Plus None: has Covid redefined the traditional wedding guest list?
25th Oct 2022
Read time: 6 minutes
How would you feel, asks Helen Seymour, if you opened up the invitation to a good friends’ wedding, only to realise that your partner, your significant other, had been deliberately left off?
Would it bother you? If a good friend, and let’s face it, they’d have to be a good friend to be inviting you to their wedding, had made your invitation a “Plus None?”
A friend of mine was tight on numbers for her wedding in 2009. “I’m not going to invite Fiona’s husband,” she said to me. “I don’t know him. I’ve only met him once. He doesn’t know anyone at the wedding. Plus all the other girls from the Hockey Club are coming on their own. They haven’t seen each other in ages. Without the husbands, I can get them all on one table and it’ll be like a reunion.” She posted Fiona’s invite for one, and about three days later got a curt response. “WE will not be attending.” Fiona (she of the WE) hasn’t spoken to her since.
One of the things Covid has blessed us with is the excuse to trim the fat on the wedding guest list. People are understanding. They have to be. It would be unreasonable not to. But now, as we start to see light at the end of the Covid tunnel, even though big events are still at least a year away, has Covid possibly given us the option of redefining the structure of the traditional guest list?
I’m not personally planning my wedding any time soon, but I have had many fantasy weddings in my head. The dress, the location, the food, the weekend of events, all of it, and the guest list is always the one thing that gives me the biggest challenge. I am blessed to have a gazillion really good girlfriends. Girls I’ve worked with, been on holidays with, had wild parties with, gone through heartbreaks with, and yet, for all of that, I have absolutely no relationship with some of their boyfriends or their husbands. So why would I invite them? It would mean inviting at least 50 people I barely know. And losing a bunch of people I’d really like to be there.
Surely it’s better, as in the case of my friend’s wedding in 2009, that all the girls from the Hockey Club have a long overdue catch-up, and that they do it whilst celebrating their dear friend’s special day? Creating yet another happy memory. And let’s face it, as we get older, and our lives peel off in different directions, it’s harder to get those kinds of groups of people together. Surely it’s better to have a room full of people you love at your wedding than have a bunch of other people missing because everyone else had to bring their partner. Plus, hasn’t every couple been to several weddings together at this point? Would it really be such a big deal to go to one on their own?
Here’s what I think. If your friend’s husband genuinely has no relationship or friendship with you, and if they are both level-headed adults, they will understand the logic. Some women might actually be delighted at the thought of a day off from the kids/dogs/cats/husband. And conversely, their partner might be delighted not to be invited. To have to put on a suit and make polite conversation with people they have no interest in. Plus there’s no need for babysitters, dog minders, or cat wranglers if only one of you is going. For many couples, this will be a win-win.
What I also think however is that it’s really important if you’re inviting someone without their partner, that you communicate clearly and sensitively, so that they understand that this is how the whole wedding is being planned, and it’s not just their invite. Drop a personalised note into the wedding invitation explaining that you’re changing up the traditional guest list structure and making this more of a reunion event for old friends, possibly outlining the groups of people that are relevant to them, so they can look forward to seeing them. If you’re worried about the friend in question, and you think it might be a sensitive issue, pick up the phone, and talk to them.
Before you do this, however, ask yourself the following questions:
How many times have I met my friend’s significant other?
How many times has the person I am marrying met them?
How many times have we had drinks/lunch/dinner/coffee with them?
Have we been on holidays or weekends away with them?
Have we ever sat down and had a proper conversation with them?
How many times a week/month/year do we see them?
Do we enjoy their company?
Would we have them on our wedding guest list if they weren’t my friend’s significant other?
Is my friend defined by their partner?
Is my friend socially awkward without their partner?
Will my friend feel lost and unhappy on the day without their partner by their side?
Will my friend not enjoy the day without their partner?
Will my not inviting their partner put pressure on their relationship?
Will my friend actually be delighted if their partner is not invited?
Will their partner actually be delighted not to be invited?
Am I giving them both the gift of a great big day off?
Are there going to be lots of people at the wedding my friend will be dying to catch up with and have long-overdue chats with?
I think inevitably you will have friends who feel incomplete without their other half. And if, by inviting them on their own, it’s going to rake up issues they don’t even know they have, in that case, you may just have to suck it up. Equally, while your friend might be totally cool to come on their own, they might be in a tricky situation with their partner, and your non-invitation will make life at home even more difficult. So, you may have to weigh it up and try to make the best decision for everyone. Either way, communication, and sensitivity are important.
Final thought: Quagmires. The Dictionary defines a quagmire as “an awkward, complex or hazardous situation.” Weddings are loaded with quagmires. There are quagmires within quagmires, and the guest list is no exception. Here are a few examples:
Exclusion perception. Let’s say your good friend has recently left her husband for another woman. Her ex-husband is a good friend of both you and the person you are marrying. You have not yet had the chance to get to know your friend’s new partner. If you exclude her, there will be massive hurt for a myriad of reasons. If you exclude her ex-husband, it’s the same thing. If you bring them all, it’s going to be tricky. This is going to sound hard, but “if in doubt, leave them out.” All of them. But pick up the phone and explain why.
Quagmire example number two, and this is unlikely, but you never know. Let’s say you marry a Prince. Or a Movie Star. Let’s say you marry Kanye. Because ladies, he is coming back on the market. Let’s say for whatever reason, your wedding is the event of the year. Suddenly people who probably had very little interest in being on your wedding guest list (and by that I mean your friend’s significant others) will now have a whole lot of interest. Admittedly this situation is unlikely, and I am wildly exaggerating the circumstances, but if you have a high-profile wedding, or it’s in a really fancy place, then people who might not have cared about coming, now will. The answer is simple. Imagine you’re marrying the bin man, that the event is in your local GAA Club, go back to the list of questions above, run through them, and the answers you get will give you the answer you need. If your friend is really your friend, they will understand.
The bottom line is, it’s your day. Fill the room with the people you love. Do it as sensitively as possible. And have a great day.
This article was originally published in July 2022.