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 103.

    Weddings are a big affair in Italy. Not only do the bride and groom pay for the reception, but also for the accomodation. It is however customary for the guests to give gifts, usually in cash - if not stated otherwise by the couple, who might prefer gifts of furniture for a new home or money towards the honeymoon trip - for the equivalent of the meal and accomodation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    I'm bemused by the comments from people saying I couldn't afford to invite more people or the venue couldn't fit them. For us, we choose who we wanted to invite (everyone) and then chose a venue and a budget to suit. Hence everyone had a Chinese takeaway and we had it in a village hall! Friends were far more important than some overpriced venue or food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    More utter nonsense from Liz Brewer. The "I/we can attend..." on an RSVP card is simply done so you only have to print one card design. It's the name (or names or "name and guest" or whatever) on the invitation which determines how many people are invited. This could include children, for example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    We had a tiny overseas wedding and those family members that mattered made the effort to come - groom's parents couldn't be bothered - big relief there! Then had a huge yet fairly inexpensive party when we got back - to which we invited "the duty relatives and friends of the groom's parents" plus all our friends and their plus ones! Not a headache in sight - we even got dressed up in our finery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    It's only polite to invite someone to your wedding with a "plus 1". If that individual hosts an event after your wedding they will be obliged to invite you as a couple and not just select the person they were originally friends with. If cost is an issue for you now, it could be for them in the future too, but without a "choice".

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I have seen many wedding photos, several years after the event, where somebody was invited with their girl/boyfriend but the relationship was just temporary & has long been over. Who wants to look at their wedding photos and see the faces of strangers who they haven't seen since and will never see again? A wedding should be celebrated with those closest to the couple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Presumably, the couple wants to live a life together in society, not removed from it. The very idea of a Wedding is Social. Don't need one if you're planning to hole up in a cave! So spend less on the space, or the dress, or the bubbly; have simpler food (most of us eat too much, anyway); use a DJ instead of a live band, even accept money instead of gifts. But don't hurt the feelings of dear ones

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    An ageing traditionalist writes: it was more annoying 27 years ago to find that the number of friends we could invite was limited whilst distant relatives that I didn't even know by sight were being invited by my parents!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    My brother's in-laws asked to come to my wedding the day before as my neice was a bridesmaid, unbelievably rude. To add insult they didn't bother to dress up and are in the wedding photo's in jeans. Another friend didn't bother to come on the day after accepting the invite but facebooked a congratuations. No amusing when the cost per head is mamoth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    It would be ill-considered to hold a huge public celebration of your decision to try to make a lifelong commitment to each other while at the same time bringing grief into the lives of others over something as emotionally challenging as "I'm invited -- alone". This is not about that guest's "immaturity" -- it's about the hosts' Ungraciousness. For a wedding to be fun, the guests need to be happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Everyone knows many couples don't last. Most marriages today do not wind up containing 2 equally happy spouses. We do not install Mood-Metres at the door to public venues to screen out "good relationships" from "bad relationships" and only allow some to proceed. If you want to celebrate the Milestone of Getting Hitched, you need to recognise that others are also on a journey, in different stages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    I'd be more than happy not to be invited if I didn't know the couple. I was invited to my husband's university flatmate's wedding. I'd met the guy twice! In order to attend the wedding I had to fork out for a flight to Ireland, car hire and a hotel. On top of that they sent a John Lewis wedding list! I abhor these huge weddings and much prefer mine with only really close friends and family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    When my cousin invited me to her wedding but not my partner, I asked if she could come. My cousin explained that they were on a budget, that my partner was more than welcome to the evening do, but if I wanted her to come to the meal we would have to pay for it - which I thought was totally fair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    I have been to many weddings, as throwing a rather good one for a marriage that only lasted weeks -- and none at all for a marriage of 1/4 c. The only weddings that count are the ones which people remember for years as "one of the best times of my life." They are the ones with the Plus Ones, because no one is bored. If a friend is important enough for you to invite them, allow them to bring somone

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Some of my friends got married and didn't invite my girlfriend. I actually had no problem with that and she in fact didn't even want to go. What upset me was that as the wedding was in a rush, the invitations were sent out by email, and I received the same email as everyone else just with a "PS" on the bottom. If they had rung me, I wouldn't have been upset and would have gone to their wedding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    No one says a fancy wedding is a must-have. Be aware of your means. Elope, if you like. But if you are going to do a formal wedding, you cannot invite half-couples. Your guests are not there to provide an audience for your Theatre of Romance, nor necessarily to bring Gifts. They are there to celebrate, Bless & witness your new journey. You don't need ill will present, nor bad karma. Nor boredom!

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    We simply invited everyone to attend at their own cost, then arranged the wedding on the other side of the world in a private resort costing £1200 a night. i was amazed that we actully got any guests.

    On return we had a party in the garden inviting everyone. Everyone was happy and we got a month long honeymoon, wedding and party for the same cost as one day in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I would rather my guests were comfortable, and if that entails bringing a partner, not bringing a partner, bringing a friend etc then so be it. We sent out open invitations to our friends stating they could bring whoever they liked. And no we are not made of money, we preferred to have an informal occasion and have all our friends rather than pick and choose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    A wedding is a celebration of the relationship between two people. If your partner is not there to join in the celebration it can leave you feeling very alone and quite resentful that you are being made to revel in the bride and grooms relationship yet, to them your relationship doesn’t matter. It sounds like Lucy Mangan is happy for a chance to get away from her partner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Private weddings are where the issue matters. Tradition is not an argument anymore. Come on, we have gay weddings now! We have fifth weddings! The bride is no longer chattel and the couple may have lived together for years! Step aside, Debrett's: the modern wedding is not the wedding of 100 years ago. It is a celebration of Couplehood. If you're going to bother having one, be prepared for the cost


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