No One Should Get Plus-Ones to Weddings

If you suspect that someone would bail on your wedding if they couldn’t bring a buffer human, this person doesn’t like you enough to be at your wedding.
July 13, 2018, 3:38pm
Illustration by Katherine Killeffer

A wedding is about a lot of things, like tax benefits and eyelash extensions, but it’s mostly about the two people who, for whatever reason, decide they love each other enough to jump through a series of tedious hoops to cement their relationship semi-permanently. Everything else—flower arrangements, wedding hashtags, the dress—is secondary. Also secondary? Guests. The convention that guests with married or romantic partners should need to bring said partners—even when neither the bride nor groom knows them well or at all—is as wacky as it is costly, and I think it should be done away with entirely. No one should get plus-ones, excluding people who need medical assistance. That’s right—let’s treat the marrieds the same way we treat the singles, and save everyone money in the process.

This may seem like an extreme position, but I believe that the custom of offering plus-ones—overwhelmingly to people who have romantic partners, as if that kind of partnership is more valid or serious than non-fucking ones, as if people in romantic relationships are less able to handle doing a single thing alone—is extreme and weird.

“To insist that the only relationships that count at a wedding are those that mirror yours seems reactionary and narrow, and denies the multiplicity of ways in which people now love,” Jessica Gross wrote in a smart 2016 piece for The Cut called “Give Every Adult a Plus One at Your Wedding.” Indeed, plus-ones are usually reserved for people with “serious” romantic partners – but rarely for people with a very supportive friend, parent, mentor, or any of the other relationships that add just as much value to our lives (and usually value that is far more sustainable, no offense). So much value, in fact, that we are holding an event inviting those sorts of people to surround the couple getting married with love and support. So while I agree with virtually all of Gross’s points, I form an alternate, far more cost-effective solution: let’s do away with the custom all together.

Why do we offer our coupled friends plus-ones at all, when we don't know the partner? Is the thinking that, unlike single people, people in relationships are less equipped to deal with the discomfort of being alone at social events, or are less deserving of the punishment that is making small talk? But even in the rare instances that we are equal opportunity plus-one-givers—offering extra invites to people regardless of relationship status, maybe because we are very rich—are we only doing this to ensure people show up? If you suspect that someone would bail on your wedding if they couldn’t bring a buffer human, this person doesn’t like you enough to be at your wedding. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but I can’t protect you forever.

I spoke with many people who are getting married this year, and almost universally, the plus-one policies were as follows: If guests were married, engaged, or living with a romantic partner—or the bride and groom had spent significant time with them as a couple—the invitation was addressed to both people. Some of the policies were even more lenient: One bride said she gave plus-ones to anyone she knew was in a serious relationship, regardless of whether they were living together, engaged, or married. Almost always, plus-ones were offered to people in the wedding party, regardless of relationship status (and to a few single people who had to travel very long distances and wouldn’t know anyone.)

Aside from the courtesy plus-one offerings to people in the wedding party, who are devoting serious time and resources into the event, the main reasoning for offering married people and people in serious relationships plus-ones seems to be: Making people feel comfortable, as well as returning the favor if they had been offered a plus-one in the past. Basically, we do it because it’s social convention, and if you don’t follow it, people will get their feelings hurt, adding more drama to an already dramatic affair. It makes sense people want to avoid this, except that it dismisses the feelings of people who aren’t in romantic partnerships. I know all sorts of socially awkward single people, myself included, who could benefit from bringing a pal to a gathering. Is their discomfort just a given? Yes, it is. At least that’s the message sent by plus-one culture.

And I still can’t wrap my head around the idea that married people, or people in serious relationships, couldn’t possibly spend a single evening by themselves—or are more deserving of a little extra social cushion, as if once you’re in a SeRiOuS rElAtiOnsHiP you mustn’t be separated from the person you’re dating (who you’ll probably be separated from in a few years, statistically speaking, sorry). Single people go to things alone all the time, and it’s actually fine—even valuable.

Regardless of relationship status, every person on the planet—save those who require another body for medical or mobility assistance—could benefit from an opportunity to spend more time alone and, perhaps, learning to enjoy doing so. “But mingling with strangers is uncomfy if my other half isn’t by my side!” Sure, I get that, Hypothetical Girl Who Probably Thinks Masturbating Is Cheating. From my perspective, mingling with strangers is uncomfy if my best friend Holly isn’t by my side, and yet no one ever says, “Please, bring that random girl I don’t know but who means a lot to you to the most intimate event of my life.”

Even though going to parties by yourself can feel excruciating at first, cool things happen: You bond with the dope ass dog. You get drunk enough to take high-concept thirst selfies in the bathroom. You flirt with people you’ll never see again. You … gasp … make new friends. This is all very healthy.

The thing is, a wedding is about the couple getting married, and the people who mean the most to them. Plus-ones for people in serious relationships, when the married couple doesn’t know one of the partners, are not meaningful to the married couple—they are not people who would have been invited, on their own, to this special day. When you go to a wedding alone, you’re more likely to connect with the diverse community of people who’ll be supporting the couple throughout their marriage.

The business of plus-ones—or inviting at times complete strangers to this important and personal life event— is also expensive. A study of couples married in 2015 found that the average American couple spends $32,641 on their wedding, and a 2017 study found that each guest costs an average of $268. So why cater to a goofy convention that most people getting married can agree is stressful and costly?

“In large part because we do not like confrontation and don’t feel like generating gratuitous ire when there is so much ire already overabundant in the world,” my friend Rebecca, who is getting married this year, said. This is fair. “Because we have accepted that even when we think a given irrationality is stupid and annoying, it is often worth catering to it, because even if the irrationality is stupid and annoying, the feelings around it are real, and we care about the person having those feelings (or someone we care about cares about that person). And given that there will be irrationalities to which it is just not feasible to cater, a few plus-ones are maybe okay.”

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Yes, people’s feelings are real and important, even surrounding conventions that are fake and dumb, and we want to make loved ones happy and comfortable (again, certain loved ones, only loved ones who are fucking regularly.) I get it. And only giving plus-ones to people who are married or in serious relationships is a useful albeit arbitrary way of narrowing down the amount of plus ones you feel obligated to offer; the number needs to be narrowed down somehow, because if every guest got a plus-one, you’d lose all your money, so why not choose this messed-up determining factor that most people seem to accept as normal?

Fine. But I think there’s a better way, and that’s to not give plus-ones to anybody.

Let’s force people to make conversations with strangers! Or to just sit quietly! Jesus Christ.