Loyal reader Melissa B. writes:
I’ve recently come across a wedding etiquette issue that I didn’t even know was an issue, and I’d be curious to know your opinion(s) if you have an empty column slot.
Do you think it’s OK to extend a wedding invitation to someone and not invite their SO? Some call this the “no ring, no bring” policy — engaged and married couples (and committed same-sex couples) are automatically invited together, but everyone else is invited solo.
On a bridal message board I’ve been frequenting recently, I’ve read several posts from people who insist that inviting a friend without also inviting his/her significant other –- even if the bride and groom have never met the SO –- is incredibly rude. Others say you should allow all singles to bring a guest of their choice, be it a serious boyfriend, a new girlfriend, a platonic roommate, or someone they met at the hotel bar last night. One poster said she’d rather not be invited at all than be invited solo since that was clearly a “second-class” invitation. But other brides say that they’ve used “no ring, no bring” to shorten their guest list and think it’s a perfectly acceptable policy.
I had no idea this was so controversial! Although my boyfriend and I have been together two years and have lived together for the past six months, I’ve been invited to two weddings in the past year where the invitation was addressed just to “Melissa B.,” not to “Melissa B. & Boyfriend” or “Melissa B. & Guest.” I went to both weddings, shared a hotel room with my college girlfriends, and had a great time.
It honestly never occurred to me to be mad that my boyfriend hadn’t been invited too — he’d never met either couple, and he probably wouldn’t have gone if he had been invited (airfare is expensive and we’re both on pretty tight budgets). But now I’m realizing that there are a lot of folks who think that inviting someone alone, especially if they have a known SO, is incredibly offensive.
What’s your take? Should the boyfriends/girlfriends of guests automatically be invited, whether or not the bridal couple knows them? Should all single guests be allowed to bring a date of their choice? Or is “no ring, no bring” an OK rule of thumb if you need to keep your guest list in line?
Twistie: What we have here is a failure across several different groups to understand the concept of the Social Unit. Basically, any couple that is married, engaged, or cohabiting (gay or not) is a Social Unit. That means that, yes, your live-in boyfriend should have been invited to the weddings. How long you have lived together and whether or not the happy couple had met him make no difference.
Never teh Bride: Hell, I have friends who’ve been with their SOs forever and are staunchly opposed to the notion of cohabitation (not the mention matrimony, oddly) and I still sent all parties involved invitations. It just seemed like the nice thing to do…besides, I don’t know anyone who likes to sit alone at a wedding! But I’m also lucky in that I happen to know my friends’ SOs and their names.
Twistie: Adding ‘and guest’ to your invitation would not have properly covered the situation. You have a partner with whom you share an address. He has a name. It is the business of the happy couple to acquaint themselves with this name and address the invitation to you both. Sending you an invitation and adding ‘and guest’ to it says they don’t know whom you will choose to bring with you, which entirely ignores the fact that you are in a two-person Social Unit.
Never teh Bride: Back in my early days of cohabitation with The Beard, I personally was not offended that he’d received an invitation inviting him and a guest to the wedding of an old friend. The friend in question had trouble getting in touch with The Beard and the invitation was thus routed through a grapevine of individuals to get to him. They simply had no idea we were living together. Questions of absolutely proper etiquette aside, I personally was not offended. Why get one’s panties in a ruffle when it’s likely no offense was intended?
Twistie: Ideally, hosts should know at least the names of everyone they invite. This is why ‘and guest’ is frowned upon by Miss Manners and her ilk. Once the decision has been made to include that SO, it is up to the happy couple to learn both the name and address of that person and send an invitation to that person. Again, they are inviting a specific guest, not deciding their friend may bring anyone from her mother to her plumber to the guy she met last night.
Never teh Bride: I myself am not opposed to ‘and guest’ing when one has a dear friend who isn’t married or dating anyone but will not know a single soul at the wedding. Being a bit shy myself, I know how it feels to be along in a sea full of strangers, and I wouldn’t want to subject anyone I care about to that. The bride and groom are often too busy to give each guest a great deal of personal attention and sadly very few people seem to be good at small talk these days. I can’t remember the last time a stranger asked me to dance!
Twistie: But I think we can both agree that inviting a single guest who is not in a serious relationship to come stag does not somehow make that person a second class citizen. That’s silly. That assumes that it is a) somehow the host’s responsibility to pair everyone up a la Noah’s ark for the event, and b) that couples are getting special rewards out of the event that singles are not. It’s also quite rude to assume that the hosts are somehow required to budget for a significant number of total strangers who are unlikely ever to be a part of their social circle to come to their party.
Never teh Bride: Oh my, yes. Inviting everyone’s SOs can be quite the financial strain. When betrothed couples look for ways to cut costs, the piece of advice they see most often is “Limit your guest list.” If money’s already tight, inviting scads of strangers to share in your big day just plain doesn’t make sense. Plus, I’ve always thought it rather weird for everyone involved — the ‘and guest’ who has to congratulate two people he’s never met and the newlyweds who have to thank said guest for coming.
Twistie: Since you, Melissa B., are already part of their social circle and you live with your boyfriend, chances are he’s going to stick around for some time and eventually become known to the circle. That is not the same as making sure that Bonnie in accounting has a date for the evening because she lacks the social confidence to mingle with other guests, both attached and single. It’s my experience that more than three-quarters of having a good time while single comes from assuming that one can have a good time whether one has a date or not.
Never the Bride: I’d still let poor shy Bonnie bring a date, but I am a bit of a wallflower myself so I feel her pain. If everyone followed the Miss Manners seating rule – people who live under the same roof ought to be sat separately – then things might be different because everyone attending would have a reason to converse with their tablemates. Really, people tend to spend way too much time at parties discussing the same old topics with the same old Social Units.
Twistie: Should a couple decide to go to the expense of including guests with every singleton, then that’s mighty generous of them. It is not, however, a social obligation because singles are simply Social Units of One. Besides, many a romance has started because two single people happened to meet at a wedding.
Never teh Bride: Are you sure about that?
Twistie: The most complicated question is how to deal with two people who have been together for a while but have not made any formal commitment. In this case, it really is up to the happy couple whether they recognize the relationship with an invitation or not. Some decide not to invite SOs sans long-term commitment. Many use a rule of thumb about how long the couple has been together such as inviting SOs who have been with their friends for a minimum of three or six months. Some try to decide just how serious the relationship looks to them and go from there.
Never teh Bride: If it is financially viable to have guests bringing guests and the invitee isn’t sure who’s zoomin’ who, he or she can simply reach out to loved ones to ask whether there is someone serious in their lives that they might like to bring to the wedding. Problem solved…and with open communication, no less! That way, you find out all the hot gossip AND you can be sure you’re doing right by everyone’s favorite etiquette maven, Judith Martin.
Twistie: All of that said, I think you and your boyfriend were right not to take umbrage over these missed invitations. Unless the couples involved have made it quite clear that they meant it as a social cut, it’s best and most polite to assume — and to go on assuming — they were simply unfamiliar with the rules of etiquette in this situation. After all, you didn’t know the rules, either.
Never teh Bride: All of that said, I still don’t think that weddings are the best places for singles to meet other singles. Too much pressure!