Wedding Etiquette Forum

Question about seating couples separately

So, head tables are not a thing in my circle. I've never been to a wedding with one, I don't understand them, and I wouldn't have one. But I have a question about the notion that separating couples at a wedding is impolite.

I've always read that a hostess should seat couples separately, at least at a dinner party. For example, Miss Manners says, "You are, of course, correct that married couples should never be seated together at dinner parties. This is for their own good. Separating them gives each a chance to tell shared stories without fear of contradiction." In response to a hostess who complained that couples changed her seating arrangement to seat themselves together, she advises, "You can't separate them by force on the spot, but you should take note of their wanting to spend the evening talking to each other and not trouble them by suggesting they again leave the conjugal harmony of their very own dinner table for yours."

Is this rule outdated? Or does it not apply to a wedding, possibly because a wedding is expected to be a less intimate setting than a dinner party?

For the record, I've never been seated apart from my fiance at a wedding and I would find it strange if I were. I'm just curious about the application of this rule.
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Re: Question about seating couples separately

  • I've heard of this an an old rule at the White House for state dinners and such, but haven't seen it in practice. I know I'd prefer to spend the night with my other half.
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  • Maggie0829Maggie0829 Ravens & Bohs & Crabs & O's member
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    With this, I think Miss Manners has it wrong and it is extremely outdated.  When H and I go to weddings or dinner parties or other events we like spending that time together as a couple (we pretty much consider it a date night) and I know that I would be perturbed if I was seated separately just so I could tell a story without H possibly jumping in and adding to it or "correcting" me.  What ridiculous shit.
    I totally agree with MM that if a couple spent the entire night talking to each other, I probably wouldn't bother inviting them to another party. But I don't think that seating couples next to each other makes them antisocial. At least, that hasn't been my experience, but I have also never been to an event where couples were split up in this way.
    But most of the time when you are invited to a wedding or a dinner party the couple in question already knows others in attendance so just because the couple wants to hang out together doesn't mean that they won't also talk to others around them. It is ridiculous to think that a couple seated together won't talk to anyone else except each other. I think splitting couples up to force them to talk to others at the event is rude. Honestly if I was split up from H I would probably be more antisocial then I already am. I am much more comfortable talking to new people when I am with H then when I am not.

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  • I've heard of this an an old rule at the White House for state dinners and such, but haven't seen it in practice. I know I'd prefer to spend the night with my other half.
    Interesting! You gave me something else to Google, and I found this article about the Obamas' state dinners.

    "Also surprising was the fact that Desirée Rogers came to the party as an invited guest and was seated at dinner. Ten former social secretaries I talked to—going back to the Kennedy and Johnson White Houses—all said they were at state dinners purely in a working capacity. Another break with the past: married couples were seated together, rather than at separate tables, which had not been done since Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter's day."
  • LondonLisaLondonLisa London, UK member
    Eighth Anniversary 2500 Comments 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    I'm not suggesting you do this, but in Scandinavia you do not sit with your partner or date at a wedding. You sit near them (such as across or at the same table), and the man seated to a woman's right is "given the honour to assist her", in the sense that he is responsible for making sure her drink is full, introducing her to his wife or his husband etc (if it is two men or two women seated next to each other they take turns). I know it is super outdated, and could be interpreted as sexist, however, I had good Swedish friend a who did for this for her wedding in Stockholm and I had a great time, mainly because it was a chance to get to know different people (and it was their cultural norm). The thing is, I was one of the few non-Swedish people at this wedding so it worked because everyone knew this is how it is done. I don't think it would work in many other contexts outside this as people prefer sitting with their dates and partners in English speaking countries. 
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  • My vote is outdated even though I am a fan of Miss Manners.  I am with Maggie on everything she said. Saved me a lot of typing.

    Dh and I don't really get to spend that much time together.  I would be pissed if I had to sit away from him for a nice dinner and evening out together because of some outdated BS.

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  • I'm not suggesting you do this, but in Scandinavia you do not sit with your partner or date at a wedding. You sit near them (such as across or at the same table), and the man seated to a woman's right is "given the honour to assist her", in the sense that he is responsible for making sure her drink is full, introducing her to his wife or his husband etc (if it is two men or two women seated next to each other they take turns). I know it is super outdated, and could be interpreted as sexist, however, I had good Swedish friend a who did for this for her wedding in Stockholm and I had a great time, mainly because it was a chance to get to know different people (and it was their cultural norm). The thing is, I was one of the few non-Swedish people at this wedding so it worked because everyone knew this is how it is done. I don't think it would work in many other contexts outside this as people prefer sitting with their dates and partners in English speaking countries. 
    Interesting! I'm discovering on the internets that this is a controversial topic. The Obamas' decision to seat couples together even inspired an entire column in the Washington Post.
  • This rule seems VERY outdated to me. I would not enjoy going to a party WITH my SO, only to have to spend the evening/dinner portion not beside him. For one, I'm the social butterfly of the two of us; he would stare at his phone all night and we'd probably be texting each other under the table. Two, it would simply annoy me that a host would invite couples and then purposely seat them apart, as if we're all first graders and we're being forced to "make new friends."

    I HATE how some people (usually of the snowflake variety) think it's acceptable to force their own ideas on grown adults. DON'T dictate to me how to spend my time and with whom. I will get up and leave, or switch my seat and not give a fuck how it disrupts the table, or I'll decline if I know ahead of time. 
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  • I thought that she meant couples should be seated at the same table, but not directly next to each other. I guess when I think of a dinner party too, I think of only one table being there...and Lady Catherine DeBourgh saying "Mr. Collins, you can't sit next your wife!"
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  • phiraphira Bahstin member
    5000 Comments 500 Love Its Second Anniversary 5 Answers
    I mean, at my friend's wedding, the two other couples we were sitting with only talked to each other and not to us, but I think it was more that they were not very friendly people and already knew each other, and didn't want to talk to the new couple.

    Anyway, that's a stupid rule. It assumes the worst of your guests ("If they're with their spouse, they'll only talk to their spouse!") and it also has a huge, outdated and gendered assumption--that couples are inherently dishonest with each other (so you need to seat them separately so they won't contradict each other).
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  • Jen4948Jen4948 Houston member
    10000 Comments Seventh Anniversary 500 Love Its 25 Answers
    I won't say "outdated," because I guess it's still officially in effect, but as noted by PPs, a lot of people don't abide by it.

    Go ahead and seat all your couples next to each other, and hopefully, they'll all realize that they can't limit their conversations only to their own partners.
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  • FiancBFiancB MinnesOOOta member
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    That's ridiculous. I could sort of see it for a very small group at someone's house or something, but even then I think a seating chart would be pretty out of place in that case. Freaking a, people, what's wrong with letting adults sit where they want??? lol
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  • With this, I think Miss Manners has it wrong and it is extremely outdated.  When H and I go to weddings or dinner parties or other events we like spending that time together as a couple (we pretty much consider it a date night) and I know that I would be perturbed if I was seated separately just so I could tell a story without H possibly jumping in and adding to it or "correcting" me.  What ridiculous shit.

    I agree. MM is generally excellent in the advice department, but this is one that is definitely outdated. Especially at a wedding, which is generally a large event at which many guests may not know anyone other than their SO, it is advisable to seat couples together. I don't assign seating at dinner parties and SOs always choose to sit together.

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  • I can see her point if the couple is self absorbed but I generally want to be seated WITH my husband at dinner parties or other events.

    I usually agree with Miss Manners but I think she also believes is a honor to be asked to help serve the cake at a wedding.
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  • At an intimate dinner, I like it when the couple's split up. If i was having a formal dinner party at my house with a total of 6-8 guests (so 8-10 people total), and it was formal enough to have seating cards already at the table indicating where people should sit, then I'd consider breaking up the couples. The purpose of having a seating arrangement is to put people next to each other that you think would like each other. I consider people to be individuals, so I'd consider them as such, instead of saying "this COUPLE might like this other COUPLE" which is basically a moot point when there's only 10 people anyway!

    However, for a wedding, where personally I've only ever had table assignments and never seat assignments, I can't imagine couple's being split up. Most weddings are a very different environment than an intimate dinner party in someone's home. 
  • MandyMost said:
    At an intimate dinner, I like it when the couple's split up. If i was having a formal dinner party at my house with a total of 6-8 guests (so 8-10 people total), and it was formal enough to have seating cards already at the table indicating where people should sit, then I'd consider breaking up the couples. The purpose of having a seating arrangement is to put people next to each other that you think would like each other. I consider people to be individuals, so I'd consider them as such, instead of saying "this COUPLE might like this other COUPLE" which is basically a moot point when there's only 10 people anyway!

    However, for a wedding, where personally I've only ever had table assignments and never seat assignments, I can't imagine couple's being split up. Most weddings are a very different environment than an intimate dinner party in someone's home. 
    Do you host formal dinner parties with place cards, telling people where to sit when you have 8-10 people?
  • In general, at formal dinner parties, couples are still split up. However, weddings I believe are treated differently, because it is a formalization of a relationship, so couples are seated together.
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  • I kind of hate when i show up to an event with another person and then we are intentionally split up.  Yes, i understand that the purpose of this is to force people to mingle.  but you shouldn't have to be FORCED to mingle or to meet other people - especially at a small gathering.  I guess if your friends will sit in separate corners coupled off all night this is a good idea.  But no one i know really does this, so it just sounds odd.

     

    A friend and i signed up for a small (10 people) cooking class at a local establishment a few years ago.  In that 10 people were 2 sets of friends, a mother-daughter duo, and 2 couples.  We were told that we would be pairing off and making 5 dishes...and then we were split up from the person we arrived with and had to cook with complete strangers.  this struck me as really stupid - i gave up 4 hours of my Saturday to go to a cooking class WITH MY FRIEND and then i didn't get to hang out with her at all.  And i would have been even angrier if i had gone to this class with my SO.  I didn't go to the class to make new friends.  I went to learn risotto recipes.  It's not like we stood off to the side alone making sly comments about the other participants, and we spoke with several of them before and during the class.  the setup just made my day a lot less fun.

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  • Maggie0829Maggie0829 Ravens & Bohs & Crabs & O's member
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    Even at formal dinner parties couples should not be split up.  You should be seated with the person you came/invited with.  To invite a couple together only to split them up once you get their seems incredibly dumb.

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  • phiraphira Bahstin member
    5000 Comments 500 Love Its Second Anniversary 5 Answers
    It just doesn't make any sense to me. "Etiquette says to split you up!" OH WELL THEN IT MUST BE TRUE.

    I'm all for great etiquette, but that rule makes no sense. You end up with unhappy guests, when the whole point is to have HAPPY guests.
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  • kmmssg said:
    MandyMost said:
    At an intimate dinner, I like it when the couple's split up. If i was having a formal dinner party at my house with a total of 6-8 guests (so 8-10 people total), and it was formal enough to have seating cards already at the table indicating where people should sit, then I'd consider breaking up the couples. The purpose of having a seating arrangement is to put people next to each other that you think would like each other. I consider people to be individuals, so I'd consider them as such, instead of saying "this COUPLE might like this other COUPLE" which is basically a moot point when there's only 10 people anyway!

    However, for a wedding, where personally I've only ever had table assignments and never seat assignments, I can't imagine couple's being split up. Most weddings are a very different environment than an intimate dinner party in someone's home. 
    Do you host formal dinner parties with place cards, telling people where to sit when you have 8-10 people?

    I host formal dinner parties on occasion and we do not assign seating - it might be novel to do it sometime. But usually couples stick together until after dinner, at which point we generally end up splitting off into smaller groups for continued drinks and conversation.

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  • phira said:
    I mean, at my friend's wedding, the two other couples we were sitting with only talked to each other and not to us, but I think it was more that they were not very friendly people and already knew each other, and didn't want to talk to the new couple.

    Anyway, that's a stupid rule. It assumes the worst of your guests ("If they're with their spouse, they'll only talk to their spouse!") and it also has a huge, outdated and gendered assumption--that couples are inherently dishonest with each other (so you need to seat them separately so they won't contradict each other).
    I don't think it's an assumption of couples being dishonest with each other, just that people remember stuff differently.  DH always gets stories wrong.  I either let it go or tell him about it later when we are alone.  
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  • delujm0 said:

    I kind of hate when i show up to an event with another person and then we are intentionally split up.  Yes, i understand that the purpose of this is to force people to mingle.  but you shouldn't have to be FORCED to mingle or to meet other people - especially at a small gathering.  I guess if your friends will sit in separate corners coupled off all night this is a good idea.  But no one i know really does this, so it just sounds odd.

     

    A friend and i signed up for a small (10 people) cooking class at a local establishment a few years ago.  In that 10 people were 2 sets of friends, a mother-daughter duo, and 2 couples.  We were told that we would be pairing off and making 5 dishes...and then we were split up from the person we arrived with and had to cook with complete strangers.  this struck me as really stupid - i gave up 4 hours of my Saturday to go to a cooking class WITH MY FRIEND and then i didn't get to hang out with her at all.  And i would have been even angrier if i had gone to this class with my SO.  I didn't go to the class to make new friends.  I went to learn risotto recipes.  It's not like we stood off to the side alone making sly comments about the other participants, and we spoke with several of them before and during the class.  the setup just made my day a lot less fun.

    Did you complain to the management?  I feel like these are becoming a type of "date" activity and that could cost them business if they are splitting up people who took the class for the purpose of spending time together.  
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  • I would have outright refused to pair with a stranger at that class. And if they made a federal case out of it, I would have demanded a refund and left.

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  • lyndausvilyndausvi Western Slope, Colorado mod
    Moderator Knottie Warrior 10000 Comments 500 Love Its
    DH and I always seems separated at social events.   Maybe we don't like each other?  IDK, it's rare we sit together.

    In very formal events like state dinners with the president and queen the practice is alive and well.   Normal society I do not think it's done too often.  

      The problem with comparing it with a HT at a wedding is in those cases generally ONLY the WP are split.  The rest of the guest list is with their SOs.   If you are going to split couples split ALL couples or none of them.  Seems silly to split only your nearest and dearest.






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  • AddieCakeAddieCake Beyond the Wall member
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    I am painfully shy. Even if I know everyone in the room, I am going to prefer to be seated with my husband or person I came with.
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  • mysticl said:
    delujm0 said:

    I kind of hate when i show up to an event with another person and then we are intentionally split up.  Yes, i understand that the purpose of this is to force people to mingle.  but you shouldn't have to be FORCED to mingle or to meet other people - especially at a small gathering.  I guess if your friends will sit in separate corners coupled off all night this is a good idea.  But no one i know really does this, so it just sounds odd.

     

    A friend and i signed up for a small (10 people) cooking class at a local establishment a few years ago.  In that 10 people were 2 sets of friends, a mother-daughter duo, and 2 couples.  We were told that we would be pairing off and making 5 dishes...and then we were split up from the person we arrived with and had to cook with complete strangers.  this struck me as really stupid - i gave up 4 hours of my Saturday to go to a cooking class WITH MY FRIEND and then i didn't get to hang out with her at all.  And i would have been even angrier if i had gone to this class with my SO.  I didn't go to the class to make new friends.  I went to learn risotto recipes.  It's not like we stood off to the side alone making sly comments about the other participants, and we spoke with several of them before and during the class.  the setup just made my day a lot less fun.

    Did you complain to the management?  I feel like these are becoming a type of "date" activity and that could cost them business if they are splitting up people who took the class for the purpose of spending time together.  


    That place has since gone out of business.  Not surprised.

     

    My friend and I have taken several cooking classes at other establishments where we weren't split up and they've been great.  I understand the assigned pairings for a purpose - like a work employee-bonding situation or whatever, but not when it's on my own time.  i am an adult, and as such i will select my own partners thank you very much.

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