curating the perfect wedding guest list

Curating the guest list can be one of the most stressful parts of planning a wedding. Nothing can spark a huge fight quite like your future MIL sending you a list of 65 friends she wants to include when all you wanted was a TOTAL guest count of 30. Or when you plan to invite your entire sorority pledge class, but try to limit your fiancé to 3 friends outside of groomsmen. It requires a delicate balance of compromise, negotiation, and lots of grace / communication to get it right. Here are my "rules" and recommendations for alleviating some of the stress involved:

{all images in this post are by Bamber Photography}

1. First and foremost, figure out what your absolute restrictions are. Maybe your venue can only accommodate 120 guests, tops. Maybe your budget only allows you to have the scale of wedding you'd love to have if you invite a maximum of 150. Figure out what the ABSOLUTE largest number of guests you can have is, and keep that number in mind. Communicate that number over to family members creating guest lists. ("No, you cannot invite 90 'close friends.' We can only have 100 guests TOTAL, Mom.")

2. With every guest, ask yourself this question -- would you take this person out and pay for their dinner? That's essentially what you're doing by hosting them. Do you have an ongoing relationship with them, do you plan to stay close with them long term? Or did they play a very meaningful part of one stage of your life and therefore leave a lasting mark that you'd like to acknowledge by including them?

3. Do not give in to pressure points like "well, they invited me to their wedding" or "they said something to me about attending the wedding" or "we were close for a very short period of time" (but definitely not anymore). It's even OK to say no to certain family members if you're not remotely close and it won't cause detrimental damage to family dynamics to exclude them. (Also - wedding guests-to-be, QUIT ASSUMING YOU'RE ALWAYS GOING TO BE INVITED. Sometimes it's best to keep your mouth shut and just say congratulations when you hear of a friend getting engaged. Be delighted and surprised when you receive an invitation! It is much better to be pleasantly surprised than utterly disappointed. One day you will too be in their shoes, or perhaps you already were. Empathy, y'all!)

4. Remember this aspect of the wedding is not just about you -- you're accommodating your fiance's friends and family, as well as your parents' friends and families too. Sometimes with divorced parents, you may be dealing with 2 - 6+ different "guest lists" to combine, pare down, and work with. Definitely encourage parents to narrow down their lists dramatically if they give you a million people to add, maybe even a set number they can't exceed. This can be tricky territory, especially when someone other than you is paying for the wedding.

5. Make sure to write every single person's name on the invitation you send so there are no questions if just the head of household is invited or the entire family. It's totally fine to personally explain to people (or have a diplomatic family member reach out) if they ask why they were excluded. Leave no room for confusion, however. No one wins when who is invited is left up to personal interpretation -- a guest without a seat and plated dinner at the reception will not be happy, so better to let the disappointment set in on the front end than to deal with that humiliation on the back end. (NOTE:  You only have to purchase enough invitations to send one per household. So don't think you need 300 invites for 300 guests.)

6. It's ok to be uneven on sides -- if you have a huge family and your groom doesn't or vice versa. Try to be fair with friend lists and family friend guests, while keeping in mind who is footing the bill.

7. For coworkers -- do not fall into the trap of "invite everyone or invite no one." People are understanding for the most part (and if they're not, their loss), and it's ridiculous to invite an entire department just for the sake of saving face. DO NOT hand out invitations at work (LAWDAMERCY NO), but feel free to mail invites to those people you are closest to. Use discretion with inviting your boss. (Are you actually close? Will this detrimentally affect your work life if you don't invite them?)

8. GENERALLY, you can expect 75% of your invited guests to attend. This can obviously vary depending on the percentage of guests required to travel to get to the wedding or the time of year (if you're having a Christmastime wedding, do not be surprised to see that number dip to 40 - 50%), but as a general rule, not everyone you invite will come, and some of the people you were CERTAIN would not come WILL come. You will also have some guests RSVP and not actually attend, and some guests show up that did NOT RSVP. You can manage this better by hassling them around the RSVP date to give you a DEFINITE ANSWER and generally pressuring them to be accurate. But all this is to say -- if you can only fit 75 guests in your venue and you want to invite 400, YOU ARE CRAZY AND IT WILL NOT WORK. (Exception:  If 300 of those guests are celebrities / President Obama / people you have absolutely no relationship with whatsoever.)

End point:  It is impossible to include everyone that has ever meant anything in you and your fiancé's (and your families') lives. You must be cutthroat. Who do you actually want to see on your wedding day? You can always blame the venue and say, "We simply don't have room."

Happy planning!