WeddingWire recently polled me recently with some great questions. Thank you, Jenn, for putting together such a great interview and asking the tough questions we all need a little reassurance with as we navigate these new strange times.
Prefacing these great questions, the cardinal point is made that weddings are important parts of our lives. We put effort into our work, our appearance, and our homes. It’s essential to point out that it takes an equal or greater effort to maintain any quality of relationship as well—and what’s more important in life than our relationships? If you’ve been invited to a wedding, you’re holding a place of honor as an invited guest. That perspective is important as you decide your reply.
That said, you will need to decline sometimes. It’s important to know when, why, and most notably how to do it in a way that says ‘yes’ to the relationship regardless of your ‘no’ to the event.
JS: Most of us, especially in our "yes" society, are so programmed to RSVP "yes" to events, especially weddings. Why do you think this is?
HWA: We’ve been programmed to please. We’re all inclined to believe ‘The customer is always right’, ‘You can return anything you want—no reason needed,’ and my favorite urban legend—'no’ is always negative. Those phrases are more familiar than, ‘let your yes be yes and your no be no’ or ‘know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.’ (Jesus and Buddha). Not to get too deep, but the reality is that our brains have been filled with more marketing strategies than ancient wisdom. Giving the retail giants some credit, they were trying to make things better, at least on their terms. Like many mass shifts in cultural perspective, the original idea is lost in cliché, and the pendulum swings too far. Instead of addressing righting the original issue, we create a whole new one. Additionally, we haven’t been taught civility and coping skills as a curriculum in our schools for about 3 generations now. As a result, we are a culture of conflict-avoiders. Here we are. I tell you that because you ask a very good question—WHY do we feel this way? On our better days, we begrudgingly conform. On our worst days, we try to weasel out of keeping our word, hoping the rudeness goes unnoticed or at least forgiven. We do ourselves a huge injustice. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I hope this is your moment: your word is everything. Keep it. It’s perfectly wonderful to say no as well. You just have to get the hang of it and remember it’s not a bad thing. I’ll reiterate because it’s worth it. Say no to the event and yes to the relationship.
JS: It's OK to RSVP no, right? Even if you don't have a crazy set of circumstances that are preventing you from going to a wedding right?
HWA: It’s certainly OK to decline an invitation. You’ve got your reasons and by now we know you’ve evaluated them in the scope of all you have to weigh in. When the answer needs to be no, it’s important to be clear and prompt with your reply. If you’re feeling unsure of exactly how to break the news that you’re not coming, let me give you a few guidelines. First, you can use the words ‘unable to attend’ or ‘sending my/our regrets’—those are the old-fashioned-still-relevant ways to soften the blow. Second, keep in mind that you might be doing the host a favor. Many hosts have a hard time narrowing their lists and are counting on some not being able to attend. Third, send a gift (if you received an invitation, this is the protocol). While sighting a conflict is a better scenario, you don’t owe a lengthy explanation. The closer the relationship, the more a phone call is in order even before you send back your reply in writing.
JS: Why might it actually be a good idea to sometimes RSVP "no"?
HWA: In addition to the reason above, if you’re likely to skip out at the last minute or be financially strapped due to the obligations, pass gracefully and decisively. If your relationship is close or familial, a phone call as soon as the invitation is received is best. An ask to take part in seeing photos or the video, or a dinner to hear all about it—something post-ceremony and recovery—is a great way to remain part of the milestone that you will not attend.
JS: When you would give someone permission to not go to a wedding? And how you would recommend handling the situation/rsvp?
HWA: You have another commitment.
Whether a commitment you’ve made is big or small, your ‘yes’ that came first should be honored. Obviously, if you committed to a movie with your bestie (somehow eight weeks in advance? Does that really happen?) and you receive an invitation to your colleague’s wedding, a re-planning of the movie night might be in order. If we’re really talking about another big commitment, your polite and prompt decline is in order. If you are nervous about how to handle it, use this formula. Share a healthy dose of excitement, add a dash of sincere gratitude, express brief disappointment you cannot attend due to already-set plans, and turn the conversation back to them (not your excuse). Try something like, “I’m so excited for you, and honored you included me—thank you so much! I’m sad to have plans that weekend that will keep me from being able to attend. How was it that you two met?” Or, “How has the planning been going?” Or “What are you most excited about in these last weeks before the big day?” You have two jobs here. Reply decisively and kindly. Place emphasis back on the relationship, not your lack of attendance.
Attending this wedding will cause financial or emotional stress.
There are seasons in life where you simply can’t or shouldn’t require yourself to be at a wedding or social event. It’s important to consider the risk to the relationship if it’s a close one, however, if you’re truly stressed to the point of physical ailments or you’ll be making a grave financial mistake, a close friend should be the first to understand. It’s important to be decisive and honest, however, TMI is not required (or recommended). Instead of the list of reasons you may feel inclined to confess, focus on nurturing the relationship in other ways. Make plans for dinner leading up to or after the wedding. Stay involved when it’s appropriate. Ask questions about how the planning is going. Volunteer your support in ways that are helpful to your friend's planning or attending. A hand in planning, childcare, hosting, and making a delivery—all are ways you can be supportive while not putting yourself in a compromised position on the big day.
The wedding requires travel.
Without getting into all the reasons one might be unable to commit to traveling, let’s just say you cannot or even aren’t positive you can make it. The average host planning a destination wedding expects that not everyone will make the trip. The average hosts planning an in-town wedding expect a certain amount of out-of-towners will be unable to attend. It’s perfectly fine, maybe even a relief to the hosts that you cannot attend. Keep in mind ‘you’ in this scenario is the number version of you and not the personal aspect of having you there. With that perspective, the kindest thing you can do is make the commitment one way or another as soon as you receive the invitation (within a week). This means checking in at work, with the child or pet care, or whatever it is that you need to do to make the decision. Commitment-phobes, it’s your nightmare scenario, but it must be done. Once you’ve decided, respond and move on. No maybe. No changing.
You simply don’t want to go.
Think hard about this one. I bring it up because we all really want the hall pass sometimes, right? Reciprocation and participation in a friend, relative, or even a coworker’s major life events is important, even when it’s not convenient. If you’ve decided against attending their event, be ready for them to feel less obligated—even connected to you as well. Attending someone’s event is part of nurturing the relationship. While you’re making the decision to stay home or be elsewhere, which is certainly your right, realize you’re making a decision that may appear unsupportive. Rights don’t free us from the consequences. When you need their support in the future, expect the boomerang effect.
JS: Anything else you'd like to add?
HWA: If you’re turning down attending the wedding of a close friend or relative, be gracious. Brace for hurt feelings. If a hurt reaction follows, accept it with an added dose of patience. Let people feel how they feel. ‘No’ in our people-pleasing culture at times feel like rejection. Nonetheless, the initial reaction doesn’t mean you have to change your mind—or that the relationship is forever affected. How you handle the relationship post-No is important. Going back to ancient wisdom, “do until others…” my best advice is to think about what effort someone could make that could turn your own rejected feeling back into acceptance and appreciation. Make small but sincere efforts to say yes to the relationship. Write a note. Send flowers. Check-in on occasion. Notice a detail that’s important to them. This makes the times you can’t be there in person feel like you’re still there in spirit.
Check out more from Jenn Sinrich @jennsinrich on Instagram, and read her very helpful article on this subject with a handful of industry experts chiming in here on https://www.weddingwire.com/wedding-ideas/ok-to-rsvp-no-to-wedding.