Cover-your-plate requirement a myth by greedy brides

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 24, 2012

Greedy brides, needy guests: The native flora of June.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Dear Carolyn: Lucky me, about half a dozen of my good friends are getting married in the next three months. I would love to be able to express my happiness for them through a lavish gift, but I’m in my mid-20s and have a limited budget. I have prepared for these costs by setting some money aside throughout the past year, but I’m worried I haven’t saved enough.

Something that many of the brides-to-be and my friends have said is that in giving a gift, the guest should “cover the cost of their plate.” Is this true? I want to follow etiquette, but some of my friends can afford more expensive weddings than others.

My boyfriend and I are giving cash because it seems that most couples prefer this. But now I’m worried I don’t have enough to cover both our plates. I’m also not sure what goes into the cost of “the plate.” Should I include drinks? Cocktail hour hors d’oeuvres? The entertainment?


And then there is the bridal shower; do I need to cover my costs there too? I also can’t help but feel a little insulted that the money I have scrimped and saved isn’t good enough. The total cost for gifts that I’ve saved so far is already more than a paycheck. Help! — Love and Marriage Are Breaking the Bank

Don’t forget the cake, the post-wedding brunch and the little tulle baggies of Jordan almonds. Gotta pitch in for those, or you’re not pulling your guestly weight.

I was going to edit your letter to end at, “Is this true?” — but then I realized that the “What about . . .” portion is a point-by-point exposure of how ridiculous — and grabby, and rude — the cover-your-plate requirement really is.

It’s also not a requirement at all but instead a corrupt little myth. You are under no obligation to reduce your love and support for your friends into a quid pro quo with the wedding couple and their caterer.

In fact, if you wrote the bride and groom a letter expressing your warm wishes for their marriage, or gave them a framed print of a favorite photograph of the two of them, or other such token of affection, that would be gift enough — whether or not you eat ramen. That you spent months carefully setting aside money to give to them strikes me as more than these plate-centric brides deserve. For their sakes and yours, I hope they appreciate you.

* * *

Dear Carolyn: My fiance and I would prefer to have a smaller, more intimate wedding, and we’re paying for it ourselves. We invited couples who are married, engaged, living together or have been together for some time. No one, except the wedding party, got an unspecified “and guest.”

I sent an invitation to “Donna Jones,” a friend of 10 years and one of my close-knit group of college girlfriends. She e-mailed me within a week, saying how excited she was for the wedding and that she “wanted to bring a plus-one if that’s okay,” because she figured everyone there would have dates (an inaccurate assumption) and she would feel “less abandoned” that way.

I thought her e-mail was pushy and manipulative. I e-mailed back right away saying how excited I was that she was coming — because I am — but also that, “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid we can only accommodate you for the wedding.”

Today, my fiance and I received Donna’s RSVP card in the mail, on which she had written “Donna Jones and guest.”

I’m having a really tough time taking this well. If we’d said, “Well, just one more person,” for each of the solo guests we invited, we would have added another dozen guests that neither my partner nor I have ever met.

And, honestly, I feel disrespected. Is it possible she doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say? Or does she get it but is trying to wear me down? In either case, what should I do? — Plus-One Pushback

Her write-in guest was pushy and manipulative, but you’re being tough on her for the initial ask. Just a tone-check.

Because: She’s enough of a friend to attend your “smaller, more intimate” wedding, so she’s enough of a friend for you to just call her. Ask her what gives.

She’s also not enough of a friend, apparently, for you to feel comfortable doing that without asking me first, and she’s not family, and her “and guest” ploy was particularly obnoxious — so it doesn’t sound as if you have a whole lot to lose by holding the line on guest-list creep.

If it’s so inconceivable that she comes solo to a wedding where her close college friends will (presumably) be among the guests, then she is free to choose not to come.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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