Oh, weddings: They’re beautiful celebrations of love and happiness…. and opportunities to embarrass yourself in front of 100 strangers.
When you’re in the wedding party, you have clearly laid out responsibilities and rules of behavior—don’t get too drunk, exclude exes from any speeches, and do whatever you can to make sure the attention stays on the bride and groom.
But there aren’t really rules for the common wedding guest. Sure, “don’t get too drunk” still applies, but what can you do to go from average guest to most awesome wedding guest since Victoria married Albert?
Since I recently attended a wedding and spent a good chunk of it crying in the bathroom because it was “all too beautiful” (surely, the many glasses of Pinot Grigio and memories of my own wedding had nothing to do with it), I’m not the best person to ask when it comes to ideal wedding behavior. So I sought the advice of wedding planners and experts to answer all your questions about the upcoming wedding season.
Do I Have to Mail in My RSVP?
First of all, you absolutely have to RSVP. If you decide to just show up on the big day, you’re a huge jerk. Perhaps there’s a scenario where your RSVP card was eaten by a dog, you lost access to phone and internet, and all your homing pigeons contracted a deadly disease. But more likely, you just forgot to RSVP and thought it would be cool to arrive unexpectedly at the ceremony and reception. No. Not cool. Never.
Nowadays, there is a question of how it’s best to RSVP. Do you really need to go to the post office when a text would do the same thing? “Paper RSVP cards are so XIX century,” says wedding planner Maksym Podsolonko. He goes on to say that most couples will send you to their wedding website, which often has a link where you can RSVP. If they only send hard copy wedding invitations, then you do have to mail it back. But if the couple gives you any other option (email, text, call), then definitely take them up on it.
No matter how you RSVP, the most important thing is that you do it on time, says wedding planner and business coach Lindsey Nickel. “Be sure to RSVP by the deadline, if not sooner. It is very frustrating and time-consuming for couples to track down people who did not RSVP on time,” Nickel says.
After all, this isn’t some “I’m hanging out at a bar on my birthday” kind of occasion. The bride and groom are spending money on you. And if you can’t come, they’ll happily keep that cash in their pockets. So if you RSVP early, you’re well on your way to being an A+ guest.
Can I Bring a Date?
Sometimes, the invite clearly states whether or not you can bring a plus-one. According to Emore Campbell, wedding and event planner, unless the invite specifically invites you and another person (or your kids), don’t assume anything.
“If the invite is vague, assume that the answer is no for a local wedding,” Campbell says. “A good rule of thumb is to avoid bringing someone the couple has never met before or has known less than a year.”
I know that going to a wedding alone can be hard. But it’s going to be even harder when the bride and groom hate you for eternity because you brought a Tinder date with a surprisingly low tolerance for alcohol.
Now, if you have a significant other or a person you’d really like to take along, it’s OK to ask the couple directly, according to Campbell. Be sure to inquire politely, without any pressure to get a “yes.” No matter what happens, “accept the outcome with grace,” Campbell says.
Here’s an extra two cents: A week before the wedding, don’t ask the bride (via the bride’s mother) if you can bring a plus-one. Especially when it’s a wedding with 40 guests. And you’ve already bought the plus-one a plane ticket to the wedding’s locale so the bride doesn’t really have a choice but to say yes to your ridiculous request. Perhaps that’s overly specific advice, but I know all too well that that exact scenario can go down. And it shouldn’t.
Long story short, if you don’t see “plus-one,” assume you’re kicking it solo this time around.
What Kind of Wedding Gift Should I Give?
Wedding registries make gift buying so easy, it almost feels like a trap. I mean, you don’t have to put any thought into a wedding gift nowadays, you can simply pursue a Williams-Sonoma list and in a couple clicks, the shopping experience is over. Is registry shopping bad wedding gift etiquette?
According to Michele Velazquez, a pop-up wedding specialist, the list is perfectly safe to use. “People spend all that time to register for what they need,” she says. Campbell adds, “There’s nothing worse than adding a beautiful Kate Spade sheet and comforter sheet set in a king size to your registry to open up a package from Target with full-size sheets in them.” To be clear, I’m throwing no shade on Target sheets. Target is a wonderful store, and that is my true, not-paid-for opinion. But if the couple expects one thing and gets another, it’s often less fun for them.
If you give a gift that’s not registered, it could mean presenting them with something unusual and delightful that they’re thrilled about… or it could mean work for the couple. Whether they have to haul that stuff back to the store for returns or watch it fill up their precious closet space, off-registry purchases are often just crap gifts that keep on crappily giving.
The idea may make Miss Manners blush, but Campbell also recommends cash. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just some money and a heartfelt card. If straight-up dollar bills feel weird, gift cards will do the trick too. A lot of couples are choosing to go the honeymoon registry route, too, so you can buy them an experience, rather than some stuff.
Sure, cash isn’t the most thoughtful gift, but most newly married couples will cherish some extra spending money way more than the fine china set they’ll never actually use.
How Much White Can I Wear?
The answer to “Can you wear white at a wedding?” is not as clear as it may seem.
“No way!” Velazquez says. “Not unless the invite calls for an all-white party.” So, if Solange Knowles is having a vow renewal, feel free to bust out your best flowing white look. Otherwise, stick to the rest of the rainbow.
But Podsolonko thinks the “no-white” rule is old-fashioned. “Why shouldn’t other women enjoy the heat of the summer weddings in an appropriately lightly-colored outfit?” he says. “Just don’t over exaggerate it. You don’t want to confuse the photographer and other guests with two bridal gowns on the wedding day.”
If the wedding is less traditional, wearing some white or other light colors could be fine. But if you know it’ll be a classic ceremony, keep your white in the closet—either way, don’t go all Miss Havisham and show up in a bridal gown of your own.
How Psyched Should I Be About the Open Bar?
“Go into the wedding with no expectations,” Velazquez says. “A lot of times, people come to weddings hoping there is an open bar, a certain type of food, certain music, and their disappointment in the lack of these things can become evident and make the couple feel bad.”
If you think, Oh, the couple won’t know I’m disappointed, think again. There can be 300 people, and a bride can sniff out the one girl with resting bitch face like a bloodhound. Also, if you’re openly complaining about the event, that’ll get back to the couple—guaranteed. So even if there’s no booze and the chicken’s a little chewy, suck it up and try to keep the focus on the couple who are choosing to celebrate their love with you.
Often, there is an open bar, and you have every right to be psyched about it—but be careful. Campbell suggests giving yourself a drink maximum. It’s ever-so-easy to get drunk at a wedding (see: my bathroom balling episode) and even easier to embarrass the hell out of yourself. “Avoid throwing up on the dance floor, falling and having an ambulance come, and other shenanigans,” Campbell says. Sage advice.
Look, those examples may seem extreme, but they’ve happened. And you DO NOT want to be the girl who threw up on the bride’s mom during the hokey-pokey. That’s a tough rep to live down.
So, set a drink maximum, drink lots of water… and maybe play it safe with a wine- and beer-only evening.
How Much Crying Is Too Much Crying?
Crying in public always feels pretty weird (unless you’re a New Yorker, then MTA tears are a semi-regular occurrence). But no one expects you to be completely stone-faced at a wedding. A few tears are fine, and you certainly won’t be the only one reaching for the Kleenex.
But there comes a point when your tears can become distracting. If you know you tend to get very emotional at weddings, Jessica Chen, an expert at WeddingDresses.com, says you should probably identify the root cause of your emotions.
When I was at my friends’ wedding, I had emotional flashbacks aplenty. I thought back to my own wedding, how I don’t really talk to most of the people that came to my wedding anymore, how a bunch of guests left my wedding early to do an improv show in a basement, etc. You know, just your typical barrage of nuptial-based emotions.
I made the mistake of letting all my thoughts be about me. I should have focused on the couple, how happy they were, and how happy I was to be considered their friend. Instead, I spent a fair portion of time crying by a toilet. Not a good guest move.
Chen says that my self-centered emotional rollercoaster is actually fairly normal. So if you know you get extra cry-y, try to look back and figure out why those weddings triggered such a response. Chen goes on to say, “Whatever the root cause, identifying it is the first step toward helping you manage your emotions so that you can send the bride and groom off with smiles, rather than tears.”
How Much Fun Should I Have?
It’s not every day you go to a party where you can drink unlimited champagne with your friend’s grandma. But that’s the glory of weddings.
With the formal attire and family of all ages around, it’s easy to feel like you can’t have too much fun at a wedding. Like you might embarrass yourself simply by having a good time.
Thankfully, the opposite is true. “Get on the dance floor,” Campbell says. “Even if it’s just for one or two songs—the couple will be ecstatic that people are having fun, and happy that guests like the DJ or band they chose.” If you are openly having fun, it allows the couple to relax and have fun too. Plus, the bride and groom just spent a crap ton of money. They’ll want to see some happy faces as a return on investment.
It’s not every day you go to a party where you can drink unlimited champagne with your friend’s grandma.
When it comes to sharing your happiness with the world, be a little careful with social media. “Be sure to respect the bride and groom’s wishes when it comes to sharing photos/videos on the wedding day or at any wedding-related festivities,” says Daulton Van Kuren, a wedding planner at The Refined Host. “Some couples want you to post and share as much as possible so they can relive the memories the next day. Some couples want to keep their party private and be able to share on their own terms.”
If the couple doesn’t have a wedding hashtag set up (and especially if they’re the more private sort), ask them how they feel before you post all those pics from the engagement party, bridal shower, or wedding ceremony itself. You never know if there’s some not-invited friend that’ll get really mad when they see all the fun on Insta.
If you forgot to ask social media permission in advance, it’s not a big deal. According to Van Kuren, take all the pictures you want, but only post them after the couple says it’s OK.
Overall, it’s not hard to be a good guest. As long as you RSVP, don’t drink too much, and have fun, you’re already more amazing than 80 percent of wedding guests.
So pick out a gift from the registry, put on your non-white attire, and break out the choreo to “Bye, Bye, Bye” on the dance floor. Sure, the *NSync moves are optional, but they might just make you a star wedding guest.