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What To Do If You RSVP'd 'Yes' To A Wedding But Then Can't Attend

This is the proper way to cancel an RSVP, according to etiquette experts.

So you RSVP’d “yes” to a wedding only to realize — crap — that you actually won’t be able to attend. Maybe there’s been a death in the family, or you’re really sick, or your daughter just went into labor or you just started a new job and now your boss won’t let you take time off.

Whatever the case may be, you probably feel bad for canceling, but alas, life happens.

We asked etiquette experts how best to deliver the news while minimizing inconvenience and without coming off like a jerk.

Let the couple know as soon as you can

First things first ― if you cannot attend, you need to let the couple know ASAP. Sooner is always better, especially because an accurate headcount is needed for items such as wedding rentals and food and beverage. Note that couples typically need to give a final guest count to the caterer a week or so before the nuptials, so if you back out at the last minute, they’ll likely have to pay for your plate anyway.

“As soon as you find out you have a conflict — and it better be a legitimate one! contact the couple personally and apologize, giving a brief reason without going into too much detail,” etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, told HuffPost. “I am so sorry I have to rescind my RSVP to your wedding. I have a work obligation that I cannot get out of that was not on my calendar when I responded with a ‘yes.’”

The sooner you let the couple know you will not be in attendance, the better.
The sooner you let the couple know you will not be in attendance, the better.

Generally, it’s best to call the couple to let them know you won’t be able to attend after all. However, if something arises the day before or the day of the wedding, the couple will be preoccupied so they’re probably not checking their phone or email. On such short notice, let someone close to the bride and/or groom know instead.

“A good back-up plan would be to call someone within the family or the wedding party and ask them to pass along the message as well,” etiquette expert Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol, said. “Another thing you can do is if the couple has listed their wedding planner on their wedding website it might be a good idea for you to contact that person.”

And make sure your reason is a legitimate one

Life can definitely throw some curveballs that will make it impossible for you to attend the nuptials.

“It could be work, sickness, a family emergency or unexpected budgetary constraints that would affect you getting there.” Swann said.

But barring those reasons or ones of similar weight, you should really make every effort to be there if you already said you’d attend. Don’t back out because you decided to book a weekend getaway, attend another event or because you’re worried you won’t know anyone there.

“Changing plans at the last minute for a better offer is not appropriate and can harm a relationship,” Gottsman said.

Yes, you should still send a gift

Even if you are unable to make it, you should still send the couple a wedding gift. You could also offer to take them out to dinner after the wedding to celebrate the occasion with them.

But try not to feel too guilty about it — as long as you handle the situation respectfully, the couple should understand.

“Most couples can attest that their wedding day was more of a blur with all of the family and well-wishers there,” Swann said. “Their enjoyment of the day isn’t necessarily hinged on you being there or not, so don’t feel guilty about not attending. The most important thing you can do is let them know in advance so this way they’re not looking for you on the day of the wedding.”

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