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Guest List: How to Work Through Conflicts

The truth of the matter is, the guest list can be a big headache and cause some serious heartache. Here are some tips on smoothing out the process.

Photo: Kallima Photography

Your sweetie has a friend you can't stand, you have relatives your sweetie considers extraneous, and your mother is making it very clear she expects an old-fashioned wedding; that is, with all her friends on the list. Not to worry: Brides and grooms -- and their parents -- have been battling this one out forever, and no marriage has been forestalled by it yet (at least, none we know of). Here’s our guide to making the guest list work:

Who's Paying?

If you're running into conflicts, consider who's paying for it. Because the bride's parents traditionally paid for the wedding, they usually determined the number of guests and told the groom's parents how many people they were allowed to invite. Now that couples are as likely as not to be paying for their own weddings -- at least in part -- they often primarily decide how many people to invite and divide that number between their two families, or by three -- the bride's parents, the groom's parents, and the couple.

If you go traditional and the parents of the bride are footing the bill, then you should take their wishes into account and try to compromise. At a large wedding, a few extra people won't make a bit of difference. But if your goal is intimacy, stick to your guns no matter what unholy pressures your family unleash -- especially if you're paying.

A wedding is not an excuse to round up every lost friend you've known since you were 10 -- focus on people who matter now.

The Food Factor

Because food is usually one of the (if not the) largest costs associated with a wedding, and because catering costs are determined on a per-person basis, keeping your guest list small is a major money saver. Depending on what you serve, the per-person cost can range anywhere from $10 to $200 -- more in large cities for elaborate affairs. If you like, start by making as big a list as you can -- the fantasy list. Then get ready to wield the pen as hatchet and whack that list into shape, cutting ruthlessly until you are within budget.

The Venue Factor

Also dependent on your guest list is your choice of wedding/reception venue. If you have your heart set on a small country inn but plan to invite 200 people, you can see the problem it presents. So figure out which is more important to you: more guests or a specific venue. If you choose more people, find a venue that will comfortably accommodate them. If venue is most important, find out how many folks your space will hold and invite accordingly.

Hurt Feelings

If the issue at hand is the potentially hurt feelings of the uninvited, remember that remote cousins often feel as indifferent toward you as you do toward them, and may be happy not to come. The same goes for distant friends. A wedding is not an excuse to round up every lost intimate friend you have known since you were 10 -- focus on people who matter now.

Your Sweetie's Friends

As for friends-in-law you wish you'd never met, start with this crucial connubial ground rule: You two are separate people with different tastes. You don't have to like each other's friends, but hey, letting them share some champagne with you on your big day is not going to hurt anyone.

-- Margot Mifflin

See More: Wedding Guests