Plus One, Minus Good Taste

A couple days ago, my good friend and compatriot (not to mention partner in crime) Fabrisse sent me a link to an article on Slate. In it, the author, one Daniel Engber, complained about couples failing to allow him a ‘+1’ on invitations to their weddings.

He was horrified when a couple he knew sent him a singleton invitation and refused to allow him to RSVP for two because he had a girlfriend. Now I don’t know how serious the relationship might have been. I don’t know what their living arrangements were. These things do matter in the question. I do know, however, that even if an etiquette mistake had been committed in the invitation, Mr. Engber definitely committed an etiquette goof when he attempted to RSVP for more people than were included on the invitation.

Remember: if your name is the only one on the invitation and there is no ‘+1’ added, you are the only one for whom you can reply.

To apparently add insult to injury, when Mr. Engber’s brother was getting married, the happy couple again failed to ask Mr. Engber to invite a guest along to the occasion.

Now this time he does not mention a steady girlfriend, so I can only guess that somewhere along the line they broke up… or else he thought he might want to bring someone else.

He continues to feel put upon that he isn’t invited at other weddings to add a guest of his own and to assume the entire reason is that people don’t want to pay for his guest. He complains that the modern bride is merely a “number-crunching technocrat” hellbent on sucking all the fun out of the experience by inviting mere friends and family members rather than his scintillating random guest.

Even the strictest admissions criteria allow for spouses and fiances, which means your party will be overrun by grumbling tagalongs whether you like it or not. These are the guests who spend the whole reception at the bar, checking sports scores on their BlackBerry.

Right. Because nobody you know would ever actually marry (or become engaged to) a fun person who can dance or have a good time without getting wasted.

Considerations such as limited space, a preference for actually being able to recognize everyone at your own party, or seriously wanting a small, intimate gathering are utterly ignored.

As to the cost, here’s what he has to say:

Sure, these extra guests may set you back a few hundred dollars, or maybe a few thousand. But I submit that +1s are a bargain at twice the cost.

Thanks, Mr. Engber, for reminding me how many extra thousands of dollars it won’t hurt me to spend on a single day.

Okay. So he’s disgruntled because sometimes he can’t bring a date. I get it. And I’m sorry he assumes that just because he can’t bring his own guest that clearly nobody could possibly be interesting or pleasant enough for him to bother talking to at a party.

Annoying, but ignorable.

The really appalling suggestion comes in his follow up article:

Here’s an alternative: Sell tickets to your wedding. Instead of asking guests to show up at your event with a check in an envelope, tell them to reserve spots ahead of time. Make it clear to everyone that your total box-office revenue will equal the cost of the wedding, plus a small honeymoon stipend. Then offer tiered pricing: Close relatives can purchase $250 tickets, with front-row ceremony seating, a spot at the head table at the reception, and a first dance. Established friends and second-order relatives might snap up $150 tickets, good for an unobstructed view and unlimited drinks. And your boho buddies can pick up standing-room twofers for $100.

Is this a joke, Mr. Engber? Because if so, I’m not laughing.

A wedding is not a fund raising event. The guest list is supposed to be composed of people the bride and groom love who love them back. Wedding gifts are an optional thing, not a way of paying for an event you can’t really afford to give. Extra guests, in addition to being a further burden on the budget, cannot be guaranteed to add to the festivities and are not emotionally connected to the event. In general, few people really love going to weddings of people they’ve never met and have no plans to meet again.

Here’s the lowdown. When inviting unmarried guests, you do need to invite any fiance(e)s or live-ins. It’s in good taste to invite longtime/serious romantic partners. These people should get their own invitations. If you wish to give your guests the option to have a dinner partner, you should find out who that might be and issue an invitation to that person directly. If you do decide to ask friends or family members to invite a ‘+1’ that is your decision, but you are not required to do so by any social contract.

And really, if Mr. Engber thinks my party will be boring and painful because he is not allowed to bring a person of his own choosing along, then I’ll do him the favor of not inviting him.

After all, my friends think I’m more than enough reason to come to my party.

But I think the final word has to go to reader V A who wrote:

I read this article and the previous one that kicked off the whole discussion, and the impression I get is that the author doesn’t really care about starting a conversation on the social mores of wedding guest lists. He just has an axe to grind.

Dude, I’m sorry your brother didn’t let you bring a date. But maybe it’s time to move on.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

21 Responses to “Plus One, Minus Good Taste”

  1. Toni says:

    Maybe Mr. Engber needs to rethink his choice in dates if his friends and family so routinely refuse to allow them to attend.

  2. Melissa B. says:

    I think Engber is being a bit tongue-in-cheek with the “tickets” suggestion, but it’s clear that he has a real axe to grind about getting a +1 at a wedding. And, with respect, he needs to get over himself. Expanding the guest list by 20% or more is almost never a simple matter of “ditch the Vera Wang for J. Crew and get carnations instead of peonies.”

    Now, before I say this, let me just mention that my husband and I did include boyfriends/girlfriends of our pals at our wedding, so I’m not defending a decision we made ourselves. Our large guest list was our budget priority, and we cut in other areas to make it happen. But what if our budget had been half of what it was? Even with deeper cuts to music/food/alcohol/attire etc., we would have had no choice but to slash the guest list, and we’d have been making hard choices about which friends to exclude. In that situation, being expected to include people we didn’t know, when we’d been unable to include people we did know and would have liked to have there, would have annoyed me.

    Besides, if a couple does choose to skimp on food and alcohol and flowers and other things in order to invite everyone’s +1s, some guests will complain that the bride and groom cheaped out on the festivities and will wonder why the couple “selfishly” chose to have so many people at their wedding rather than treating just their nearest and dearest to a better party (not that anyone said that to me, or anything. Grr). You just can’t win. My guess is that Engber will find wedding planning an eye-opening experience if/when he’s the groom!

  3. raincoaster says:

    Engber is obviously ignorant of the impression his chickie-come-latelys of the past have left on friends and family, and is unaware that they are trying to set him up with Aunt Lisa’s manicurist’s niece, etc, which is a grand tradition in weddings going back many centuries. But he also sounds the type to switch the place cards, and what can you do with those except smile grimly while thanking them for the sixpack of Diet Coke they’ve given you as a wedding present?

  4. This guy needs to remember that the wedding is not about him or any of the other guests… its about the couple, and they can invite whoever they please!

  5. HMUNB says:

    My in-laws get wedding invitations from family members that include the menu for the wedding and a price for the meal – guests are expected to pay the cost of their own meal (usually around $49 or so per person). They always enjoy getting the beautiful wedding invitations, but always decline. + 1’s are not an issue with this system, but I thought this was a rather unusual practice …

  6. Twistie says:

    @HMUNB: ‘rather unusual’ is an understatement. In fact, I’m getting Miss Manners her smelling salts as we speak.

    @raincoaster and Toni: I must admit, I was having the same thoughts while reading Mr. Engber’s rants.

    @Paula: So true.

    @MelissaB: Absolutely! I know that I couldn’t have cut my budget any further unless we simply went to the courthouse with the minimum number of witnesses and not bothered celebrating with our families and friends. We stretched that budget to an amazing degree, but if we’d had to invite every single guest to bring a guest of their own, we probably couldn’t have afforded to feed them… and plenty of good food to go around was a priority with us.

    Funnily enough, even our friends who hadn’t met each other before the wedding seemed to get on well enough to spend one afternoon talking to one another.

  7. Kai Jones says:

    I lost a friendship over failure to allow the person a +1. She wasn’t in a relationship even, she was just hoping to pick up some guy to take her to the wedding sometime between the invitation and the event. We had a small wedding, fewer than 50 people, and only about a dozen were friends–the rest was family. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t want a complete stranger at such an intimate event, just so she’d have a date.

  8. Julie says:

    I dunno, I’m sympathetic to the situation. It can be sad and lonely to be single, and it can be sad and lonely to attend a whole slew of other people’s weddings by yourself. If you have ever thought that you would like to be married (or simply in a lifelong committed relationship), you won’t feel further away from that outcome than when you are sitting there witnessing the umpteenth exchange of vows, all alone, yet again. After a while, all those “just you please” invites can start to feel like “oh come on, you don’t have anyone worth my notice”.

    It’s true, it’s the bride and groom’s party and the guest list is down to them. But isn’t it the host(ess)’s job to try and make the guests feel comfortable and happy?

    In sum, I think it is very human to want to bring someone with you to an event, even if that person isn’t someone you’ve known for a long time, and especially to an event that has such weighty social overtones. (After all, when else are you going to have the chance to introduce them to the whole family/old gang all at once?) Expense or no expense, I don’t think it’s very nice to be so hostile to singletons over it, and I think it would be far kinder to allow that some of your guests — who are, after all, presumably people you care about and who care about you — might have someone they’d like to entertain in the context of your wedding.

    That said, I’m not disputing that this particular guy might be a pill.

  9. Ash says:

    I read the article before seeing this comment on it, and I have to say that I could see where he was coming from – and clearly, it had a good dose of humor. It’s the arbitrariness of the rules on who gets to bring a date that, honestly, can be hurtful. What if my boyfriend and I are together for decades but never get married (which is somewhat likely), do we fall to some “only fiances and spouses” rule? Plus, I’m shy enough to hate walking into a room of strangers by myself. Any sort of “just get out there and mingle!” advice is enough to send me running for the bathroom.

    The thing is, telling someone they can’t bring a date would be rude in any number of other social gatherings, but because it’s a party that happens to be in connection with a wedding, it’s ok.

  10. Rosie says:

    The bride and groom have finite $$ to pay for a finite number of guests. Most of the time, their list of people who they would like to invite is longer than the number of people their $$ can pay for. And my vote is for inviting more of the people who know and care about the happy couple instead of dates.

    The bride and groom have a responsibility as hosts to make the guests feel comfortable, but that responsibility doesn’t mandate paying for a +1. It entails trying to make the experience an enjoyable one – ie, not leaving guests cold or hungry. To my thinking, the ability to go to a social event by yourself and reasonably enjoy the occasion is an adult coping skill. If a person is too shy or insecure to enjoy a social occasion without a date, or can’t attend a wedding without feeling bitter about being single, they can send their best wishes and decline attending.

  11. Twistie says:

    @Julie: ‘Hostile’? Nobody here was at all hostile to singletons. I’m pointing out that there’s more to the equation than simple economics, and it’s up to the hosts to determine the guest list – not the guests.

    @Julie and Ash: One thing you both seem to be forgetting is that while the hosts have the power to invite and not invite whom they please within certain social conventions, you as the proposed guest also have a power. You have the power to decline an invitation that makes you uncomfortable or refuses to recognize your longtime relationship on the basis of a lack of finger jewelry. Even if you don’t have an SO and are invited without one, you are perfectly free to have a previous engagement for the day.

    The thing is, if you are not the host, you do not get to determine the makeup of the guest list. When you are making up the guest list for your wedding, you are more than free to choose to invite ‘+1’ for your single guests. Just keep in mind that nobody else is required to make the same choice you do in that regard.

  12. Ash says:

    Perhaps the real issue is that all the trappings of weddings have become so expensive that guests are left out of the balance. I sometimes wish for the old-fashioned weddings where dinner wasn’t considered a given.

  13. raincoaster says:

    I think that’s irrelevant; it’s your right to say “no, I don’t want strangers at my wedding.” Heck, I’m giving myself a potluck party for my birthday and I only invited certain people because I really don’t want to see anybody I don’t already like at my birthday party.

    Twistie is right: you as the guest have the power to decline if they haven’t extended an invitation to your real or imaginary other-half-of-the-evening.

  14. Twistie says:

    Actually, Ash, the real issue is that a wedding is really a very personal celebration of a major, life-changing event, not a gallery opening. It is up to the people throwing the wedding to determine just how public or private they prefer it to be.

    Oh, and before dinner was a given at weddings, breakfast was a given. Since weddings were held almost exclusively at churches, any member of the congregation was free to attend the ceremony, but only invited guests got fed. But the reason members of the congregation of that church (and that church ONLY, not their friends and dates) were allowed was because they were members of that congregation and thus welcome at any ceremony held in that church. If the wedding was held at home (and there were circumstances even back in these days, which were long, long, long ago where that was allowed), then only the people the hosts (the bride’s parents) specifically invited were allowed to witness the day, and only those people got fed.

    Again, if you feel uncomfortable attending a wedding for any reason, it is your option to simply refuse the invitation and send a gift or a congratulatory note at your discretion.

    Me? Even when I was seriously dating Mr. Twistie I was invited solo to several weddings. I attended them because I loved the couples, and made conversation with guests whether I knew them going in or not. It’s not even that I am so terribly comfortable in social situations where I don’t know a lot of people. I have been known to have a minor panic attack at the thought of walking into a room of people I don’t know and making small talk. But I cared more about the couples involved, so I sucked it up and went and had the best time I knew how. Guess what? That time was usually great. As a fundamentally shy yet gregarious person (and yes, that’s a weird combination, I know), I have found that 85% of how the party turns out for me depends on my attitude going in.

    But whether I’m shy or whether I’m not doesn’t change the fact that it is the right of the hosts to decide who comes to their party. And that doesn’t change the fact that because an invitation has been extended, I am not obligated to accept it. I am only obligated to respond in a polite manner to the invitation as given, whether I choose to accept or decline.

  15. I was invited to a wedding, alone, while I was still dating my husband but not yet engaged. We were living in different cities. He was going to be in town the weekend of the wedding.

    I was thrilled to have an excuse not to go because it was the marriage of the 18-year-old son of a friend to another 18-year-old whom he had dated three months. She was not pregnant. Their church was letting them marry. No six-month waiting period; no pre-marital counseling. I just couldn’t support this marriage, but didn’t think it was my place to voice my opinion. So I was glad to be able to decline with a good reason: I would have an out of town guest that weekend.

    Sadly, but not to my surprise, the marriage ended two years later.

  16. SusanC says:

    When we had our small wedding (both space and budget constrained) we followed a guideline for our single friends- if we were acquainted with their romantic partners, they got included on the invite, which was addressed then to “Chris and Pat” not to “Chris+guest.” I think all our invitees knew at least few other guests, and we tried to make introductions for people who didn’t know each other.

    Frankly, I’m not sure what all of the fuss is about. I doubt most potential +1s, especially guys, want to come to a wedding where they don’t know anyone else. Wedding crasher legends aside, a rubber chicken dinner and limitless cheap champagne is hardly that much of an enticement for sitting through a long ceremony, followed by endless toasts and PPT slideshows of embarassing childhood photos and then having to do the funky chicken after (not that we had bad food, drink, speeches or dance music, of course).

    In short, if your connection to the bride or groom and their families and friends is so tenuous that you would feel uncomfortable going without a date to back you up, I’d suggest sending regrets. As Twistie and others have pointed out, an invitation is not a court summons.

  17. Julie says:

    So: I, the Guest, am supposed to spend hours on end socializing with strangers so that you, the Bride, don’t have to see any unfamiliar faces in the two seconds when you turn to face the congregation or during the five minutes you spend glad-handing at my table.

    Riiiiiight. Got it.

  18. Julie says:

    PS. As a single person, I maintain that this attitude of “suck it up or send your gift in the mail” is hostile to single people. I know you won’t agree or care, but there it is.

  19. Julie says:

    Augh, sorry, this is my last comment for real. I just want to clarify, I am not saying that every single person should be allowed to bring a rando for the hell of it. I am saying that there are legitimate cases where an exception should be allowed, and I hope to be treated like a human being if I ask (nicely) about it, rather than being shut down categorically and bitched about (“how rude!”). Being the sibling of one of the people getting married seems like a good example of when an exception should be allowed.

  20. Melissa B. says:

    Julie, I completely agree about couples handling these kinds of questions graciously. Wanting to bring a boyfriend/girlfriend to a wedding is a completely understandable wish, and if the question comes, it should be answered politely (and with a “yes” if possible, IMO).

    But on the flip side, if the response to a polite “can I bring my girlfriend?” is “I’m really sorry, but we just don’t have the space or the budget for more guests,” the asker needs to handle the “no” graciously. The guest shouldn’t bad-mouth the couple for being “cheap” or “selfish” or “anti-singles,” or try to bully the couple into making just one exception for them.

  21. Julie, I did not invite my sister’s boyfriend to our family-only wedding. I had never met him, they had been dating only three months, and if she ran true to form, he would not be around much longer. (Alas, it is now two years later and they are still dating, even though a year ago she told me things about him that suggested she should drop him immediately.)

    I didn’t want to have a stranger at this small event. There were going to be 11 of us. It was bad enough that my husband’s parents would be there, but I didn’t want to have to worry about integrating a complete stranger into the group for four days.

    PS If you don’t go to the wedding, you definitely don’t have to send a present.