Of manners and myths


The essay I’m about to set off presenting is one that has been considered, kicked around, and debated in many ways. Even right now, I’m not 100% certain of the first steps I want to take… nor where I want to be when I arrive at my destination.

That’s not a bad thing. Every so often, you need to get a bit lost or shake off the usual approaches in order to generate new results.

But this one feels different. Almost like it’s fighting me. Still… off we go…

This year has been an interesting one for my family and celebrations. My parents reached their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and Terry and I recently celebrated our twentieth. And, as so many things tend to set me adrift in thought, it was my anniversary that swirled some random ideas and ultimately began the writing.

Have you ever sent out an invitation? Have you ever participated in some sort of event, production, or activity where a format of expectations existed?

As a silly example… all of us can readily picture a formal place setting at a dinner table. Multiple glasses, multiple forks, multiple plates, and multiple more. Each with a purpose, and a specific role in the dining process. And yet, other than the idea of beginning at the outer edges of lined up silverware then moving toward the plate during the meal, most of us might have some difficulties being completely and unhesitatingly certain if the wine glass is a wine glass and not a water glass.

For many things there are established ways of doing things. Protocols and checklists to be accurate in description. Manners and tradition to be stuffy with labels. Regardless, we pick up a spoon, wondering if it might be for soup, coffee or dessert, at times feeling certain and at others a bit awkward.

Let’s step to the side for a moment. I think a basic wedding can provide many lessons and perspectives on things for people. There are extremes and special circumstances in every detail and decision. Some couples chose smaller ceremonies and celebrations, and many elope. Each wedding we might consider offers unique challenges, such as finances, locations and more. When mapping out their plans I know of several friends that faced concerns associated with the health of specific family members. These are quite obviously just a few thoughts. And yet… they show the more general concept I had during the initial moments of formation for this essay…

Just as every wedding is unique, so are all of them challenging. Absolutely zero are perfect. None go exactly as planned. And, I admit, I recognize my thoughts may not hold up to specific events and situations. I’m going to make an attempt at using some sweeping generalities in proving universal truths. You need to understand that and accept it as we wade forward. For instance…

Let’s see if we can agree on something. I’m going to call a standard wedding one that involved a ceremony and a reception. Does that seem fair? Not putting a price tag on it… not placing requirements on settings… not asking about wedding parties or family histories. Just saying that if we were going to agree on anything as a middle-of-the-road, basic description, let’s create a concept where a very generic wedding day involves a wedding ceremony with a group reception following. Fair?


Here’s my thought: I believe that of couples married while enjoying a standard wedding celebration, having moved some five years or more from that celebration, 100% of them would tell you that if they had it to do over again there is no way they would send out invitations to exactly the same recipients.

Let’s pause here for a second. Because I want all of us to have an opportunity to mull that over a bit.

What I’m putting out there is that if you are part of a couple married in 2012 or before, and you had a ceremony and a reception, I believe that you wouldn’t invite the same people if you held that wedding today. In fact…

The only way… and I do mean the only way… a couple married in 2012 or earlier would have the same invite list is if they saved the original list, didn’t double-check it or glance at it or in any way review it, and used that list again here in 2017. In fact…

I believe it is far more likely that someone mailing out fifty or more Christmas cards annually sends out fifty-plus cards to the same fifty-plus people at the same fifty-plus addresses every year for five consecutive years or more than it is someone would once again invite the same fifty-plus people if they had their wedding to do over five years later.

I’m saying that if they could invite the same people, they wouldn’t. Even if you could unspin the world and set it up so they could invite the same people, they wouldn’t. 100% would make changes.

There is someone at work… someone living in the neighborhood… someone that was dating the main person you invited but is no longer dating that main person you invited… that for whatever reason, there are people that would no longer even be considered. They would no longer qualify as a courtesy to a professional colleague… as a nod to the person you borrow hedge trimmers from… as the unspecified “& Guest” of envelope addressing legend.

This is in some ways a dangerous path for me to walk, because I need you to understand that I was beyond thrilled by virtually everyone that went to significant effort to join us when Terry and I were married. I remain thankful and impressed twenty years later that they did join us. Without spending thousands of words qualifying anything, the vast majority of our guests were beyond important to us… they were incredibly special guests. I am not looking to cause stress by someone reading this and thinking: “Is he saying he wouldn’t invite me?” (Answer… no, I’m not. I feel very certain it would be obvious to those omitted now as to why they didn’t receive an invitation.)

Still… twenty years later, it hurts me to think about a few people we were unable to track down. I do occasionally think about some of the friends we’ve made in the years since that we would unquestionably include today. And I know that some of those that simply were there at that moment in our lives… they’ve didn’t hold special significance to us or our families for years before, and have faded away for a variety of reasons since… would never even be mentioned today, never mind kicked around or considered.

With that idea offered, let’s move back on the path…

I always chuckle when I hear people talk about their perceptions of appropriate or inappropriate actions and behaviors when it comes to invitations. It can range from someone being blindingly angry about an invitee that doesn’t respond to wondering if noting that gifts are not expected is proper etiquette.

One part of the chuckle is based on a simple idea… stuffy, outdated, and most import, just not relevant. There is a certain level of formality that I suppose works as a way of defining it, but it really can be based on those most basic of concepts that include being nice and treating people the way you would like to be treated. Formal or informal, written in ink or crayon, delivered by mail or text… the truth is easy… lobster and peanut butter, both can be awesome.

Another part of the chuckle is that I so often find intent pushed to the side when it comes to determining acceptable behaviors. The majority of the exploration goes not to the action, but the reaction. Earlier I spent some time trying to find common ground so that we—writer and reader—could build off the idea of a standard wedding. The reality though is that there is no such thing as standard, in virtually any situation. There is no standard for what should be done at a first birthday party… no standard method for ringing in the New Year… no standard menu for a holiday table.

There’s a concept about stories that I like… essentially being that there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth. A simplified reading being that we are all clouded by our personal biases, opinions, and beliefs. We see things differently. And such clouds warp perceptions, to a degree that extremely rarely are all of the details in any story as easy as one side being absolutely right or wrong.

And that brings us to the biggest part of the chuckle, and perhaps even the destination of this essay. Passions. Emotions. Investments. People do indeed get so offensive and defensive and strong-willed about the way things should be handled. In reality, I’m not so certain that any of the process of how things are done is as important as whether or not they are done. Some elements do indeed matter. But for the most part, when handled responsibly and with respect, I don’t know if such a thing as proper manners is valid for judgement.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com