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 123.

    Ben (#69)..."Craving the adulation of others".?.. I think you have missed the point. I just fail to see why anyone would attend a wedding, reluctantly, and then spend their time making 'sarcy' comments. If you hate them so much, don't go! I hope you turn up to your own tho'. Good luck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    always a tricky one... we had a couple of friends rsvp for ours a few years ago with partner's we didn't even know they had... one of my hubby's oldest friends got quite shirty when we explained no room for his girlf, esp as we didn't even know about her, and said he wouldn't come without her. we were more relaxed for the evening, but costs quickly add up, which not everyone appreciates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I got married in March. We had a very small ceremony (20 guests plus us) but invited more in the evening - 80 in total. We had already signed up to a minimum number of people (and therefore minumum cost) before the invites went out, so when some people couldn't attend, we asked others, who hadn't been "plus one'd" if they wanted to bring their partner as we now had room. It worked out fine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    My friend only invited me to his wedding and my girlfriend just to the party in the evening, his explanation was they were trying to keep the costs down; which I understood. It was a difficult situation and my girlfriend ended up not coming at all as it turns out there was some bad history between her and my friends now-wife. I'm still friends with him but we've not been as close we were before.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Personally, I'd think it rude not to invite a long-term partner or wife. Do you expect them to just leave them at home? It would be a good chance to get to know her/him; after all, they are a couple and are as good as family, if the intended guest is a relative. Also, I'd rather have a lot of happy couples, than bored singletons twiddling their thumbs, waiting to go home to their partner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    I guess weddings are expensive because of the expectations of the guests, really it is just a glorified party after a civil or church ceremony. At most parties people tend to chip in, they bring food and drink, why not do the same?
    Here in Asia it is much simpler, they just throw an open air party in the street and everyone joins in, only the upper classes ape western customs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    It is ridiculous that people expect to always bring a partner to a wedding, which are so expensive. I am single and I have been to lots of weddings alone and enjoyed myself. If the guest knows so few friends of the bride or groom that they need their partner I would question how close the friendship is. Modern couples maintain individual friendships and this should be reflected in the invite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    My fiance and I married last year and had a reception for over 50 guests including partners we had never met. Everyone replied they were coming but on the day we only had 32 show up. At a cost of over £40 per head for the meal, not including drinks we were considerably out of pocket. I'm not bothered about the plus one, but if you say you're coming at least have the decency to show up !

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Ive saved my money, done the maths, worked out the number of guests I can afford to invite. On constructing my guest list Ive made my obligatory invitations to family and realise I have 4 spaces left. Do I invite my 4 good friends from university, or do I have to choose 2 of them plus their mystery partners? Everybodys guest list is carefully constructed, you dont know the reasoning, so respect it

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    I've been dragged along to weddings as a plus one. It's fine if I know some of the other guests, but otherwise it's incredibly dull. Don't waste your money inviting someone who would rather not be there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    My wife (fiance at the time) was invited to a wedding where I was not, as it happened I was delighted because they are all complete dullards but my wife has not spoken to them since. This was not so much because I was not invited, more the fact that my wife had hosted her friends hen party at her parents delightful holiday home & I was still uninvited!

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    What is the reason for going to a wedding? To support and celebrate the B&G. No? It is _their_ big day, and it is only one day. Do people really expect the B&G to pay for strangers to eat, dance, and lurk in their wedding photos for years to come? How much of a friend is someone who takes offence because their values aren't being satisfied by bringing a plus 1?

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    My wife was invited to her friend's wedding but I wasn't.

    Which was great...... Sheffield Wednesday were at home on the same day so I went to the match with a perfectly clear conscience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I see how this is a problem as it ruffled feathers at my wedding last year. There were a couple of individuals who I did not want there because I simply didn't know them, but my other half insisted upon it (after many unpleasant fights).

    It's expensive (£140 extra per guest), and why have somebody you don't know at one of the most intimate moments of your life!?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I'm currently in this dilemma. I have a large family who I do not see very often, many of whom are just settling down with long term partners. I may not know them very well now, but surely a big, family wedding is the perfect opportunity to get to know my family's loved ones? If not, then will they always remain an outsider?

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    These days, since it's usually the bride and groom paying for everything, they should invite whoever they like. In ideal circumstances I would say the article has it right, if the guest is married or in an established, long-term relationship, his or her other half should be invited. But if money/space is extremely limited and they don't know the other half, guests should be understanding of that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    I've been to several weddings over the last 4 years when close friends from university got married. I've never taken a partner to a wedding because I've been single at the time each of my friends was married.

    There were occasions where I felt like a spare wheel in a dinghy, but knowing a lot of guests through university made it a lot easier. I'm sure the open bar helped a little too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    We have completely the opposite problem. Our venue requires a minimum of 110 people for the meal. We are struggling to fill it currently, so the more +1s the better!!

    If I don't know the +1 it doesn't bother me, infact I think it's a good opportunity to meet them.

    In the end it's up to the bride and groom, not the guests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Plus ones are tricky when it comes to boy/girlfriends (how long have they been together? etc). But I can't help finding it slightly hypocritical that people wouldn't invite their friends' spouses to a wedding.

    They are getting married, becoming a team, committed, for life. If they can't show the same respect to other peoples' marriages then what hope is there for their own?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Our policy was to invite long term or 'serious' partners. Seemed reasonable. My husband and I happen to share hobbies and therefore friends, but I would probably be upset if he were invited to something and I wasn't; we have been together 9 years. I would probably feel offended if someone in his family didn't want to invite me, as it's like being told that I am not accepted as one of the family.


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