Welcome to Wedding Guest Wednesday, a feature in which Solo-ish explores the joys and woes of attending other people’s weddings. Because it’s not all about the happy couple — it’s a big day for guests as well.
Perhaps the only consensus about plus-ones at weddings is that there is no consensus.
Single guests often complain that they’re treated as less-than if they can’t bring a date, whether that’s someone they’re just dating or a platonic close friend a la Arnold and Dev in the second season of “Master of None.” On the other hand, hosts might counter that their invite lists are tight and they don’t want strangers at their wedding.
Before you rail about the injustice of being invited to a wedding without a plus-one, remember: It’s not about you. Just as it’s up to the guest what kind of gift they will give the happy couple, and how much they’ll spend, the invite list is up to the hosts.
And even if you’ve been invited with a guest, that doesn’t mean you need to bring one.
Here are some guidelines to help you, dear wedding guests, with whatever your plus-one dilemma may be:
You’re invited with a plus-one, and you’re not in a serious relationship. Ask the bride or groom whether there will be other people you know — single or coupled — in attendance. Then think long and hard about whether you want to bring a date, because you might have more fun without one. Insert your mother’s or best friend’s voice here, telling you that you never know who you might meet at the wedding. Matchmaking aside, you might have more fun with the people you already know — and the new friends you’ve yet to meet! — than with an almost-significant other.
The setting can also put undue pressure on a casual relationship. For example, one of the first weddings I attended as an adult, I was invited with a plus-one. I was seeing someone new, but I wondered if we’d last until the big day — and decided that attending a wedding together would have been too serious for where we were in our relationship. It’s a good thing I held back, because we did break up very close to the wedding date. I had a total blast without him.
You’re invited without a plus-one, and you’re in a serious relationship. If you won’t know many people at the wedding and genuinely would feel more comfortable with a date, you might be able to finagle a plus-one if there’s room. While etiquette expert Lizzie Post notes that you shouldn’t explicitly ask for a plus-one, the bride or groom might not know that your relationship has progressed to that level. “If you are in that zone of my boyfriend and I just moved in together, you might call up the bride or groom and say: ‘I totally understand if this isn’t possible and might even be mildly inappropriate. But I wanted to see if it was possible for James to get an invite. It’d be great if you could, but I understand if you can’t.’ ”
“You might have wanted a plus-1, but try to remember that this is about the couple,” Post adds. “We’ve all been to events on our own. We’ll live. You can always say no: ‘Sorry, can’t make it.’ ”
You’re invited with a plus-one, and you’re in a serious relationship. Before just assuming that you’ll attend as a unit, think long and hard about whether you want to bring a date. The invite might be automatic, but the answer need not be. For example, Anna Lane recently wrote for Solo-ish about how she’s married but prefers to attend weddings alone. “It’s a treat to have uninterrupted ‘me time,’ ” she writes. “There’s a distinct pleasure in having a hotel room all to one’s self. I also appreciate not having to cut my own enjoyment of weddings short because my husband is bored or doesn’t like dancing the horah.”
What Lane enjoys most about attending weddings without her husband are also what I love about attending weddings as a single person: namely, social independence. “I’m able to reminisce with old friends without feeling anxious that my spouse isn’t ‘in’ on our personal jokes, and I can’t tell you how many interesting people I’ve befriended because I wasn’t stuck interacting solely with my date,” Lane writes.
What if you’re invited with a significant other, RSVP’d with that person’s name and then break up before the big day? Post suggests checking in with the bride or groom before just substituting in your best girlfriend. “Let the host know that the person whose name you had replied with will not being going with you,” Post says, and then see if they have someone else they might want to squeeze in.
You’re invited without a plus-one, and you’re not in a serious relationship. Go, have fun, dance — and don’t whine about not having a date. “Single people are pretty good being the only single person in the room,” says Post, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast, who’s single herself. Though she acknowledges that being single at a wedding can be hard because the event is all about being paired off. “It can feel really overwhelming,” Post adds. “That’s all you and your perspective, [but] you’re now asked to participate in a larger moment.”
If Post is having a difficult time being single at a wedding, she explores those emotions in private. “When that’s happening to me, I kind of let that be my after-party moment of boohoo, not my pre-party moment of boohoo.”
Kinneret Lahad, a professor of women and gender studies at Tel Aviv University, notes that weddings can make single people invisible and hyper-visible at the same time. Invisible because they haven’t been through this ritual and might never do so. “Many single persons feel that their life and their achievements are not recognized. There’s something that’s not reciprocal in attending a wedding as a single person. [It’s a gesture] you might never get back,” Lahad says.
And singles are hyper-visible because “the social protocol is so strict,” she says, with slow-dancing in pairs and tables composed of even numbers of guests. “If you go as a single person to a bachelorette party or as a single person at Starbucks, no one knows if you’re single or not,” Lahad says. But at a wedding, “the kinds of stares and gazes can be very explicit and implicit.”
You might think of the wedding as the ultimate single person’s challenge. How many new people can you talk to? How many new friends or business contacts can you make? What sorts of stories do the other guests have about how they know the happy couple? I always like asking couples at weddings how they first met. You might resent the “matrimania” of the day — a term sociologist Bella DePaulo uses to describe “the over-the-top celebrating and hyping of marriage and coupling and weddings” — but recognize that it’s situational. It’s not a rebuke of how you live your life all year long.