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 63.

    Invite who you like - i accepted at my wedding that i might upset a few people but 'Adams' best friend isnt much of a friend if thats enough to end a friendship. Just be open an honest... we were told by a B&G they werent having a reception but it turned out they were we just wenrt invited,did they think we wouldnt find out? i dont care we werent invited but why lie!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Even if I am invited to a "royal standard" wedding without my wife, I will not attend, its just not right (debatable) but there is nothing "grown up" about it as its just my personal choice.
    I'd risk my relation/friendship for pleasure of my wife any day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Iv been to a couple of weddings where my (then) fiance was invited to the meal and i was only invited to the evening do but i understand budgets are tight, meals are expensive and space is limited.
    Every extra person we invited to our meal was an extra £50, a few plus-1s could add up very quickly. We invited people to our evening though as numbers are less restricted and costs less per head.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I have this same problem for our guest list - we have not invited plus ones or given short term relationships a plus one. I have made an effort to get to know my OH's mates girlfriends and frankly - i don't like them - so they aren't invited either! My evening is now a big party, anyone can come (providing i know them - if OH does and i don't and vice versa no invite)

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    For my wedding, my eldest sister made the dress and the bouquet, my other sister made the cake, I printed all the invites and bi-lingual service orders, the wedding car was my mate's Mondeo, my uncle took the photos and the reception was a Jacob's Join. Total cost for a dream wedding ~£1500.

    And I still didn't invite any +1s.

    My wedding, my rules. Don't like it? Don't come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    It should be considered who people know. At my wedding we invited peoples partners if they were engaged or married and invited them by name. we didnt invite plus 1s generally except 1 or 2 people who wouldnt know anyone else, most people have other family or friends so its not like they are on their own but if people only know one otehr couple for example its a bit lonely for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    We're currently organising our silver wedding party and have had to draw the line at children - even if they are adult children, because of the plus one issue. If we invited family 'children' plus ones, and our friends children and their 'plus one' it would actually radically alter the dimensions of the party, not just in numbers but in age range as well, and thus probably the dynamics completely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Having been a +1 at a wedding where I knew nobody (invited as they were my partners best friends which I'd never met as they lived in another country - I went at my partners insistence) I can say I would rather not have been invited as I felt like an intruder throughout the day.

    Congratulating the bride & groom and meeting them at the same time is not the best way to introduce yourself!

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    My experience is that far too many people want to make the day about themselves. Lets understand one thing. Its the Brides day. I know its the Grooms as well, but us blokes haven't dreamed and planned this day for years. If they want to do something like not invite partners, people they don't know or the biggy children, then its up to them. Its not the way everyone does things but its their day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I was not invited to my stepsons' wedding. His mother stated that if I was invited, she would not go. Although the son tried to find an amicable solution, his fiancée was offered money by her future mother-in-law and decided not to invite me. My husband went alone and the daughter-in-law has not spoken to me since. It was a horrible situation and one that continues to have repercussions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Weddings can be incredibly dull affairs for me and I now decline invites of anyone that I don't consider to be a close friend. For old friends that I rarely see, I prefer to help with their costs rather than go along and pretend I'm enjoying it. It's their big day, not mine and I am not going to be two-faced. I also take offence to being invited to the after party and given the gift list!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I've been a +1 at quite a few weddings and many times haven't even known the bride and groom. I can't help but feel a bit awkward saying "lovely to meet you...congratulations!"...and then sitting down to an expensive 4/5 course meal that they just bought for me. The film "Wedding Crashers" always springs to mind!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    If I were invited to a wedding but my other half were not, then I would not attend. This is not because of an inability to socialise without him, but because I feel it is wrong to invite just one half of a couple.

    A blanket 'plus one' seems a little unnecessary. Why not take the time to find out if a guest has a partner (seems odd that you wouldn't know though..) and invite them if so?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Or you can do what we did- we didn't invite anyone- this way we upset everyone but most people got over it and we had a fabulous day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    So "traditionally, if you were not known by the bride's mother, you did not get an invitation. " That would make life interesting for me and my fiancé, because we are both men. The joys of modern etiquette :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I like the start of this article.

    'Two simple words, one almighty headache.'

    Anyone else think this should have been published at the start of the month?

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I am getting married this summer and can agree that it was difficult. We took the approach that we wanted as many people that are part of our lives there. So we decided that if they weren't part of our lives that we wouldn't invite them, if it meant upsetting some people then so be it. If my friends were willing to fall out over it then they can't be great friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I wish i could choose my own guestlist!
    We are getting married next year, and to save money considered having a smaller 'second reception' after the honeymoon for all those family members we see less than once a year but my parents have now said that will start a family feud! Oh well, £100 a head for 30 extra guests it is then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    It bears mentioning that wedding receptions don't have to be vastly expensive affairs charged by the head. There's no rule to say you can't have sandwiches and sausage rolls in the church hall (or equivalent) - it was good enough for most of our parents and grandparents, and won't break the bank even if you invite the world and his wife.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    At our wedding we only invited people we had met. Luckily none of our friends had awful partners. On the invites we gave the names of the two guests rather than saying plus one. Who would want their wedding to be full of strangers?
    It is a shame that we now have my sister's exboyfriend in many of our wedding photos though, especially as they had a bit of a nasty break up.


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