Sunday, March 03, 2013

Must you stay? Can't you go?

In one of his memoirs, the actor Charles Grodin tells the story of being on the set of a movie with Candice Bergen. As the cameras were being set up in the main hall of a castle outside of London, he and Bergen were sitting together in an adjacent room.

Shortly after that sat, an Englishwoman appeared, Grodin writes. "She said, 'Did someone ask you to wait in here?' 'No,' we answered, a bit taken aback. She responded: 'Well, it would be so nice if you weren't here.'"

While a proper Englishwoman is not the bearer of the message, it seems that "You're not invited" messages are increasingly sent to friends or relatives who have not made the list of invitees to an upcoming wedding. I've yet to receive one myself, since my friends have the good graces to simply not invite me when they would prefer me not to be at their special day.

But event planners or the couples themselves have increasingly been deciding that rather than simply battling out a list of invitees and sending invitations to those who made the cut, they want to send a little something special to their friends and relatives who didn't pass muster.

Rina Raphael, a writer for also reported "variations of this trend," where some couples tell friends that they're on "the B list." If a preferred guest dings the couple on their invite, the friends on the B list are told they'll be in.

It used to be de rigueur -- and presumably still is in many circles -- to send wedding announcements after the wedding had occurred to let folks who hadn't been invited know you'd tied the knot. But the practice of alerting people ahead of time to something they're not going to be getting that they didn't ask to get in the first place appears to be new.

So is it the right thing to notify people about something they're not going to be invited to when you know that there's a good chance you'll hurt them more than if you simply didn't invite them?

Sometimes being overly forthcoming can clearly be cruel. A doctor must decide, for example, just how much clinical detail to provide when talking to a dying patient. Sissela Bok, the author of Lying: MoralChoice in Public and Private Life (Vintage Books, 1989), once told me: "There's great room for discretion, for knowing when not to speak."

Not netting an invitation to the wedding of the season and being informed you're dying are hardly synonymous. But the non-invitation invitation raises the question of whether deliberately doing something that is likely to exacerbate hurt feelings is the way we want to choose to behave with our friends.

Obviously, it's the bride's and groom's choice. But if they truly want to take the feelings of their non-invited friends into account, there's no valor in rubbing salt in the wounds. The friends may be hurt enough once they learn they haven't been invited. The right thing to do if you don't plan to invite someone to a wedding is to simply not invite them. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 
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(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


Anonymous said...

While it may seem crass, it certainly clears up the question as to whether the invitation was lost. So it seems like a good idea.

And the non invitee may be relieved that he doesn't need to think about attending and a gift.

Alan Owseichik

Greenfield, Ma

William Jacobson said...

My God, Jeffrey. Are you serious?!? Sending non-invites to family, friends or even acquaintances is the height of tactlessness! What would someone think they gain by sending such uninvites?!? Sending a notice, especially before the wedding, without invitation smacks of attempt to guilt people into sending gifts.

While this sounds much more a question of etiquette than ethics, I can not see any reason to behave in such a manner unless the purpose is to burn bridges with everyone such a notice is sent to.

William Jacobson
Anaheim, CA