Miss SOS (Save Our Sanity)


Planning my wedding is driving me crazy.

Never fear – Miss SOS is here. Miss SOS (Save Our Sanity) specializes in saving sanities especially for Brides, Grooms, mothers and mothers-in-law. Plus, Miss SOS is a noted expert on etiquette and can sort out a vast array of knotty and uncomfortable issues from family dynamics to “I can’t believe I got this gift.” And, to see what other topics Miss SOS has addressed, check out the Miss SOS Archives!

Miss SOS is also available to speak at your company or business on “Manners Around the Water Cooler”. Business etiquette is paramount in order to achieve success. In a world where our coworkers and clients are as likely to come from the other side of the globe as the other side of town, changes both subtle and radical are necessary in our manners. Miss SOS’ fun interactive presentation provides advice and guidelines relevant to our business lives today including office decorum, business calls and introductions, entertaining and networking, cyberspace courtesies, and conducting business out of your home.

To learn more, contact Miss SOS at hazel@hazellbowman.com.


Dear Miss SOS:

My fiancée and I, both from large families, are assembling our guest list for what we hope will be an intimate wedding of approximately 125 guests. The venue is outdoors so there is no limit on numbers other than our budget and our idea of what an intimate wedding will be.

We have made efforts to identify all significant others on our guest list so that we can invite them by name. For guests we’ve determined to be single, we will not be including a “+ Guest” on their invitation regardless if family or friends.

This decision has caused incredible stress. My stepmother is insulted that I would disrespect her by not allowing her sons to bring dates. Since neither of them could name who they would like to bring, we’d prefer that they not bring a date just for the sake of bringing a companion.

In an effort to keep our numbers down, we have cut friends of many years, colleagues from work, neighbors, etc. We would need to cut even more if all our guests bring dates. I’ve been accused of being cheap, ungrateful, disrespectful, insulting, judgmental and more.

I’ve asked close friends and read etiquette books and blogs but the only defense I’ve found is that “of course weddings are expensive and single guest should not expect to bring dates” or “weddings have complicated logistics and extra guests can throw those out of order.” Why is there no defense along the lines of “it is rude to bring a date to an intimate family event unless the relationship is serious” or “the intimacy of the event will be compromised if family members bring casual dates as guests”?

We want our guests to feel special and I think allowing casual dates will compromise that feeling. I have been to many weddings as a single man and never once thought to complain that I was not allowed to bring a guest, nor would I ever consider bringing a casual date to such an event.

Please be honest with me and tell me if I’m being cheap, disrespectful, judgmental, etc. Are there any standard rules of etiquette that say what type of events to which one should feel comfortable bringing a date versus significant other?


Miss SOS:  The rules of etiquette are actually very simple – only invited guests may accept or decline an invitation and only the hosts of the event may determine the guest list, taking into consideration the desires and wishes of the honorees.

Miss SOS does not know, nor wishes to be informed, of the blogs and etiquette books that provided such incomplete information. Suffice to say that they were sadly lacking.

You might be surprised to learn that etiquette addressed the issue of wedding invitations quite some time ago. Generally there are two envelopes for each invitation, the outer envelope and the inner envelope. The outer envelope is addressed to the household unit, such as Mr. and Mrs. James Pritchard. The inner envelope is addressed to the members of the household that are actually invited. If the inner envelope has written on it “Mr. and Mrs. Pritchard” (or, if family, “Aunt Helen and Uncle Jim”) then those would be the only two that could accept or decline.  If their children were invited, it would read “Aunt Helen and Uncle Jim, and James, Jr. and Elizabeth.”  If there is an outer envelope only, then it would read Mr. and Mrs. James Pritchard, and if their children were included, the words “and James, Jr. and Elizabeth.”

The words “and guest” should never appear on either the outer or inner envelope. The proper host and hostess do not relinquish control of the guest list but instead inquires in advance of the name and address of the invitee’s companion so that a separate invitation may be issued to that individual directly.

Should an invited guest improperly RSVP that they are bringing uninvited guests to accompany them, it is permissible to contact them saying, “As much as we’d love to accommodate everyone to our celebration, we are unable to do so. However we do look forward to meeting/seeing your companion/date/houseguest/child(ren) at a later time after our honeymoon.”  No further explanation is necessary.

Miss SOS advises that you cease discussing your guest list, refuse to be drawn into debate with others by simply stating “I appreciate your viewpoint”, and instead issue the invitations to the family and friends you have chosen to include. Those who are single will enjoy the wonderful experience in meeting new people and reacquainting themselves with others at your wedding reception.

Dear Miss SOS:

A very long time ago I received a wedding invitation that had two or three words in French at the bottom of the invitation. I had to look them up – cannot remember them now – but they meant “no gifts please”. Or, something very close to that. Do you know what they are? Thank you.

Miss SOS:  No matter how altruistic your motives may be, it is improper to refer to gifts on a wedding invitation, whether it is stating that you want gifts or don’t want gifts. It doesn’t make any difference what language it’s worded in, whether English or French, it is still considered incorrect. Instead, verbally circulate word that you are serious about not receiving presents. If pressured into naming at least “one thing” that you desire, Miss SOS recommends that you gently suggest that any money that would be spent on a gift be redirected by contributing it to a charitable organization.

That being said, the French words you are seeking are “pas de cadeaux.”

Dear Miss SOS:

I am fed up trying to find out the answer to my question in etiquette books. Not one addresses the subject so I’m writing to you to find out if you know the answer. Not even my church can help. What is the correct layout of a wedding program? Are the roles of the wedding party printed on the left with the order of the service printed on the right? Or is it reversed? And where do we list the sponsors – i.e. family, that we’re thanking for their contribution in making this wedding possible?

Miss SOS:  Yes, Miss SOS knows the answer to your question but you aren’t going to like her response. There is a distinct reason why you won’t find a section on “Wedding Programs” in any reputable etiquette book.

Wedding Programs are the love of stationery stores and the bane of etiquette advice columnists. A wedding ceremony is not a stage production, nor is it a play. Guests are not considered an audience. A receiving line is the proper way for guests to meet the members of the Bride’s wedding party. The wedding ceremony in your church is a religious service uniting two people in holy wedlock, not a theatrical performance where Acts I, II, III and IV are identified. People are not sponsors, they are family and friends who have helped make this day possible. They are to be thanked in person, followed by a lovely handwritten note expressing your appreciation for all their time and effort.

Dear Miss SOS:

My miniature poodle goes with me everywhere as my beloved companion. Everyone I know knows this. I just received an invitation to a wedding. Is it OK if I bring my darling “Mitzie”?

Miss SOS:  Only invited guests may accept or decline an invitation. Unless Mitzie’s name was included on the wedding invitation, Miss SOS refuses to even consider having you RSVP for two.

PrescottWeddings.com FREE e-zine series “Making It Happen” is one of the best tools Miss SOS can recommend. It helps you plan your timeline, provides valuable hints on how to cut the cost and not the dream, lets you know what questions you should be asking, and gives other great information. Subscribe online here. 

Have a question? Write Miss SOS at hazel@hazellbowman.com