Where to Send It

Sending Wedding Invites to a Poly Group

by Ms. Alternative

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Dear Ms. Alternative:

Hi, I found your advice column through Google, and thought you might be able to answer my question.

I’m getting married this summer and I’m getting ready to address wedding invitations. One of the sets of people I’m inviting is a poly family and I cannot figure out how/who to send the invitations to.

Steve and Lynn are married with one minor and two adult children. Their long time partners are Laura (Steve’s girlfriend) and Eric (Lynn’s boyfriend). All four of them would warrant their own invitations, no one is getting dragged along just because they’re a SO.

I think that we should send one invitation to Steve, Lynn, and their still-at-home child, because they share an address and a name, and separate invitations to Laura, Eric, and the two adult children.

One of my friends who is poly (I’m monogamous and still trying to figure out the intricacies of some of these groupings) explained to me that because Steve is more strongly involved with Laura, and Lynn with Eric, I should send one invitation to Steve and Laura, another invitation to Lynn and Eric, and then separate invitations to all three kids. That doesn’t seem right to me because the one pair is married and cohabitating, and the other pairs are not.

Is there a “proper ” way to divvy up the invitations?

— Thanks!
Dear Lisa:

Thanks for writing in! And with a lovely question, too. Thank you for doing your best to accommodate other people’s sometimes lumpy families in your celebration.

First, let’s take care of that stray, still-at-home child. These days, children may be still at home with their parents — or back home — even well past the age of independence. If that’s the case, it’s good to send their own invitation, with room for “and guest ” should they have one. It may be nice to extend the same courtesy to an older teenager as well, but a child who is not old enough to drive themselves to the wedding may be added to the parent-or-guardian’s invite. Anyone who can be described as an “adult child ” probably rates their own invitation and an “and guest ” option where possible; this goes for the ones no longer living at home, as well.

Now, to those troublesome parents. Let me see if I’ve got this right: Steve and Lynn live together and are married, but Steve would consider his “primary” or most important partner to be Laura, and Lynn would claim Eric as hers?

That one is a bit tricky. It’s generally assumed that formal marriage or commitment ceremony, handfasting-for-life, and similar bonds of love have a certain precedence over just about any other relationship status. This is including marriages which, while legal, are kept only for the purposes of immigration, insurance, children, and so on, at least if it’s publicly stated as such — although it may be more helpful to their next INS meeting if you address the invite to them as a couple. And it’s not your job to know if a marriage is a sham. A marriage which has been publicly announced to be “in separation ” or impending divorce proceedings may be downgraded in favor of other relationships if you’re very sure of yourself.

But these days, who is? Outsiders can’t be expected to know whether someone’s relationships are True Love or temporary flings, without those handy public ceremonies and announcements of marriage and engagement and so on. Long-term couples may be dismayed to find the other half reduced to “and guest ”; a pair of platonic roommates can quickly become very tired of explaining that they’re just friends; Jane has been living with that guy for three years but the relationship is off and on and you don’t actually know his last name. Our society hasn’t yet developed new rituals to announce these helpful details to the world — and even email might not be fast enough to keep up with some people’s rapid relationship status changes.

Some polyamorous folks will refer to primary, secondary and even tertiary relationships, which ought to help outsiders figure things out, but doesn’t always. And many others find the idea of referring to anyone as a “secondary ” to be distasteful, and wisely so — but while Ms Alternative’s previous habit of referring to her “domestic partner and feral partner ” may have been witty, it wasn’t always sufficiently informative.

Last names are not much help these days; a divorced woman may keep her married name even if she is not speaking to her former husband, married folks keep their maiden names, a large polyamorous group may decide to all change their last name to Lovingmore, and two Smiths may share the same apartment without being biologically or romantically related in the least.

If a couple, or three or foursome, have had some sort of commitment ceremony, wedding, or other public declaration of their status, they may comfortably share an invitation. (If you are faced with the daunting task of inviting all seven of the Lovingmores and their two children, consider putting a lot of invitations, addressed to each one individually, in a big postal envelope addressed to “The Lovingmore Family ”. This saves on postage and gives that stack of invitations a cosy, family togetherness. (And eliminates the possibility of one Lovingmore’s invitation being delayed in the post, and feelings hurt.)

If a couple are demonstratably a public couple, and share an address and presumably a bed, they may share an invitation. This includes the lovely lesbian and her gay male housemate, who did indeed share a bed for many years, but a purely platonic one — but if either of them have a relationship going on, it’s nicer to let them have the ’and guest’ option as well.

If there is a chain of relationships — a W or some other sort of zig-zag, rather than a closed circle — things are a bit trickier than the everybody-loves-everybody Lovingmore family. Where and how do you separate people into twosomes? Can you break the chain at some point, say the point where it runs into total strangers? (Yes.)

I shall hereby decree that a wedding invitation is approximately the size of a mid-range car; no more than four adults can fit comfortably in one, but several smaller children at need. (If there are nine of the little darlings, wince and address it to “and children ”, which is also handy if you can’t remember how many or when the next one is due. Or don’t invite the kids. The children rarely mind all that much.)

You are not privy to the intimate details of your friends’ relationships (or you may be, but without that formal announcement, you’re supposed to pretend you aren’t). The same applies to your well-meaning polyamorous friend. It would be acceptable, if doubt remains, to ask your guests how they should be addressed — and it is possible your poly friend has done just that, but we don’t know that from your letter. You can’t be expected to know which limbs of the polyamorous starfish-amoeba are on friendly terms and which are on extremely friendly terms, and it’s really none of your business who sleeps with who (no matter how many people seem to think otherwise).

Invite the married couple as a set, and send separate invitations to the other two “arms ” of the relationship at their own abodes. If there isn’t a shared address or name, you have no legitimate or polite way to determine who’s important to whom. I’m assuming they don’t all live in the same house, and I may be wrong! If so, consider the big-envelope technique, and individual invitations for all.

Now, you did say that all of the invitees in your case “would warrant their own invitations ” and that “no one is getting dragged along just because they’re a SO ”. I’m delighted that none of your invitations are being sent out of a sense of obligation. But, for the benefit of any other readers that might be planning weddings, here are a few other points of general advice:

Have a lovely wedding, and many happy returns!

— Ms. Alternative

Ms. Alternative Manners is a biker-jacket freak lady who has dedicated herself to the advocacy of good manners. She teaches that politeness is to human interaction as lube is to sex. It may not be strictly necessary, but it makes things a great deal less painful, more comfortable, and more fun, especially for large groups, first meetings, unusual situations, and special occasions. You can send her questions for this column at adviceREMOVE (at-sign) freaknation (dot) com.