Your wedding day is supposed to be your big day, and yet a lot of engaged couples find that instead of creating an event that will be important to them, they're dodging through a minefield of modern etiquette traps. It's hard to know how to handle a life event with so many expectations, so as a therapist, rather than an etiquette expert, let me present you with some of the most common reasons that your wedding will offend those around you, and what to do about it.
The offense: not inviting so-and-so
It's almost guaranteed that you will offend SOMEONE by not inviting them. Thanks to Facebook, you have more access to people you kinda knew in high school, and that means they have more access to you, and to your daily updates about wedding planning, your shower pictures, etc. Someone, at some point, will make a passive-aggressive comment about wishing they could be there.
How to handle: This is a terribly unclassy complaint to make to any about-to-be-wed couple. First, please be aware that you owe no one an explanation of why they're not invited to your wedding. None at all. If it is brought up to you, smile and act as if you didn't hear them, and if asked directly, I'd go with an innocent "It's hard to catch all the details, but I am focusing on it being a special date for me." Pals you haven't seen since high school, distant (sometimes racist) relatives, your Mom's work friends -- any of them could feel miffed that they're not included. Don't allow them to guilt you and instead focus on the people you want to be surrounded by on your wedding day.
The offense: Alcohol
Some people think that alcohol is evil and don't want it at a reception. Some people think it's evil to go through a wedding reception without booze. Some people are marrying on a budget and cannot afford to get you and your friends drunk. No matter how you handle alcohol at your wedding, you will most likely be upsetting someone.
How to handle: Sit down with your fiancee and decide for yourselves whether or not you want booze, and whether or not you can afford booze. That's first. After those decisions are made, it's time to take family values into account. My own family is indifferent about alcohol, but my husband was raised Muslim -- we decided together that deeply offending one half of our family was not worth giving our friends a fun party, and nixed the booze.
Which brings up a good point. Even though it is your day, I use a word equation in slippery emotional minefields like this: Is the privilege of _______ worth the amount of pain that it will cause _______?
For situations like "inviting gay friends when there are homophobes in the family", I am willing to risk offense to have people I care about around me, but for booze, I'd rather not hurt my family for the sake of my friend Jack Daniels. That was a decision I was willing to make.
Another note: If one or both sets of your parents are paying for the reception, they absolutely have a say in whether or not there will be booze.
The offense: How religion is handled
This is the touchiest subject at all. You're dealing with the religious beliefs of two different families as well as the religious beliefs (or lack thereof) of the couple getting married. A lot of couples will find that their usually unreligous parents will insist upon a church wedding, or that loving grandparents turn into angry monsters when their beliefs aren't reflected in the ceremony.
How to handle: If you're having a wedding that your parents are involved in, the most diplomatic thing to do is to poll your parents about what they'd like your wedding to look like, religion-wise. Take a lot of notes and let them know that you are looking to craft a ceremony that takes everyone's feelings into account, and that (and this is important) you appreciate their flexibility. Then you and your soon-to-be spouse need to sit down and decide which of your parents' ideas feel okay with you. This could turn into a hybrid ceremony (the Indian/Jewish ceremony I attended was perhaps my favorite), two separate ceremonies (as my husband and I did), or an areligious ceremony.
The offense: Destination weddings
You've decided to get married in Aruba/your husband's hometown/a random metropolis, you send out the invites, and you're hit with people complaining that they want to come to your wedding, but they just can't afford to do so.
How to handle: "Oh, we'll miss you, but I understand!" That's it.
I am fairly convinced that people plan destination weddings because they would actually like to elope but want to have given you the option to attend. My goodness, wedding guests, why do you think it's okay for you to heap your money/schedule complaints on a couple trying to plan a life together? They're not getting married for you to have something to do on a weekend. Get married wherever you like, make accommodations for the people you love so they can attend, and forget about the people who can't.
The offense: Registries
This can run the gamut from registering for household items (someone once said to me "Seriously, a mop bucket?" about a friend's registry), registering at stores too expensive for some guests, or setting up unconventional registries. Unconventional registries can include those sites where you make donations for honeymoons or a house, or just asking for money, straight up.
How to handle: If someone approaches you to complain about your registry, offer up your sweetest smile and say "Registries are just suggestions -- we'd love anything you feel would be appropriate to give newlyweds." Arguing does no good, justifying registering for cash does no good, and insisting that people buy you something specific does no good. All the person actually wants to do in this case, and in almost all of these cases, is register their disapproval with you. Hear it and then move on.
Weddings are one of our oldest and most consistent rituals as a culture, and because of that, people have pretty steadfast expectations of what should and shouldn't happen. When they put those expectations on you, and get offended when you, for example, hand them an invite rather than mail it to them, please try to forgive them. Always remind yourself that this is you and your fiancee's day, and no one else's. You can't control how anyone will react to you, you can only control your own actions. People's reactions are their own business.
You will NEVER be able to please everyone in your life, so relax into that knowledge, keep yourself content with your plans, and the rest will fall away. No one looks back on their 10th anniversary and remembers how Aunt Josie was irritated at the offensive rock music.