Lucy Mary Taylor lost touch with most of her classmates from Coleg Gwent in Newport, Wales, but she kept in close contact with her pal Gabrielle Lopategui. Ms. Lopategui, whom she met in 2010, was the first of her friends to marry, and Ms. Taylor felt honored to be invited to the wedding. But beside the bride, the groom and the bride’s parents, she would not know anybody there.
Ms. Taylor, 30, a fashion blogger, was nervous when she walked into the wedding festivities alone in May 2022. She didn’t know whom to strike up a conversation with or how to spend the evening.
During the wedding day breakfast, she was seated with women her age who all knew one another. She felt like the odd one out and found it difficult to join the group’s conversation.
But that didn’t faze her. Just before breakfast, she had befriended some kind friends of the bride’s father, all in their 50s. Ms. Taylor joined their squad for the day: They took selfies, bought one another drinks and even exchanged numbers. (They still talk to this day.) “They made me feel so welcome in their little group,” Ms. Taylor said.
She walked away from the experience with a delightful tip for attending a wedding when she doesn’t know anybody there: “Befriend the older generation,” she said, explaining that she found them to be friendly and easygoing.
“After that day, I had such a boost in confidence,” she said. “I met some new people and I made some friends.”
Attending a wedding solo can be anxiety-inducing, especially for people who are single and feeling lonely, said Chenai Bukutu, the founder of ByChenai Events, a wedding-planning company based in London. “It’s natural,” she said. “But ultimately, you’re there to celebrate, so you’ve got to get into the mode of: This is how I feel. Also, these are my friends. Let’s celebrate them.”
Maralee McKee, the founder of the Etiquette School of America in Orlando, Fla., added that “knowing that you’re doing a hard thing will give you courage while you’re there.”
Although it can be tempting to make an excuse and stay home, don’t cancel those plans. Interacting with other people often makes us happier than we think it will, according to Dr. Bob Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. That is, as long as you don’t drink too much and make a spectacle of yourself, Ms. Bukutu said jokingly.
So, what do you do when you don’t know anybody at a wedding? How do you navigate seating arrangements, dance floors and cocktail hours? Here’s how to have a good time at a wedding when you’re flying solo.
Dress to Impress
Wearing something that will make you feel comfortable and confident is key, Ms. McKee said.
“If we don’t feel confident in the way that we look or in the way that we’re dressed, it speaks for us from across the room,” she said, “before we ever have a chance to smile, make eye contact and walk over to someone.”
For her friend’s wedding, Ms. Taylor wore a turquoise floral dress and was feeling herself that day. “It felt nice walking into that wedding knowing I felt really good within myself,” she said.
The first thing Ms. Bukutu does when she enters an event space is find the bathroom, whether or not she needs it. She will take a look in the mirror and get situated.
Then, she goes to the bar and grabs a glass of water or a drink. Making conversation with people who are also waiting at the bar is a great way to start talking to other guests, she said.
If there are no assigned seats, Ms. Bukutu said, find an empty chair and ask the people who are there: “Are you expecting somebody? Do you mind if I sit here?”
And if there are seating arrangements, it’s likely that the wedding couple seated you with people they felt you would get along with, she said. (It could be a good idea to ask the couple in advance to be seated with someone with whom you have something in common.)
Regardless of whether there is assigned seating, introduce yourself to everyone at the table upon arrival. Wedding-related topics, including how you know the couple, are natural conversation starters, said Elaine Swann, the founder of the Swann School of Protocol in Carlsbad, Calif.
Ms. Bukutu said: “By introducing yourself straightaway, you can at least speak to the person next to you. And people are more inclined to interact with you if you do that.”
During cocktail hours, Ms. McKee suggested that it can be less intimidating to approach someone who is alone. And Ms. Swann recommended approaching people who are within five feet and who demonstrate a welcoming social cue, like eye contact or a smile.
If a conversation starts to get awkward, or the pace of the conversation slows down, Ms. McKee said, there is no harm in telling the person: “It was so nice to meet you. I hope you enjoy the evening. It is beautiful, isn’t it?”
Enjoying the Event
The intention is to have fun and be present. Limit phone use. Step onto the dance floor for group numbers like “Cha-Cha Slide” and “Cupid Shuffle” or join a group when a song comes on that you really love, Ms. Bukutu said. (Emphasis on group. “It’s a bit weird to go start dancing with a couple,” she said.)
Ms. Swann always reminds herself that it’s also OK to be alone for a period of time. “Just embrace the environment and do some people-watching, and just think about the occasion and think about the couple,” she said.
Don’t Take it Personally
Ms. Swann emphasizes the importance of not getting discouraged if a conversation doesn’t go as expected. “It may have absolutely nothing to do with you: They may be a little bit socially awkward, they may be anxious,” Ms. Swann said. “Don’t count it as a loss if your conversation is short and polite.”
After dinner and some chitchat, Ms. Bukutu said, “there’s no harm in leaving if you don’t feel like you want to stay any longer on your own.”
But the effort, the intent and the presence are what count.