weddings are expensive. People who invite themselves willy-nilly add to that cost, especially if they just arrive with no warning, thus forcing a reshuffling of seating, a rearrangement of the banquet, and so on. Catering services typically both charge by the head and organise their food very carefully to avoid waste. Ten people showing up without notice can throw things off considerably, especially if a wedding is small — if 100 people were invited and RSVPd and another ten arrive, that’s 110% of the number of people the hosts and the caterers were planning on.
But more than that, no matter what people seem to think, weddings are about a celebration of community and ties and showing a public commitment, but also about the expression of love between the parties getting married. It’s their day, not that of the people around them. Maybe they have to cut the guest list off somewhere to keep costs down, to keep things to a minimum of chaos, to focus on their close community. Maybe there are people they specifically do not want at their weddings, and maybe they don’t feel comfortable outright saying ‘you’re not welcome’ because they don’t want to hurt feelings or cause ill will or because it’s frankly uncomfortable to be forced to give someone the cold shoulder, especially when you’re trying to have a celebratory event.
This is why not inviting yourselves to weddings is a pretty basic rule of etiquette. You politely wait for your save the date and your invitation. If people in the wedding party believe that you are an integral part of the group — you’re going to be asked to be in the wedding party itself, you’re a particularly close friend or family member whom the hosts particularly want to have there, you’ll probably be asked about your availability in advance so it can be taken into account when they’re selecting dates. If you’re the maid of honour, for example, you may be approached after the engagement, asked if you’re willing to take on the position, and then involved in the wedding planning.
You’re probably wondering, at this point, why I’m talking about weddings. I certainly don’t plan on ever having one and I go to relatively few each year, not least because I find long ceremonies somewhat undesirable and I really dislike huge crowds and mediocre food. My wedding attendance is limited to a very small circle of close friends, because I am part of their community and their ‘family,’ so to speak, and I want to celebrate with them. I don’t get particularly ruffled when friends and people I don’t know terribly well get married and have the gall to not invite me.
But the basic rule of wedding etiquette doesn’t just apply to weddings. It also applies to pretty much any other space where people are gathering to celebrate their own communities, big or small. It applies to any environment where people want to solidify the ties of their communities and where they want to feel safe and among people they know and love — or people endorsed by proxy, such as the partners of those they know and love. The point of a wedding is to build community, and there are many other gatherings with the same function where outsiders are not welcome.
You may be starting to get the drift here. I’m thinking specifically of safer spaces set aside by groups of people who want to be with each other in an environment free of outsiders so they can talk frankly about their experiences, so they can process emotions, so they can be themselves in a place where they don’t have to perform for others. In disability-only spaces, for example, I don’t have to be as hyperfocused on being the person nondisabled people want me to be, on being the person that others expect. In queer spaces, I don’t have to perform like a dancing monkey for people who expect things of sexuality in society in general and queer people particularly. I create and enter these spaces because they are part of my community — and when I sit between spaces, in the grey areas, I respect the creators of those spaces. Maybe deathfats want to have a place where they can be amongst each other — that’s their space, not mine. Maybe wheelchair users want to hang out with each other — I can pass that door without ramming it, demanding to be let in.
And groups I don’t overlap with at all — like people of colour — need to have their own safe spaces without being deluged in a tide of entitlement and expectation. No one is entitled to someone else’s space, whether it’s a wedding or a private community that wants to focus on Asian-American issues or a conference for fat people. It’s not just that it’s gauche (weddings) but also a violation of privacy and an assumption that all spaces should open and accepting to everyone. It’s a reiteration of social expectations — when people demand to be in queer spaces they don’t belong in, it’s a reminder that people think queerness is deviant and that queers don’t deserve their own space. When white people insist upon entering Black spaces, it’s a crossing of boundaries but also an assertion that whites belong everywhere. The list, it goes on.
The basic rule of etiquette that you should never invite yourself along to something you weren’t invited to in the first place applies to a whole lot more than weddings.
Image: Amy Schubert