How to politely decline a wedding or baby shower invitation

Not into spending Sunday of the long weekend at another function? Find out how to send your regrets, without ruining your relationship.

by
Girl in white and letters and invitations
Photo, Istockphoto.

Weddings and baby showers are two of life’s most momentous rites of passage. They are wonderful celebrations that mark new beginnings and renewed hope. But wonderful or not, they also pop up like dandelions this time of year, and it’s easy to see your entire spring and summer (not to mention your bank account) eaten up by a string of weekend events.

There is something you can do about it however: RSVP your regrets.

No matter how much your second cousin wants you to make it to her destination wedding, your attendance is not mandatory, and you have every right to check the “not attending” column she’s provided.

And while we understand that you don’t want to burn any bridges with your absence, there are ways to decline with grace, charm and good manners. Here are just a few:

1. Make up your mind and just RSVP

“The invitation must be acknowledged. You must RSVP,” says New Brunswick-based etiquette consultant Jay Remer (follow him @etiquetteguy). And do so sooner than later. If you don’t want to go to your co-worker’s baby shower, which happens to fall on the last long weekend of summer, don’t berate yourself, says Remer, just RSVP like a grownup and move on without feeling bad. “The trick [to a good RSVP] is to not get caught up in the guilt or shame. Make up your mind, be firm about your decision and don’t be ashamed.”

2. Reply in kind

When it comes to sending RSVPs the rule is to reply the same way that you were asked, says Remer. If you get an evite then it’s entirely acceptable to RSVP via email, he explains. If you’ve been sent a card in the mail, then send your RSVP the same way.

If you have a very close relationship, however, you may want to go the extra mile and call. The personal touch never hurts.

3. Don’t over-explain yourself

Keep your explanations for why you can’t attend simple and true. There’s no need to lie or to go into epic detail, “My sister-in-law’s mother-in-law is having an operation and I need to get to Boston before…”

That’s not to say mean you shouldn’t prep yourself ahead of time, however. Phrases that come in handy when letting someone know you can’t come to their event include: “Sadly, we’ll be out of town,” “We have a previous engagement” and/or, “We have a family obligation.”

If the person who invited you presses for more information about why you can’t make it, don’t take the bait. Instead, keep cool and reiterate your reason. “If pressed, say it’s a personal matter,” advises Remer.

4. Send a note of congratulations

After you’ve sent your regrets it’s time to send a kind note congratulating the happy couple or soon-to-be new mother, says Remer.  You can choose to send a gift, but there’s no obligation to do so. Use your own judgment based on the relationship. Remer says a $25 gift card is entirely acceptable.

5. Don’t skip the event if you said you were going

As the day looms, and you find something has come up to prevent your attendance (or that heck, you just don’t want to go!), be sure to let the concerned parties know you can’t make it after all. In this case it’s wise to make a personal phone call offering your regrets.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to bail without giving advanced warning, an impolite act that rightly wins you the title of jerky pal.

6. Don’t feel guilty

You’ve sent your regrets, your note of congratulations, and you even threw in an adorable onesie and gift card for your blooming pal. You did everything right so don’t ruin it by feeling badly that you can’t attend, says Remer. You’re not a bad person, just a busy or overextended one who’s really looking forward to doing nothing on the long weekend. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Says Remer: “Your intention is not to make the person feel bad, so don’t feel like you are being a bad person by declining.”

This story was first published in 2016.

More:
8 spring vegetables about to come into season
Why advanced maternal age could make you a better mom
Lainey Lui: My husband does all the housework. Should I feel guilty?