Modern Wedding Etiquette: How to be a Rude Wedding Guest (and an embarrassment to your species)


if only all terrible wedding guests actually looked the way they acted…..they’d be a hell of a lot easier for security to find!

Ahhh, the end of summer.  Smack dab in the middle of wedding season.

As a poor twenty-something just finishing up with college, I’m relatively new to the whole wedding scene.  Thankfully, it’s no longer 1952, and society expects more of us than finding a suitable man, producing his brood of children, and perfecting our mother-in-law’s meatloaf recipe.  My friends and I have just started exhibiting the signs of “settling down” within our relationships- going on major couples vacations, moving in together, getting a puppy.  But it wasn’t until last week that someone actually started the barroom conversation of which of us would beat the others to the altar.

And weirdly, it was a guy who brought this up.  One of our single male friends, no less.  Huh.

It should be unsurprisingly, really.  With a growing number of old high school friends posting endless pictures of their newborn babies or engagement rings on my Facebook wall, it’s hard to ignore the signs of hard-ball adulthood looming my way.  I suppose it’s kind of weird to think that the girl who stole my 11th grade boyfriend is now getting married (no, not to that particular clueless dude), but the reality is that most of us are now “grown up.”  Eww.

At least wedding territory comes with the excitement of attending an all-night party with an open bar, right?

All kidding aside, the sappy romantic in me really does love weddings.  But with all the talk of upcoming nuptials, I’ve been reminded of why marriage ceremonies are so often a source of stress instead of joy.  And while lots of it comes from greedy bridezillas or unscrupulous venders, a good large chunk of the problems come from the guests themselves.  Sometimes the wine and petty jealousy get to people’s heads, reverting them back to their third-grade, primeval instincts.

Regardless of the media buying into the whole “bridezillas” franchise, I tend to think most weddings aren’t really ruined by MIL hissy fits or unexpected torrential downpours.  Rather, with any wedding there seems to be that one (or two, or ten) guests whose shenanigans turn an otherwise classy event into a day that’s less about the couple’s new lives together and more about “that one time drunk Uncle Irving got piledrived by the whole town’s police force.”  In order to spare the poor bride and groom some embarrassment, tears, or a trip to the hospital room (yes, it’s happened), I’ve created a simple etiquette guide that every guest should read before attending a couple’s special day.  While I’m certainly no expert, I’ve attempted to fill in any knowledge gaps with plenty of entertaining internet research on wedding disasters.  Unfortunately, a lot of these stories come straight from personal experience.

How to be a Rude Wedding Guest:

1. Getting engaged on someone else’s wedding day.

Now, this “transgression” comes with a bit of leeway.  IF the hopeful partner planning to propose during the wedding talks to the bride and groom BEFORE the big day and gets BOTH of their approvals, then go for it.  I was just recently at a wedding where the couple looking to get engaged were good friends of the bride & groom, and had planned that when the girlfriend caught the bride’s throwaway bouquet, her boyfriend would propose.  Cute right?  Yeah, I guess…..but bear in mind that no matter how “okay” it is with the newlyweds, this is THEIR special day.  They’ve most likely spent months planning it and thousands of dollars to make sure their wedding reflects the love they share for each other, (including free dinner and booze for, you, their guest).  So I would think twice about upstaging the new couple at their own party- and just my opinion, but the whole “wedding marriage proposal thing” lacks in originality as well as tact.

2. Expecting the bride and groom to be responsible for your accommodations and entertainment.

While (considerate) brides and grooms obviously plan their wedding with their guests in mind, there’s obviously a limit to what they can or should be expected to do.  Just because you flew across the country to be with them on their big day does not mean the day becomes all about you.  Make a real effort to arrange your own rides and recognize that the couple will most likely not be able to pay for your hotel room.  I’ve read so many stories where out-of-town guests actually demand that the bride drop everything and drive them to hair appointments, pay for their meals, or be available every night to keep them occupied.  While it is certainly polite of the to-be-weds to offer to help with travel expenses or treat their guests to dinner, be realistic.  If you’ve ever been married, you know how stressful and time-consuming planning a wedding can be.  Most brides will be busy dealing with last minute touches the week of their wedding- you are probably not high on her list.  Also, recognize that you had the opportunity to decline the invitation if you could not afford it.

3. Being irresponsible.

This kind of goes along with number two; however, I think it’s even worse because these are things I’ve seen happen on the actual wedding day.  Unfortunately, the combination of extended family and an open bar never seems to bode well in most situations.  Just because you are a guest and don’t have to worry about the day going smoothly does not give you license to get totally plastered and cause a huge scene.  In fact, if you decide to badmouth the in-laws or punch the bride (yes, this happened!) at a loved one’s wedding day, I’d say you don’t really love them as much as you think.

And allowing your children to run wild at the reception because “I’m a guest and I should be enjoying myself” is one of my personal pet peeves.  If you decide to bring small children to the event, don’t ignore them while they scream through the ceremony or try to pull down the cake table.  I’m not sure what it is with parents these days, but I can promise you that everyone does not think your little hell-beast is simply adooooraaable.  You CHOSE to have them.  You and only you are responsible for their behavior.

it seemed like a good idea at the time…..

4. This also reminds me of bitch-move number four: bringing along uninvited guests.

Again, it astounds me that the majority of these transgressors seem to be those who have already had a wedding- namely parents and older relatives.  Weddings are EXPENSIVE, and the price-per-plate usually hovers around $35-50 dollars at a typical reception.  Additionally, most venues have maximum capacity limits based on fire codes.  So why in heavens name do people think it’s okay to “write in a guest” on their RSVP’s, or bring their six children and their out-of-town friend along without even asking the couple first?  Is it nice to be able to take the kids somewhere fancy or bring a date?  Absolutely.  Should you be doing it without permission on someone else’s dime?  Hell no!  Again, the world does not revolve around you.  Unless this was Beyonce’s wedding, the bride and groom most likely had to cut their list down to include only those they could afford.  If you made the cut, great!  Feel special!  But don’t feel entitled to drag your snotty six year old to an adults-only reception because “you can’t bear to leave them with a STRANGER!!!!!”- please, we all survived having the local teenage girl babysit for a few hours.  And don’t feel surprised when the bride has to scramble for another seat to try and accommodate your uninvited spawn.

This is why other people chose to remain childless and throw child-free weddings:

5. RSVP-ing for yourself or extra people and then not showing up.

Calling the bride to ask if you can bring four extra people she doesn’t know is rude.  Guilting her into budgeting for those four extras, and then not showing up at all, is INFURIATING!  You made it on the list, others did not.  Saying you’ll be there and then flaking out without any warning is like a slap in the face to her hospitality (obviously, it goes without saying that medical emergencies and the like are an exception).  If life were fair, you would be forced to pay for all the uneaten dinners.

6. Being a diva.

This category includes arriving significantly late, answering your phone during the service, monopolizing the couple’s time, and wearing white on someone else’s wedding day.  C’mon people.  I refuse to believe that any woman don’t know that wearing white- unless specifically asked to by the bride- is a big no-no.  Even at my boyfriend’s mom’s wedding, where she had requested that guests wear black or white, I was unsurprised to see that only one woman actually chose the latter.  Most of us wore beautiful dresses in varying shades of black or grey, because the “no-white” rule is so heavily engrained on our psyches.  And to all the mothers-in-law out there who break this rule- or wear head-to-toe funereal black because you’re “mourning” for the “loss” of your “baby” boy- stop it.  Somehow I think you were the type of parent who brought your “baby” to every single function because you couldn’t handle being apart.  You will be forever immortalized in the wedding album as “ridiculous.”  Now go cry in the corner about how you’re loooosing your baaaaaaby and can’t wait for grandchildren.

you can tell she’s all about giving the new couple their space

7. Stealing the leftover decorations, food, or booze at the end of the night.

I don’t know what it is about weddings that bring out the worst in people, but this is just sad.  Sure, the reception was a party meant to thank all the guests- but there is no sane reason you need to stuff your salad fork and two bottles of champagne in your oversized purse.  If you’re asked to take a centerpiece or extra favors home- please do!  But don’t take mementos that obviously aren’t yours, or worse, rental equipment the bride and groom will have to pay for later.  They just treated you to a night of free hors d’oeuvres and top-shelf liquor.  Be nice.  Ask first.  There was even one story I read about a couple who- GASP!- stole a wedding gift from the bride and groom’s table.  There are no words.

8. This brings us to our next point, not giving a wedding gift- or giving one meant to hurt.

As a guest of previous weddings myself, I completely understand how quickly the costs of attending a ceremony add up.  Buying the appropriate attire, travel expenses, hotel fees, requesting time off work- all of these can add up to hundreds of dollars for you to be present during a couple’s big day, especially if you’re in the wedding party.  So why bother adding a pricey registry gift into the mix?

The short answer is, you don’t have to.  There is nothing wrong with buying the couple something else you think they’d like, if you know them well enough to guess what they would want or need.  I have seen some truly awful presents from well-meaning, misguided relatives, who think the bride is still into Barbie Dolls and Disney Princess underwear like she was twenty years ago.  (In fact, this should really be a rule unto itself- don’t give an adult underwear, ever, unless you are their significant other or superclose best friend).  It’s fine to give a thoughtful store-bought or homemade gift!  When done correctly, these are the most treasured and meaningful.  Just recognize that if you deviate from their registry, you do run the risk of giving them something they will never use or need.

just…..why?

And I’m all for re-gifting when the situation is appropriate- i.e., the item is either new and unused or properly “antique,” the item is something that fits the couple’s needs and personalities well, and perhaps most importantly, the person receiving the gift didn’t see you get it in the first place and doesn’t know the person who gave it to you.  Don’t be like these stingy wedding guests, called out by the brides on theknot.com:

“We received a regifted set of wine glasses we’d given our cousin.”

“A regifted tray (with the original card to the regifter included with the present).”

or, horror of horrors:

“My mother-in-law gave me the yellowed nightgown she had worn on HER wedding night- do you really want your SON to see me in your old sexy clothes?!”

Yeah…..

The point is, when it comes to the wedding registry, think long and hard about your relationship with the couple before you go get them that old attic cookie jar from Aunt Mavis shaped like an elephant’s ass (yup, that’s a real one too).  And please, don’t get all passive-agressive like some mothers-in-law who buy off the registry but in a different color, because “their baaaby looks so much better in maroon and hunter green and their stupid wife should know better than to try and pick out her own color scheme.”  If the bride and groom have their heads on straight, they have spent a lot of time picking out things they will use for their home together, making sure there are items at lower price points to fit any reasonable budget.  If not, then hey, get them that garage-sale butter curler or fertility idol!  Nothing can be worse though, than not giving a gift at all because “you forgot.”  If you can’t afford one, fine, then make them something- cookies, a quilt, a heartfelt card- or decline the invitation.  Attending a wedding without giving a gift is definitely rude.

9. Using someone’s wedding for your backstabbing or petty “revenge” agenda.

It makes me sad that this has to be on the list.  Whether its a mother-of-the-bride trying to relive the wedding she always wanted, the rich grandfather trying to “show up” his deadbeat, black sheep cousin, or the mother-of-the-groom impersonating the bride and calling the venue to say they had cancelled (who the hell DOES this kind of stuff?!), this stuff happens all. the. time.  Selfish people using what is supposed to be a day about love and family for their own twisted means.  But as I witnessed myself, nothing is gained by hurting people this way, and (the smart relatives) will inform the troublemakers that they can either get with the program or risk burning important family bridges forever.

10. Wedding Crashing.

I would argue that this is slightly different than being an “extra” because in this case you either don’t know anyone there, or worse, you were purposefully unwanted for a reason.  This list includes total strangers, estranged family, and psycho ex-girlfriends or boyfriends who have a hard time taking the hint that your former significant other is now over you.  Whether you’re a desperate Facebook friend who “assumed they were invited,” or a guest attending another wedding at the same venue and decide to cash in at the other wedding’s open bar, you are a very, very rude guest.  Yes, your presence is expensive, but more importantly, you are purposefully using a couple’s first day as husband and wife for your own ends.

And that, my friends, is simply bad etiquette.

the ultimate wedding crashers

If you want to read far more horrifying (and entertaining!) stories of giant egos, money-grubbers, and even drunk guests peeing under their table, check out etiquettehell.com or theknot.com.

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