Bear with me as I give a long answer to a short question!
At the beginning of the wedding planning process, Matt and I knew we only wanted our closest friends and family in attendance. We had heard stories from our friends' weddings about being forced to invite dad's golf buddies and other random assortments.
Because our wedding was about community and connection, we didn't want any random people there. And, because we decided to pay for the whole thing ourselves, we had the freedom to pretty much stick to our guns.
However, even with our plan to only invite our authentic connections, we started with a list of 160. We had read the budget wedding books that argue that the more people you invite, the more expensive your wedding will be. More importantly, we also knew that we wanted to spend quality time with our friends and family. With 160 there, we definitely would have been forced to only do the "meet and greet" thing. Plus, we wanted to hand-make as many things as possible. The more guests we had, the more difficult that would've been. For example, we wrote a personalized note on every single invitation we sent out.
We went back to the list, this time yielding a machete. I noticed that there were people on the list who were pretty much only there because I had been invited to their weddings (even though we aren't particularly close friends). I cut those people from the list. I also noticed there were people on the list with whom I wanted to be closer friends. I just wasn't. Those people got cut, too. Finally, I noticed there were colleagues whom I felt obligated to invite. I applied the following litmus test: "When I move on to my next job, will I still be friends with _____?" If the answer was no, they were off the list.
Because Matt and I wanted to be as environmentally-conscious as possible, we sent out electronic Save-the-Dates. We asked guests to respond to a survey about the likelihood they would attend the event. The results gave us a clearer picture of what kind of venue and lodging we would need to secure.
In the end, 80 people came. I know that every couple is different and they have to find the right number for them, but my advice is to think through how different audience sizes will feel before deciding how big you want your wedding to be. Even with our [relatively] small number, it was difficult to make time for good conversation with everyone. Luckily, our wedding was spread out over three days, but even then it was tough.
It's funny that we have this notion that weddings should be big. Even my biggest dinner parties are around 10 people. My biggest birthday was around 50. Why should a wedding be 175 people? I think size is one of the factors that makes a wedding feel more like a show than a sincere event.
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