Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” has recently been published. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.
My niece and her fiancé are planning a Vineyard wedding. They want a small wedding, but they have scads of friends, work colleagues, and relatives. There’s no way to include everyone, and there is tension within the family about how to limit the guest list without hurting people’s feelings. My niece often relies on me for advice, and I don’t know how best to counsel her. I should also add, and this may be selfish, but I am not willing to sacrifice my own invitation to this wedding for the greater good of keeping the numbers down. Any suggestions?
Aunt of the Bride
Oh boy. “Small wedding guest lists” is such a loaded topic, I’m pretty sure I’ll land on somebody’s bad side here no matter what I say. I’ve been dreading being asked this question since Day 1, but I guess it’s time to take a stab at it.
(Full disclosure: My husband and I eloped. This means I failed to follow my own advice, but I am wiser now than I was then.)
In today’s world, and especially in a community like Martha’s Vineyard, a wedding is for the two people getting married, and so whatever they want rules the day. (Secondarily, it might also be for their parents. Secondarily, though.) The couple should be kind and considerate in how they deliver the news, but everyone who genuinely loves them will know better than to take it personally if they don’t make the cut. Remember that given the particulars of Martha’s Vineyard, there are many, many reasons for a person not to be invited to a small wedding — chances are it has nothing to do with affection.
Maybe the bride’s Cousin Bob has offered use of his yard as a wedding site, and Cousin Bob was bullied as a child by the groom’s Cousin Jack, so badly that he hyperventilates when Cousin Jack shows up. Don’t invite Cousin Jack. He’ll understand why, if you take a moment to explain it to him. Maybe the bridesmaid’s mother used to date the groom’s father and broke his heart by deserting him for another man last year. Don’t invite the bridesmaid’s mother. She’ll know why. Maybe your veterinarian was sued by your high school math teacher 20 years ago for failing to save the math teacher’s cat from feline leukemia, and the two of them still argue about it when they’re in the same room. Pick the one who keeps the peace more, and don’t invite the other one. If any of the uninvited folks interpret their non-invited status as punishment or judgment, and get huffy about it, they’re probably narcissists, and who wants narcissists at their wedding?
On three occasions in my life, friends have reached out to tell me why I’m not invited to their wedding. The reason I was excluded was never “I don’t love you enough” — if they didn’t love me, they wouldn’t have bothered reaching out to me. I valued their candor, and their trust that our relationship would survive what might have felt like a slight to me, and their willingness to be uncomfortable in order to be kind to me. They cared enough to check in when they had an awful lot on their plate. That, to me, is an honor just as great as being invited.
Of course, taking that position only works if the couple actually does reach out. By choosing to have a tiny wedding on the Vineyard, they know they’re creating a situation in which people they love (or are at least are related to) will be excluded. Extending kindness to those people does not take a lot of energy — it could simply be a note sent around to all and sundry, saying, “We love you and we wish we could have all of you here, but that’s not possible.”
If the couple doesn’t bother to do that, they’re pretty inconsiderate, and who wants to go to the wedding of inconsiderate people? That’s just as bad as having narcissists at your own wedding, don’t you think?
In sum, if one party demonstrates a generosity of spirit, it should be pretty easy for the other party to do likewise. If either side has a problem being generous of spirit, that is a comment on their character, not on their wedding etiquette.
And with that as a ground rule …
The couple getting married gets to decide what is most harmonious and practical for their big day. That day means more to them than to anyone else. Yes, really. Acknowledging that is a wonderful gift for their loved ones to give them. So tell your niece that nobody but she and her partner get to decide who comes and who doesn’t, and she should not feel bullied or manipulated by anybody else’s wishes. Period. When she sends a thoughtful note to the folks who are not invited, she can enclose a copy of this column, and if any of them respond like narcissists, I’ll run interference for her.
That’s my take.