The holidays are over and Valentine’s Day is around the corner, which means one thing: Half your friends will soon be engaged. Your Facebook feed is covered in ring-finger selfies, and your mailbox will soon be filled with actual mail. You’ve officially entered the stage in which people get married. For fun.
Whether you’re preparing for your first “wedding season” or just want to brush up on wedding etiquette, we’ve compiled expert advice to help you navigate your friends’ big day. Sure, you know not to wear white or sleep with the bride or groom, but in today’s anything-goes world, even the nicest people can make the worst wedding guests.
First things first: You gotta RSVP.
We know, we know. You’ve never actually bought stamps, and putting something in that box where your electric bill arrives every month is so 2003. But showing up to a wedding without RSVPing is not okay. “Never show up unexpectedly,” says Lizzie Post, heir to etiquette maven Emily Post’s throne and co-host of the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast. “It’s inconsiderate.” Luckily, most wedding invites come with a pre-stamped RSVP card, making it nearly impossible not to send back. So please, just do it – and do it on time.
Keep your friends’ wedding plans private
If one of your close friends is getting married, there’s a good chance you’ll be looped into wedding details before the big day. Excited as you may be, resist the urge to share, post, or pin about plans on social media, says Jamie Miles, editor of The Knot. “You might be very excited about the swag bag, the dress, the invites – but you don’t want to publicize to such a large audience. It ruins the surprise for other guests.”
This advice holds for the bride and groom, too. “Remember, not everyone on your friend list is invited to your wedding, and that could make for some awkward encounters,” says Miles. Her advice? Keep it private.
Dress the part.
Wedding invitations usually advise on the dress code: black tie, cocktail, country-club formal, Pixar chic, and so on. If an invitation doesn’t discuss attire, dress to impress, says Amy Squires, co-founder of The Wedding Chicks. “Fellas, it's a wedding, not a college party – and ladies, it's not Friday night at Rock’n Sushi.” When in doubt, check with the bride or groom about expectations. Better to know than to discover you’re the girl wearing a ball gown in a room full of sundresses.
Don’t live Tweet the wedding. #annoying
Unless someone is paying you to provide a wedding play-by-play (yes, some couples hire pros to Tweet their wedding), odds are the lovebirds don’t want their personal details broadcast to your social circle before they get a chance to do post about it themselves. “The bride may not want her first wedding photo to be the cell-phone shot,” says Miles. This rule applies to Instagram, Vine, and Facebook, too.
Don’t be a paparazzo, either.
Your friends spent a lot of money hiring a professional photographer to immortalize their big day, and sorry, but it’s not you. “As tempting as it is to stand in the center of the aisle for a head-on shot, or stand as tall as you can (arms extended) to get a great aerial view, just don’t,” says Ilana Stern, CEO of Weddington Way. It’s fine to discreetly take pictures, of course, but check with the bride or groom before sharing them with the world.
Don’t bring a Tinder date.
Wedding “plus-ones” can be tricky, says Post. If you’re single and the hosts have indicated that you can bring whomever you’d like as your date, choose carefully – bring someone you won’t be embarrassed to introduce to the couples’ friends and family. Meanwhile, if your long-term significant other is invited and you break up before the wedding, don’t assume you can replace him or her with a random. First of all, “you would hate to show up with a new date and your ex’s name is on everything,” says Post. Second, weddings aren’t usually more-the-merrier. Rule of thumb? Check with the maid of honor, wedding planner, or bride or groom directly before inviting a date.
A wedding is not an open mic night.
This isn’t Karaoke Thursdays, folks. If the happy couple wants you to toast them, they’ll tell you that before the festivities. “People drinking too much at the reception and grabbing the mic or acting like they’ve been asked to give toast when they haven't” is a big no-no, says Miles. (Not to mention super awkward.) If you absolutely feel like you need to reminisce about the couple and aren’t on the toast list, put it in the guestbook.
Despite what you’ve seen in movies, don’t bring an actual gift to the wedding.
You can show up empty handed. “Don’t be the guest that brings a huge, elaborate gift to the ceremony,” says Stern. “As much as the happy couple is super grateful to receive your gift, the truth is that having a physical gift the day of the wedding is a hassle.”
Enter the wedding registry, a handy tool that allows you to choose a gift from pre-selected stores and arrange for it to be delivered directly to your friends’ home. Most couples will list their registries on their invitation or wedding website. No one wants to carry a panini press while wearing a 10-foot train.
If you know you’ll run into an ex, play it cool (and plan ahead).
If you’re attending a high school or college friend’s wedding, you may find yourself in the drink line behind an ex. Just remember: This is your friends’ big day, not yours. Play it cool, rise above, and focus on celebrating the couple, says Miles. “Be in the moment.”
If you’re particularly anxious about seeing an old lover, talk to the bride or groom weeks or months before the wedding to work out a seating arrangement that prevents you from accidentally sticking a fork in his or her eye.
The perfect wedding gift doesn’t have to break the bank.
Weddings can be expensive for guests: airplane tickets, hotel stays, not to mention an appropriate outfit. By the time you get around to buying a gift, your bank balance may look a little frightening. Have no fear, says Post, wedding gifts should always be within your budget. “The idea is to participate and be sweet and meaningful to the couple,” she says. “The gift can be silly or small, but if it’s something that the person loves, great.”
If money isn’t a concern, The Knot’s Miles offered up this handy pricing guide: Co-workers and acquaintances, spend $50 to $75; relatives and friends, up to $100; super close friends or immediate family, $100 to $150.
For the love of God, get off your phone.
Your friends are making personal history up there! Staring at your phone during a wedding is rude. “Please be respectful, especially during the ceremony,” says Miles. All the experts agree. “I would love to start a ‘do not disturb’ trend,” says Post, encouraging guests to put their phones on airplane mode for the duration. Instagram isn’t going anywhere.
And if you can’t make it to the wedding?
If you can’t attend a wedding for whatever reason – cost, location, you’re washing your hair that day – the best way to decline is to fill out the RSVP card with your regrets and send a gift. Yes, even though you’re not partaking in the festivities, Post says it’s still polite to send a present, given that you were asked to be a part of someone’s important day. That said, it can be small. “Something simple and sweet,” she says. “Think: engraved picture frame.”
And if you’re concerned your decision not to attend will impact your friendship (it’s been known to happen), a heartfelt phone call or email to the bride or groom expressing your regrets might be a good idea.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.