Every wedding guest has been there: You painstakingly pick out a gift you think the couple will love, scour their registry for the perfect item or write a generous check. Then, you wait weeks, maybe months, for an acknowledgment (Was it lost in the mail? Should you ask?) until a small card finally arrives. Perhaps it's the equivalent of a form letter ("Thanks for coming to the wedding! Love, Kara and Keith"), maybe it's a photo with no accompanying prose, or, worse, a preprinted postcard. Or, worst of all, perhaps nothing ever comes.
Should you take offense? Of course!
In the age of e-mail, tweets and texts, the handwritten note seems to have gone the way of the telegram, but etiquette experts say that's not OK. "Couples need to reinvest in this," says Anna Post, author and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute (her most recent wedding tome is, "Do I Have to Wear White? Emily Post Answers America's Top Wedding Questions"). A promptly sent card lets the giver know the gift was received, which helps guests avoid an awkward follow-up phone call - and shows them your sense of manners is as impeccable as your sense of style.
"This is a huge day, and people have gone through trouble and expense to be with you," Post says. "Wedding gifts cost more than we might normally spend on someone, and that deserves acknowledgment, not just for the cost but for their participation in such a big event."
Why do some couples think that thank-yous are now as optional as black tie? "Weddings are a little more stressful and involved than they used to be," Post notes. "There's a huge amount of preparation and travel in a way that generations before us never saw, so it's easy to fall behind. We tend not to write as many handwritten notes [in general] anymore, so it feels like more of a burden or we're not sure if we'll get it right, even though it's something we're supposed to do."
Marilyn Werner, author of "The Bride's Thank-You Note Handbook," also has seen these newlyweds get buried by their to-do lists. "They're getting so caught up in daily activities, it's not a matter of them not knowing that it's the right thing to do, it's a matter of them thinking, 'I'll get to it tomorrow,' " she says.
But there are certain traditions that are part of the etiquette of getting married, and just as a snail-mailed invitation is de rigueur, so is an actual, and personal, thank-you note - not a virtual or verbal one, though those are perfectly acceptable add-ons. "When someone has put in the effort to give you a gift or do something for your wedding," Werner says, "I don't think a verbal thanks or e-mail is appropriate." Also forbidden: pre-printed cards, e-mail blasts, mass texts and Facebook shout-outs.
Even if you're too stressed-out to think so, writing a thank-you Miss Manners would approve of is easier than you may imagine. Follow these simple steps to penning the perfect note - fountain pen optional.
Stock up on stationery
Have fun choosing note cards that you'll be excited to use.
Order gorgeous stationery that coordinates with your invitations or wedding motif, or pick up an inexpensive design at the drugstore - it's the gesture, not the cost that counts. Anything that features your new monogram should be used only after you're married. And never, ever, send a pre-printed message. "That," Post says, "is beyond the pale."
The sooner the better, but aim to finish all of your thank-yous within 10 to 12 weeks of the wedding, Werner advises. Post recommends writing notes as soon as you receive each box. "It keeps it more genuine when it's right in the moment - you don't have to re-conjure that excitement of opening the gift." If you're planning to include a photo from the wedding, order them quickly; don't wait until all 500 of your album shots are picked. Thank-yous written after the three-month time frame should still be sent, but include a brief apology for the late delivery.
Write a log of who gave what and when you received each wedding present, along with the guest's name and address, Werner suggests. Accompanying cards often get lost, so a well-organized chart will keep your gifts in order. Keep a running list of when the thank-you note was sent as well.
Enlist the groom
Saying thanks shouldn't be solely the bride's responsibility. Typically, the groom will write the notes to his close friends and family, the bride to her side. Then, you can either sign for each other or pass the stack back and forth so you can each sign your own name. No matter who writes, reference your other half in the note ("Tom and I love the cappuccino maker").
Keep it simple
If the last time you wrote a formal thank-you was for a high-school graduation gift, don't fret: You don't have to be Jonathan Franzen to skillfully put pen to paper. "It doesn't have to be the perfect note; it just has to reflect your gratitude for the gift they gave you," Werner says. Three to five sentences should suffice. Just make sure it is handwritten, does not sound like it was computer-generated or taken straight from an advice website.
Always reference the gift you received, even if it's an item from the registry you knew was on the way. For a monetary gift, mention what you plan to use it for (a new sofa, a flat-screen TV). If you received something you truly can't abide, don't say it's beautiful. Focus, instead, on the good intentions behind that hideous vase. As Post says, "The little white lie is more trouble than it's worth."