The plus-one wedding invitation dilemma

Woman and a man

Some royal wedding guests are reportedly not being allowed to bring their partners, ruffling a few feathers. But why is the plus-one issue always so tricky?

Two simple words, one almighty headache.

"Plus one" is never added to a wedding invitation, or left off, as an afterthought. For the bride and groom it will probably have involved hours of thought, several more hours of heated debate and a couple of blazing rows.

For a guest it can be an equally big headache, as some of those invited to the royal wedding are finding out. Newspapers have reported that hundreds did not receive a plus one from Prince William and Kate Middleton and it has left their partners fuming.

But for any bride and groom, regardless of a royal title, the dilemmas involved seem endless. Do you invite a friend's partner if they are married but you don't really know them? What if they've been together for years but you don't like the other half? What if your friend gets through partners at a rate of knots? Will they come if they can't bring someone?

I lost a friend over plus one

Figures on wedding cake

We had a small wedding, with 70 invited guests.

We did not invite the girlfriend of my best friend from university because we didn't know her.

In the end my best friend did not turn up to the wedding either and the friendship never survived.

I really regret this now, but it was the expense of it all that caused us not to invite partners.

Adam, not his real name, 32, from Yorkshire

The authority on etiquette, Debrett's, says traditionally, if you were not known by the bride's mother, you did not get an invitation.

Now, while there is no generally accepted rule, if the guest is married or in an established, long-term relationship, his or her other half should be invited. But family should always come before friends.

It can be big decision as some people take it very personally. Adam, 32, who does not want to use his real name, lost a friend over a lack of plus one. He and his partner did not invite his best mate's girlfriend.

"In the end my best friend did not turn up to the wedding either and the friendship never survived," he says.

Plus one is a relatively modern dilemma, says Liz Brewer, etiquette expert on ITV's Ladette to Lady. It's only over the last century that weddings have grown into such big affairs and it has become customary for guests to bring someone with them. Before they were smaller and more personal, so plus ones were not really necessary.

She says if you do get a plus one you can take anyone, not only a partner, but - and it's a very big but - the guest has to be appropriate for the occasion.

"Not someone who drinks too much or is a party bore. Not an ex of the bride or groom and preferably not someone who is not on the guest list for a reason.

Extra money

"Sometimes a thick-skinned wannabe will go to extraordinary lengths to get invited, especially if they know the hosts have for their own personal reasons decided against extending an invitation. I always check exactly who is being brought as the plus one."

Prince William and Kate Middleton Not all royal wedding invitations included a plus one

For the bride and groom it often comes down to cost and shelling out extra money for someone they might not know very well, if at all. With money tight for many people at the moment, happy couples are having to get tough.

"Weddings are expensive and a plus one can add up to more than £100, which is money most couples would rather put towards something else," says Belinda Hanks, of wedding company Confetti.

"The general consensus is really if they are long-term partners, married or engaged then they are in. Having said this, the consensus for most people is that if it's a plus one for a guest who would otherwise be alone, they will oblige, even if they don't know their partner."

'Slightly childish'

But others are very clear that it's not their job to accommodate other people's personal situations.

"I hate plus ones," says Lucy Mangan, author of The Reluctant Bride. "Friends are friends, they often marry nice people but if you're honest they never really become your friend too. Inviting them just doubles the guest list and often the plus one doesn't even really want to be there.

Plus one etiquette

Wedding invitation
  • Plus one means anyone, not just a partner
  • If it states just your name, then you are expected alone
  • The guest you take has to be appropriate for the wedding
  • 'Yes I/we can attend' included on an enclosed RSVP card also means plus one
  • You can politely ask to bring a partner but always say 'I understand' if not possible

Etiquette expert Liz Brewer

"People should be grown up enough to say 'I am the friend and I am more than an indissoluble body from my partner'. It's slightly childish and self indulgent if they can't. As for inviting someone you don't know so they can keep someone company, stuff that."

So is there any negotiation on the subject? Not if it's the royal wedding, even if it doesn't mess with the already tight numbers. One royal wedding guest reportedly asked if he could give his invitation to his wife instead. Apparently, they are non-transferable.

But when it comes to the average wedding, is there anything you can do if you want to take a partner? It's debatable. But Brewer says you can politely ask.

"If there is no plus one but you want to bring someone, you politely telephone asking if you can bring a guest.

"Say 'I have a partner now so would it be possible...' or 'I am engaged now so...' Always say you understand if it is not possible."

But David Miller, director at etiquette guide Debrett's, says asking is always a no no.

"Never ask. It is the height of rudeness."

But if you are just horrified at the thought of going to a wedding alone, it's time to grow up, says Mangan.

"We're all old enough to go to a party and mix with people, if you can't it's rather pathetic."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Presumably, Ben (#32) is not married and unlikely ever to be so. It is a complete mystery as to how or why he ever gets an invite if he has such a low opinion of his hosts. He must be the guest from hell!
    As for the +1 and speaking as one who has grappled with this issue over the last few weeks, much depends on the numbers. If a friend stays away out of pique, he/she can't be much of a friend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I think there is absolutely no right or wrong to this. It is the couple's big day and they have the right to invite precisely who they want, especially if they are paying for the event themselves. If that means inviting a guy the groom met on a golfing trip in Wales 10 years ago and hasn't seen since, then fine. If that means not inviting a close member of the family then that's also fine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    If you are invited to the main wedding you should go or politely decline if you hate weddings that much or can't go alone, and if you're not invited perhaps you've aired your dislike once too often? Any friends with an unknown +1 in my book should get an evening invite only, they are obviously not known well enough for the main do and family and immediate friends should always come first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    When I got married there were very few 'plus ones' as generally if we knew both sides of a couple to invite both - the invite when to both named named people - ie John & Sarah. If we didn;t know the name of someone's partner it rather made the decision easy that that person is only invited on their own.

    The bigger dilema is how to invite adults but not children under a certian age to the church

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Invite everyone, family, friends and plus ones but once once you have found a quiet wedding venue far away on a remote island or similar for your midweek wedding!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    A wedding is the union of two people..

    Therefore as in general to invite one half of a recognised union or long-accepted partnership (say husband but not spouse) is just crass and I believe could be taken as an significant insult to that couple.

    Friends or non-cohabiting 'partners' would be a different question and subject to plus one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    With most venues charging over the odds (eg: £11 per head for 1 glass of toasting sparkling wine) our wedding costs hit £8k before we had even thought about flowers, photos, registrar, clothing - the minimum £8k was food/drink/venue... if you want a +1, then you have to pay for their food and drink - this would also go to long lost family who suddenly crawl out of the woodwork.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    It's a recent thing that couples have all the say at weddings and cut out lots of people. 33 years ago, Our parents paid for our wedding, we let them make most of the decisions-we wouldn't have been able to afford a reception at all. All the extended family was invited-people downgraded the meal or venue rather than the numbers. I miss children sliding up and down the dance floor!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    If your partner does not know the couple then it would churlish to ask if they could go. At my own wedding it was mainly family with a few friends who at the time may or may not have partners. those with partners we knew were invited (which incidentally was everyone) those without came alone.My wife and I and have now been married 40 years

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I went to a wedding last year of a good friend and was sat at the meal next to a plus one who had never met the bride and groom before that day! Yet due to costs other friends who didn't know the bride as well as me were only invited to the evening do. My husband and I got married abroad to avoid all the arguments of who and who not to invite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    We are getting married soon but space and budget are strictly limited. No-one is getting a +1 as we don't want people we barely know taking the spaces of people we know well.

    Take the time to explain the situation to those affected before the invites are sent, you will almost always find guests to be fine with it.

    If you want to and can, invite +1s, but don't feel you have to, it's your wedding!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Weddings are a completely boring affair and I dread being invited to them. The happy couple seem to think you are lucky to be invited, if I wasn't allowed a guest who I could make sarcy comments to through the endless array of tedious speeches (the speakers all think they're being hilarious of course) then I'd politely decline the invite. Yes you can mingle with strangers, but that's boring too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Whether you like it or not the day is not just about you. The last thing you want is old friends sitting around miserable - or worse still getting inappropriately drunk out of boredom - because you don't know the person they're currently dating. So if you're inviting a friend that has a partner you don't know, but your friend doesn't know anyone else that well, I reckon add a plus one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    At my own wedding a couple of years ago my partner and I agreed a simple rule regarding plus-ones: if we knew them then they got an invite, if not we politely explained that we wanted the day to be spent in the company of family and close friends only. A few people were disappointed but accpeted our position, and in fact two of those we did not invite to our wedding have now become good friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The choice of inviting the '+1' or babies is down to the bride and groom, as it is their special day after all. However in return they should be very accepting of the right for guests to decline the invitation if the '+1' or baby is not invited.

    Either way both parties need to be accomodating to the needs of the other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    As someone who has recently got married, the Plus One debate is a nightmare.

    As myself and my husband both have large families, it was not possible to invite the partners of some of my friends. Those friends therefore then chose not to come to my wedding, which really upset me.

    For me, it was not about the choice not to invite Plus Ones, but simply the venue could not fit any more people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I think courtesy demands that if you know someone has a partner, you should invite them both; if you don't, there's no need to add 'plus one' -why should you have to have someone randomly chosen at your wedding? As a fiancee or wife, in the past, I would have been hurt and insulted to be invited on my own; but as a single person now I wouldn't expect to bring a guest and certainly wouldn't ask to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    As mentioned in the article - the cost of additional people at wedding can add up to £100 in extra costs. I was invited to a wedding last year but had to go on my own as i wasn't allowed a plus one - people will be a lot stricter on the amount of people they invite which may limit plus ones or additional guests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I reckon you should always put a +1... unless you're i) broke, ii) the +1 is a known and highly destructive quantity or iii) you're famous!

    Trying to control everything so much just leads to tears when one small thing goes other than to plan. Weddings should be celebrations of life, and the couple.. not exercises in control and paranoia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I'm getting married in 2.5 weeks time.
    We originally wanted to keep the guests down to 40 but sorting through family is a nightmare and the guest list jumped to 65.

    As a couple wanting to save money for other things it was a nightmare with all the plus ones.

    It's our wedding we can have who we want. Why should we have to invite your SO when we have never met? We invited the important person! You


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