No wedding receiving line: Socially distanced ways to greet your wedding guests

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fibromyalgia wedding alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
Original photo by melberry29

I have a condition called fibromyalgia which causes me near constant pain and makes me feel tired very easily. I am really worried about how to deal with receiving lines (shaking hands and hugging are extremely uncomfortable for me).

Can you think of any alternatives or polite ways to weasel out of the physical contact?


[related_post align=”right”]Laura, there are tons of non-touchy alternatives to the receiving line. Let's pull back the receiving line tradition and get down to the nitty gritty: you want a way to make each guest feel personally welcome and appreciated for making it to your wedding.

There are tons of ways to do so that don't force your guests to wait in line to shake your hand, and also allow you to conserve your energies on your wedding day. These ideas also work great for shy couples who shrivel up inside when they think of facing down a line of 100+ people waiting to touch them.

Serve your guests dessert

I love how Ali & Phil donned aprons and served their guests ice cream at their wedding. You could serve your guests cake or cupcakes or any other dessert, too. This allows you to interact with every single one of your guests, but you're safely tucked behind a table where they can't fondle you.

ice cream scoopers in african aprons


Have a cocktail reception before the wedding

This was the route we took. Since our guests had to ride a ferry to get to the wedding, we wanted to have a gentle start time to allow for folks missing ferries. The hour before our ceremony was spent welcome guests and having cocktails in the sun. It's not quite as non-touchy as having a dessert table between you and your guests' loving arms, but it's the least formal way to greet your guests.

Greet guests at their tables as they eat

Have your partner hold your hand or have an arm around your waist as you walk through the reception area chatting with guests as they eat. The physical contact from your partner is not only romantic, but it also makes it clear that your personal space is already taken up with them. And since your guests are sitting and nomming while you're standing, there's less pressure than a receiving line.


It's really hard for guests to hug you when you're wearing a big beautiful set of wedding wings. Bonus: wings are visually stunning and totally unique. This Etsy seller makes some guh-guh-GORGEOUS wings.


Remember that ultimately the goal is to make guest traveling from afar feel personally welcomed by both of you. It's just about finding a way to do so that allows you to preserve your personal space.

Now I'll open it to the peanut gallery — any other ideas for how Laura can greet her guests without getting groped?

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Comments on No wedding receiving line: Socially distanced ways to greet your wedding guests

  1. If you have a "wedsite" you could make mention of it somewhere on there. Obviously not everyone reads and absorbs all of the information on your website, but it might help some.

  2. Avoiding hugs is REALLY hard at a wedding. At the reception, people will inevitably approach you, arms wide open, expecting physical contact.
    If you're comfortable with doing so, maybe you just tackle the issue head-on with a toast or note in your programs? Someone could make the announcement that every time someone feels like throwing a hug, they should instead flash a peace sign or make a heart with their hands or raise the roof. That way, guests have a fabulous and silly way to express their exuberance without getting touchy. It'll be like your own wedding gang sign.

    • I've heard of people passing out little bells or flags that the guests can waive. You can put a little note on each one explaining a bit (or not) and that they should ring/wave when they are happy for you or something.

    • I actually have a condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and I put a “Fragrance Free Wedding” card in our invitations. It basically explained to people that I am severely allergic to perfumes and colognes and asked people to not wear them to the celebration. Many guests actually thanked me because they are also sensitive to fragrances. Perhaps you can find a beautiful way to explain your condition without being overly personal, and that way people know that it’s not personal.

      • Just making sure you saw this wedding which was also fragrance-free!

        We wanted everyone to feel as comfortable and welcome as possible, so we really focused on making sure our wedding was accessible for all of our guests. This manifested in a couple of ways: asking all who attended our wedding to be fragrance-free and letting everyone know that there would be no alcohol on our wedding day. Many people have fragrance and chemical sensitivities, so in our invitations, we included a fragrance-free request, information, and how-to resources, and asked our friend, Casey, to act as Accessibility Coordinator in case anyone had questions or access needs that day.

  3. We went with greeting guests at their tables. I didn't really think anything of it, as I think I've been to as many weddings with that approach as I have with a receiving line. In my case, it wasn't for the reason described here — I just really don't like feeling like a spotlight's on me. I could handle the wedding itself, and even things like first dance at the reception, though cutting the cake pushed my limits. Greeting our guests at the table took us out of the focus of things and made it more about interacting with our guests, even with less physical contact. Even as a guest, I prefer that approach, as it feels more personal.

    • There’s actually a cool Chinese custom of the bride and groom going from table to table at the reception to have a toast with every table. I didn’t do it at my wedding (mostly because I didn’t realize this custom existed until right after my wedding was over!) but that’s a cool option, too.

  4. Similar to serving dessert, you could get behind the bar with your husband and pass out a few cocktails if you are comfortable with that.

    Another way to accommodate your needs without making a verbal announcement could be to make a donation to an accredited fibromyalgia research foundation instead of traditional favors. You could include a note about the donation at each place setting and mention that it is an issue close to you both because the bride is living with fibromyalgia.

    • I LOVE this idea! We might make options to donate to foundations (my father had a bought with cancer, and I suffer from Chronic Pain and Fatigue and other diseases) rather than getting us gifts! I think it would be a good way to let people know you have an illness and that’s why you CAN’T (not “don’t want to”) hug guests.

  5. You can greet people from behind a table, say the gift table, and then the receiving line can go through but you don't have to actually do more than shake a hand. This is your wedding, though, and these are your friends and family – put it in your program what you're doing and why you're doing it.


  7. I have Fybro lady, I get it (though I don't have this problem anymore… it can get much better 🙂

    Anyway – Yeah, tell people, if you can. But I know people can be effing weird about it, or about really trusting that you have this thing they can't see. So, I don't know about putting it in the program (I wouldn't be comfortable with that personally), but I'd put the word out through parents, "She's going to be really tired, and probably in pain, and we obviously want to make this day as joyful as we possibly can for her, so if you could try to not hug her, as hard as that might be, and instead express your love in words, I know she'd appreciate that so much." And then if people try to hug you, you can wave them off and say, "I'm so sorry, I'm in pain right now, but thank you so much… CHANGE SUBJECT."

    …. Cont….

  8. I think telling people, really, is your best bet. Say something (or have your partner/MC/cousin/etc say something). People want you to be happy an comfortable on your wedding day, and lots will think hugging you will HELP, instead of HURT. Plus, if it is said once at the start of things, then you won’t have to address it consistently throughout the night.

  9. We don’t actually have any staff at the venue, and I wasn’t sure how we were going to handle the cake thing. I decided that if we cut the cake ourselves, we could not only handle the issue of finding someone to do it, but we could make sure to greet everyone.

    We’re also doing a very small wedding with several events. So there’s no pressure to see everyone at the reception, because we’ll also see them at the welcome dinner, the rehearsal lunch, and the cabana by the pool the next day.

    Or, if you did the receiving line, you could put your parents ahead of you, so they can give people a heads up. Although I think table visits, where the guests are seated and the couple is standing, may work best for Laura. A few people might still stand for a hug, but few enough that she can just tell them that she’d rather not be hugged.

    • YAY BRIANNA! I’m so glad I could feature that photo of you again. It’s simply gorgeous, and super inspiring — especially since you’re at a church altar. Makes for such a mix of traditional and offbeat. 🙂

    • What A BEAUTIFUL photo!!! took my breath away. I’m glad it was featured as well!

  10. I believe at one point there was a blog that was referring to how to avoid having a head table (I may be wrong about the actual subject). Within the blog I believe it mentioned leaving 2 seats at every table empty with a note saying “the bride and groom will join you soon” and the bride and groom carry their plate from table to table and alot a certain amount of time per table. I thought that this might be a good way to avoid the hugging and hand shakes. I know you don’t want to come right out and say “Don’t touch the Bride” but why not put a small note somewhere saying something along the lines of “In hopes of keeping the bride as comfortable as possible on this very special day we ask that your affection be shown to the groom who will pass it on to the bride a little later.” or even something like “As much as we would love to be able to accept a warm embrace, we’re happy with the smile upon your face!”

    • ‘As much as we would be able to accept a warm embrace, we’re happy with the smile upon your face.’

      The fact that this rhymes is awesome! =)

  11. My fiance and I are definitely not huggy people, but we also want to eat, so our solution (hopefully it works for us in 10 days…) is that we’re going to randomly “lei” everyone, but with glowstick necklaces. We love glowsticks, plus it will be a reminder to us who we still need to talk to since they will not be glowing. Also, the little physical contact will be a warm acknowledgment and hopefully get us out of those awkward hugs. Maybe something like that would work for you.

  12. Hey!

    Thanks for all the help, guys! 😀 Laura was quite stoked that this question made it onto the blog, and I’m finding it really helpful to hear all of these different ideas! Keep them coming!

  13. I have spent a lot of time lately explaining my own arthritis issues. This post put the thought in my head, why not share? What if you set up a donation in lieu of gifts option that explain your condition? Not only are you hopefully protecting yourself, but you are raising awareness and money for a cause close to your heart.

  14. I’m a huggy sort of person, and if I were a guest, I’d want to hug the bride in congratulations. If I were aware of the situation though, having a pre-approved way of showing my love and happiness directed at said couple would be sooo much better. So I’m in support of raising awareness by having some kind of note in the programme/on the tables/in a speech/as a part of the MC’s welcome/etc.

    If it’s easier for guests to come to the head table (if you’re having one), then maybe let them know that they can do that. That the head table isn’t mystical off-limit realm (which is how it feels sometimes). But I’m an upfront kinda person, so that’s how I’d do it. I hope you can work something out and it all works out awesome!

  15. Hiya,

    I have FM too, so understand the tired pain thing, and also not reaally wanting to go all out and explain to the world what you’ve got, what it is, and then there’s the whole “ah, but does it really exist?!” nonsense you can cop too. *insert eye roll of frustration here*

    At our wedding, we found that the adrenaline buzz got me through a whole lot more than we expected. I was broken like you can’t believe the day after, but it was worth it :o) We got round the problem by not having a receiving line, and going round tables whilst people were sat eating. The people who knew understood, and if you turn up mid eating (our table got served first so we were done whilst other people weren’t) the people who don’t know are much less likely to touch too. Ariel’s point about your other half being close as well is a winner, and another one that we went for (and worked).

    One last top tip – I left ready packaged up doses of my meds with a selection of family members. My other half had some in his pocket, along with his son, my sister’s boyfriend, mum and dad and corsetiere (she was lovely). It meant that at any point in the day I was within easy reach of my tablets when I needed them and I didn’t have to worry about where I had left them a silly small thing that makes a huge difference. Good luck, and enjoy!

    • Ahhhhhhhh. That last tip! My problem isn’t FM, but frequent, severe migraines. Yes. Pre-load everyone trustworthy with pockets sounds like the way to go! I was so worried about trying to get to my meds if I start migraining out and never making it because of people stopping me to congratulate me while I’m in ever increasing levels of pain that’s only exacerbated by the inevitably high noise level. Eventually I’d snap at someone, and that’d be bad. But this should work!

  16. Hi Laura, I know very little about fibromyalgia so 1st off, thanks for your post and the education.
    I think if you write it in the program w/o specifying “please don’t touch the bride”, people won’t know not to hug you. Knowing nothing about fibromyalgia until just now I would assume it was a note about possible tiredness and I’d want to support (hug) my friend. If you don’t mind cheek kisses I say include a little note about fibromyalgia and please exchange cheek kisses with the bride in lieu of a hug. People that don’t read the program will see other people cheek kissing instead of hugging and will likely follow.
    In a related note, I was at a wedding where the Bride and Groom served us desert and it was lovely, like we were at their home for cake (but with waitstaff pouring coffee). So I agree with skipping the receiving line and serving desert to your guests. 🙂

  17. I saw -was it on here? – a wedding blogpost where the bride and groom asked people to bring a piece of ribbon or fabric to help “bind” the couple. (They also had a basket of extras for people who forgot.) Then, instead of a receiving line, as they walked around and talked to their guests, people would step up and loosely tie the ribbon around the bride and groom’s hands, tell the story of the ribbon (one grandfather used a ribbon that was his wife’s hairtie, etc.) and give their blessings. It was very intimate and wonderful for them, but also sort of precluded a receiving line. It could also be a way to avoid hugs, etc.

  18. I love @dootsiebug’s ideas!

    As a much sillier example: I was at a wedding where the bride had a thing with clinking glasses. She felt like if anyone were to “cheers” she HAD to clink EVERYONE’S glass. So the MC told us at the beginning to please refrain from what comes very naturally to most people – otherwise the bride would spend the night running around clinking EVERYONE’S glass and obsessively taking stock to make sure she got everyone – yikes! It became a fun thing to joke about and remind everyone of, and the bride’s tiny quirk was celebrated.

    Of course FM and a tiny obsessive & funny quirk are in NO WAY comparable (FM is no joke), it does sort of drive home @dootsiebug’s idea to make it a fun thing. I would love to approach the bride and raise the roof to show my love! Watch Grandma do it or convince your 3 year old nephew to blow kisses! Also, as someone who does know a bit about FM but has never experienced it, I would be worried about what to do – so clear direction would be awesome.

  19. I had seen (i think on here?) about a “guest bouquet” where everyone could bring a flower to contribute to your bouquet beforehand and you can collect them as you walk up the aisle or just before the ceremony – perhaps an interesting way to give everyone a little quick time, but since you’re heading to get married no time for a long embrace? My partner and i are also writing on each table (butcher paper “tableclothes”) “We would love to ‘receive’ you, but we really hate lines! Please feel free to come up to our table to congratulate us, or we’d love to share a dance with you!”

    Don’t know if dancing is even an option for you with the pain, but if so that’s another way to maybe give some face and chat time to people that specifically prohibits actually hugging or touching you.

  20. If despite all your plans to deflect hugs a few people still come at you with open arms, perhaps you can deflect it into the “hello kiss” instead. Step into their space with your hands on their shoulders, and lean forward, giving the air kiss on either side of their face(air kiss so as to not mess up makeup–you can touch your cheek to theirs if you don’t care).

    In spite of seeming more intimate in this culture, there’s actually far less physical contact with the kiss greeting.

    Personally, I’m a fan of the dap over either hugs or kisses. *terrorist fist bumps*

  21. I was so pleased to find that particular etsy seller the other day, after months of searching for something similar, and then 2 days later you post the link! Haha.

  22. A simple thought, Sit down during your recieving line (have hubby and the rest of your party stand) it’s very awkward to reach out and hug a sitting person, and your hubby can intercept the desperate huggers.

    It’ll be hard to avoid hugs on your wedding day, but maybe get the word out (via good old fashioned telephone, put your and his moms on the case) pre-wedding that you do have a condition that pervents hugging but you’re all about blowing kisses.

  23. I have FM too, and although, thankfully, I don’t hurt when people touch me, I do get really tired really fast, and hurt all the time, so I kinda understand. It sucks. =/

    I say getting the moms to explain that the bride will be hurting is a great idea, but I would suggest not telling your guests the specifics unless you are really comfortable with that. I know I personally wouldn’t want to have to deal with FM naysayers on my freaking wedding day!

    Then, on the day of, as @dootsiebug suggested, get the MC, or groom to tell everyone, if they want to hug the two of you they should, make a heart with their hands or do bunny ear “kiss kiss” motion, or some such. Something silly/heartwarming will make people like the idea. And this gives them a physical way to show their love without touching you!

    Also, nix the reception line. I can’t personally imagine standing long enough to greet all my guests. I’m not sure how I’m going to manage standing through the ceremony. =/

    Anyway, having extra chairs at all the tables sounds like a wonderful idea, that way when you are done eating you can make the rounds, and you’ll have somewhere to sit! Putting the table between you and your guests means less chance of someone being able to hug you.

    Also, if you do decide to make your way around the room to all your guests, I’d suggest getting your hubby to have a timer/alarm on his phone vibrate every 30 minutes-1hr(whatever works best for you). I know for me, I get really exhausted just putting on a brave face and talking with people. Use the timer as a reminder to a moment for yourself. Either go alone, or with you man, to the bathroom, or if they have a room set up for the wedding party/bride, go there. Give yourself 15 minutes of quiet where you can close your eyes, rest, and let the stress out. If you’re shy, have your hubby come get you. Have him walk you back in with his arm around you, that way, if someone missed you while you gone and wants to hug you, you have a buffer.

    Good luck!

  24. If you’re having chairs at the wedding you could leave little pieces of paper on them with the intention of people writing you little notes and well wishes. Then if you want to have a receiving line you could hold a basket for them to drop the little notes in. People are entertained while waiting for the ceremony to start, you don’t have to be touched, and you have written copies of all the sweet things people would have just whispered to you during all those hugs. 🙂

  25. I have fibro and recently got married. It definitely hurts when people touch me. It is really well known in my circle that you shouldn’t hug me, I make it really well known – but despite how well known this is, there were still a lot of hugs at the wedding. It’s a wedding, people are drinking and even when they know better they forget. We didn’t have a receiving line and went table to table and that probably cut down on the hug quotient, but I really don’t know if there’s anything you can do but grin and bear it. Perhaps your FH could step in and deflect any coming hugs.

    As a side note, I had really bad, could hardly walk, constant pain fibro and now it’s completely gone because I started avoiding fluoride:

  26. My fiance and I are looking for a receiving line alternative too, but only because we think it’s cruel to make all our guests stand in a line waiting to say hello when all they want is to get to the bar. Instead, we’re thinking of setting ourselves up behind the bar and passing out drinks for a champagne (or beer) toast. In your case, your partner can be the one handing out glasses, and you can be by his/her side saying your hellos and making everyone feel welcome. I also love the idea of passing out dessert yourselves.

  27. Thanks for the article. I have arthritis,
    and I know the feeling about energy drain and being in pain in my back, hands, and legs. You have given me some options that my fiance and I have not thought about since we have a wedding to plan for next Spring.

    • Hi. Do you and your husband have any stories or advice about planning a wedding with arthritis? I would find them really helpful! Thanks!

  28. Woah, my name is Laura and I have Fibromyalgia too. Well thank you other Laura for asking, I hadn’t even thought of that, all that standing would have worn me out.
    I’ll probably just go to each table and maybe take some breaks after like every 2 or 3.

  29. I have CFS and similar issues with pain and touching. My beloved and I distributed communion to the congregation,so we were able to see almost every one individually. We also arrived early at the church and mingled around, I kept my bouquet tightly clutched so the hugging was at a minimum. It worked well and became a very intimate way to connect with our guests.

    If it’s at all possible, rest as much as you can leading up to the wedding and especially on the wedding day. Take the day or two after you get married to rest again and you should be good.

    Prayers and blessings be with you!

  30. I’d like to avoid a receiving line as well, simply because I don’t like standing for over an hour, hugging people, shaking hands and having a HUGE line of people waiting, while there should be a party going on. I’ve heard of a wedding where a balloon tied to a string was given to every guest (or couple or famliy – group of guests). People were told that they could just go off and have fun, and that the couple would come to them and chat with them. Once the couple came over, the balloon would be taken away. In this way, the couple could easily see which guests they had greeted, and which guests not yet. And all the balloons looked really festive!

    We’re probably going to do this. Maybe it doesn’t help you very much with the hugging, but I thought the idea might help others as well.

  31. I’ve had a few brides that, for whatever reason, didn’t want to do a receiving line. And what I usually tell them is to find somewhere that they can disappear to immediately following the ceremony, until people clear out.

    The thing is, no matter what you announce at the ceremony, or in a program, if people see you hanging out, they’ll make a receiving line. But if you go AWOL, well, they tend to head on over to the reception.

    You can greet people at their tables, then, and there tends to be significantly less forced hugging. I have Lyme Disease myself, so I totally understand that standing around and hugging people for 20 minutes is a serious ordeal.

  32. well y’alls, thanks for the advice (sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you), I will definitely be putting a note in the bulletin (probably with ridiculous pictures too) I am also thinking of getting a stuffed animal off of Squishables to give people if they really need to hug something

    again, thanks

  33. I also have FM, and while I’m lucky and don’t have problems with people touching me (although I might by the time there are that many in a row!), I do have issues with standing for long periods of time – something I had completely forgotten to consider until just now (this may cause issues for the ceremony too…). Thank you for asking the question, and thanks to everyone else for their ideas. I also love your thought of getting a stuffed animal for people who really need to hug something, a great way to add more cutesy fun to the whole thing.

  34. My friend got married only a few months after she received a double transplant (new heart and lungs!!). Immediately following the ceremony, it was announced to all guests that the queen would be sitting on her throne while receiving guests so she wouldn’t get too tired. She sat in a big comfy recliner! She had on gloves and a surgical mask. There were 2 or 3 people attending to her and explaining to guests what they could or couldn’t do. No hugs, but you could give a little squeeze of her arm or gloved hand. If you chose that you were asked to use hand sanitizer before so.

    I thought it was so awesome that she got to lounge while we all “kneeled” at her feet! 🙂

  35. I’m the mother of the bride and I’m creating the wedding programs. My dd and soon-to-be son-il do not want a receiving line, as his parents are separated (divorcing any day now) and they think it will be awkward for them. They do plan to go to each table as we have a rather small (10 tables) group. I put this in the program “We have opted not to have a traditional receiving line; we just can’t wait to seek you out and greet you during the evening!”


  36. I have a lovely blend of autoimmune arthritis and accompanying features–plus some bonus brachial neuritis affecting my left shoulder/arm. I am planning on dosing with predisone for a few days before the wedding, so I don’t have to worry so much about wanting to take a nap, or not being able to move around easily. I don’t know if enthusiastic grappling will be an issue– either people doing it, or it affecting me, but I can assume so. I think most people attending know about my special snowflake-ness, as it’s been fairly prominent recently, and the hubster’s sixth sense of when to swoop in/hover is becoming more acute each day. Hoping the prednisone keeps me from having too many photos of me making (un-fun) weird faces.

  37. I have been to many weddings, and cannot recall a single “receiving line.” I imagine it’s something between little league players lining up to slap hands and say “good game,” and the queen of england shaking hands when she visits a new place. I don’t know…maybe quite nice for someone who does not have pain in their hands. I have a friend with this same issue, so I understand that.

    In my family and at most weddings I’ve been to, going around to the tables is the tradition. The bride gets arms around her waist or skirt at best, since she is creeping up behind everyone, maybe placing a hand on their shoulders or bending down for cheek kisses and thank yous. (I’m going to need an energy drink for this part to get my small-talk nerves up.) A big smile goes a long way though.

  38. I also have fibromyalgia, and another pain condition that makes it hard to stand. I had resisted the receiving line, but for a number of reasons related to our other offbeat decisions (including not having assigned seating) we decided that the receiving line was a must. I handled it by sitting most of the time, and gently touching people on the arm as they passed. The gentle touch seemed to cue them to be gentle back, and if that didn’t work, my wife was there to rescue me. My wife gave them a big hug (which was really a victory for her as well, as she is on the autistic spectrum) and then shunted them down the line where both our parents and some of our siblings were standing as well. Everyone felt very welcomed and individually focused on, and I didn’t get hurt. Our venue was wonderful and made sure that everyone in the receiving line had a drink of their choice, so I also had a large glass of beer. I don’t know how you feel about alcohol and if you can drink with the meds you are probably on, but having that beer really helped.

  39. I’m Autistic and I really hate unexpected touching, but I can handle it if I know it’s coming and prepare myself for it. For this reason, we are doing a receiving line, and have a line on our wedding website FAQ:

    Can I touch the Bride?
    During the receiving line, yes, hugs are welcome! Or if you ask her first. At all other times, no, please do not touch the Bride. Katie does not react well to being touched, especially if it is a surprise.

    Can I touch the Groom?
    Awwww Yeaaaaah, you know it.

    The other reason I want a receiving line is to make sure I greet everyone (no remembering which tables I went to or who was there), and we get to actually eat our food. It’s gets all the small talk and touching (hopefully) out of the way all st once.

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