Do we give a gift if we weren't invited to the wedding?

A somewhat delicate question involving friendship, marriage and money.

Published July 25, 2005 4:27PM (EDT)

Dear Cary:

My wife and I were recently married. Another couple, whom we have known since they started dating, got married shortly after us. We invited them to our wedding. For financial reasons, they chose to have a small wedding, and it became apparent at some point prior to our wedding that they were not inviting us. To be clear, we weren't offended by this, as many other mutual friends of ours were also not invited, and it was clear that this was a financial necessity rather than a slight.

In the week before our wedding, the groom-to-be called us and informed us that they wouldn't be able to make our wedding because of issues with their own upcoming nuptials. And although this caused us some minor inconveniences, we understood the situation, given that we were dealing with our own wedding planning.

As a result of the general hubbub surrounding our wedding, as well as our very long honeymoon immediately after, we never called them. About a week ago, however, we received a very nice card from them, with a decently large check enclosed.

My question is the following. What is the appropriate response (other than thanking them, of course) to this gift? My wife takes the position that since we weren't invited to their wedding, we don't need to give them anything, but that even if we do, a gift of lesser amount is appropriate, since we had to incur some costs as a result of inviting them along with the costs associated with their last-minute cancellation. I think that the appropriate gift is something of approximately equal value.

Also, assuming we do give them a gift, would it be better to give them something other than money, since it would essentially be giving them some portion (or all) of their original gift back? I understand that all wedding gifts are, to a certain extent, a quid pro quo, but given the temporal proximity of their wedding with ours, it seems a little unseemly to give them money back. Doesn't it?

Befuddled Ex-Bachelor

Dear Befuddled,

Yes, it might be unseemly to give them money. It would feel like a refund.

Put aside rulebound thinking for the moment and consider what you want. Let's assume you want your friendship to continue in the happy and carefree spirit in which it began. But there is also a note of gravity here, as you have both now conquered the wonderful but trying nuptial decathlon and have moved into a new phase of life. What you want to do, I think, is put to rest the obligations and expectations born of that intricate and very rulebound phase in a decent way, and lay the groundwork for the continuation of your friendship.

So here is what you do. Go to a nice store and pick out something you think they would like. Buy it. Wrap it up in nice paper. Include a card with it. Then call them up and invite them to dinner, either at your home or at a restaurant.

At this dinner, announce that you wish to celebrate the beginning of a long, happy life of marriage and friendship. Give them the gift. Allude, if you wish, to the logistical headaches all weddings involve, and make it clear that you want to put all that stuff behind you and have a friendship based on mutual enjoyment, trust, loyalty, openness, etc. Then eat.

You might share confidences about some of the trickier logistical aspects of your wedding and theirs. But steer clear of cynicism. Weddings involve some headaches and some silliness, but they are also the most profound, intricate and information-rich public ritual our society engages in -- except for funerals and, depending on the point spread, the Super Bowl.

Finally: Get the check (assuming you are at a restaurant). No splitting. No letting them at least leave the tip. Just get the check.

In this way, you can steer your friendship through this one last treacherous area of nuptial niceties, tie up loose ends and then get to the good part.

Take a deep breath. The business of getting married is now officially concluded. The business of being married begins.

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