Miss Jane Smith and Guest?

Couples must choose whether to bestow unmarried friends with invitations that read, "and guest"

A week before his May 2007 wedding to Rosemary Hayden, Adam Gold got a surprise: an e-mail from a high school friend asking if he could bring an uninvited guest to their formal, nighttime nuptials at the chic State Room in Boston. “His exact words were, ‘Yo, can I bring my girl?’” Adam says of the faux pas. “I got kind of upset. You’re supposed to respect the bride and groom’s guest list.”

When compiling the always-tricky guest list, engaged couples struggle to decide who will bring a date to their wedding—while navigating a minefield of potential hurt feelings. In years past, every adult was invited with a guest, says Sharon Naylor, author of The Bride’s Diplomacy Guide, but as weddings grow pricier and young people stay single longer, there aren’t set rules regarding plus-ones anymore. “The etiquette hasn’t caught up,” Naylor says. “You really are picking and choosing who gets to bring a guest, and that hurts people’s feelings.”

Many couples balk at having strangers present on the big day, sometimes to the chagrin of single friends. “To keep it more intimate, we wanted one of us to have a close relationship with everybody at the wedding,” says Adam, who ultimately told his friend he’d have to come solo to the event, where guests dined on petit filet mignon and lobster ravioli against a backdrop of panoramic Boston Harbor views. “When he asked, it sounded like I was throwing a New Year’s party and I’d sent him an Evite. I don’t think he was taking my wedding very seriously.”

In Jenna White’s single days, she took it personally when her friends didn’t invite her to their weddings with a guest; she thought the couple doubted her ability to find a date. “There was always a little twist of a knife to not be given that option,” says the Chicago resident, who married Michael Beasley in June 2008. “It’s that angst-y thing of thinking everyone else is going to find their match but me.”

At her own nuptials, Jenna wanted to make sure her guests didn’t experience the same pangs. She planned an intimate seaside ceremony on Florida’s secluded Anna Maria Island, followed later that week by a New Orleans–themed reception at historic FitzGerald’s nightclub in Berwyn, IL, to which each unattached guest was invited with a plus-one. “I really wanted everybody we love to be there and be their happiest,” says the bride. “And if that meant bringing a guest, great.”

As it turned out, only three people brought guests she and her husband hadn’t met; the rest of the plus-ones were established significant others. “I have no regrets about our open policy,” she says. “I just wanted to make everybody as comfortable as possible.”

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