Attending a wedding should be simple, in theory: You show up, you eat, you drink, you dance. In reality, things can get more complicated, whether it’s figuring out how much to spend on a gift, trying to make it to a destination wedding without going broke or determining whether you have a plus-one for the occasion.
On behalf of all the confused wedding guests out there, we asked an etiquette expert and a wedding planner to help clear up some of the puzzlement around plus-ones.
You’ll know if you have a plus-one based on the invitation envelope
Traditionally, wedding invitations have two envelopes. The outer envelope is used for mailing purposes and includes the individual guest or couple’s full names, address and the postage. The inner envelope is less formal, but is useful in that it clearly states the names of who’s invited, and, by omission, tells you who isn’t.
If the inner envelope includes either your significant other’s name or the words “and guest,” it means you may bring a date to the wedding. Generally, if you’re in a relationship, and particularly if you live together, your S.O.’s name will also be listed on the outer envelope. However, an unnamed plus-one is traditionally only listed on the inner envelope as “and guest.”
So just to make it crystal clear: If only your name appears on the inner envelope, you’ll know that you do not have a plus-one.
Note that the inner envelope is also the place the marrying couple will list the names of any other invited family members from your household, if applicable. So if you’re a parent and your kids’ names are not listed, they are not invited to the celebration.
And if there’s only one envelope with the invitation ― some couples may go this route to reduce paper waste ― then use the information on the outer envelope as your guide.
But if you’re not sure whether you have a plus-one, here’s what to do
It’s best to assume that you do not have a plus-one if you’re uncertain, said Tampa, Florida-based wedding planner Tracie Domino of Tracie Domino Events.
“If you can’t tell, most likely you don’t have one,” she said.
Proper wedding etiquette generally dictates that if a guest is married, engaged or living with a significant other, their partner should also be invited to the nuptials. In some cases, the bride and groom may choose to invite serious couples (like those who have been dating a year or more) as a package deal, regardless of whether they’re cohabitating.
So if you’re in a committed, long-term relationship and the invitation doesn’t indicate that your partner is invited, etiquette expert Diane Gottsman said you may call the couple to clarify, but be sure to do so politely. It’s better to call than fire off a text or email, which run the risk of being misconstrued.
“If you think there was a mistake because you are married, or have a long-term significant other that wouldn’t normally have been left off the guest list, you may call and diplomatically broach the situation,” said Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. “Say, ‘I received your wedding invitation and I noticed my fiancé‘s name was left off the card. May I assume it was an oversight, and may I bring him or her?’”
For destination weddings, it’s useful to know if you have a plus-one as early as possible so you can book your flights and hotel accommodations well in advance. Because invitations aren’t typically sent out until two to three months before the big day, look to the save the date for possible clues, as those are sent out much earlier.
“Ideally, the couple will list your guest on the save the date as well, but this is not always the case,” Domino said. “The invitation will clarify for sure, but if you are making travel plans, you could reach out to the couple if you aren’t sure.”
But if you didn’t get a plus-one, please don’t ask for one
Unless you truly believe there was an error like the one Gottsman mentioned above, it’s not appropriate to ask the bride- or groom-to-be if you can bring a date anyway.
“If you are married, it’s understandable that you might not want to attend without your spouse,” Gottsman said. “However, if your question is about a random plus-one that the couple doesn’t know and doesn’t want to include or your children, it’s best not to ask.”
The only exception would be if you need a caregiver to accompany you to the wedding in order to attend.
“If you require a medical caretaker, just be honest with the couple and they should be happy to accommodate that person for you,” Domino said.
And if you’re feeling bummed or slighted that you don’t get to bring a date, try not to take it personally. It might help to know the couple likely wanted to include more people in their celebration, but couldn’t for one reason or another.
“You may not know the real reason the couple has to limit the guest list, but it could be anything from a tight budget to the size of the church,” Gottsman said. “If you choose not to attend without a plus-one, make an effort to take the couple out to eat or socialize at another time so there are no hard feelings on either side.”