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Question: We didn’t get a lot of RSVP’s back in the mail, even though the postage was paid. Approximately 2-3 weeks prior to the wedding/reception, we called everyone that did not send in their RSVP’s to find out if they did or did not intend to attend. 150 out of our 175 invites committed verbally to being there, looking forward to the big party, and who were not missing it for the world. Less than a third of those people actually showed up. We were set up with food and drink as well as decorations, a large hall with bon fires, etc. for at least 150 people…you could practically hear the crickets in the back ground. At first we felt horrible, I as the bride worried for hours and then we both wondered if any more people would show. We had so much leftover cake, wine, beer, decorations, favors, food, and a very large and beautiful hall that we didn’t even really need to rent! At least $4000.00 was completely wasted. So my question is; what do you do when people RSVP and don’t show, we’re talking 100 people who didn’t show! Not just one or two or even a few. Do we send them a letter explaining this to them and ask them to donate the cost per person for reimbursement? Is this proper etiquette, or is this bad taste?
Answer: When my wife and I were married seven years ago, we invited over 200 people. Of those who promised they would celebrate with us, only four didn’t make it. Two were being held hostage in an Indiana bank robbery. The other couple, friends of mine, were married several months later and as Mo and I walked through their receiving line, the new bride whispered, ‘My husband has something to say to you.’ My friend apologized again and again. ‘I had no idea what a big deal it was,’ he said.
But let’s look at your situation logically. If only one or two people had blown off your special day, you wouldn’t demand they hand over forty bucks to cover their share of uneaten vegetable medley and choice of chicken or beef. Just because others engaged in the same bad behavior, the individual deadbeats don’t bear a greater responsibility to pay for your expensive lily centerpieces.
On the other hand, one-hundred people? Jiminy Christmas. Are you sure there wasn’t a chemical spill on the interstate? Hell, you wouldn’t expect that many no-shows for a charity kissing booth at Beijing General Hospital.
Some people might suggest you ask ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ Unfortunately, the same people will totally have a shit if you suggest that Jesus might ever have actually found himself in an honest-to-goodness ethical dilemma. Note to bumper-sticker theologians: I can’t wonder how Jesus would extract himself from my particular Chinese finger trap if I’m not allowed to imagine him getting his thumbs stuck in it to begin with.
I once posed this problem to an evangelical friend (who is also an attorney) and he suggested that the proper way to phrase the question is not ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ but ‘What Would Jesus Have Us Do?’ (WWJHUD?) Fair enough, but 2,000 years have passed and the sticky wickets we get into nowadays are not always analogous to the ones encountered by the Apostles. As a result, we frequently either have to interpolate His advice from the handful of words He’s handed down, or presume the mind of God, a difficult proposition even if Ken Kesey mixed your Kool-Aid.
You luck out, however. As it happens, Jesus addresses your very situation in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. Let’s get the straight dope, in His own words, from Matthew, Chapter 22:
The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Yeah, about that: Growing up Catholic, the Church more or less discouraged us laypeople from reading the Bible on our own. In fact, I took two semesters of theology at the University of Notre Dame and wasn’t asked to crack a Bible even once. This is why.
On the other hand, maybe the Son of Man has a point. I’m going to roll the bones here and guess that you and your husband are very young. You might even have been the first among your friends to be married. Very soon, one of your deadbeat buds is going to walk down the aisle herself. Maybe she’ll even wed someone in your circle. The guest list for their reception will be similar to yours, and all your friends, older and wiser now, will happily take their seats around the ballroom, testing the fire marshal’s occupancy limits. The drinks will be strong, the decorations bright, the bride beautiful, the bonfires ablaze. And just when the guests are at their most vulnerable—drunk and giddy and lined up in rows for the Electric Slide, you and your husband can kick in the door and go Grendel on their asses.
Of course in Beowulf, it was Grendel’s mom who was baddest of all. Maybe at a previous celebration in Hrothgar’s Hall, she was the one stuck with the check.