What my wedding taught me about being a better wedding guest

November 13 2013 | Guest post by iflonida
Candid Wedding Party Photo
Photo by Asteria Photography

Since I'm among the last of my friend group to get married, I've been to lots of weddings. I thought I had this whole "being a good wedding guest" thing down.

Now that my own wedding has passed, I realized that there were some wedding guest mistakes I was making, despite my best intentions.

I've come to understand that going through the experience myself as the person getting married has greatly changed the way I handle these events in my friends' lives.

These are the things I've learned about being a good wedding guest that I never would have realized until having my own wedding…

Acknowledge all wedding communications upon receipt

Once our save the dates/invites/thank you cards were in the mail, I had massive anxiety about whether they'd arrived. I was grateful for the texts/phone calls/emails from people who'd received them, and I especially loved getting pictures/descriptions of where our paper goods were hanging in their home.

Respond to wedding requests immediately

…Or at least give a reason why you aren't responding immediately. Before I had my own wedding, I thought the couple had so many guests that it wouldn't matter to them when I RSVPed, or sent them my address, or whatever. Even though we had a lot of guests (153 invited, 127 attended), and I'm not very detail-oriented, I KNEW who had done what, and when. People who responded right away were my favorites because then I didn't have to worry about them!

If you're feeling judge-y about a pre-wedding event, don't attend (just send a card or a gift, if you want)

We had a guest who arrived at our bridal shower and said to my wife's face "I disagree with the concept of bridal showers, so I didn't bring a gift. Also I'm leaving early." We didn't invite her so she'd feel obligated to come, we invited her because we love her and thought she'd want to be there. We wish she would have politely declined and gone out to brunch with her other friends to complain about the "concept of bridal showers." If there's an event I don't want to attend, I've learned to just send a gift. The guest(s) of honor deserves to have only smiley excited people at their event. Speaking of that…

If anything goes wrong at the event, keep your mouth SHUT

Do not say a negative word about the event to anyone while it is still going on! Of course, we spent months meticulously planning the wedding and trying to think of every possible detail, but during the event itself, all I really cared about was being married and that people were fed on time. I'd said "helpful" things at other weddings, thinking the couple "would want to know" and the truth is? I didn't want to know.

Give compliments if you have them, and be specific

I'd previously assumed the wedding couple didn't really care about interacting with me, and that anything I said to them was promptly forgotten. Now that I've been through it, I DO remember a lot of what was said… but typically only the stuff that was specific.

For instance, I'm sure a lot of people said "You look beautiful, your ceremony was great, what a nice venue, dinner was delicious." What I remember the most is things like, "It tasted like I was having dinner at your house!" "This is the first wedding that's made me feel like I could have a wedding."

If they're social media people, tag everything you post online

Again, this is something I'd previously thought the couple wouldn't care about, unless they were in a picture or something. But it was cool to see all the places our guests had gone, and the status updates involving our wedding. So tag them on Facebook, or use their wedding hashtag on all your posts and pics!

At one point, I realized one of my friend's wives was not in ANY professional pictures. So I went to Facebook to see if they uploaded anything. After some mining, I found a treasure trove of pictures from our wedding, that we weren't tagged in at all, and totally missed. We're actually using some social media pictures in our wedding album.

Alright, fellow newlyweds: what are your newly-discovered insights into being the best weddings guest you can be?

  1. AGREE!!! I learned so much from throwing a wedding, what feels great and what NOT to do!

    Agree re "don't tell bride anything negative during". My 87 year old grandmother tripped and broke her nose at my wedding. Everyone did everything they could to NOT let me find out. one nosey bridesmaid found out and just HAD to tell me. "I thought you should know". "Is she ok?" "Yes she's fine, and she really doesnt want you to know. She's in the bathroom now with your aunts and Brian (off duty EMT)." Well if she doesn't want me to know, I am not going in there. She will be furious and I am definitely not pissing off my grandmother.

    If you must tell someone, tell someone in charge. Let the bride feel good about the day.

    18 agree
    • Can I ask, what would be considered something the bride SHOULD know on the wedding day, even if it's slightly unpleasant? I will probably be helping to plan a few weddings soon and I wouldn't want to unnecessarily stress a bride out, but on the other hand, if say, the caterers were late, I think I'd want to know. But I'm not married yet so I don't have that personal experience!

      What would you say is important for a couple to know, and what is okay to kind of keep from them until afterwards?

      3 agree
      • Let her know if she's on fire, or about to be. That's about it. For anything else, see if you can get over or "fix" the problem yourself.

        16 agree
      • I think it depends a lot on the couple! But as a general rule, for me, I was happy to not know about:

        *Any problem that impacted just one guest and could be solved by them dealing with it (for example, Aunt Joanie doesn't like her seat)
        *Any problem that can be solved by other people without me knowing about it (for example, X doesn't like her cabin assignment because Y snores, but there's extra space in Cabin 2… Great, problem solved!)

        I WANTED to know about:

        *Any problem that I (as the bride, but also as the project manager) was the best person to figure out how to solve (for example – "we are running out of beer and don't know if we should go buy more." or "we can't find X item that is time sensitive and only bride/project manager would know how to find.")
        *Any problem I am going to end up finding out about in the next few hours anyway (in my case, my grandma fell and hit her head, and I wish people had told me a bit earlier, because when the ambulance rolls in, it's not like you can hide it forever!)

        8 agree
        • Uggh, people who complain about their seats are just the WORST >_< Not everyone can sit near the couple.

          Thanks for the advice, ladies! I think that's a great simple rule.

        • Your rules make so much sense! I wish I had them a few weeks ago – I was at a wedding where the couple thoughtfully added a vegetarian option to the menu. I questioned the waiter about an ingredient and realized the meal was made with chicken….I agonized for the rest of the night if I should make sure the bride doesn't find out!

          3 agree
      • I say just let the bride know about things that might directly affect her day or the timing of everything. The last time I was a bridesmaid, everyone tried to hide the bride in the bathroom and not let her know that her (extrememly selfish and unhelpful) sister had forgotten the rings, which was causing a delay. I finally told her and she just nodded and went back to touching up her makeup while the photographer got some extra pictures in.

        5 agree
        • Oh, people keeping something like that from me would make me livid. The moment someone figures out you're trying to hide something or "manage" them by, say, stalling the bride while someone deals with rings, even a non-anxious person is going to start getting all sorts of ideas that are decidedly worse than whatever is really happening.

          This is why we are hiring a wedding coordinator. All of our venues HAVE a day-of coordinator–for the venue. I'm hiring one who understands what it is like to be living with anxiety and depression, and her job is to manage ME and MY PARTNER. She comes with other services too like coordinating with the caterers and such, and that's all fabulous. But if there is anything negative that needs to be said to me, everyone is going to know damn well that it will go through her. She can decide what to tell me and what to simply deal with.

          We went to a wedding where the GPS directions were wrong. Fortunately, they were wrong quite near the venue, and it was a simple Road Name E vs W issue, but even if you typed it in properly, the GPS gave you directions to the wrong one. A hunting ground with lots of POSTED NO TRESPASSING signs and WARNING: HUNTERS. We happened to be some of the first guests there, and apparently no one who had arrived before us had needed the GPS directions (or the ones from the website which they got from the GPS). It was a matter of taking the wrong exit in a roundabout (to go to No Man's Land) and another park sign not clearly marking which driveway was which.

          It was more than 45 minutes until the wedding (we had left early to avoid traffic), and my partner ran in to see if there were any balloons being used as decor. No luck. I simply turned around, went to the grocery store, bought 6 balloons in the wedding's colors, and tied one set on a sign toward the correct roundabout exit, and one on the right side of the proper driveway. Didn't involve the bride, didn't involve anyway, just did it. No intention of telling them, either. We heard some people during the reception saying "thanks so much for the balloons, the directions were wrong but when we got to the roundabout we saw balloons that matched our invites and figured go that way instead!" The bride seemed very confused and of course her wedding coordinator knew nothing so we 'fessed up. She came back to us later and said almost half the attendees had thanked them for the balloons so she owed us an extra hug. No delays due to lost guests! But at least she hadn't known about the bad GPS directions earlier when she would have worried.

          15 agree
      • If you're planning the wedding and something goes wrong it's your job to know what to do without telling the bride! She has trusted you to have all the info needed to create a stress free day…having all the vendors names and numbers handy calling thm if they aren't there at their proposed time. Etc.
        Making sure you are very prepared before jumping into planning such an important day is key for not only the bride but for you as well!

        1 agrees
      • Apparently someone who lives near our venue got upset and tried to pick a fight with our band AND the catering manager. The manager's son tried to diffuse the situation, but it came to fisticuffs and the cops were called. Our best man dealt with everything, and I was none the wiser until it was time to go to the hotel. My husband told me about it in the limo and I think my reaction (almost 10 years ago now!) was pretty unruffled. 'Oh, there was a fight? Was the guy arrested? Oh, he punched the caterer's son?? He got arrested right? Ok cool! Fun night huh?' 🙂
        I think the best man was afraid for me to find out AT THAT TIME and I think he was right, I probably would have freaked out. But in the limo, I was pretty cool lol

        1 agrees
  2. All of this is so true! I've become such a stickler about making sure as soon as we get anything wedding invite related that I immediately send it in. I used to be a slacker about this and tell the bride and groom in person or through a text/facebook message/email. I hate having to deal with the postal system in my area, but now I send the response card back in the mail since they did pay for the stamp and ask them a week later if they had received my response.

    I definitely agree with not telling the bride about things going wrong at the wedding. This happened to me throughout the day and it would be about things that I could not handle. Like the photobooth attendant being in the restroom and not at the photobooth because the ceremony ended like 10 minutes earlier than planned, the caterers getting there early and people not knowing what to do with the beer in the fridge. It was ridiculous because when I would ask if things had been handled, they would tell me not to worry about it. Seriously, than why come to me at all with it? We didn't let my friend know until over a year after her wedding that she ran out of 2 dishes before most of the wedding party had gotten their plates. One of the fellow bridesmaids split the last 5 pieces of shrimp with me.

    1 agrees
  3. I agree with all of this. I would add that I learned that giving cash/gift cards or gifts off the registry isn't cheating like I always thought it was. Instead, taking the time to pick something very special or attached to a specific memory is awesome. One of my favorite gifts was a girt certificate to the San Diego Zoo, which is somewhere we were going on our wedding. We used it to upgrade our zoo experience and it was the best part of the honeymoon. I also loved when people got me gifts off the registry but adding something special or combined them in unique ways. It has really changed what I now give and I'm glad.

    5 agree
    • Absolutely agree with Marcy! Our main take-away from our wedding was that sometimes it is just fine to give cash as a wedding gift, especially if the couple is leaving the next day on their honeymoon like we did. It was so, so nice and thoughtful of some of our guests who gave us some cash in a card at the wedding. The cash was much appreciated and allowed us not to make an emergency ATM visit on an already busy morning trying to get on a plane for the honeymoon. Plus, we got to do some amazing side trips and "experiences" on our honeymoon with said cash. Some people might find it gauche, but I'm pretty sure I've given cash and a beautiful card at every wedding we've attended since our own! (And I haven't heard any complaints! 🙂

      5 agree
    • We actually ended up needing some of the cash we were given VERY soon.

      We parked in a taxi spot in front of the hotel without knowing it, and next morning we were lucky enough to get the policemen in the spot writing the fine. He explained the situation and said that if we could pay in 20 days we could pay only half the fine… and we were leaving for our honeymoon the very next day. And we found a little envelope with money from a dearest friend in one of the suit's pockets (the rest was at our parents' home). Perfect timing! 😀

      7 agree
  4. This is great!! I had a similar revelation after going to a wedding last month (and have a half-written journal post/draft for the Tribe to prove it, haha).

    Although we haven't gotten married yet, being involved in the process made going to a wedding a lot different. For one, it made me realize that, yes, details are nice and pretty, but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. The energy during a wedding is really unique – when else do you have dozens (possibly hundreds) of people in a room, all ecstatic and celebrating the joy of others? It's amazing. So while I did notice the pretty centerpieces and gold chargers, the thing that really struck me about this wedding was how freaking happy and excited everyone was. It was a nice reminder to chill out about the details about our own wedding, and it also got me mega excited!

    3 agree
  5. My daughter got married last year and some of the best comments that she was most appreciative of were about how much fun everyone was having. Not just a few people but everyone who could move was out on the dance floor. Yes there were a few glitches, but mostly things the bride and groom didn't need to know about. (That's what the mother of the bride was for! LOL) Also as a guest over the years I've learned to try and choose an item for a gift that can be used on the couple's wedding anniversary (my favorite? Toasting flutes for couples who love formal crystal with a table cloth or candles) I try to make one my shower gift and one my wedding gift. I still remember gifts from specific people when I got married–one was two wool blankets that we were still using over 15 years later, another some pretty crystal and glassware. I also try to buy the couple things that will be harder to justify buying once they have a family and have to justify purchasing then as part of their budget–crystal or diapers…hmmm… yeah, the diapers aren't fun but… so giving real thought to the gifts is my best advice on gift giving.

    5 agree
  6. The biggest one I learned for myself after being a bride: DON'T MONOPOLIZE THE BRIDE/GROOM'S TIME!

    At my own wedding, everyone that hadn't seen me in a long time wanted to sit down with me and catch up on our lives. And while that's well and good, we had a pool party the night before for that. And an after-party at a bar. Talk to me then! Right now, I just got married! I want to dance with my husband, hug my grandparents, party with my cousins, eat dinner with my BFFs!

    Since my own wedding, I try to say hi, get 5 minutes of quality time with the couple and move on. If I want to catch up with what's going on with the bride or groom, I can talk later. Or chat up their parents/siblings/roommates, etc. We'll talk later.

    12 agree
    • How did you politely "move along" from these well-meaning, long-ass conversations? That's something I'm super worried about. I don't wanna be rude, but I don't want to miss my whole night or ignore other guests because someone won't stop talking!

      6 agree
      • I just said to people 'I've gotta keep moving, but I'll be back in a little bit, have fun!'

        And it worked well most of the time.

        Incredibly, the person who got the most annoyed was my maid of honour, who also demanded I pay her back for the dress she purchased to wear for the wedding – we had agreed her and bridesmaid would buy their own dresses due to my lack of funds, I picked out a inexpensive dress that was still very nice – she did not like it when it arrived and bought another one – I suggested she send down the other one for my niece (who had lost her 20 year old brother, my nephew, the week before) so she wouldn't have to worry about it and I would sort it out with her mum to pay for it.

        Of course I intended to fix her up, but it was jarring to have her demand it off me and then demand it from my husband at the reception… I had no money on me and ended up having to open one of my cards and give her my gift money.

        6 agree
  7. I completely agree about the specific compliments! I distinctly remember a guest telling me that our wedding made her remember her own wedding and, even better, why she got married. It is still the guest comment I think about the most.

    6 agree
  8. Yes, yes, yes on the RSVPs! I had guests who told my groom they were coming months before the wedding but never bothered to RSVP and then tell my groom 2 days before the wedding they're not coming and we should have assumed that because they never RSVP'd!!! Argh!!!

    5 agree
  9. This is fantastic on *so* many levels.

    I had a guest come up to me and complain about the music: "When are these stupid polkas going to end?" Didn't matter that she hadn't been dancing before they came on, nor did she dance or do anything other than sit at her table afterward. Later in the evening, the same guest tried to pull me aside, as I was talking with other guests, to give her directions to the day-after party at my in-laws' farm: "I didn't hear from you this week and we need directions for tomorrow." Oh sorry, we were busy with a death in the family on the Thursday before our Saturday wedding and we're barely keeping our shit together as it is… I grabbed my husband and put him on the task, as I was so perturbed by both exchanges and I knew I was already being short with her and it was only going to get worse.

    1 agrees
  10. Something I've observed to be good guest etiquette – TURN OFF THE FECKING CELL PHONES!

    A recent wedding I've gone to had kids (and some adults) playing games on their phones and various people texting during the ceremony. What really got me was when people would get up and take photos with their phones, thereby blocking the views of the guests and getting in the way of the photographer. It's just as rude as just outright talking on the phone during the ceremony.

    32 agree
  11. Yes! This is actually one of the main reasons I'm really glad we were young to get married – I have no idea if I'll be invited to many weddings in the future (let's face it, my social circle is small and so offbeat I have no idea if any of them will do a wedding at all if they do pair up in a committed way), but I feel a lot more prepared to understand the couple's point of view and it actually does change some of the ways I've thought "being a good guest" entails.

    Also, it really makes you think about how each wedding is crafted by a unique set of individuals, and that things not happening "the way you expect" can be a good thing. Making our wedding "offbeat" was a good exercise in also knowing what the traditions are, and being prepared to understand them (and throw them aside if they're not for us) in a conscientious way.

    1 agrees
  12. My wedding was last weekend and it was spectacular! My biggest advice to a guest would be to DANCE!!! If the bride asks you to get up out of your seats and join her on the dance floor, DO IT! I don't care if you don't normally dance or if you feel you have awkward moves. The bride doesn't care! She just wants to enjoy her wedding and dance to her carefully chosen music! So dance with her! That was my only real complaint about my own wedding. Not enough dance floor participation.

    10 agree
  13. I photographed a wedding recently, and in every single photo, right behind / beside / in front of the couple, was this one guy with his video camera. Not the videographer, he was with me. It was just some guy.
    The couple were furious with him, and there is not a single photo, by me or anyone else there, that doesn't have him in the way.

    If you are a guest at a wedding, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR SEAT TO GET A BETTER PHOTO. That is why we have photographers. You can sit and enjoy the ceremony, and somebody who is PAID to be there, can capture all the beautiful moments.

    34 agree
  14. Oh man, this is so true. As a newlywed, I'm embarassed about my previous wedding behavior. I have done the following: not RSVPed, not sent a gift if I couldn't attend, openly discussed the cost of the wedding with the bride AT the wedding, asked if I could bring a guest, gotten really fucking drunk, stolen unused bottles of wine from the reception, switched seat assignments with others, skipped a fancy post-wedding brunch because I was too hungover…. And I'm a good, responsible person in general! Ack. I blame being young and in a "Woooo, love, party!" mood. Anyone else?!

    6 agree
  15. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT — EVER!!! — bring your wedding gift to the reception. Not only is it poor etiquette, but a wedding isn't a birthday party. The gifts won't be opened there in front of all the guests. Instead, you've just loaded yet another burden onto the shoulders of the newly-wedded couple — schlepping the gifts from the reception hall back to the house, which is where the gift should have been delivered in the first place. Not only that, but it's not uncommon for some (or even all) of the gifts to be stolen while everyone's attention is on the event at hand.

    1 agrees
    • I've never seen it done any other way, unless the goft was purchased online and sent directly
      To the couple. At our wedding, we had someone designated to take the gifts home for us, as well as to keep an eye on them at the reception. It might just be my experience, but I've never heard it reception gift theft. Lucky maybe?

      3 agree
  16. DO NOT CONTACT THE BRIDE ON THE DAY! You think it would be lovely to send a nice message DONT! Wait until the day after when it will be appreciated!

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