Rachel A Sussman is a Relationship Expert and Therapist from NYC offering Individual Therapy, Couples Counseling and Breakup/Divorce Counseling

Why Were the Royal Exes at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Wedding?

Cressida Bonas (left) and Chelsy Davy, both of whom dated Prince Harry, attended his wedding to Meghan Markle.

On the morning of the royal wedding more than 29 million people in the United States set their alarms and woke up to watch the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in London.

The ceremony officially started at 7 a.m. Eastern, but the show was in full swing hours before as famous guests arrived at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Television spectators turned to Twitter to delight over Serena Williams’s stunning pink Atelier Versace dress. Or comment on how Amal Clooney and Queen Elizabeth II fabulously matched in their neon-colored ensembles.

But there were two arrivals that perplexed many from near and far: Cressida Bonas, a 29-year-old English actress and model, and Chelsy Davy, the 32-year-old jewelry designer and daughter of the Zimbabwe billionaire Charles Davy.

Both women are famous for being ex-girlfriends of Prince Harry. Ms. Bonas dated the prince for two years; Ms. Davy, off and on for seven. Both relationships were so serious many royal watchers figured either woman could have been the one walking down the aisle. The prince is reported to still be close friends with both of them.

Their presence, especially Ms. Davy’s, drew great media speculation. Cameras stayed pinned on her throughout the ceremony, and one glance of her looking salty or disgruntled went viral as a meme. Vanity Fair reported that she had a tearful final goodbye phone call to the prince before the wedding day. England’s tabloid, Daily Express, claimed Ms. Markle broke royal tradition by giving her a big, welcoming hug at the reception.

Prince Harry is far from the only spouse to invite a former lover to his wedding. Prince William included at least four exes at his 2011 wedding to Kate Middleton. His father famously invited his then former girlfriend and now wife Camilla Parker-Bowles to his 1981 wedding to Princess Diana.

But Prince Harry’s actions still spurred a public debate - one that ordinary couples contend with regularly before their weddings - about whether it is appropriate to include an ex.

Get Your Spouse’s O.K.

“I just couldn’t figure out why they were there,” said Elaine Swann, a wedding etiquette expert based in Carlsbad, Calif. “There were only 600 people invited, and these were two of them? I don’t know what purpose it served for them being there, or for any ex, to be at a wedding.”

Ms. Swann believes the presence of former significant others, even if they are still friends, makes everyone too tense and draws attention away from the bride and groom.

“It puts the spouse in an uncomfortable position, it puts the ex in an uncomfortable position,” she said. “It also makes the guests who know that individual feel uneasy. It’s better to leave them off the guest list.”

Ian Kerner, a couples therapist with a practice in New York, said it’s only a bad move if the spouse doesn’t want it. “If there is anybody you need to be considerate of it is the person you are getting married to.” (He adds that if a spouse seems overly jealous it is worth paying attention to as it can cause problems down the road.)

Ms. Swann added that “it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your soon-to-be spouse to see how he or she feels about it.”

For her wedding Sept. 23, 2017 at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va., Itamar Conner, a 22-year-old student, decided it wouldn’t be respectful of her boyfriend to invite two men she had dated previously whom she still counted as friends.

“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.”

Are There Any Lingering Feelings?

It’s also a terrible idea if either party still has feelings.

“If your relationship with an ex is in shadow land or underground, if there is still some energy with you and the ex, that is when you need to exclude them,” Mr. Kerner said. “You might be able to say, ‘I am not interested in my ex,’ but if the ex still maintains some romantic or sexual interest, it’s probably worth putting a wall up.”

Cristina Garcia, a 38-year-old wellness consultant in Austin, Tex., 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,” she said. “Maybe it was his version of closure.”

She added that it was a moment she will never forget for her entire life.

Ms. Swann points to Prince Charles as an example of what not to do.

“He invited Camilla to the wedding, and it was a problem in his marriage for years to come,” she said. While no one really knows what was going through Ms. Davy’s head, even the speculation that she was doubting her decision is harmful both to her and the newlyweds.

But Prince Harry might be in a very different situation, Mr. Kerner said. “He could really just be good friends with his exes,” he said. “I think you have to check in with your gut emotions and know how this person makes you feel.” Plenty of times it’s a sign of healthy, mature relationships to still be in touch with an ex.
Social Circles Matter

One occasion to invite a past girlfriend or boyfriend to a wedding is if he or she fits into the wider social circle of the couple. Perhaps he or she is a family friend and the parents will also be present?

Rachel Sussman, a New York-based relationship therapist, said a good test is whether that person has been part of the lives 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 fiancé hasn’t met him or her, that’s weird to me.’”

When Laurel Niedospial, a 33-year-old freelance writer in Chicago got married 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, I stopped thinking about him as an ex-boyfriend years before that,” she said.

He actually ended up being useful. When there was a miscommunication with the wedding planner about the s’mores bar, he picked up the skewers and manned the whole station, helping guests spread peanut butter and marshmallows on their graham crackers. “There were no feelings there,” she said. “And he managed to save the day.”

If you do decide to go ahead and invite an ex to the wedding, there are ways to mitigate the damage. Ms. Swann recommends telling close friends and family members about the decision and let them know it’s accepted by everybody. “Let your bridal party know that they don’t have to be on the lookout,” she said. “Say, ‘We’re good. Everything is O.K.’”

That way, she adds, you won’t end up with a wedding where the focus isn’t on the love of the couple, but the former flames in attendance.


This article first appeared on Nytimes Post and can be read here

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