Friday, February 22, 2013

Who To Invite To Your Wedding
The Guest List

As someone who thrives in situations of great discomfort, I thought I'd tackle the often-thorny issue of who to invite to your wedding.  I imagine this is difficult for every would-be groom and groom (or bride and bride, or groom and bride, as the case may be) but I think this is especially tricky for us theater people, who have so many more friends, colleagues, peers and associates than normal people with normal jobs.  The following is the criteria of guidelines that Rafael and I created when figuring all this out.

The Magic Number

The first thing you need to figure out is how many people you want at your wedding.  If I were writing a wedding-advice book, I'd write something diplomatic here, like "there are different size weddings for different people and you and your sig other should figure out what kind of wedding you want." But I think that's ridiculous. This is what my research revealed: most people with weddings of more than 150 were unhappy.  That's the truth of it.  Everyone I asked, and I asked many people, told me that 125 is the number to shoot for.  Let me also point out that if you're planning on serving a meal at your wedding, which has become the norm, it's basically impossible to do that for less than 200/head unless you're doing the reception at a restaurant, so you do the math: that's already 25K right there.  The 125 number also makes sense to me because, like the host of any good party, you're going to want to spend a few minutes with each guest and at a certain point, that becomes impossible.

The Must-Haves

Certain people are must-haves, and I suggest you start there: family members, friends you've known forever without whom you couldn't imagine the thing.  Close your eyes and think about whose absence would cause you actual pain.  Start by making a list of those people.  (Also, close your eyes and imagine whose presence would cause you actual pain.  Make a list and make sure none of those people are invited). 

Pay To Play

Next, if your parents are paying for the event, ask them if there's anyone they'd like to invite.  It's the decent thing to do.   And you might even be pleasantly surprised - our next door neighbors growing up and the parents of a dear childhood friend of mine were on my parents' list, and they're both couples that I'd be delighted to have in attendance.

Now, you've got a list of everybody who has to be invited.  This is where it gets tricky.

The Hard Part

Now, you and your fiance should make a list of everyone they'd like to have there.  Anyone at all.  This could be a long list, much longer than the number of people that can actually be accommodated by the wedding.  Put anybody you'd like on that list - let it be whimsical. Then the two of you should work your way through the two lists.  It's important to do this together, because some of the questions are not about the relationship you (singular) have with an individual, but rather about the relationship that you (plural) have - after all, this is about you (plural), not you (singular).  (If English had a second person plural, like every other language, we'd all be saved many parenthesis).

Here are the questions Rafael and I asked ourselves:

Do we both have a relationship to the individual?

Obviously, it helps if the someone is someone to whom we're both connected.  

Another question, which sounds stupid in its simplicity, is: have you met the person?  A childhood friend of Rafael's was passing through New York yesterday, and we all made a point of re-arranging our schedules so that we could have lunch because I wanted to spend time with someone who was going to be at my wedding.  In my ideal world, I wouldn't meet anyone new at my wedding, but knowing that's somewhat inevitable, Rafa and I are doing the best we can to meet all the people who've slipped through the cracks. 

Have we spent one-on-one time with the individual?

As someone for whom one-on-one interactions are the source of major anxiety, this point helps me incredibly.  

Have we been to their home?/Have we had them over to our home?

A picture of our living room.  Doesn't it look cozy?
Someone mentioned this criterion to me in passing, and I've found it to be incredibly helpful in the murky waters of theater friend/colleague/associate.  Hosting someone, or being hosted by them, is an incredibly intimate act, especially in NYC where we go out all the time but rarely stay in.

What are your actual feelings about the person?

It was helpful for me to hear, from Rafael, about which of my friends he felt made him feel most welcomed into their lives, and around whom he felt most comfortable.  I appreciated being able to share with him the same. 

Also - do you like the person?  Again, I know this sounds stupid, but you shouldn't invite someone you don't like to your wedding.  That would be weird.  

How long have you known the person/how long are you planning on knowing the person?

This is a key one to me, and oddly revealing: I'm inviting more people from high school than I am from college, something I would've never predicted at any point in my life.  Inviting someone just because you've known them a long time or you went to their wedding ten years ago is a terrible idea.  But inviting someone who has always been in your life and suspect will always be in your life is a great idea.  Do that.

Notable Sub-Categories:

1)  Children

Rafael and I decided against inviting children.  I tell people "We wish we could, but we just can't afford the extra head count," and there is truth in that, but also, I don't want kids there.  When you're getting married at our age, everybody's got kids, and I don't want a crying baby ruining my ceremony or my reception becoming all about little Bobby's finicky eating ways and would the caterer mind preparing a portion of the salad that doesn't have nuts or cheese but does have extra dressing on the side?  Screw you, little Bobby.  This is my day, not yours.

Rafael and his cousin Adrianna's daughter, whom we plan on exploiting for her adorability as a flower girl. 
Exception: Rafael and I are allowing the nephews, god-children (we each have one) and another kid or two whose cuteness we're planning on exploiting in the ceremony as flower-girls or ring-bearers.  Those kids are working for their place and I feel fine about that.

2)  The Exes

Don't go there.  I just can't imagine it's worth it.

Exception: Linsay Firman, my last ex-girlfriend, the mother of my god-daughter, is someone who made my must-have list.  Being on the must-have list trumps the ex- thing.

3)  People Getting Married Around The Same Time You Are

Vadim and Leslie!
I've noticed this wonderful thing - I've gotten closer to friends getting married within a year of me and Rafael (speaking of which - major shout-out to Vadim Feichtner and Leslie Kritzer who tie the knot tonight - Vadim and Leslie arranged one of mine and Rafael's most beautiful nights, and I'm so happy that two such beautiful and talented people found each other).

It's like being on the same hall freshman year.  Invite those people.  It's fun.

4)  +1

If a guest is dating someone when we came up with our invite list, Rafael and I decided that they should be allowed to bring that someone, even if we hadn't even met them (I think there's only one of those, and we're planning on remedying that before the big day).

If, however, you've just started dating someone, especially someone we haven't met, or you just want to bring a +1 for the hell of it, no can do.  Each person costs hundreds of dollars, and more importantly, the idea that your +1 is taking the place of a friend or colleague that I'd like to invite but can't because we're short on spaces is just crazy to me.  I've gone to many weddings by myself in my single years.  It's fine.  Make friends.  My friends are, after all, the coolest people in the world.  Or get drunk and threaten someone.  That's fun, too. 

5)  Those Special Someones  

For all the blogspace I've dedicated to writing about the logical criteria of whom you should invite to your wedding, here's the truth of it, or at least, the truth of it for me (which is the same thing in this blog).  A handful of people whom do not fit into any of the criteria were invited anyway.

As I try to articulate why these people are important to me, I can't quite, except to say that at different times in my life, they have been there for me in unexpected ways, above and beyond, saved from something or myself, given me an extraordinary opportunity, or restored my faith when it was gone.  Those people go on the list. 

Now What?

Now look at the amount of people you want to invite, and compare that with the amount of people you can invite.  Each wedding book has a different equation about how to deal with this, but the basic wisdom is to invite 10 percent more than you actually accommodate, planning that some people will have closing nights or puking children or other obstacles that will prevent them from attending.

Distribution is also important, here.  Because I'm in a deeply social industry and desperate for approval in a way that Rafael is not, he has agreed to let the amount of "my" people outnumber "his" people.  This also means, however, that if we get to invite more people to our wedding, I'm going to insist that those slots go to Rafael, because I don't want the proportion to get ludicrous.  I'm not marrying myself, after all (that's illegal in most states).  I'm marrying Rafael, and I'd like the parties present to be as equal as possible.  

But There Are People I Want To Invite But Can't!

Tell me about it, kid.  If it's any consolation, that's exactly what casting a play is like.  Especially when you live in a city whose unsung resource is its rich casting pool.
This, like trying to figure out the "right" number of people to invite to your wedding, is impossible.
Life is hard.  In my ideal world, everybody I'd want to have at my wedding would be at my wedding.  That means, however, that we'd have over 300 people at our wedding.  That means our wedding would have too many people.  That means I wouldn't be in my ideal world any more.   You see the problem?

You see the problem?  

I think one of the impetuses for this post was a desire to exorcise my feelings of guilt and anxiety about having so many people whom I want at my wedding and not being able to invite them.  And I remember what it's like to not be invited to a wedding for which I was expecting an invitation, and the hurt that causes (the party in question in that incident was someone I'd help move apartments three times, back in our early 20s, when you were allowed to ask your friends to help you move.  When I wasn't invited to that wedding, I remember thinking that my lower back had really been taken advantage of).
Dear Joss Whedon: I love you.
You have to trust that the people who love you understand that loving you and being loved by you is different than being invited to the wedding, and not mutually exclusive.  Some of them might even reach out to you, as some have to me, which I think is okay as long as it's done in a non-confrontational, calm manner.  For example, I have some cousins in Oregon whose son is graduating from Wesleyan the day we're getting married - they asked in a very kind email if he and their other children who'll be out here can attend, and we agreed to check in closer to the dates and see how the RSVPs go.  Of course, Joss Whedon is the speaker at Wesleyan's graduation this year (he's an alum), so should I be absent from my own wedding, you'll know where I am.

The Take-Away

Anyone's who's put on a play knows that making a choice means eliminating hundreds of others, and planning a wedding is no different.  If you have a swing band that means you can't also have a Lady Gaga impersonator and a sixteen-piece band flown in from LA, as the older couple from the midwest sitting next to me and Rafael at dinner a few weeks ago did when their daughter got married (I can't make this stuff up).

The guest list is the same way - you're simply not going to be able to have everyone there whom you'd like, nor everyone who'd like to be there.  The important thing, in some way, is that it doesn't really matter.  Your wedding might be the last time, or the first time, or the only you ever see some of your guests.  In a few years, Rafael and I might wish we had invited more people from my gay soccer team, or one of the plays I've been developing with one of the many playwrights whom I love could get picked up and after the trenches of rehearsal we'll become bffs and I'll regret not having invited him/her to my wedding.  And who cares?  Life goes on.  It might be the most important day of your life, but it's just one day. 


  1. We were a no-kids wedding for the same reason.

    Here's something that's weird that won't affect your well-thought-through list logic: you will have good friends who drift away after your wedding. And similarly, you will have casual friends who become amazing friends after your wedding. I don't necessarily think back and wish I could change my guest list, but it's an interesting thing about weddings and how they can be a crossroads in a friendship.

  2. Excellent post!! Your way of inviting guests is superb. I am too in same profession and know many people. But it’s not possible to invite everyone so will use your tips to invite them as just want to have minimum people for my wedding at NYC wedding venues. Thanks for this post.