Have you ever made a list of all the most important people in your life? People from your family, your hometown, your crazy college years, your confusing post-college years, recent friends that feel like old friends and your partner’s VIPs. Your wedding is where all these different groups of people come together and it’s something all my married friends have talked about. They all say there was a moment at their wedding when they looked around and marveled that these special people from different corners of their life had come together in a single place.

My cousin (and master list maker) got married last fall, and sent me the series of spreadsheets she used to track addresses, RSVPs, gifts, etc etc. As I filled in the fields–first name, last name, salutation–I got a new perspective on the group of people we’re inviting to this shindig. The spreadsheet gathered all these different people from my timeline and my partner’s life into a single place and it was cool see different themes emerge.

Six of our guests are Dr.s and half of them are women. Our friends are more international than I realized; England, France, the Netherlands, Austria and Canada will all be represented.

One of the fields on the spreadsheet is called “invitation addressed to” and my cousin explained that could be a more formal salutation. Something like “Mr. and Mrs. [Husband’s first name] [last name].” Fine. Ok. I filled out that field for some of the older family members.

But when I got to a married couple of my friends, it felt regressive to group them both under the husband’s name. So I flipped it and wrote: Mrs. and Mr. [wife’s first name] [last name]. It looked kind of funny, but in a good way, so I left it.

Then came the straight married friends who don’t share a last name, the straight couples who aren’t married, and the couples who aren’t married and have kids with different last names. In one household, there are five people and four different last names. We’re going to need bigger envelopes.

The “what is the gender” flow chart totally broke down when it came to picking prefixes for some of our unmarried lady friends who are just not “miss” types … or even “ms.” types. “Mr.” means only that you are a dude. The prefixes available for women seem more like value judgments than gender designations. And none of the usual prefixes seem right for people who don’t fall cleanly on either end of the gender spectrum.

Entering the institution of marriage means joining a tradition and that realization was a bit of a surprise for me and my partner, because before we were engaged, getting married seemed more private–a decision the two of us would make because of how we felt about each other. Now we feel like we’re entering a continuum, and that’s actually been a nice feeling for the both of us. There are some wedding traditions that we embrace and then there are some that feel like putting a square peg in a round hole.

In the end, I abandoned the idea of using “traditional” formal salutations and just filled my spreadsheet with what felt right for each individual.

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