6 Awkward Situations to Handle Gracefully at Your Wedding

From unexpected guests to a first-dance crasher

awkward situations

Art by Tiana Crispino

As any bride or groom who’s come before you will tell, weddings bring out the best and the worst of people. From the moment the engagement is announced, all through the planning period, and to the actual wedding day itself, unsolicited comments seem to fly freely and cringing actions seemingly occur left and right by our friends and family, our co-workers, and even perfect strangers. 

The issue really boils down to the fact that weddings are exciting, monumental, and life-changing experiences in someone’s life and everyone around you wants to be involved in some way, shape, or form. Friends and family especially may try to offer “helpful” advice that they may not realize can be rather off-putting for a bride and a groom, notes Diane Gottsman, international etiquette expert. “When people hear a wedding announcement, they may inadvertently inject their own beliefs and filters, which can put unnecessary pressure on the couple planning a wedding,” she says. “Occasions like this may spark high levels of anxiety for the bride and groom, so it’s important that couples do what they can to circumvent stress from the jump.”

It’s also worth noting that planning a wedding is a very sensitive time in and of itself. There are countless decisions that need to be made, usually in a timely fashion, including everything from selecting a fitting venue and flattering wedding gown to choosing a supportive wedding party and ironing out a cohesive guest list. Unless a couple knows exactly what they want, they might be more sensitive to the feedback of others, which can create confusion and a lack of planning, notes Amanda Hudes, event planner, author, and life coach of Smiling Through the Chaos of Wedding Planning. “When you listen to too many opinions, there’s a lack of direction. [It] can turn the planning process into a task list of to-do’s that will keep adding up, no matter how many checks you put next to each item,” she says.

While it’s true that people’s voices and actions during your wedding-planning journey might get the best of you now and then, it’s important for couples to keep their cool—not only for the purpose of maintaining relationships with others, but also for their own sanity. Here, experts share how to gracefully handle some common, albeit awkward, situations that might arise as you plan your wedding.

Meet the Expert

An Old Friend or Co-Worker Assumes They’re Invited

If, even before invites haven’t gone out yet, a friend who is not on the guest list is asking about time, place, and location so they can make plans to be there, it can be a bit awkward, to say the least. If you’re feeling a mix of emotions—guilty, annoyed, anxious—it’s understandable, notes Heather Wiese-Alexander, etiquette expert and founder of Bell’INVITO. “Acknowledge how much you appreciate that they want to be there, but simply explain that you are being more limited with your guest list,” she says. “Then suggest setting up a dinner with this person once the wedding planning is through and thank them for being a part of your life.” 

A Guest Shows Up to Your Wedding Wearing White

Brides have traditionally been wearing white for nearly two centuries, so it’s an unfortunate faux pas when someone chooses that color for their wedding attire. As annoying as this is for the bride, Gottsman believes it’s best to let it go, at least for the moment. “It helps to put things into perspective. For example, there’s a difference between someone wearing a white dress with flowers, and a dress that could basically be considered a second wedding dress,” she says. “Though it seems standard to some, it is also possible that the guest was not informed of this unspoken rule and simply thought the outfit looked nice.” At the end of the day, you have a 24-hour period to really rock the title of bride, and letting this person steal any amount of joy is simply not worth it.

Your Friend Gets Blackout Drunk at Your Reception

With beer, wine, and liquor flowing over the course of several hours, it’s quite probable that someone might lose control over how much they’ve had to drink. No matter who this person is, whether it’s a college friend or your Uncle Henry, Wiese-Alexander reminds couples not to feel the need to direct or control their guests. “This is what your vendors (especially bartenders), bridal party, and just good friends are for on this big day,” she says. “If you have a specific concern, talk to your vendors ahead of time and have them ready to discreetly handle any situation that might arise.” Keep your focus on each other and let the wonderful staff you hired do what they do best.

An Attendee Shows Up With Unexpected Guests 

Sometimes a guest shows up with someone uninvited—or someone who was invited but they forgot to include in the RSVP, such as an added plus one. “You don’t want to turn away someone after they have already arrived so, in these situations, use your best judgement,” says Gottsman. She recommends first determining whether or not these unexpected guests will cause a rift with family or friends, or will logistically cause any confusion. “If there is an unexpected plus one, a discreet conversation at another time could be warranted, but that’s for another time,” she notes. 

Someone Interrupts Your Special Dance

If you’re like most couples, there are a few important dances that call for a maximum of two people on the dance floor at a given time. These include the couple’s first dance, the father-daughter dance, and the mother-son dance. If any of your wedding guests decide it’s a good idea to join in before the DJ formally invites everyone, it can get awkward. “I've seen this happen before, where it was a married guest’s wedding song so they decided to join in, and while that couple didn't seem to mind, it's completely acceptable to keep that song alone on the dance floor for those few minutes,” she says. “If they continue dancing, just focus on the person you're dancing with because you won't get that time back, so appreciating those moments will feel wonderful.” 

Someone Brought Their Kids When You Specifically Asked Them Not To

You shouldn’t feel ashamed for requesting guests not to bring their children. After all, weddings are often adults-only occasions, and you may not have the space at your venue to extend to all of the children who’d wind up on your guest list. Should the situation occur that your cousin shows up with kids in tow, Maryanne Parker, etiquette expert and founder of Manor of Manners, recommends painting the situation in a positive way and even engaging the kids with the celebration. “If you give them a small task to do such as carry some flowers, or even greet the guests, it might turn this negative into positive,” she says.

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