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What's the Proper Way to Send Your Regrets

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, you're just unable to make it to a wedding. Here are a few suggestions of how you should handle the situation. Declining, at least to the bride and groom, is a big deal.

In addition to sending back the RSVP card, consider sending a small note. A hand-written note never goes out of style. Here's a suggestion of what you might say:

Dear Tania and Joey,
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 Lind

If you are close to the bride and groom, or enjoy a special friendship with one of their families, here are a few other ideas of how you can handle being unable to attend.

Do: Send Your Regards.

Include your thoughts and best wishes in a pretty card. Wedding etiquette suggests you do your best to include the reason(s) you aren't able to attend, but don't focus solely on bad news when there is so much to be happy about. Use the opportunity a handwritten note affords to congratulate the bride and groom and send your regards to their families.

Do: Give Them a Ring.

You'd love to say hello. You want to wish them well. You go right ahead and call. Of course, we're not suggesting a nice long chat minutes before the processional begins. But don't be afraid to give your buddies a ring as soon as you know you won't be attending their gala (usually between four to six weeks before the event). It's always nice to hear the voice of a beloved friend, especially at such an exciting time.

Do: Be There In Spirit.

When dear Australian friends of mine married in Sydney last year, I was heartbroken at the prospect of missing their wedding. "No worries," said the bride, "send a telegram." Thus, I was introduced to a fantastic custom. Write a toast and telegram, fax, or email it to a delegated wedding attendant. At the reception, the best man, maid of honor, or sometimes even the bride and groom read your sentiments aloud. Your best wishes are toasted by all, and you are forever part of a special moment, even as it takes place half a world away.

Do: Make A Date.

Spend an après-wedding evening with the bride and groom. Take them out to a great dinner, chat over drinks, or relax at the new home. You may have a chance to browse through wedding pictures, listen to honeymoon anecdotes, admire new china, or gaze in wonder at the bread maker. It'll probably make you wish you could have attended the wedding all the more, but you'll definitely see more of the bride and groom than you would have at the reception.

Do: Find The Object Of Your Affection.

Of course, sending a gift is never a requirement. But it is always a thoughtful gesture to send a gift, particularly to close friends and family. Send flowers, a registry gift, a bottle of wine, a journal to take on the honeymoon, a gift certificate to a spa or restaurant, or tickets to a great show. Let your imagination be your guide.

Don't: Forget To Send Your Response Card.

Yes, Virginia, you must send your response card -- even if you have already sent a thoughtful note or called ahead. Sometimes the delegate in charge of tallying up responses isn't the person who received your heartfelt regrets. Recent bride Jenna reports, "My husband's family took calls from a few friends and relatives who had not been able to attend, not realizing their response cards had not been sent. Because our wedding was so large, with so many guests to keep track of, when we sat down to try and figure out who had responded by phone, we got confused." As a result, Jenna and her in-laws found themselves in the embarrassing situation of contacting friends and family who had already given word-of-mouth regrets.

Don't: Wait Until The Last Minute.

While you're wracking your brain, trying to figure out how to be two places at once, the bride, groom, and their families are left in limbo. Most couples have struggled long and hard with guest list dilemmas. A quick, "with regrets" response may allow the happy couple enough time to fire off an invitation to a guest they might not otherwise be able to include.

Don't: Change Your Mind.

Yes, I can. No, I can't. I'm free. I'm booked. I'm sorry to do this to you, but… If this kind of flux seems harmless to you, it's probably been a while since you planned a wedding. Make a decision, however difficult, and stick to it.

Don't: Make Excuses.

We all know things come up. It's okay to decline an invitation. Write a short note, including a brief explanation of the conflict at hand. However, when explaining yourself, use good judgment. If you can't attend because the wedding conflicts with your long scheduled appointment with a hard-to-book pet psychic, it might be better to decline without details.

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