Like so many brides, Itamar Conner put a lot of thought into the guest list for her wedding last year.
She wanted to be surrounded only by her closest family and friends when she said her vows on September 23.
“We don’t live in a world where people marry their first kisses.”
Some guests clearly made the cut: her and her husband’s immediate family; friends they each had known since grade school; an inner circle of new friends they socialised with as a couple. But other possibilities required more thought, especially two men Conner had dated previously whom she still considered friends.
Conner’s husband let her make the decision, and she eventually decided it would be inappropriate to have them at their wedding.
“Before we met each other, we had both been out in the dating scene, having fun, being 21-year-olds,” she said. “But for our wedding day, something we treasured so much, we didn’t want it to be tainted with our past. We didn’t want to see a picture of my exes in the wedding photos.”
“We don’t live in a world where people marry their first kisses, says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert. “Lots of people date lots of people these days,” she adds. “We might have dated people at one time or another and now they are our neighbours, our dentists, our friends.” Online dating and the fact that people are marrying older have only added to this reality.
What this means for couples getting married is that when it comes time to drawing up the guest list, more people have to decide whether they will include past relationships or hookups in their festivities.
This can be a tricky, sensitive issue for both the couple and the past partner, according to Gottsman. “There really aren’t any definites,” she says. “It is subjective based on the feelings of the couple and the circumstances.”
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Paul Hwang, a 24-year-old Marine, married his wife, Rayliene Hwang, on July 7, 2017, in an apple orchard. He had met her through a close male friend who had dated her. Despite that tricky situation, they were still friends, and Hwang asked him to be his best man.
“I’ve heard of a lot of weddings where it’s like you went on one date with this person, so you can’t invite them,” he says.
“But for me, even knowing that they probably had a sexual relationship when they were dating, it is in the past. You can’t hold someone accountable for what they did. A kiss is just a kiss.”
Rachel Sussman, a marriage and relationship therapist, said a good test for deciding whether an ex should be invited is whether that person has been part of the life of the couple.
“Most couples when they get engaged, they’ve been dating for two, three or four years,” she said. “If someone all of a sudden says, ‘I want to invite this person to my wedding,’ and their fiancee hasn’t met him or her, that’s weird to me.”
Even when the bride and groom are certain about their decision, it can be an emotional choice for the former partner.
Hwang’s friend ended up choosing not to come to the wedding after there was a misunderstanding about the date of the wedding. Hwang said it was probably for the best. “I think it would have been a dis if we didn’t even invite him at all,” she said. “But maybe it would have been a little awkward if he was there. I told him some intimate things about myself.”
Cristina Garcia, a 38-year-old dietitian and wellness consultant who is happily married with children, was shocked when her high school sweetheart hand-delivered an invitation to his wedding. “I knew he was dating someone and they were serious, and I was happy for him,” she said. “But I never expected the wife would be cool with inviting me to the wedding.”
She attended and found the experience baffling. “The doors opened, the bride is there, and he was looking for me,” she said. “Our eyes locked. Then they continued with the ceremony, and I congratulated them after and watched them do their first dance. Maybe it was his version of closure.” She added that it was a moment she will never forget for her entire life.
Then there are the people left out of the festivities.
Jessica Birch, a 33-year-old special education teacher, felt isolated when she wasn’t invited to the wedding of an ex-boyfriend from college who ended up dating and later marrying a mutual friend. “We were all part of the same clique in our rowing club,” she said. “It was similar to any club where you have both guys and girls. You all just end up dating each other at some point.”
She found out she wasn’t invited to the wedding when other mutual friends inquired whether she was going. “I played it off not like I wasn’t invited but that I couldn’t make it,” she said. “I saw all my friends at the wedding on Facebook. It really sucked.”
“Are you all friends now and the bride or groom is just jealous? If that’s the case, that is a sign of bigger problems to come. That person is going to be jealous of co-workers and family members down the line,” says Gottsman. “If you’re making a declaration that this is a fresh start for us, we are keeping it limited to close family and friends, that is different.”
Of course, not every situation with an ex is tricky. When Laurel Niedospial, a 33-year-old freelance writer got married on June 17, 2012, she had no hesitation about inviting her ex-boyfriend, who was already married to her close friend, to the wedding. “It’s funny,” she said. “I stopped thinking about him as an ex-boyfriend years before that.”
The New York Times