Can't Attend a Wedding? Here's the Right Way to Send Your Regrets

Read all our etiquette tips for declining a wedding invitation tactfully.
The Knot
Updated Jun 27, 2018

Sometimes, you're simply unable to attend a wedding you've been invited to—and that's completely fine. The couple should know to expect 10–20 percent of RSVP cards to come back with "regrets." That said, declining their invite shouldn't be a decision you make lightly—they've specifically requested you to be present on a very significant day for them, so your "no" is more than nothing. Here are a few etiquette-friendly ways to decline a wedding invitation with tact and love.


If you can't make it to the wedding, you still have to RSVP (on time!). Are you close to the couple, or do you share a special friendship with one of their families? In addition to sending back the RSVP card, consider including a brief, hand-written note (these never go out of style) including your thoughts and best wishes. Wedding etiquette suggests you do your best to include the reason(s) you can't come, but don't focus solely on bad news when there's so much to be happy about. Use the opportunity to congratulate the happy couple and send regards to their families.

Here's a suggestion of what you might say:

Dear Jonathan and Michael,

We are so excited to hear about your upcoming wedding. Thank you both so much for including us in your event. Unfortunately, we won't be able to attend, as we will be traveling to Vermont the same weekend to attend the graduation of our niece. If we could only be in two places at once!
We will be thinking of you on June 24, and sending our love and best wishes your way.

Emily and David Smith

Avoid Making Excuses

We all know things come up, and like we mentioned, it's okay to decline an invitation. But when explaining why you won't be there, use good judgment. If you can't attend because the wedding conflicts with a long scheduled appointment with a hard-to-book psychic, it might be better to decline without details. Sometimes it's better for the couple not to know.

Pick Up the Phone

Get personal and give the couple a ring. Please don't leave this chat to the last minute, though—like 15 minutes before they exchange vows. Give your loved ones a call as soon as you know you won't be attending (usually between four to six weeks before the event). It's always nice to hear the voice of a good friend, especially at such an exciting time.

Be There in Spirit

We love this idea for anyone very close to the couple. Write the couple a sweet toast and mail or email it to a designated wedding attendant. At the reception, the best man, maid of honor or one of the newlyweds can read your sentiments aloud. You'll forever be a part of this special moment, even if it takes place on another continent.

Make A Date

Spend a day or evening with the couple before their wedding. Treat them to dinner, drinks, a show, a sports game—whatever they love to do. No promises it won't spark some wedding day FOMO, but you'll definitely see more of the couple than you would've at the reception. That's some consolation, right?

Send a Gift

While sending a gift is not technically a equirement, it's always a thoughtful gesture to choose something from their registry or contribute to their Newlywed Fund. While it's always wise to gift from the registry, you could also send flowers, a bottle of wine, a specialty spirit, a gift certificate or great tickets. Let your imagination be your guide.

Don't Change Your Mind

It's okay, you can admit it: You can sometimes be a little flaky (you're not alone). But when it comes to wedding RSVPs should respond one time and stick to it. You can't imagine how difficult it is to plan a wedding when someone keeps changing their mind. Make a decision, however difficult, and go with it.

Up Next
  • bride stands with bridesmaids wearing blush dresses
    The Anatomy of a Wedding Dress, Explained