Photographed by Steven Meisel, Vogue, February 2003
Oh the joys—and challenges—of drafting a guest list for your big day. Whether you’re a bride-to-be or a guest, navigating the whole plus-one situation can be seriously daunting. As a couple, you might be having difficult conversations about who gets to bring someone and who doesn’t. As a guest, you might want to bring a new flame. But not so fast: Gone are the days when it was traditional to allow every guest to automatically bring arm candy.
As a rule of thumb, Amber Harrison, wedding expert with Wedding Paper Divas, says only married, engaged, and “serious” couples (say, they’re living together or have been together for a year or more) receive a plus-one. But this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. “I advise, and I see more and more, that [couples] take a good look at their list and say ‘If we only have one or two single friends who don’t get a plus-one, will they enjoy themselves? Will they feel uncomfortable? How can we make them have a great time? Even if they’re not necessarily in a long-term relationship, maybe they can bring someone,’ ” suggests Harrison.
For couples and for guests, here’s what you need to remember when plus-ones come into play:
Rules for the couple:
1. Use the right language on the invitation.
How do you notify your guest about whether or not they have to fly solo? It starts on the envelope. Very traditional wedding invitations have an outer and inner envelope. The outer layer addresses the recipient (the guest or couple you know personally) and the inner paper then lists all the names of those who are invited, like children or plus-ones. “That envelope says a lot. If it’s your name alone, they are not offering a plus-one. If it is for you and a guest, it will say so,” Harrison says.
This is not always the case, particularly with more modern invitations. If you’re only including one envelope or sending an online invitation, be sure to address all invitees clearly and up-front. If the couple is in a relationship, list both guests by their full names. If you’re allowing a guest to bring a casual date, write your friend’s name and then “and guest.”
2. For the wedding party, rules don’t apply.
The rules about cohabitation, dating, and marriage go out the window for your wedding party. Not only does a happy wedding party make a happy couple, but allowing a bridesmaid to bring her new boyfriend, for example, is a small token of appreciation you can offer in exchange for her efforts and support, suggests Harrison.
3. Stand your ground.
Guests who do not receive a plus-one may reach out about bringing a guest. Harrison says it’s okay to reply with something kind, along the lines of: “We would love for you to bring a guest, but this is a very intimate affair.” It might feel rude and hard to say, but just remember: You had that conversation with your partner and family ahead of time. By sticking to your guns, you become one step closer to the wedding that you want—not one that guests have dictated.
4. Make it easy for singles.
Draft a seating plan that fosters a comfortable dynamic for solo guests. For singles, there are fewer things more awkward than being sandwiched between an old married couple or a PDA-heavy pair. But creating a “singles-only” table could give off the impression you’re corralling your single pals. Instead, place them between outgoing and friendly couples who they’ll likely get along with. That’s sure to create a more communal feel to the event, and it’ll help them meet people organically.
Rules for the Guest:
1. Choose the right plus-one.
Even if a plus-one has been named or offered on your invitation, be sure you actually want them to attend before you RSVP. Just because you’re given a plus-one doesn’t mean you have to use it. If your relationship is on the outs or you would actually rather go solo, just inform the couple when you reply. And if the invitation says “and guest,” be sure to list your guest’s name (if you are bringing one) in your reply.
2. Do not ask to bring a plus-one.
If you receive an invitation and your name is the only one in sight, it is not okay to ask the couple if you can add a plus-one. The couple has most likely already had a major discussion about whether they are able to offer you a guest. If they aren’t, it’s probably for a good reason, Harrison says. Only in very unique situations—you are recently engaged and your fiancé isn’t on the guest list, for example—should you reach out and ask them to reconsider.
3. Do not swap in a new guest last-minute.
If your plus-one backs out just before the big day or you break up with your significant other before the wedding, that’s not an open invitation to invite someone new at the last minute, particularly if the original guest was named on the invitation. As the wedding date draws near, the couple has most likely finalized place cards and carefully thought out the seating arrangement, so a surprise guest (even if the couple has the headcount to accommodate) can be met with frustration.
4. Bring an appropriate gift.
Your gift should reflect the fact that the couple was generous enough to offer you a plus-one. Return the generosity in a way that feels right to you. Old wisdom states the gift should equal the value of your attendance, but Harrison says most people no longer follow that rule. And if you’re bringing a guest who doesn’t know the couple, don’t ask them to contribute to the gift.