Second Wedding Etiquette Q&A: A Must-Read for Guests

Charli Penn
by Charli Penn

When you receive an invitation to attend someone's second (or even third) wedding, there's always a feeling that maybe some of the usual guest rules won't necessarily apply. Here are a few of the most common concerns with advice on how to address them from Elise Mac Adam, author of Something New: Wedding Etiquette for Rule Breakers, Traditionalists, and Everyone in Between.

Q: What do you say when you bump into your newly engaged friend's ex?

A: Nothing, without an okay from your friend. It's not your place to break the news, but you don't want to have to be coy either. If you're worried that your friend's ex will be hurt that you didn't say anything, don't be. The ex will understand that it was never your place to reveal this information without the proper go-ahead from your friend. Since the engagement (and marriage) isn't really something that can be kept secret for long anyway, all your friend has to decide is whether they need to talk to the ex first, or if it's all right that you have the honors if you run into each other.

Q: Is it appropriate to purchase a gift for someone getting remarried? What if the couple hasn't mentioned a registry?

A. Traditionally speaking, you're not obliged to give a present for second marriages, though it's obviously a wonderful gesture. Of course, it isn't at all rude to ask the couple if they've registered anywhere, especially since many second wedding couples won't be too keen on promoting their registry. They'll be touched that you were curious enough to inquire and will likely be glad to point you in the right direction. Even if you decide not to give a present, it's a good idea to write a letter or a card saying how honored you were to attend the wedding and how happy you are for the couple.

Q: If there's no registry, what are some appropriate gift ideas?

A: Second wedding presents tend to be on a smaller scale than ones given at first weddings. The present should be tailored to the interests of the couple and the comfort levels (both emotional and financial) of the gift-giver. Think of things that they might find intriguing. They may have well-established interests or hobbies that you can take into account when coming up with gift ideas. This is a moment where you can be liberated from the standard concepts of wedding gifts (like plateware or bedding) and think about nongeneric things that the couple might really enjoy, like a couple's cooking class, salsa lessons, or maybe a restaurant gift certificate -- those are always appreciated.

Q: Is it ever okay to mention the bride's or groom's previous spouse/wedding during a toast or speech, or at a prewedding party?

A: A previous marriage is a fact of life, so while it's unfortunate that things ended, it doesn't have to become totally unmentionable. Be respectful of the past, avoid comparing marriages and relationships, and don't be catty or petty. It's unpleasant to be actively disparaging of someone's ex at the ceremony or reception, particularly the ceremony. Even if the bride or groom is a true prize compared to the previous spouse or partner, the occasion is about looking forward, not about the past, so why dredge up unpleasantness? On the other hand, if everyone gets along well and the comment is friendly and not awkward for the relevant parties (bride, groom, ex-spouse, etc.), there's no reason to go nuts avoiding the obvious. If you're worried your joke or one-liner might be a little inappropriate, don't risk it.

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