A good friend of mine was married in a lovely evening ceremony at the historic Landmark Building in downtown St. Paul just before Christmas. The illuminated trees of Rice Park twinkled above the crystalline snow cover, as wedding guests in elegant suits and long black dresses and glitzy heels made their way through the brisk night air toward the front steps of the grand, turreted, granite building, stopping to take in the scene of Christmas in the city.
It was a breathtaking vision, and a most welcome pause in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to step out in style and enjoy an evening of adult conversation, good food, and a bit of dancing.
But as I sat in my chair in the wedding venue, a century-old courtroom with carved woodwork and vaulted painted ceilings, my mind wandered away from the beautiful setting and all the extra touches the bride and her family had worked on to transform the room into a magical step back in time to the 1920s. I started recalling many of the conversations I’d had with the bride and couldn’t help but wonder about the other guests sitting around me, and whether any of them were the cause of some unnecessary stress for the bridal couple.
For weeks leading up to the wedding, the bride had kept me apprised of the RSVPs, the lack of timely responses, and the full-on effort to figure out if the missing RSVPs would in fact be coming or not. As the wedding grew closer, the uncertainty began to turn to added stress and frustration for the couple. Soon, the bride was asking what so many others before her have: “How do I plan a wedding and reception when so many people can’t let me know if they’re even coming?!”
Ah, yes. My husband and I struggled with the very same thing over a decade ago. “Are your college friends Justin and Corey coming? And what’s with all the second cousins on your dad’s side? No word from them yet.” A good three weeks past our RSVP deadline, we still hadn’t heard from over 40 people.
What to do? Well, etiquette books often instruct that it’s in poor taste to phone or email these lollygaggers to ask them if they will, in fact, be attending. But when you get right down to brass tacks, it can be awfully difficult to guess when the caterer calls for a final count a week before the ceremony. If you’re paying $20 a plate per person, and have 40 question marks, that’s an $800 guess.
With seemingly no other options, Ryan and I began calling some of the people we hadn’t heard from. We heard responses such as, “Oh, I was going to send that back, but then lost it,” and, “Oh, we’re not sure yet. We’ll let you know a couple days before.” We understood when some of our friends replied that they were still desperately trying to find a babysitter, but didn’t quite understand when we heard from one individual that he figured the card should be returned for regrets only. My favorite was, “Oh, that RSVP card? I just threw it out. I never send those things back. If you see me, you see me!”
Very discouraging was that some of these people were already married and had gone through these frustrations themselves!
It’s difficult for me to offer advice on this matter, knowing that etiquette decrees it’s in poor taste to hunt these folks down for an answer. After all, isn’t it just as bad, if not worse, to not return the RSVP card and put the wedding couple in that position? Aren’t all bets off where etiquette is concerned?
Unfortunately, after our wedding, I thought this frustration was behind me. Then I had kids who now have birthday parties. It’s challenging to figure out games, activities, treat bags, etc., when you’re wondering if 10 children are coming or only 2. I have to hassle my daughter to ask her friends at school whether they think they’ll be coming or not.
So, rather than putting people in the uncomfortable position of tracking you down, I propose that we all make a hearty effort to embrace the timely return of RSVPs. It’s a rather simple endeavor, wouldn’t you agree? Typically, knowledge of how to spell your name and making a decision about which food option you prefer is all that’s necessary. The stamp is provided! And while snail mail has declined a bit thanks to email and text messages, finding a mailbox isn’t too ghastly a task.
The next time you receive a wedding invitation in the mail, do what I do: challenge yourself to be the first to reply. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve actually won a prize at a wedding reception for this very victory!
And brides, just as you expect your guests to reply quickly, remember to do the same. Following showers, parties and the wedding itself, don’t dawdle with the task of writing out and mailing thank-you’s. The groom should help with this task, and all wedding thank-you’s should be sent off within three months of the wedding.
Sitting in the historic courtroom, I couldn’t help but think that in 1903, most individuals must have respected the importance of timely RSVPs and thank-you’s. Let’s endeavor to bring this back!