These days, many wedding traditions are more optional than inevitable. You might find yourself attending a ceremony that eschews the church, the white dress, the cake or anything else that was previously deemed “required.”
But for wedding guests, some rules are best held onto. San Diego-based etiquette expert Elaine Swann gave us some pointers on how guests can navigate a contemporary wedding.
It might seem obvious, but it’s worth remembering this wedding guest principle. “Keep in mind that this is a major event in a person’s life, and you’re creating what’s supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime memory,” Swann says. “It’s not about you, it’s about the couple. I’m here to celebrate these folks and not myself.”
It’s a party, sure, but it’s a party with a particular purpose. You can stoke the celebration without making yourself the center of attention. If you’re giving a toast, yes, everyone will be looking at you, but instead of your five-minute stand-up routine, offer some insights about the couple.
Ask not what the party can do for you, but what you can do for the party.
Make the couple’s life easier
Hosting a wedding is usually a huge logistical undertaking. Maybe 100 people are waiting to be shuttled from the ceremony to the reception or a groomsman is AWOL during the wedding party entrance. And, by the way, where is Aunt Marge with the bouquet?
Avoid making more work for the bride and groom. RSVP on time, don’t bring a guest unless you get an explicit plus-one, and if you’re seated somewhere specific for the reception, accept it with aplomb. The couple might ask guests to avoid taking photos during the ceremony, too, so don’t crowd the professional photographer.
When things go smoothly, everyone can focus on the important part: the celebration.
Be open to new experiences
Not everyone is an extroverted party-starter, so a gathering of semi-strangers might seem daunting. “Be open and ready to experience new things as far as that individual’s culture,” Swann says. “When you go to a person’s wedding, you learn a lot about them and their families.”
A wedding is an ideal place to meet new people and try new things. You already have something in common with everyone there: the couple themselves. Plus, everyone’s there to have a good time. So make some new friends over dinner or embarrass yourself leaping for the garter.
It’s not your big day, but you can surely add some delight.