Let me start with a personal story.
I got engaged on Christmas Eve, 2016. As an American living and working in Vietnam with my South African fiancé, we had some logistical issues that most wedding planners never have to contend with. Unable to visit potential sites ourselves, we sent my wife’s family to scout locations and relied heavily on their assessments. Our wedding planner, photographer, accommodation, and makeup artist were all interviewed and booked via Skype, with their portfolios examined via Instagram. Our biggest problem, however, was the issue of guests. Wherever it was we decided to host our wedding, someone’s family and friends would need to travel thousands of miles to attend.
With the problem of distance influencing every decision we made about our big day, we opted to keep things intimate. Our guest list was a modest 15, counting three nieces and nephews, the nanny, and the wedding planner. We spent just shy of $5,000 USD, booked lodge accommodation in South Africa’s Tsitsikamma region and wed in a pine forest, our guests sitting on blankets, tree stumps, and wooden benches. Many friends and relatives were surprised by the modesty of our wedding, but we thought it was perfect, and the size of it was a significant reason why.
Small weddings and elopements are on the rise. To site the obvious economic factors that drive many away from huge, lavish weddings is to tell only part of the story. Small weddings may have been given their big break when younger generations were priced out of the more lavish traditions of their parents, but many find that the money, energy, time, and social pressure saved by scaling back your nuptials elevate the day and better accentuate the ideal priorities of a wedding.
Lower costs, less pressure
No single aspect of your wedding will do more to explode your budget than the size of your guest list.
The average wedding costs tens of thousands of dollars, and with every dollar spent comes a greater expectation that that expense is worth it, that it all pays off. For many couples, this pressure can become debilitating. Many spend the day obsessing over every tiny detail working as intended, rather than enjoying the moment and basking in the attention. This anxiety stems less from the success of those details and more from the number of people you stand to disappoint with their failure.
The unspoken myth of weddings is that of the high-risk-high-reward investment. Your wedding won’t be ruined by the wind blowing away the rose petals decorating your dinner tables, but spending your whole wedding day fretting over it just might.
The same goes for your guest list. You’re unlikely to feel like you receive any more attention with 200 guests than you would with two dozen. And having that many heads to entertain, cater to, and accommodate will only become a significant distraction anyway. By scaling your wedding back, you keep your guests’ attention on you and your attention on what really matters.
The problem of exclusivity
We struggled with where to draw the line on our guest list. At some point, we had to make a margin call regarding who would be invited and who wouldn’t. This was cause for some brief tension in our planning. Friends who were unaccustomed to exclusive weddings had made assumptions about their invitations and had to be told they wouldn’t be receiving one, but some strong friendships and patient explanation laid the issue to rest.
But here’s the thing: the same issue will exist whether you’re excluding your 16th guest or your 200th. In fact, the issue of exclusivity becomes more obvious the more people you do invite. (“You mean have room for 200 people at your wedding, but you don’t have room for me?”). A shorter guest list makes these decisions easier to justify.
An expensive wedding does not a great marriage make
Recent studies have drawn noticeable parallels between divorce rates and the amount of money spent on weddings and engagement rings. Explanations for this phenomenon vary but most boil down to some form of overcompensation.
Often, couples think that spending exorbitant sums of money on their wedding will convince others, and perhaps even themselves, of their love. They may also pack their weddings full of distractions to occupy their guests’ attention and avoid scrutiny of their relationship.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that large weddings can’t be a success or that extensive guest lists foreshadow separation. The size of your guest list needn’t necessarily reflect the size of your budget. Perhaps your guest list is comprised entirely of independently wealthy people who can afford their own travel, accommodation, drinks, and any other expenses you choose to lay on them. Additionally, many cultures around the world pride themselves on their large weddings. In certain regions of India, for example, weddings can run north of 500 people and last for three days.
The point of your wedding is not to advertise the bliss of your relationship, but to celebrate it. Ultimately, nobody deserves to partake of that celebration more than you and your partner. Build your wedding in such a way that you can enjoy it for what it is.
You don’t need to invite more people than you can personally interact with. Nobody will remember the signature cocktail, the ornate silverware, or the colour-coded candlelight. They’ll remember your smile and that one time you flubbed your line during the vows and the cackles of laughter during the toast. In other words, they’ll remember you, and you should too. After all, there are only two guests who matter.
What will you remember of your wedding?
Personally, what we remember most fondly of our wedding were the moments that didn’t go according to plan. Our wedding was small enough that just a few thoughtful details became significant.
Our families worked together to complete a crossword puzzle we’d used as a placemat based on facts our about our lives and interests. Our dance floor was a beach towel laid out near the campfire. Everyone laughed when our niece, as our flower girl, studiously picked up the fern leaves she’d dropped and returned them to her pale.
Sensing the potential for disaster, we discreetly emptied our ring box and left the rings in our officiant’s pocket, and indeed when our nephew was given the box to bring forth, he promptly figured out the latch, opened it, and excitedly emptied its contents of tiny cushions onto the forest floor.
My point is that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t control what your wedding will be remembered for, but you can set a tone in which imperfections can be embraced and shared. A shorter guest list leavens the air of circumstance hanging over your wedding and makes every guest an active participant in the day, rather than a passive observer.
What better way to feel celebrated? 🙂