Not Going, Not Giving

by epi on February 29, 2012

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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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Clarice March 4, 2012 at 12:33 am

I am getting married next March. My brother was married 3 years ago, and in the wedding his wife’s maid of honor. Not because we were particularly close, but because she has no friends. The woman is not exactly a favorite with anyone in our family. She is a very spoiled person who has to always be the center of attention.

Now that is my turn to get married, my mother is begging me to find a place for her in my wedding. She sees me leaving her out as a blatant and very public “I could care less about you.” And my mother is trying to keep the family peace.

Do you have any suggestions for a job for her? I’d like to give her the least attention-getting job there is. I already have my nieces covering the guest book and programs. We don’t need a cake cutter at our reception venue, and she’s not a good speaker. She will also have a one year old at the time of the wedding. Any help would be much appreciated.


Winifred Rosenburg March 4, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I don’t really understand why someone would have such strong feelings about not including someone in her wedding. I got married in April and I made my sister my maid of honor. My sister is not a nice person, but she’s my sister. Including someone you’re fond of in your wedding has no negative consequences on your wedding. Really all a bridesmaid has to do is put on a dress and walk down the aisle. Once she’s done doing that, no one will look at her. You don’t have to give her any other responsibilities if you don’t want to. I’d also like to remind you that your wedding isn’t just about you; it’s about a joining of two families, and like it or not she is part of your family.


Clarice March 4, 2012 at 9:47 pm

I have very strong feelings against her because she has repeatedly embarrassed my family, my brother and I. She’s also been cruel to my mother. To say that she is not a nice person was me trying to be polite. She is notorious for throwing fits like a child, usually at a very inappropriate time when she is not receiving the attention she wants. To be honest, I’m afraid she will throw a similar fit at my wedding because she isn’t getting enough attention.


Just Laura March 4, 2012 at 9:55 pm

I see you still have a year before your wedding. Have you considered eloping? I have friends who eloped due to particularly difficult family members (and I wanted to elope myself).
Because unfortunately, if you invite your brother to a wedding, his wife must be invited. However, I don’t see why she has to have a special part in the wedding.


Winifred Rosenburg March 5, 2012 at 12:23 am

Assuming she’s invited to the wedding (and as Just Laura suggested the only way out of that is to elope) being a bridesmaid won’t give her any more of an opportunity to throw a fit than being a guest. Making her a bridesmaid may even appease her enough to prevent any urges to do so. Basically, asking her to be a bridesmaid does no harm but may do some good, and since she’ll have a small child by then she may say no anyway in which case you still get credit for offering. I suggest talking to your brother in advance and making it clear he is responsible for her behavior and you can’t deal with any drama on the big day. You can also assign a friend or two to keep an eye on things and provide damage control if necessary.


Alicia March 4, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Either give her no job as you seem to want or just let her be a bridesmaid. anything other then a bridesmaid or a reader is a silly make work job for an adult. I would not see that she needs any role as you is your sister in law but the only role to give her is really bridesmaid. So nothing or bridesmaid.


Zakafury March 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

Perhaps she could do a reading. My sister’s attendants were all close to her, and her husband’s sisters both read poems at their ceremony. A crowd can be very understanding about people who have trouble with public speaking – she may be even more likely to decline if she actually dislikes it.

This solution gives her her a few minutes in the spotlight without putting her in the uniform of your close friends, in case she does do something outrageous at the reception.


Elizabeth March 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

I was going to suggest this as well. It’s something totally scripted, something she can practice well in advance, and gives her the spotlight for just a moment, but what she says is totally under the couple’s control. Plus, if she doesn’t want to get up in front of everyone, she’ll decline. Win-win.


Country Girl March 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm

I don’t necessarily agree that leaving her out is a blatant slight. I have been a bridesmaid to women who will simply be guests at my wedding.

I do see how it may be nice to give her a job to make her feel a part of the wedding and “keep her occupied” if you will. Are you doing a confetti toss-birdseed toss-sparklers as you exit? That might be something you could task her with handing out to guests or manning. Is she a good cook or baker? Perhaps you could talk up her skills and ask she contribute specific goodies for your sweets or cake table. Another job that is under the radar might be “music coordinator” for the ceremony. Ie. she tells each bridesmaid/groomsman when to start walking so everyone is in time with the music. Whatever job you decide, try to talk it up so it is as though you would appreciate her help/skill-set. Since she has a 1-year old though, it is a likely possibility that she could decline in order to stay with her child, so you may be off the hook anyway.


Vanna Keiler March 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Hi Clarice. I sympathize with your situation. Unfortunately, it seems the general consensus is that you should indulge your sister-in-law and try some way to control her behavior, or have others monitor it. I would like to suggest an alternative viewpoint. From the description of her past behavior and attitude towards your family in general, she sounds like a keg of dynamite waiting to go off. Despite all your efforts to include her/engage her, she may very well decide to create an incident at your wedding. Therefore, I think it is fair to minimize her involvement at your wedding – I certainly would not put her in the spotlight as a reader or have her control the sound or music at your wedding. In fact, I would simply have her come as a guest and let her enjoy the wedding (or not). The good news is: you have a full year before your wedding, and perhaps the situation will resolve itself for you and her in some mutually beneficial way. Were it my wedding, I would err on the side of caution and comfort for all who will be attending your wedding. Yes, the wedding is not just for you, but for your family and guests who will be attending, so I see your trepidation in including her. Best wishes!


Clarice March 13, 2012 at 9:56 am

Thank you all for your thoughts and suggestions. I really appreciate the input from an objective 3rd party. As of now she is a guest, and I think you all brought up a good point in saying that she will have a 1 year old at the time of the wedding, (plus my brother will be an attendant and her other daughter a flower girl). So that leaves her solely in charge of her small children. If I offer up a small job, hopefully she will decline!


Reagan July 16, 2012 at 11:58 am

Our friends have invited me and my husband to their son’s wedding. We are not able to attend because we will be away on vacation (booked several months ago), so I sent the RSVP card back with our regrets. We have never met our friends’ children since we are more casual friends than close friends. Should we send a card with a gift? If we should send a gift, what should we send (since we don’t know the son or his bride to be at all)? Would it be more appropriate to just send a card?


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