I’m So Happy You Invited Me…Unless It’s a Secret Insult!

September 1, 2011 | By | Comments (26)

“I moved my retired parents into my home with me,” a reader named Jeffrey25 wrote recently. Now, however, his cousin has sent a wedding invitation — in an envelope addressed to his parents that demotes him to the status of tag-along guest: “Mrs. and Mrs. Smith and Family.” Should Jeffrey25 feel offended?

“Does this seem a little odd? Should I feel slighted?” Jeffrey25 asked. “Is this proper etiquette for an invitation?”

It sounds to me, Jeffrey25, as if you do feel slighted. Maybe you are looking at the situation like this: You are the head of the household. You kindly offered a home to your parents. And yet your cousin is treating you as if you’re a little kid who lives with Mom and Dad in their house. That’s certainly one way to interpret a single line of text on the front of an envelope. But not the only interpretation.

Take a deep breath, Jeffrey25. Realize that people can find something to be offended about in almost any social interaction, if they’re so inclined. And for some reason, wedding invitations tend to set us off. (I hear more questions on this topic than any other.) I have a theory that our wedding-invitation obsession dates to Victorian times, when America’s early, self-anointed “etiquette experts” started writing guides to tell the rest of us how to behave: which fork to use. When to curtsy. How to follow strict guidelines for addressing envelopes. In the 19th century, a lot of little rules added up to a big idea: early etiquette guides promoted conformity and formality.

Luckily, we now live in the 21st century. We prize individuality. Life is informal. We wear blue jeans. And we don’t need to feel bad about breaking outdated, hierarchical rules about whose name goes first on an envelope. (We’re probably not even going to be using envelopes for that many more decades.)

Instead of obsessing over whether your cousin is dissing you, Jeffrey25, here’s another way to interpret the address on the envelope: as a kindness. From your cousin’s perspective, your parents are “the grownups.” They’re the older generation to whom you both looked up when you were kids. Your cousin addressed the envelope in a way that continues to show them respect. If the envelope had said, “Jeffrey25 and Family,” demoting your aged parents to the role of tag-along guests, that could have been interpreted as a cruel reminder that they are no longer capable of taking care of themselves or living independently.

See how easy it is to read anything you want into an invitation? So let’s stop, OK? Instead, be happy you got invited to a joyous family occasion — and hope for a good band at the wedding.

How would you interpret the invitation that Jeffrey25 received in the mail? How would you have addressed it if you sent it?

(image via Realsimple.com)