One of the nuptial situations that can quickly turn the stickiest is the invitation list. Deciding whom to invite can be cause for both reminiscing and grimacing for the bride and groom, but it doesn’t have to be a chore!

The best way to begin is to figure out how many people you can afford to invite. Once you’ve got a number, you can start creating your guest list. Prepare the list by:

Determining the people you really must invite–This will include immediate family members, some members of your extended family, and your closest friends.

Adding the spouses, long-term partners, and fiancés of your must-invites–At this point in the process, the names you add to the list should be exclusive to spouses, long-term partners, and fiancés. We’ll discuss more about the “and guest” invites later.

Thoughtfully including a first-round of optional guests–These individuals may be co-workers, business partners, next-door neighbors, important people from your childhood, etc.

Adding the spouses, long-term partners, and fiancés of your optional guests–Again, this list should be exclusive to spouses, long-term partners, and fiancés.

If you still have room to add more, you may want to consider allowing your single guests to bring a date, or you may want to continue expanding your list with a second-round of optional guests.

Remember, wedding invitation etiquette is about making your best effort to take everyone's feelings into account. If you allow one of your available invites to bring a guest, you should seriously consider opening it up for all the singles invited. For instance, if Uncle Bob’s fling of the month is a delight to have around and you really want him to bring her, you need to consider allowing Aunt Kristy’s stick-in-the mud, on-again, off-again boyfriend to attend, too.

Rest assured, there is no etiquette rule stating single guests must be allowed to bring someone to your wedding.

The No Ring = No Bring Rule
It should not be assumed that every person invited is allowed to bring a guest. In fact, some follow the “No Ring, No Bring” rule that clearly suggests only partners in a marriage, those who are engaged, or those who are living together are allowed bring their significant other. Sometimes long-term couples without a ring or plans to marry are included in this category but you will have to make that decision on a case-by-case basis.

It’s All in the Wording

It’s important to send a clear message to your invitees just whose presence you request. This is best done in the addressing of your envelope, the wording on your invitation, and by carefully outlining how to RSVP on their return card:

Envelope–Be specific and include the names of the guests who are invited. Avoid writing “Ms. Susan Granger and guest” or “Mr. and Mrs. Randal Whitehouse and family.” If allowing your single friends to bring guests, find out who they are and address the envelope by name. This personalizes the invitation and implies that these particular people are invited and not just anyone.

Invitation–If a limited number of people can be accommodated at the ceremony, but more are welcome at the reception, or vice versa, say so. You can word the invitation in this way: “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Josephs request the pleasure of your company at the wedding reception (ceremony) for their daughter Louise Marie and Mr. Mike Smith on Saturday, the sixteenth of March at six o'clock at (the reception site and location).

RSVP–To ensure only named individuals come, you can print names on the RSVP card with a check box beside each person’s name. Although highly unconventional, this approach will clearly outline who can attend.

Other Circumstances: Inviting or Disinviting Children and Other Guests

It is your prerogative to include or exclude children in your celebration. Even if you choose to allow your immediate family to bring their kids, you may not want to be inundated with children from every guest’s family. This is perfectly fine. Below are some ideas on how to make this clear.

- Be detailed in addressing the envelope, invitation, and/or RSVP, as noted above.

- Include an inner envelope with just your invited guests’ names written on the outside of it.

- Enclose a handwritten note explaining your limitations, such as cost and space.

An alternative solution would be to invite the children to the reception and not the ceremony or vice versa, depending on your primary concerns.

If, even after following all these hints, invited guests RSVP with names you did not include, you can advise them of the situation with a telephone call. Disinviting someone is never easy, but a direct explanation from you should clear up the misunderstanding.

No matter how much you want to share your special day with everyone, it should be understood by all that you will have to stick to your budget. Don’t forget, this is your special day. Surround yourselves with the people who mean the most to you, and they’ll certainly understand.

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