How To Say "No" To A Wedding Without Sounding Like A Jerk

Illustrated by Abbie Winters
We all know what it means when a glossy envelope with fine calligraphy lands in your mailbox: Someone's getting married, and they're hoping for you to be there for the big day. While saying yes to the invitation is a relatively straightforward process, things can get a bit awkward if you're not so sure about attending.
Whatever your reasons may be — it could be cost concerns or conflicting schedules — turning down a wedding is a situation that can feel very personal. It's important to approach the refusal with tact and consideration, so there will be no unnecessary bad blood in the future.
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To help you get out of these formal engagements without ruffling feathers, we've consulted Katie Balmer, wedding planner at The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte hotel and a leading wedding expert in Scotland, on how to say "thanks, but no thanks" in the most graceful way possible.
DO: Follow The Format
The level of formality should be informed by the manner of which the invitation was sent. If the offer was extended to you by mail, you should decline via post. If the message came in an evite or email, a simple email expressing your regrets will do. According to Balmer, another tip to keep tensions low is to give the bride and groom a quick call or send a hand written note — on top of sending back the formal RSVP card — to let them know why you can’t attend.
DON'T: Put Off Your Response
If you already know that you can't make it for whatever reason, don't hesitate to let the happy couple know ASAP. "It is very important to respond in good time — do not leave it until the last possible moment," says Balmer. "Otherwise, you risk adding to the couple's last-minute wedding stress as they try to finalize the guest list with the caterers and complete table plans."
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Stringing the hosts along with a delayed response is bad form, and this type of inconsiderate behavior may get you off the guest list for other special occasions in the future. Most formal wedding stationery comes with an "accept" and "decline" option, so check off the box for no-go and make peace with your decision.
DO: Be Brief In Your Explanation
While it's a nice gesture to offer a reason for your refusal, there's no need to be super forthcoming and overshare. A simple and succinct response will do, and it's an especially bad idea to dwell on your rationale if it's cost-related — it will establish nothing beyond making the couple feel bad. White lies like "I can't make it because of personal reasons" or "We'll be out of town" are completely acceptable in these cases.
DON'T: Backpedal On Your Decision
Once the decision not to attend the wedding has been decided, it is crucial to stick to that decision. "Going back and forth only adds to the inconvenience for the soon-to-be newlyweds," says Balmer. "As long as you are honest, timely and appreciative, the bride and groom should understand." The wedding FOMO will be your consequence to bear.
DO: Make It Up To The Couple
Even though you'll be absent, it's still good etiquette to arrange something thoughtful for the soon-to-be newlyweds. If you're close with the couple, offering to help with the bridal shower or bachelorette party is a nice way show that you still want to be involved in the celebrations. For a less hands-on alternative, Balmer recommends sending a wedding gift from their registry to confirm your appreciation, even if you can’t be there to celebrate in person on their big day. Another surefire way to offer your congratulations? Taking the lovebirds out to a fancy dinner always works. After all, a free meal is one gift that always work in your favor.
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