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How To Solve The Problem Of Plus Ones At Your Wedding


We are having a very intimate wedding of just family and very close friends. Its budget so we can only have a maximum of 50 guests.

We sent our invitations to avoid having to chase anyone up for replies, but since sending the invites one of our guests has become engaged themselves. I have never met his fiancé, and we are already very close to our maximum number with some replies still to come back.

If I send an invite it not only looks like she is an afterthought but could push us way over budget as we get charged extra per guest if we go over the limit. On the other hand though I don't want her to feel excluded as she is now part of the family. Any advice?

Hana London

This is one of those times when you need some clear rules. However the hardest thing about rules is having to enforce them consistently, which is never easy, especially as a wedding is such an emotional occasion.

So often the problem is that you, the Bride and Groom simply want to make everyone happy, and that way you believe on your wedding day you will be happy.

NEWS FLASH : your guests happiness does not guarantee your happiness!

A few years ago, I was invited to be a Bridesmaid to a long standing friend. At the time I had been in a long term relationship, in fact I still am, I’m happy to say. However my Plus One was not invited – how do you think I felt to find other Plus Ones had been invited and their relationships had not been anywhere near as long as ours?

Here are some rules you can apply to Plus Ones, but remember, apply them to everyone, because people invariably look for your inconsistencies at your wedding and that will be a rod for your own back.

1. The Etiquette Rule

This is the traditional rule for plus ones at weddings and it goes like this:

When you invite a guest who is in a permanent relationship you must invite their partner, whether you know them or not, and whether you like them or not.

The importance of this rule today should not be overlooked because it was designed to make you ask one really important question : “If I don’t want the partner of a guest at my wedding, how important is that guest to me, really?” Now that’s a good question to ask yourself and be honest with your reply.

Don’t invite someone because they invited you, or because you were good friends at school and you haven’t seen they for the last five year.

The Etiquette Rule assumes that once you have invited your guest, it becomes their decision whether to bring their partner or not, hence the need for RSVP on your wedding invites.

So is this an open and shut case? Well yes and no!

2. Defining Plus One Today Rule

Now the Etiquette Rule was written for the purpose of showing respect to your guest’s longstanding relationship with another person. It was written at a time when every couple had a chaperon (that’s a third person who went everywhere with a couple to stop any hanky-panky. A killjoy some would say, a protector of virtue other would say)

We no longer live in that world. As a professional wedding photographer I am often asked by brides “do I include my sisters boyfriend in the traditional family portraits?” The rule of thumb seems to be that unless the couple have been together for about two years the answer is “no”.

So today we need a rule to define who is a valid Plus One and who isn’t. So today’s Plus One Rule seems to have three parts to it

a) If they are in a relationship of two years or more standing they are a Plus One, whether you know them or not, whether you like them or not, you need to respect their relationship. If the Plus One decides not to come that’s their choice.

b) Plus Ones include couples who are formally engaged no matter how long they have been together. Fiancées are always included in invitation regardless of your knowledge of them or your relationship with them.

c) I would also include another Plus One; The Kim Kardashian and Kanye West kind of relationship. Where a couple have a baby and even though they are still living with parents, they are a Plus One.

Hopefully you now have a clear picture of who today qualifies as a plus one.

3. The Specific Rule

When you send out your invites you have to be specific otherwise they could be misinterpreted. When addressing the couple use their names, preferable their full names:

Charlotte Smith & Pete Williams

Are Invited To….

Never put Charlotte and Friend, this show a deep lack of respect. It means you couldn’t be bothered to spend the time finding out who their partner is and from the outset sets a tone of animosity.

Also by specifying ‘Pete Williams’ it tells the couple no one else is invited. So if Pete is not available, another Pete won’t do or some other friend, which we have seen happen at weddings and trust me it does cause arguments on the day when ‘Charlotte’ turns up with bob the Builder.

In Conclusion

In Hana’s specific case, if you are that close to your numbers you have to make a hard decision. If you want your friend to come to your wedding the you should invite his fiancé. If they have only been together for say six months and became engaged after the invites went out, its ok to call your friend and explain that all engaged couples include Plus Ones.

Now if that takes you over your limit by one it’s a small additional cost for one extra meal. Chances are that at least one person will decline your invitation or worst still not turn up on the day, which happens way more often than brides and grooms realize. Anywhere between 5 and 10% of guests won’t be able to make your wedding. That rises to around 20% for evening guests who just decide they’d prefer to stay in and have a curry. There are some miserable people about!

If you have an experience of being a Plus One do comment or email, we’d love to hear from you and share your experience with others.