Going to a friend or family member’s wedding is exciting! It’s a gift to gather with others to celebrate the beginning of a lifelong commitment of love — being present to witness that is an honor.
While the bride and groom spend months preparing for a wedding (and a marriage), guests usually don’t give much thought to the events of the day until it’s time to select an outfit and drive to the church. There are plenty of articles on how to be a good bridesmaid or groomsman, how the bride or groom should act at this or that event, what the parents’ responsibilities are — but what does it look like to be a good wedding guest?
Yes, as a guest, you’re there to enjoy a celebration hosted by the couple and their parents, but there’s more to it than simply showing up (just like there’s more to being a dinner guest than arriving at someone’s house and eating food there).
If you’re not used to attending a lot of weddings, here are some things you can do to make the experience even better for yourself and the couple.
Attend the ceremony.
Sometimes schedules and travel don’t allow for this, but I really, strongly encourage making every effort to make it to the ceremony itself — not just the reception.
It’s tempting to skip right to the party — that’s the part you’ll remember, right? But your loved ones invited you to witness their marriage, and being present with them as they commit their lives to one another is so important.
As Catholics, we believe that the marriage rite is really a community rite: you’re committing to one another, but in doing so, you’re committing to love your community and your people well. How much more meaningful is that when you’re surrounded by loved ones?
No, the bride and groom may not notice, and they may not remember that you were there. But when it is time to support them through a challenging time a few years down the line, it will matter that you’ve been a part of their commitment from the very start.
Put the phone down and take a step back.
Weddings are really exciting. There’s a lot happening, and it’s almost instinctive now to want to capture everything that’s going on so you’ll remember it forever. We get so excited, and seeing other people pull out their phones to take a picture of the bride coming down the aisle really puts on the pressure — you’ve got to get that perfect photo too, right?
Here’s the thing: the bride and groom have spent a lot of money on a professional photographer to capture those perfect moments. At best, when you pull your phone out, you’re robbing yourself of the experience of fully immersing in the event. At worst, your phone popping into the aisle will show up in the photographer’s frame and ruin the photo.
Whenever something exciting or big happens, we reflexively get excited to capture and possess it in some way, so we pull that phone out. But being the center of attention on your wedding day is exhausting enough! Give yourself and the wedding party room to breathe. Trust that you’ve got a good enough angle on the speeches from your table. And sure, once the professional photographer is gone, or when you’re ready to get a few shots you’ll cherish, pull your phone out — then set it down and get back on the dance floor!
Be a mindful guest.
We’ve all heard nightmare horror stories about the guest who gets “overserved.” No one wants to be the source of an awkward story from a wedding, and I think most of us know not to get too out of hand. But there are small ways to be gracious and respectful of the fact that your loved ones have brought you into their day.
Be mindful of the ways you’re celebrating. Wedding food and drinks aren’t cheap — your loved ones are happy to have you, and want you to enjoy yourself, but an open bar isn’t an invitation to drink like a fish.
Be mindful of the bigger purpose of the evening. You’ll love the time spent with friends, but don’t let that get in the way of the focal points. Pay attention to toasts. Don’t talk through the first dance. Cheer loudly for the couple — but don’t let crude or crass comments compromise the solemnity of the day.
Be understanding and accommodating.
You’re bound to be excited to celebrate your loved one’s special day, but weddings are busy and complicated, and things go wrong. It’s easy to take hiccups and the inconveniences personally, but try to take them in stride.
Chances are good that the bride and groom have spent hours upon hours planning a celebration that they’re just so excited to share with you. So when the bartender messes up your order, or when you don’t get to do that dance with your best friend, or you try to say hello to the bride and she gets pulled away, take a breath and realize that it doesn’t really matter in the big picture.
Because weddings are family events, there are always hidden dynamics at play below the surface — the most complicated and painful ones usually rise to the top at moments like these, which are fun but also stressful. Someone could be grieving, or dealing with a mental illness, or struggling with an addiction. As a guest, you only see the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on in these two families, so be gracious and generous.
Cherish the time you have with your loved ones — it’ll be over much more quickly than you realize. Trust their hospitality and give everybody a little extra breathing room.
Make a point of thanking the parents of the bride and groom for their hospitality. They’ve invested a lot into this moment and expressing gratitude means you see and recognize the efforts the families have made to celebrate together. Plus, being a thoughtful person reflects well on their son or daughter who chose to befriend you!
Pray for the couple!
This is my most important tip: every moment of the wedding day, pray for the bride and groom. You’ve witnessed something incredible! The wedding day is big and exciting, but what comes next is even better — two people are made one, and they begin their lives together bringing light and love to the world. That’s an awesome responsibility, and there’s a reason they invited you to witness it. They need your support, your love, and your prayers. So give boldly. Love deeply. And let the whole day be a prayer.
Weddings are exciting, and fun, and they feel like they’re over in the blink of an eye. So above all, share your presence, be thoughtful and generous, and remember why you’re there: to stand behind two people bringing their lives together and starting the lifelong adventure of marriage.