How to Politely Decline a Wedding Invitation, According to an Etiquette Expert

how to politely decline a wedding invitation

You’ve got mail…and (oof) it’s an invitation to a wedding you can’t attend. Now you’re wondering how to let the lovebirds down gently. Fear not: We spoke to Myka Meier, founder and director of Beaumont Etiquette, to get the full scoop on how to politely decline a wedding invitation, and it doesn’t involve too much more than a) expressing sympathy and b) keeping it vague if there’s any chance that sharing your reason will result in a foot-in-mouth moment. Read on to find out everything you need to know before you send off that RSVP.

How to Politely Decline a Wedding Invitation: The Do’s and Don’ts

A wedding is a big deal—you know, a once in a lifetime event (hopefully). So, naturally, when someone gives you an invitation to attend their nuptials, it’s a pretty meaningful gesture. Per Meier, “to have been invited to someone's big day means that you are important in their life, and it may be very disappointing to hear you won't be there.” Still, an invitation is not a decree, and there are myriad reasons why you might need to decline. Fortunately, Meier says that you can RSVP sans guilt, so long as you do it with tact and compassion.

What this looks like, though, will depend on your relationship to the couple, so it’s important to assess that before you proceed. In other words, if you are on a mile-long guest list of a former college roommate who you haven’t seen in five years, it’s perfectly fine to offer up a “more generic yet polite reply,” says Meier; the wedding of a very close friend or family member, on the other hand, warrants a more personal expression of regret when you decline. In either case, Meier tells us it’s key to “show sympathy for being unable to be there to support them.”

Expressing regret for missing a wedding is kind of a no-brainer, but you might be wondering if there’s anything else you should know before you send off the RSVP. Well, it turns out there is. Here, a complete list of dos and don’ts, courtesy of the etiquette expert. 

  • Do RSVP with the same formality of the invitation. (Example: If it's a black-tie wedding, use more formal language, like "regretfully, I will be unable to attend.”)
  • Don’t wait until the RSVP deadline to let the couple know you won’t be attending. Instead, tell them as soon as you know you won’t be able to make it, so they have enough notice to invite other guests if they wish.
  • Do use the RSVP card, if supplied with one.
  • Don’t tell them the reason you can't come is because it will cost too much or because they chose location too far away or because they didn’t give you a plus one. You don’t need to give a reason as to why you will not attend unless you want to, but anything that could make the couple feel bad should be avoided. Also, it’s far better to withhold an explanation by being vague than to make up a story to excuse your absence. 

What to Write When You Can’t Attend a Wedding

Now you know the basics of declining a wedding invitation, but perhaps you’re still struggling to find the right words. If that’s the case, just pick from one of the following phrases and you’ll be golden.

  • “I so wish I could be there on your special day, but I will be there in spirit!”
  • “I’m so sad I won’t be there to celebrate, but I can’t wait to see the photos!”
  • “I’ll be thinking of you on your big day and can’t wait to celebrate with you soon.”

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...