By the numbers

Tiffany Stark Marker and Adam Marker were married this past summer in Virginia. Photo by Cynthia Kirsch
Tiffany Stark Marker and Adam Marker were married this past summer in Virginia.
Photo by Cynthia Kirsch

When it comes to planning a wedding, inviting friends and family is the easy part. How to determine what constitutes a “plus one” for the same friends and family can be challenging, especially when costs are increasingly a concern as the guest list grows.

Where to draw the line? Marriage? Serious relationship? Casual date?

Tiffany Stark Marker, 34, a yoga instructor, and her husband Adam Marker, 40, an attorney,
initially planned to invite more than 200 guests to their wedding ceremony at Whitehall Manor in Bluemont, Va., this past November. As the dollar figures began to rise, the Arlington couple made the tough decision to narrow the guest list to only people who they had a special connection with. The final guest list was nearly halved to around 110.

“My husband and I had a policy that unless somebody was in a relationship already, and it was like a serious relationship, that we were only going to include them to create a more special environment,” said Stark Marker. “If someone just needed to find a date for the wedding, we thought it would take away from that specialness, that camaraderie. So we decided to cut costs by only allowing people to bring someone who they were in an established relationship with.”

Event planner Marci Etman, of Creative Parties in Bethesda, said that while keeping costs down and creating an intimate environment with close friends and family are the two biggest factors in being more selective with who is allowed as a “plus one,” venue size should not be discounted.

She said that the guest list is becoming more of an issue because as many couples wait longer to get married, they have more single friends holding off on marriage until later in life and wanting to bring a date.

“When you really look at some of these lists, these brides and grooms are inviting so many of their friends. If they have a lot of single friends with dates, it adds a lot of people to the wedding. So it’s something very important to consider,” said Etman.

However, wedding etiquette expert Nancy Mitchell believes that if budget and space permit, the bride and groom should consider inviting all guests, including singles bringing a one-time date and newly dating couples. Mitchell said that if the bride and groom decide not to invite a long-term friend or family member’s date with whom they are unfamiliar, then they must be prepared to defend the decision.

Restrictions on the guest list can put the bride and groom in an awkward position as some of their friends develop serious relationships or even get engaged during the planning process, which can take up to a year. At that point, the couple feels obligated to include the “plus one,” said Etman.

This was the case with Stark Marker, as during the course of her engagement, some of her bridesmaids started to date seriously and closer to the wedding date said they wanted to bring someone.

“We did it on a case-by-case basis because when you invite a lot of people to a wedding you don’t know who is going to respond as a yes. And so when we saw some cancellations, we decided we were going to go ahead and say, ‘If you have someone special, we can accommodate that as well.’”

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