10 Wedding Etiquette Questions Answered

Our etiquette expert offers guidance through those wedding land mines of multiple showers, sticky remarriages, the B-list, and more.

Wedding-Etiquette-Questions-AnsweredEmma Kapotes/Rd.com, iStock/Raya Lopez

When you’re not attending

You’ve been invited to a wedding. You don’t know the newlyweds well and decide not to attend. Do you still have to send a gift?
— Absentee

Dear Absentee,

Well, you don’t have to do anything. But look at the big picture. Even if you don’t know the newlyweds very well, they thought enough of you to invite you to witness their big day. Would it hurt you to send something—a modest gift or a card—to acknowledge it? Of course not. Would it possibly make the newlyweds just a tiny bit happier? Of course. So just do it. When in doubt, share the love.

Showers and repeat customers

Two of my coworkers are getting married just weeks apart. This is the first wedding for one and the third for the other. My officemates and I want to throw a work shower for the first-timer, but somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate for our other friend. How do we tactfully explain this to the third-timer, or is it obvious that there shouldn’t be one?
–Wedding Blitzed

Dear Blitzed,

Are you kidding me? The fact that you’re even considering shaming this so-called friend by not celebrating her new partnership suggests you and your coworkers need to take a long, hard look at the meaning of the word friend. Either throw a joint shower for both brides or forget the office celebration altogether. Both women are embarking on a marital voyage, and both are worthy of good wishes.

My daughter is getting married for the second time and wants to have showers, a wedding party, etc., just like before. Family and friends gave gifts not so very long ago. I feel like this is hitting people up one too many times. What’s the proper thing to do?
— Doubtful Dad

Dear Doubtful,

Brides don’t throw showers; their friends do. This is, after all, a happy occasion, and on happy occasions people like to see other people unwrap stuff! Forget the grouches who might feel “hit up” this time — they probably felt that way the first time. The proper thing to do is proudly march your daughter down the aisle, show her your support, lift her veil and give her a big smooch.

Widowed sister-in-law getting remarried

Seven years ago, my brother died. His wife is getting remarried, and my mother insists someone from our family attend the wedding. Mom’s too emotional to go but wants me to instead. I said no — I was never close to the wife, and there are no kids. Mom is making me feel guilty. What’s the etiquette here?
— Wedding Wary

Dear Wary,

This isn’t an etiquette question. There is no rule requiring that someone from your family attend. If your mother feels a need to go, that’s her prerogative. But she can’t use a substitute. Remind her that you’re still healing, too, and tell her working the guilt angle is unfair.

The B-list

My best friend is getting married, and I’m one of her bridesmaids. She’s planning to invite my parents to the wedding—not with the first set of invitations but with a second set, after some of the initial invitees say they can’t attend. In the ten years the bride and I have been friends, my mom has been a close and caring supporter. I am truly hurt, and I’m sure my mom will be too. Am I overreacting?
–Daughter First

Dear Daughter First,

Your mom’s on the B team? That stinks! Good for you for standing up for your mom. But you also need to step back and think of the bride. Is there a money problem? Is it an issue of space? You can’t know unless you ask, but do you really want to become part of the problem on her special day? I’d swallow this one. Put your arm around your mom and say “Let’s write this off as bride anxiety” and go out together for a nice lunch.


After living together for 11 years, we recently got married and invited only a couple of people as witnesses. To our surprise, family and friends were hurt and angry that we didn’t have a “normal” wedding, especially one sister for whom I was maid of honor 20 years ago. What can I say to explain my case without apologizing for getting married the way we wanted to?
— Closet Newlywed

Dear Closet,

I know you think marriage is a personal declaration of love and commitment between two people. And it is! But it’s more than that. It’s an act that joins two families by creating a new, extended one. By not including loved ones, you’ve inadvertently made them feel excluded. Go throw a party — a quiet one, if that’s your style — and give these folks a chance to say, “Cheers!”

Hired help is Dad

My stepdaughter is getting married and has asked her father to provide the music. My husband has decided to go one step further: He wants to play drums with the band … all night. Am I wrong in thinking that the father of the bride should act like the father of the bride and not the hired help?
— Partnerless

Dear Partnerless,

Sweetheart, this is not your wedding. The bride and groom get to plan the party. And if she’s fine with Daddy playing Ringo for a day, don’t get in the way! Tap your foot, and applaud their special connection!

Vegan wedding

My fiancé and I are planning our wedding. He supports my wish for the rehearsal dinner and reception to be vegan. But my future mother-in-law is going nonstop about how people won’t like it. She is trying to take control of the catering. How can I keep my relationship with her and still stand up for my beliefs about saving animals?
— Bewildered Bride

Dear Bewildered,

Welcome to the land of extended families. It’s compromise time. You’ve made your point about saving the animals; she’s rejected it. Let Momma Carnivore set the menu for the rehearsal dinner (the traditional responsibility of the groom’s family), and you plan the reception (the bride’s traditional responsibility). One note about hostessing and the vegan thing: The food better taste good. Folks are tolerant of others’ food beliefs until they are obliged to sample three courses of variously spiced cardboard.

A family affair?

My ex-husband and the woman he had an affair with are getting married. He has asked our 23-year-old daughter to stand up for the “other woman” during the ceremony. My daughter isn’t even sure she’ll be able to sit through the ceremony, much less stand at the altar on the bride’s side. Isn’t his request inappropriate under the circumstances?
— Bitter

Dear Bitter,

It seems unreasonable to me. But then, I’m as immaterial to this discussion as you are. The fact is, your daughter’s struggles are between her and her dad. Your challenge as her mother is to encourage her to talk all this over with her father, not you. And then support your daughter no matter what she decides. Added difficulty: Be careful not to infect her with your bitterness.

Disappearing bride-to-be

My best friend got engaged four months ago and I haven’t seen her since. I didn’t do or say anything to offend her, but we haven’t even talked for three months. I send e-mails; she doesn’t respond. Should I confront her and ask why she’s avoiding me?
— Miffed

Dear Miffed,

Woe is the girlfriend of a woman in her butterfly bridal stage! Chances are your friend is deep into the princess thing — picking flowers and choosing flatware. Her silence has little to do with you. I’d advise against confronting her. It’ll just evoke a defensive reaction. Instead, call her, tell her you miss her, and suggest getting together. Bring along bride magazines to show your support of this exciting time in her life.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest