How to Decline a Wedding Invitation In the Nicest Way Possible

It’s okay to not make it to *every* celebration.
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
by
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Mar 28, 2024

Responding "yes" to an RSVP means booking travel and accommodations and setting aside money and time for the to-be-weds. And even though doing those things can lead to a fun experience, sometimes you don't have the bandwidth to make it happen. That's why knowing how to decline a wedding invitation is a good skill because it helps you set boundaries (even if there might be some lingering FOMO). That said, deciding to decline a wedding invitation shouldn't be done lightly. The happy couple have specifically requested you to be present on their special day, so your "no" isn't like turning down a Sunday brunch invite. Read our list of common scenarios where it's okay to RSVP "no" to a wedding, get guest etiquette tips for how to decline a wedding invitation tastefully and see our advice on what to do during the aftermath.

What you should know about declining a wedding invitation: Is It Rude to Do So? | Reasons to Decline | How to Politely Decline | How to Decline After Accepting | What to Do After

Is It Rude to Not Go to a Wedding?

Let's get straight to the point. No, it's not rude to decline a wedding invitation. There are numerous reasons you might have to refuse because we all know that life happens. As long as you deal with this delicate situation respectfully, the person whose wedding you can't attend should understand.

Reasons to Decline a Wedding Invitation

It's up to the invitation recipient to deduce whether they'd like to attend a wedding or decline with regrets. However, there are common excuses used to decline an invitation—without hard feelings.

Budgeting

If you're burrowing into debt to attend weddings, it's time to reconsider your financial wellness. According to our internal study of 1,000 guests who attended at least one wedding in person in 2023, the average wedding guest cost was $580, which isn't in the budget for everyone. While there are simple hacks to save in advance for events, exceeding your monetary threshold to travel and attend weddings beyond your means isn't serving you. Be mindful of your budget and prioritize your relationships and time accordingly.

Wellness and Health Issues

Weddings require stamina and a presence within large group settings. Sometimes, this may not be the best option for you and your well-being. If you're privately grappling with personal anxieties or health issues, rejecting a wedding invitation might be challenging as you probably don't want to share why you can't attend. However, you don't need to fill people in on your condition or current state. If you're facing mental or physical health concerns, it's more than okay to miss out on the event.

Scheduling Conflicts

If your social and personal calendars are suddenly teeming with activity, you may have already committed to prescheduled getaways or gatherings far in advance. If you're in such a predicament, consider whether you can change your plans (including flights and hotel stays). If not, gently decline the invitation.

Family Priorities

If you have family-centered values, it's only natural to emphasize spending time with your loved ones. You may have agreed to be there for your dad's 60th, or emergencies arise. Turning down an invitation to celebrate an important family event or to be there for, say, a procedure are understandable circumstances. You can definitely RSVP "no" in such instances.

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Evolving Relationships

Most friendships and relationship dynamics change. While you may have been close to the to-be-wed at some point, sometimes people drift apart. If you're invited to a wedding where you hardly share a relationship with the couple anymore, it's completely fine to prioritize the dozens of other things you're likely juggling. Of course, you'll want to consider the memories you've shared and the future of your friendship before making this decision. Most couples know to expect roughly 20% of responses to come with regrets. To decline, express gratitude and well wishes to the couple, and fill out the RSVP thoughtfully.

A Last-Minute Invitation

Sometimes, couples may want to backfill their original anticipated guest count due to last-minute dropoffs. Depending on the dynamics of your relationship (whether you're a friend, colleague or neighbor), they may extend an invitation to you. In such instances, it's perfectly fine to decline the invitation.

Vacation Days

The peak wedding season is from early summer to mid-fall. By then, many invitees may have exceeded their allotment of vacation days, or they have other professional duties to consider. With a rise in weekday weddings too, some may have to refuse an invitation––the couple should be understanding in this scenario.

Other Weddings or Events

A busy wedding season means more events for wedding party members. You may be serving in a wedding (or several) this year. This naturally means you're committed to more prewedding events, including bach parties and showers. If you fall within this category and want to prioritize your duties as a maid of honor or bachelorette party coordinator, politely decline the wedding invitation.

How to Politely Decline a Wedding Invitation With Wording Examples

If you plan to RSVP no to a wedding, there are ways to decline the gesture thoughtfully and tastefully. Read our how to decline a wedding invitation examples.

On a Wedding Website

If you can't make it to the wedding, you still have to RSVP by the deadline. Some couples will have a physical response card for you to fill out, others will have an online RSVP option on their wedding website, while some to-be-weds might have both. If you're close to the couple, consider including a brief note including your thoughts and best wishes. Wedding etiquette suggests you do your best to include the reason(s) you can't come. In this situation, 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.

Many wedding website RSVPs have a note section. Here's a wedding invitation wording example for those who cannot attend:

Dear [Couple's Names],

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 our niece's graduation. If we could only be in two places at once!

We will be thinking of you on [couple's wedding date], and sending our love and best wishes your way.

Congratulations!

[Your Name]

In Person

Knowing how to RSVP "no" to a wedding the right way can be hard. Pick one of these sample phrases below based on your situation.

  • How to Decline a Family Member's Wedding Invitation:
    [To-be-wed's Name], I would love to come to your wedding, but unfortunately, I won't be able to attend. I've tried to move some things around, but I have too many work commitments at that time. But I still want to celebrate you! Are you free to grab dinner and drinks [day and time]? It'll be my treat!
  • How to Decline a Wedding Invitation of a Close Friend:
    It breaks my heart to say this, but I can't make it to your wedding on [couple's wedding date]. I'm already the best man for [Your Friend's Name], so I think trying to attend another celebration would stretch me too thin. I really appreciate you inviting me though! Let me know if there are any prewedding events you want me to attend so I can put them on my calendar.
  • How to Decline a Coworker's Wedding Invitation:
    Thank you, [Soon-to-be wed's Name], for thinking of me. Sadly, I won't be able to be at the wedding because I'm on a tight budget right now. Regardless, I'm super happy for you and [Their Partner's Name]! Would you want to go some where after work some time for a champagne toast?

Over 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 the happy couple 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 loved one, especially at such an exciting time.

  • How to Decline a Family Member's Wedding Invitation:
    I really appreciate you inviting me, and I hate being the bearer of bad news, but I can't make it to the wedding. [Your Partner's Name] and I's anniversary is that week, and we've already booked a trip abroad during that time. I wish we could make it. I know it's going to be such a beautiful and magical wedding.
  • How to Decline a Wedding Invitation of a Close Friend:
    Hi, [To-be-wed's Name]. I just came from the mailbox, and your wedding invitation looks amazing! Regrettably, I'm not going to be able to attend. I'm recovering from a nasty spill after playing tennis this week, and my doctor said I should avoid traveling and rest for a while. I can't express how sad I am that I won't be with you on your special day. Would you want to hang out once I'm all healed up? Maybe get postwedding massages?
  • How to Decline a Coworker's Wedding Invitation:
    I'm gutted telling you this, but I have to decline your wedding invitation. I know your big day will be phenomenal, and I wish I could be there to experience it with you, but my son's birthday is that weekend, and I'm taking him to Las Vegas for his 21st. Let me know when you return from your honeymoon so we can get together ASAP!

Through Email or Text

If you want to know how to decline a wedding invitation by email or text, you need to keep in mind that texting or emailing shouldn't be the only way you let the happy couple know your regrets. Just like with the other methods above, always RSVP "no" (on the wedding website/response card) first then start crafting your email/text.

And since sounding sincere over email and text can be a little tricky, we reached out to one of our favorite editors at The Knot, Cathryn Haight. She's an expert on all things gifting, stationery, planning and wedding etiquette so pay close attention to how she wrote the first two wording examples below.

  • How to Decline a Family Member's Wedding Invitation:
    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! We are so honored to be invited. Unfortunately, we are unable to attend due to a prior engagement that weekend. That said, we will be thinking of you on your special day and look forward to celebrating when we see you next!
  • How to Decline a Wedding Invitation of a Close Friend:
    I was so excited to see your wedding invitation arrive in the mail, and am so happy for you both to begin this special chapter in life together. I am, unfortunately, in the wedding party for another wedding that same weekend, so I sadly won't be able to come. Even though I can't be there in person on the day, I will be there in spirit and sending you my love. I can't wait to celebrate with you at your bach party and shower and to toast to you when you're back from your amazing honeymoon.
  • How to Decline a Coworker's Wedding Invitation:
    Hi [Couple's Names]! Thank you so much for sending me such a gorgeous invitation––you have amazing taste! I was really excited to celebrate with you both, but sadly, I can't make it to your wedding because of a personal health emergency. Thank you again for inviting me! Please accept my warmest congratulations.

How to Decline a Wedding Invitation After Accepting

"If you have to decline a wedding invitation after accepting it, you should do so with grace and sincerity. And while a note sent via text or email is a good baseline, an additional phone call explaining the situation and offering your heartfelt well wishes will go a long way. (We know it might feel awkward, but trust us, it'll be appreciated.) Also, get in touch with the couple as soon as you know you'll have to change your RSVP to 'no'—that way, the to-be-weds can plan accordingly," Haight advises.

What to Do After Declining a Wedding Invitation

Your job isn't done after you do the wedding invite decline. Here are four things you can do after RSVPing "no" to help maintain a good rapport with the to-be-weds.

Be There in Spirit

We love this idea for anyone very close to the couple. Write the couple a sweet toast, then 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 you're in another location.

Make a Date

Spend a day or evening with the couple before their wedding. Treat them to dinner, drinks, a show—whatever they enjoy. 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 consolation, right?

Send a Gift

Haight suggests you send a gift to the couple after declining a wedding invite. While giving a present isn't technically a requirement, it's always a thoughtful gesture to choose something from their registry or contribute to their cash registry fund. "It's a kind gesture to show your appreciation for their invitation. But, especially if you passed on the invitation for budgetary reasons, don't feel obligated to scoop up the most expensive gift on the registry to make up for your absence on the day. If you're not particularly close to the soonlyweds and sending a gift feels a little off, mailing a card personalized with a handwritten note is still super thoughtful," Haight says.

Don't Change Your Mind

It's okay, you can admit it: You can sometimes be a little flaky (you're not alone). But friends and family should respond to wedding RSVPs on 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.

Esther Lee contributed to the reporting of this piece.

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