Our lopsided guest list has me afraid of being a stranger at my own wedding

Guest post by brockenblue
Rainbows! Bunnies! Totoro!

I am inviting eight people to my wedding; the rest of our 120-ish guests are my fiancé Hass's crazy quilt of associates. Now my biggest fear has been feeling like a stranger at our own wedding.

I am afraid of being left alone, or left out, on the big day. I am nervous overall celebrating my marriage surrounded by a huge group of people I don't really know. I feel like a failure because I have no friends, no community, nobody but a few family members to support “me” in this giant celebration of “us.”

So I took a step back and started to work through my issues. We are not completely through the ups and downs of this issue, but I am feeling much better. After a few months, this is what I have figured out:

1. Understand why this social anxiety is a problem at all

I came to realize that a lot of my anxiety came from how I define a civil wedding — as a communal affirmation and celebration of two individuals' personal union. I felt like a fraud because the loving community celebrating my union with my spouse was somehow not “really mine.” I felt that the communal celebration was all for my fiancé, and I was some kind of interloping impostor.

Once I was able to understand where my anxiety was coming from — the root cause and not just the symptoms — I was better able to put that anxiety in perspective and begin to resolve it. This was so much more helpful than just accepting my unusual social nervousness as “typical bridal anxiety.”

2. Acknowledge when “stranger danger” anxiety is affecting other choices in your wedding planning that you may think are unrelated

Going into the early stages of wedding planning, I was aware right away of my fear of social awkwardness and isolation on our wedding day. I tried to not bring it up, discuss it, or dwell on it because I don't want to reinforce my fears and give them legitimacy. But Hass and I have had disagreements about seemingly unrelated things that, when I parsed it out later, I realized were related to my social anxieties.

For instance, we bitterly disagreed on the tradition of not seeing one another during the morning before getting married. I got downright churlish about the issue. But somewhere in the middle of it, I realized that my objection wasn't to the tradition, per se, but rather the fear I was going to be left by myself all morning, and that once we were together, we would never be allowed to be alone with just each other. Once I could see “FEAR OF BEING LONELY” squatting in caps-locked oversized emotions at the root of my anger, I realized I needed to approach my objection to the tradition with more care. We have since reached a happy compromise on the “first look” tradition.

3. Remember to be grateful for the social support network you do have, and that your fiancé's social support network is yours now, too.

The lasting support network I do have is amazing. On the other side, my fiancé Hass also has a wonderful circle of family and friends. I look forward to getting to know these good people better in the (hopefully) many years of our married life. But at the moment, these aren't my friends yet. They are not my community… yet. But I am joyously confident they will be eventually!

4. Be ready to find offbeat solutions to put your anxiety at ease. Even if being offbeat is really just as simple as delegating.

From the beginning of our engagement, Hass and I quickly grew to think of our wedding day as a screw-the-rulebook let's-be-authentic-to-ourselves event. We had no problem choosing a cavernous waterfall as our natural cathedral, making alien invasion Save the Dates and Tetris-themed invites, ditching a hired DJ, and asking Hass's friend to officiate. This same offbeat attitude has made finding solutions to soothe my social anxieties possible as well.

One solution was that, when I was going through the worst of my anxiety, I handed over the wedding planning reins to my future husband. Hass taking over gave me the space I needed to work my issues out. Now that I am through the worst of my anxiety, I am discovering that I am interested again in planning. I come up with ideas spontaneously and with excitement again.

5. Finally, remember that the steps needed to work through wedding-day social anxiety are pretty much the same regardless of what type of issue you are working through.

When I started confronting my fears that I would feel like a stranger on our wedding day, I felt like I was the only bride that ever felt that way. After all, I thought brides were always supposed to be happy, enthusiastic and the natural center of attention. But as I worked through my stranger danger anxiety, I realized that the steps I was taking were useful not only to my particular issue, but also to many types of wedding-related anxiety.

I had to understand the root of the issue and acknowledge when that issue was hiding and creating havoc in seemingly unrelated choices. In order to resolve the issue I had to free myself of the emotional traps created by messages that my feelings were invalid or inappropriate. Only then could I find the offbeat solutions that addressed the issue at hand fairly and effectively.

Realizing that this same process of understanding, recognizing, and validating in order to reach resolution and find solutions was not unique to my situation alone lifts my spirits. Even if my form of wedding-related anxiety is not the most common, I am not alone in this.

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Comments on Our lopsided guest list has me afraid of being a stranger at my own wedding

  1. With this kind of thing it is good to remember it is QUALITY that counts, not quantity. If the relationships you have support and nurture you, if they feed your soul then you have what you need.

  2. I wrote out a list today… I will have 12 people, two of which are mutual friends of my partners. And to this I say: YAY! I would be overwhelmed trying to catch up with 50+ people! this way I can meet people and not feel too rude if I don’t mingle with everyone all night. I really prefer it this way, and now I get to meet most of his friends when I am dressed all fancy and done up. Not bad.

  3. For me its the opposite. Of the 32 people on the guest list, only 8 of them are invited by my fiance. I’ve asked him how he feels about it because I know how weird we both are around strangers and he said he’s fine with it because once we say our “I do”s everyone there will be family (we’re only inviting family and super close friends that are “chosen family”)

  4. My husband was in this situation, social anxiety and all. We only had a guest list of around 30 though which helped. But he had a total of 5 people that were “his” guests (our one groomsman type dude is a mutual friend so that helps).

    But there are some things we did and some ways of thinking about it that helped us.
    – You do not have to talk and spend time with everyone. With a big guest list you just can’t. You can say hello but there probably won’t be time for meaningful conversation and your guests expect to entertain themselves. Even with a smaller list, I did not spend a ton of time with everyone and so my dude wasn’t expected to either.
    – take “time out” breaks. My dude knew he’d need that and I totally understood. He slipped out and ended up giving food and dessert to the security guards at our venue. He’s thoughtful like that. It got him away from all the guests and let him just be himself.
    – Find ways to avoid highlighting the difference in numbers so you feel less like everything is set up as a contrast. Everyone was in free-for-all seating at the ceremony and reception. It ended up that the dude’s friends sat together because they all know one another. But I got to visit with them at least as much as with my friends which was very nice. But there were no set tables or “sides.” The speeches were to us both.
    – Spend time with one another. It sounds dumb, but we were both doing our own thing which is kinda how we often are. But he would come up and hug me and kiss me and that was a great reminder that we were in it together, that the celebration was about us!
    – Remember your own personal relaxation techniques and pampering. My dude had some booze. He felt relaxed and could just enjoy himself. It was his favourite rum. If you feel a little spoiled it helps remind you it’s your party. 😉

  5. Depending on how far-off your wedding is, you can also make plans to get to know some of his big friend-group. Maybe prioritize having a few for dinner, plan a weekend away if a bunch of them live in the same place, etc. That way, even if they aren’t your closest friends, they’re people who you share good memories with that you’re meeting again.

  6. I will only have my two daughters at my wedding, due to the location, the rest will be my OH’s family and friends 🙂

  7. Our actual wedding ceremony was just the two of us and our photographer. But our wedding party is 4 of my friends and all the rest about 20 are his friends and family, partly because I moved countries to live with my husband but also because we both have very small friend groups for various reasons… I am trying to focus on the effort my friends have taken to visit and that I have become close with some of his friends… … I agree with the advice above though 🙂

  8. I had this same issue. The biggest thing that helped me feel better was to get to know my partner’s family. Having them not be strangers (mostly), even though we had to fly to Michigan to meet them all, made all the difference in the world. Suddenly my stress melted away, and I’m excitedly awaiting seeing them again.

  9. My fiancé is a much, much more socialable person than I am. Being around people I don’t know makes me.. immensely uncomfortable. So he has 20 times the friends I do, as well as triple the family (since my immediate family is estranged from all our other relatives.) The guestlist is going to be so one-sided it’s almost kind of funny.

    The fact is, I find other people terrifying. (Horray, crippling social anxiety!) Spending time with his friends and family, which I’ve done on quite a few occasions now, hasn’t seemed to help.

    I guess I just need to accept I’ll be a quivering, frightened mess on my wedding.

    • Hi. I don’t know how you feel about your social anxiety, but if you feel that it’s a part of you, well, your wedding day is about the whole of you, anxiety and all. I’m sure the guests will be fine with you just being you, however that is.

  10. Thanks for this lovely article and to everyone else for their comments. I don’t have social anxiety *at all*, but I’m *extremely* solitary (“psychologically independent” I think it’s called) and have very few people whom I would consider dear enough to me to share a day like my wedding (also my family is next to non-existant). So I do worry about this, especially since some people do genuinely seem to think it’s weird to have so few significant people in your life. Anti-loner bigots! I find this discussion very comforting and validating, and a boost to my confidence to just go with it. All guests will be wanted, regardless of how they came to be there.

    • Between the post and this comment, I now feel 1,000 times better, as I’m struggling with near identical issues.

  11. Thank you for writing this – it is definitely comforting to know other brides have the same exact worries I do – I only have 2 not so close friends coming and most of my family can’t make it and my fiance has a huge family and a lot more friends than I do so I am a little worried about that. I tend to get really overwhelmed at big parties so I’m just hoping that I will be so distracted with the different events that I won’t have a chance to feel left out or like I’m not meeting expectations etc etc. But anyway this is probably a better type of anxiety than worrying about actually getting married – it is helpful for me to remember that I am psyched about marrying this person and not everyone always feels that way.

  12. Oooh, so this. My BF and I have different levels of social needs. If I can have contact (phone or skype) with my family and with him as well as occasional conversations at work, I am more than fulfilled in my social needs. But, this means that for our eventual wedding, the only people I would invite would be family – preferable only immediate family as I don’t know my extended family that well. I don’t really have any friends except for a couple I occasionally keep up with on facebook, so I’m totally worried about strangers at our wedding.

    But I shouldn’t feel embarrassed! I am happy with my social life, but the thought of everyone wondering why I don’t have a bridesmaid is very nerve wracking.

    • Kess, you sound just like me! My Intended and I are having an elopement/destination wedding to take the whole lopsided thing out of the equation. Besides he always wanted to get married on the beach anyways. WIN!

  13. Thank you for sharing your story. I went/am going through similar issues. I sometimes feel ashamed that I have zero friends and 99% of my guest list on my side will be my family while my partner has a large group of friends around our age. I still haven’t gotten over the “embarassment” but I just keep telling myself it is what it is. I have the network that I have and there is nothing pathetic about it.

  14. I was SO worried about this too! My husband’s numbers weren’t that much higher than mine, except in the friend category. He had about 10 to my 3 (males, at that). I thought every would notice that I don’t have any girlfriends and, I don’t know, laugh me out of the place or something. But as someone said above, yes it is completely about quality. I have some memories with my best friends that I wouldn’t trade for the world, and probably wouldn’t have had time or energy to make with a larger guest list.

    Another thing. Even though we’d been together for 6 years prior to the wedding, and I knew his family, the way that some of the acted about taking care of me and making me feel welcome. Wow. It really made the whole thing worthwhile!

  15. I am so glad to read this! One of the (secret) reasons I postponed our wedding for so long – 5 years long – is because I had no one to attend. I have three family members, and at the time my only friends were my fiance’s male friends. They would, naturally be his groomsmen. I had no female friends, no extended family, no one. My fiance’s family would be 50+ people, most of whom I’d never met.I would be entirely alone.

    Things have changed in those 5 years – and our wedding is being planned with the help of the most wonderful group of mutual friends I could ever hope for.

  16. Thank you so much for pointing all of this out. I was a bit concerned about the majority of our guests being my family and friends. My SO doesn’t have a large network of friends and family so I was concerned how it might seem like MY wedding instead of OURs. I’m going to use your story as a bit of an ice breaker to make sure he is really okay with our ratio. He says he doesn’t mind but as it gets closer I’m sure some of these anxieties will arise.

  17. Thanks for writing this. While our list won’t be too terribly lopsided, there definitely will be more of ‘his people’ than mine – mostly family, since he’s from a big Cajun clan. I get tense just thinking about having to interact with people I don’t know very well, and since his family is so big there are plenty of his relations I don’t really know, even after 10 years together!

  18. We had a definitely fair guest list of his friends, my friends and mutual friends. I was still nervous about meeting a lot of his side of the family; but a couple of drinks later, we were all old friends 😉

  19. I just read this but I had to say how great I think it is that you wrote this. I wish I had read this or had heard someone voice this when I got married. Living far away from family and busy working and raising my daughter and eventually down the line I found myself without the network of friends and family I felt I should have. I went shopping for my wedding dress alone. A person I asked to be a bridesmaid turned me down. I invited people to my wedding who were really fair weather friends who didn’t stay to dance at the reception. I stressed myself out and spent money courting people trying to make things “even”. Oh, how much time and money I could have saved if I remained authentic on this issue (as I luckily did on most other areas of the wedding). Thank you for writing this.

  20. I’m also really struggling with the lopsided guest list issue. This will be my second marriage and a lot of my older friends don’t approve. As such I have severed ties with many of them and as such obviously won’t be inviting them to the wedding. My fiancé is very popular and sociable and he has a huge amount of friends he’ll be inviting. When we have discussed it before, I’ve ended up in tears because I feel so unpopular and disliked. We’ve still got 18 months to go so maybe things will change but I’m dreading finalising the guest list.

  21. This article really helped me out. I actually have a social anxiety disorder so nothing is more stressful to me right now than looking at our guest list. Our parents are joining us for a city hall wedding but that weekend we are having a party and inviting all of our friends and family.

    My fiance has a rather large family and a lot of friends so of course when we started making note of his guests we had a list of over 50… when we made my list we had 10 (half are doubtful to even want to come). This is because after high school my friends pretty much didn’t need me anymore as they were out of town and most of my family is out of the province and unable to attend.

    The entire reason we are having a city hall wedding is because he knows how embarrassed I am to know I may not even be able to get a maid of honour when he has 5 willing groomsmen!

    I am still very worried though that at the party people will notice that I have a small handful of guests that I know. I really worry he’ll end up ditching me to talk with everyone he knows and I’ll be left standing there awkwardly staring at the floor.

  22. I’m very happy with the way my husband and I managed our guestlist. We’re both a bit shy, but we go out a lot, so at the same time we have a big social network.

    In the end we decided to only invite people we both know and love: no colleagues we don’t see outside of work, no friends of parents, no distant relatives, no ‘friends’ we only see in bars but wouldn’t invite to our place. I think this was a huge relief for both of us.

    We’d been together for 7 years before getting married and our country is so small you can drive from one side to the other in 2 hours. I figured: if there are friends he hasn’t met in those 7 years of doing nearly everything together, there is no point in having them at our wedding.

  23. This is very off topic: is there a tutorial of how to make that bouquet in the photograph? I absolutely adore it, and it would go perfectly with my Alice in Wonderland themed wedding.

    Secondly, I really needed this article. My fiance’ has far more guests than I do. Granted, it’s still a small wedding of only 77 guests, I’m still nervous. If it was up to me, it’d only be immediate family…but I know that’s not fair, because so many family would love to come and support us.

  24. This article and all of the comments have helped me feel so much less alone in my anxieties. Thank you to everyone for that. I’m trying very hard to get on board and be okay with it, but I fear my wedding will be really uncomfortable for me, and it’s starting to make me very sad. Looking for ways to cope, and maybe even to become an excited happy bride.

  25. I have the opposite problem as my whole family lives in Texas (as we do) and my parent are VERY social (and are paying for the wedding) and my fiances mom’s family all lives in GA and his dad’s family is pretty small. I went to two huge colleges, he went to a teeny college. I have a ton of lifelong friends who grew up together, he moved around a lot. So it’s come to pass that I have a huge list and he has a small list. I’m doing my very best to entice his GA family to come to the wedding since he hasn’t gotten to see them in a long time, but I would love to know- are there things I could do to help him be more comfortable around this glut of people he doesn’t know? We’re doing a sweetheart table with just us, but I don’t know what else we could do?

    • I’m in a situation like your fiance because my fiance’s family is freaking huge. We’re inviting 250 people from his side and only 2 of those people are friends of the family huge. I had some major anxiety over it at first, but he promised that between now and the wedding (just under a year to go) we can try to go to more of his family’s events so I can meet them, and not feel like I’m walking into a room full of strangers. Guests will also be arriving early in the week of the wedding, so I can meet people then too. Just knowing that I wont have to meet everyone for the first time on the day of the wedding really helped ease some of the discomfort I was feeling.

  26. I am so glad that we are talking about this. I have had much anxiety about the wedding itself. I often dream of a more intimate weekend wedding off the coast of Big Sur instead of a huge celebration locally. It’s a first wedding for both my fiance and I, and I don’t want to rob him of the chance to have all of his favorite people there, but there are too many for me. The people from my circle that I would want there would be a smaller group, but since my mom is paying and I want her to be happy, I approved a guest list that includes more than I would like.

    I feel like a lot of the things I liked (renting a bunch of cabins on a private property in the forest for the weekend, wearing hiking boots to the ceremony site, etc.) were not validated by my mom, who is paying for it, and she wants to give me what I want but at the same time has negated what I like, so I feel like she wants me to want what she wants, because she wants to have a beautiful wedding with everyone there. I am not her. I have had a lot of painful realizations that a lot of my family members have not there to support me like I thought they would be, and I have supported myself through a lot of painful transitions in life, and my fiance has this huge network of friends and family, some of which have really helped me too. I only want to have the people who have truly loved and supported us there, and those who are active in our lives. It feels more authentic for me. Our total guest list currently is between 100-120, but I would rather be around 50-80 max.

    I feel like a fraud, having to hurry up and select bridal party members to “even out” who stands on either side instead of choosing people deliberately for who they are and the connection they have shared with me. I do not feel like I am planning an authentic wedding, because I am doing so to make other people, who I love dearly, happy. It carries less meaning for me, and it makes me extremely sad. I also feel like I am being ungrateful for a big celebration costing a lot and for not wanting what other people who love me are wanting to give me. They want to give me a fantasy, but it is not real, and it’s painful to look at reality, because it leads to more heartache before getting to a solution, that would differ from etiquette but would feel much closer to my heart and soul.

    I know that I have lots of extended family that are very loving, but it feels like with so many people there, the beautiful, magical intimacy is lost with trying to please others and being put on a pedestal as a spectacle rather than being surrounded by true family and friends. The people I want to invite from my own family would total to less than 5-10 people, with a couple of bridesmaids, but one of my dearest friends may not be able to afford or handle the duties as she is dealing with a lot of issues of her own right now, and she may or may not be able to afford to travel, though we might be able to help her with the hotel stay or with reducing the list of duties so that she is more of an honorable guest.

    My fiance listens and empathizes, but I don’t know if he understands, and I don’t know if my mom would understand my feelings. We already put a deposit down on a venue, but it doesn’t have everything I wanted (no onsite hotel, so we are settling for nearby hotels because what we haven’t found anything we love nearby in So Cal) and I feel like I’m compromising, as opposed to selecting what I truly want and letting other people deal with it.

    Whenever it has come up and we talk about what I want, neither my mom nor my fiance are happy. They tell me they want me to be happy, and the one time that I got them to say what I wanted to hear, all the joy was completely gone from their voices and faces. I have to calm myself on a regular basis and am constantly reminded that I will be surrounded by tons of people, thinking about the fact that all eyes are on me instead of thinking about all of the feelings I have for my fiance that I want to pour out freely.

    At this point, I don’t know if it means cutting our losses on the first venue or doing a smaller celebration out of town beforehand and then coming back to celebrate with everyone, or what the cost or process of all that would be. I foresee a lot of hard conversations for me to have coming up, but I need to release a lot of these painful emotions and memories of the past that are being stirred up and brought to the surface.

  27. I’m actually the exact opposite to this. I feel like if my boyfriend and I ever do get married (we have talked about it) that whoever he invites will be dwarfed by who I invite, number’s wise.

    My mom has a very large, very Italian, family and each of her parents had 5 siblings. You can guess how many second and third cousins there are, many of whom I know and love hanging out with. My dad has a smaller family but there are still second and third cousins I’d be inviting. My family (at least the Italian side) are loud and gregarious. My boyfriend and his family are far quieter and I feel like his family would be overwhelmed by mine.

    The thing is, I absolutely adore my boyfriends family. I genuinely like his mother and step-dad (don’t ask about his actual father), and his aunt and cousins are great too. I just don’t want his less than 10 family to feel overwhelmed by my easily 50+ group.

    Granted all of this is hypothetical at the moment (no wedding bells yet here!) but it’s something I think about every now and then and this article really made me ponder the actual numbers.

  28. This is such a great post. My fiance and I had agreed on a guest list of “close friends and immediate family”, so I assumed it would be a small wedding of about 30-40 people. Unfortunately, if he invites the few cousins he actually wants there, he has to invite ALL OF THEM or he’ll hear about it for the rest of his life. (I tried digging my heels in about a particular unpleasant uncle, but eventually decided that that wasn’t the hill I wanted to die on for this wedding – better to avoid a guy for a couple hours than to piss off his mom forever.) So now we have 75-80 people (22 of which, including plus-ones, are from my side), most of whom I MIGHT have met once. I’m already exhausted from the thought of having to re-meet all these people who I’m not particularly excited about anyway, plus the anxiety of all those unfamiliar eyes on me during the ceremony. I’m glad it’s not just me! The best part is that Fiance can’t even match all of their names to faces, so he won’t even be able to introduce me to them. Awesome! Hooray for giant Irish families, I guess. 🙁

  29. I am so happy to have found this post. It’s 5 a.m. and I wasn’t able to sleep due to wedding planning anxiety. This will be a second marriage for both of us. We have mutual friends but none of them are extremely close. None of my family were at my first wedding nor will they be at this one because they shun me due to their religious (ahem, cult) beliefs. I am saddened by all of it as my parents are 78 and 79 years old. I and really want a nice intimate wedding but keep wondering if I’ll just feel awful with absolutely no family there. I also keep trying to stop worrying about it so much. If my parents truly loved me, they’d be there no matter what. I’m so torn. Part of me wants to just elope and another part of me really wants a wedding. I can’t even sleep… this is how much anxiety it’s causing. The funniest part is, the first time I got married, I didn’t even care that none of my family was going to be there. It didn’t hit me until years later that all of our guests were his family and yes, there were mutual friends there. But I’d say that 90% of our guests were from “his side.” My fiance now has only his mom and step dad. No siblings, aunts, uncles, or cousins. I know we should just do whatever we’re inspired to do. Hopefully it will all become clear soon.

  30. I have this problem, my family wont attend as we’re not speaking…and the ones I am speaking to dont get on with the other half or say they live too far away. My fiance has invited 200 people (fine by me, he works in the nightclub industry and knows a lot of people) but I wont know anyone!! Im very nervous, I dont even have a little flower girl or anyone to give me away. 🙁

  31. All I can say is thank you for writing this, and thank you to the commenters for their affirmations and insights. I’ve been struggling with understanding why I am so anxious about our very lopsided list, but you all have articulated it perfectly. Thanks for making me feel less alone, and for providing suggestions for coping. I will continue to struggle with not being excited about planning much of our gathering, but I need to keep this anxiety of being a stranger at my own wedding separated from the future I dream of having with my fiance after this is all over!

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