What you won’t find on the invitation is information about gifts. A wedding, as you may know from the movie Bridesmaids, is not a single-day event; there are oftentimes several gatherings before the actual big day, though most of these are reserved for relatives and members of the wedding party. If you're a friend of the groom's, it’s very possible you’ll just be asked to attend the wedding ceremony and reception – meaning you’ll only be expected to purchase a single gift. If you’re one of the bride’s friends, however, it’s likely you’ll be invited to the bridal shower and thus responsible for two gifts: one for the shower and one for the actual wedding.
A bridal shower is an event in which the female guests come together to celebrate the bride’s impending union and to pillage the couple’s Gift Registry site. Information about the registry is often included on the shower invitation, and as Jodi R. R. Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting explains, shower gifts “tend to be more of the everyday (toasters, sheets, towels, mixing bowls) and gifts given for the wedding tend to be special-occasion-oriented (china or crystal). Some showers are specifically for the kitchen (or the bedroom!).” If the shower does have a particular gift-theme, it will be noted on the invitation. Just remember that the bride’s mother and older, female relatives will likely be present, so don’t give anything so risqué that you’ll die from embarrassment should it be opened in public.
Gift giving on the actual wedding day is slightly more tricky. If you attended the bridal shower and have already given the couple an item from their Registry, then giving the couple money as the second gift is perfectly acceptable. There will likely be some sort of box at the reception for envelopes. Another option for bridal shower attendees is to give two gifts that function together within a theme, like candles for the shower and candlesticks for the wedding reception.
Physical gifts should be mailed 1-2 weeks prior to the wedding date. When brought to the actual wedding reception, gifts have a tendency to get lost or damaged. They’re also an added strain on the couple and their families who have to try to transport them all out of the venue. Attach a note with your first and last name and a message along the lines of:
“[Bride’s Name], I am just so thrilled for you and John. I look forward to celebrating with you next week. Best, [Your Name]”
If the prospect of purchasing 100 sets of crystal makes your wallet quake in fear, keep in mind that nobody is expecting you to shop out of your means. If there are no affordable items on the registry that speak to you, consider purchasing a Tiffany picture frame or making a donation to your shared alma mater in the couple’s honor. Advises Ms. Smith, “Follow the lead from the shower invitation or the wedding registry, but remember these are a guide. Invitations are not invoices.”
And now you have arrived...
Okay, you made it to the reception - now what? For the meal portion, receptions will usually have assigned seats at assigned tables. Hopefully the bride and groom put you at a table with friends, or at least other singles. Even if they didn’t, it’s rude to immediately drag your chair over to another table, especially if you were asked to choose an entrée in advance. Having worked as a catering server, I can speak from experience that the chef and the wedding planner are on the verge of a shared anxiety attack ensuring that the correct plates are sent to the correct seats. Don’t make them suffer.
If there is a band or some sort of music in the dining room and people are dancing in between courses, feel free to flit away for a moment or two to mingle, but be sure to return to your spot until dessert is over. After that, you can find your friends and never look back. Until then, practice your small talk skills. Everyone in attendance is somehow connected to at least one-half of the couple, and thus you have at least one guaranteed conversation topic. Lighten up, relax, and get your mingle on.
If you’re worried about prying questions regarding your own social life, come prepared with one or two lines that will provide an answer but no details, making it clear you’d prefer to keep your private life private. For example, in response to the question, “How is someone as fabulous as you still single?” Tristan Coopersmith suggests saying, “I’m holding out for someone equally as fabulous.”
Ultimately, it is imperative to keep in mind that weddings are at their core celebrations of
happiness. Marriage is a big deal: your friend has decided that she is so madly in love that she wants to spend the rest of her life with her partner. That’s pretty awesome, and incredibly brave. Be proud of her! And if you end up leaving the wedding alone and misty-eyed over your own fate, remember these words of wisdom from Coopersmith:
“The most important thing to do is to think of your dating life not as a means to a marriage end (which lands a lot of people saying ‘I do’ to Mr. Wrong), but rather a journey in self-discovery that will help lead you to your forever guy. Be confident that your time will come when you are truly ready, not a moment before.”
As difficult as it may be, don’t apply yourself to someone else’s timeline. If you were, as I was, content with the pace of your own life before hearing of the wedding, you should be equally content afterwards. View your peers’ weddings as a positive, if informative, experience; you are witnessing what will become one of the happiest days of their lives, and meanwhile you can evaluate the elements in a relationship that make you happy and be the perfect guest.