Thursday, December 23, 2010

Invite Etiquette

I've been a longtime reader of the Dan Savage advice columns--the readers write in with questions about sexual issues, relationship problems, and in some cases political issues related to sex and relationships. What I've liked about Savage is his gruff and blunt approach to readers problems and a willingness to tell you what you don't want to hear.

I have to say, though, this week's advice to a gay man whose boyfriend isn't invited to his sister's wedding misses the mark (it's the second item in the column). Apparently, the writer's family hasn't accepted his homosexuality and doesn't approve of his boyfriend (it isn't clear how long they've been dating, though Savage's answer suggests 2 years, which info might have been edited out of the writer's question in print). The invite to the sister's wedding was to the brother only, without a "guest" or "plus one" on the invite. Savage's response focused on the assumption that it was the family's homophobia that was behind this, and he advised telling the sister that he (the brother) plans on bringing the boyfriend to the wedding, or otherwise won't attend.

Now, I'm all in favor of a confrontation over the family's homophobia, if that is in fact the issue here. Clearing the air sooner rather than later would be if nothing else cathartic. But it's not entirely clear that the lack of "plus one" on the invite wasn't due to other factors--maybe this is a very small wedding and guests (even long term boyfriends) are discouraged, or maybe this boyfriend is an offensive brute and the sister would prefer him not being at the wedding.

But there's also the issue of basic wedding etiquette. Weddings are expensive, and space is often limited, and each additional "plus one" makes an impact. Letting an invitee bring a guest often means not being able to invite an old friend or relative. Sure, it's tacky to invite a person and not their spouse, but on the other extreme is the single dude (or dudette) who simply wants to bring along company to the event and invites someone they just started seeing or is just casual friends with. Anyone wanting to do that should approach it with the host(ess) tactfully and be willing to take "no" for an answer.

Dan Savage in this case seems to have hooked onto a family's need to accept their son's sexual orientation but has overlooked the difficulties of managing a wedding guest list and the need to handle it reasonably.

Of course, if the sister is just bowing to the family's homophobia, then screw that.


  1. Hmm...I do believe it was me, last night, who said that you should post this, after hearing your explanation. (Rock on, Zan!)

  2. Zan--I take your suggestions seriously!

  3. Also, telling someone to go to their immediate family with their dukes up, causing a big stink? Rarely productive. This sort of scene is how decades-long rifts happen.

  4. Shan--something tells me Savage was in "full fight mode" as he answered it. It's possible that the original letter had a lot more info, but based on what was printed I hardly saw the need to go in guns blazing when all that's likely to do is get the writer pegged as the outcast brother who puts his own needs ahead of his sister's on her wedding day and alienates them all further. I can imagine better ways to approach the problem.

  5. I didn't know you were a Savage Love fan! I listen to his podcast every week (he's even better when you can hear his voice).

    There is one caveat to this issue that I think you might be missing. You really need to know the seriousness of this relationship before deciding to allow or disallow a "plus one". Todd and I have been together about 2 years and we're engaged (and you and Shannon less time and you're engaged). Gay people generally don't get engaged so this boyfriend could be a life-partner in which case not inviting him is very rude, insensitive and inherently homophobic even if the sister doesn't realize this. Gay people tend to refer to their significant others as "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" when their relationships have moved far beyond what straight people would label "boyfriend/girlfriend" simply because a lot of people think "partner" sounds cheesy and legally they aren't recognized as engaged or husband/wife so they tend not to use those terms either. I'm assuming that this is what Dan was assuming when he crafted his response (although I didn't read it myself). I think this is especially true because this is the brother of the bride, not some random co-worker or even close friend.

    The other question would be whether or not any other guests are invited with a plus-one. Are the straight guests invited with boyfriends/girlfriends? If so, not inviting this guy's boyfriend is blatantly discriminatory.

  6. Becky has a lot of good points. My primary issue with the advice was that it essentially commanded the brother to have a snit and turn his sister's wedding into a referendum on his sexuality. Not productive!

    Much better to say, respectfully and calmly, "Hey sis, I'm in a serious relationship and would very much like to bring my significant other. Is there a particular reason he was not included on my invitation?" If she says it's space/budget and no one else is bringing a guest, it's one thing. If it's to appease the family homophobes, then he needs to let her know it's hurtful and unkind. Either way, throwing grenades at his sister's big day won't accomplish anything.