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 303.

    May one sell one's ticket on EBay if one cannot attend as one's significant other has not been invited? Or would one be seen as a bit of a scoundrel?

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    The only thing i find objectionable here is the idea you shouldn't ask. If I'm not friendly enough with the happy couple that breaking a few rules of etiquette is out of order, then it's probably best If I don't go to their wedding (where far more rules of etiquette are bound to be broken, I assure you)

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    All I would like to say is this:
    He's The King Designate surely generosity is an extremely English concept, surely being The King Designate(capitals) could mean that he allows an invitee to bring as many family members or people considered as family members, or maybe etiquette is paramount over generosity or is it a mere excuse to be able to count the meatballs dished out to a guests plate ? .

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    I didn't receive a +1 for my best friend's wedding. It was terribly insulting. We had been friends since elementary school. When I asked, she said she had a lot of expenses. At her wedding, I saw that she had invited many people from her new job whom she hardly knew. BTW, the idea that adding a +1 will cost money is not true... in almost all cases, guests will give a better gift/more money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Plus one's are always an issue. But the best advice I have ever heard comes from the American etiquette guide "Miss Manners". She says that saying on the invite "and guest" is always wrong. If you want to invite the person's partner then call and find out his/her name. As for calling to get your partner to come the rule is only for spouses or formally engaged couples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    At my wedding we didn't invite children as several of our close friends have...ahem...'unruley' children. However, the couple whose kids we really didn't want there brought them anyway! It cost us an extra £100 and the mother had a strop because we had to move the place settings around! If an invite doesn't specifically name someone, don't bring them! I've been a +1 before and it's just boring!

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    I was once invited to a wedding reception, along with my wife, only to find on arrival, that the reception had finished, then we realised we were there just to make up numbers on the dance floor ! If that weren't enough, it was my wife's birthday as well. We left after 5 minutes and grabbed a meal out as we were both very hungry. The thing to remember: it is the bride and grooms day - not yours!

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    There is an interesting but not unexpected delineation in many of these postings between spouses being invited and invitations to 'plus ones' which may include girl /boyfriends etc.

    Perhaps the answer is spouses /established partners should generally be invited, that is the 'couple'

    Others may come under the 'plus one' banner which is more discretional depending upon circumstance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    Hello! This is an entirely frivolous & unimportant issue. The media close the hegemony and whilst UK jobs are lost, immigation reaches boliing point & Japan burns the BBC invite us to coo over the marriage of two people we have never met and are never likely to meet. I hold no ill-feeling to either party but equally the prospect of this wedding bores me. Ho hum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Just an other view: I'm a longterm single and wedding receptions (not the service) are hard as a lone female. Though everyone avoids it, a lone woman - at a wedding - represents some deepseated social disquiet. So women feel the +1 more. I refuse to pander, but quit the 'do' asap - w/o making an exit.
    I hate the +1's, as I feel shamed by it, and not welcome as I am. I decline all those.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    We allowed "plus-ones" at our wedding and wished we hadn't. None of our friends were married, we were the 1st. We had issues with plus-one's changing their minds about coming several times, not giving a decision till the last minute & that caused friction with the caterers who needed numbers 14 days before. Also the seating plan was a nightmare because we didn't know for sure everyone was coming!

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    We didn't invite anyone that didn't already know someone else at the wedding. It may have hurt a few feelings, but it helped take care of the plus one issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    I have a bf who I am very serious about and because the bride and groom hadn't met him, I wasn't offered a plus one. Attending would have meant a day off work to attend, travel to the event 100 miles away, a night in a hotel on my own, a new outfit and a gift... forget it, I'd rather stay home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    We never invited my sister in law's boyfriend to our wedding as they had only been going out for a few weeks & we didn't know him. She also had a 'littered' history of boyfriends 'being the one' and then turning out to be a muppet. So we didn't want somebody being invloved that would probably get dumped in a few weekd. They are now happily married & expecting a child in a couple of weeks - whoops

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    Plus one should not be referring to established couples. If you don't know if the person you are inviting is married etc then do you know them well enough to be inviting them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    I have Asperger's Syndrome which means I have trouble socialising with people. For me "to go to a party and mix with people", well, I just wouldn't. I'd be the one standing at the side on my own. It's not "rather pathetic", it's autism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Just because I like my friends, that does not mean that I like their partners. Or that their partners like me. I would rather not be surrounded by people I can barely 'tolerate' on what is, afterall, supposed to be the happiest day of my life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    I hate weddings and I'd be delighted not to be invited. It's bad enough finding excuses to get out of family weddings!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    My relative, invited myself, & my children, but did not invite my fiance. He was living with me, so was very insulted. I was divorced & they thought my relationship wasn't going to last. Needless to say I didn't go. I did marry my fiance & I invited everyone I could so I didn't make anyone feel left out. If people want to lose friends or alienate them then don't put the plus 1.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    I can't understand why married guests are not allowed to bring their spouses. So what if you don't know the spouse very well? It's just plain rude not to invite the spouse as well. Just be consistent, it's either plus-one for all or none at all.


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