Q: I am a professor who is occasionally invited to the weddings of recent students. In almost every case, I do not feel particularly close to them nor do we have anything approaching a friendship. I am known among my colleagues as someone who has managed to maintain a recognizable distinction between my concern for my students as students and an interest in their personal lives. From my students’ perspectives, I imagine, I have played an important role in their intellectual development, and so they wish to include me in their wedding celebrations. It has been my tradition to decline their invitations after I receive them and to send a card with a warm note to the couple closer to the date of the event. But I do not send gifts. In a recent conversation, a friend indicated that people invited to a wedding, whether they attend or not, should send gifts. I am wondering whether this is a rule of etiquette and whether it can be applied with varying degrees of strictness. If it seems that my invitation is more because of my professional role, am I less obligated to send a wedding gift than if I had a friendship with the couple?
A: Your friend has cited the traditional guideline for wedding gifts: When invited to a wedding, a gift is sent whether or not the invited guest attends. That’s the black-and-white answer. Ideally, those invited to the wedding are close enough to the couple or their families that they want to send a gift whether they can attend or not. Your situation presents the logical exception to the rule. When someone is not close to the bride or bridegroom, or their families, they may skip the gift when declining the invitation. This is often the case when couples get overly excited and invite to their wedding anyone who was ever important to either of them: the best friend from high school who hasn’t been seen since, but swore a pinky oath to be there on the big day. From your students’ perspective, you have played an important and influential role in their lives, and they wish to honor you. For you, students are turning what was a professional relationship into a social one, and you would prefer not to mix the two. I think you have come up with the perfect solution. Your personal note to the couple is a gift in itself and one that honestly reflects the caring and important role you have played in a student’s life. I’m sure a student would treasure your note as much as a material gift. Extra credit: You get an A+ for sending regrets promptly. It is astonishing how many invited guests fail to respond to invitations.
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