Let it be known that I am thrilled for all of the newly-engaged. In most cases, I know (and like!) my friends’ new fiancés, I’ve been expecting the news, and I’m pumped to party at their wedding. But I absolutely hate wishing people congratulations on their engagement, and I won’t do it anymore.
By definition, “congratulations” means an expression of praise for an achievement. Congrats on your new job! Congrats on buying that house! Congrats on watching the entire backlog of Gilmore Girls in one weekend so that you can be culturally relevant this fall! Congratulations, to me, implies that you’ve achieved something others haven’t, something you’ve worked hard for and earned.
Engagements aren’t an achievement. Engagements are a grown-up decision made between two people who have discussed their relationship and decided that, hey, they’re clearly better together than not, so why not make it official? That’s a wonderful moment that deserves celebrating, but calling it an achievement implies that you’ve succeeded at something (i.e. landing a husband) you otherwise may not have had the drive to go forth and accomplish. Then not being engaged must mean you haven’t achieved something, and, for the sake of this argument, that you’re the marital equivalent of someone sleeping in their parents’ basement at 30. It implies failure on the part of the un-engaged, and that’s uncool.
For what’s it’s worth, it’s not even proper etiquette to offer congratulations to a bride (or bride-to-be). Bethanne Patrick and John Thompson write in An Uncommon History of Common Things:
“It is traditional to say ‘Congratulations’ to a groom after a wedding, but ‘Best wishes’ to the bride. The implication is that the groom has made a great ‘catch’, but that it would be impolite to say that the bride had.”
Fuck that — if I’m celebrating a friend’s decision to tie the knot, you better believe I think she made a great catch. Who cares if it’s not polite to say a woman landed herself a unicorn of a man with a good job, good hair, and the unfailing ability to sit through every episode of The Bachelor with her while listening to her friends deliver recaps in real time over FaceTime? If “Congratulations” has old-school roots in lady ownership, neither person gets to hear it.
And if I thought my friend didn’t deserve congratulations on her upcoming wedding because she was settling or marrying some dude who didn’t treat her right, hopefully we would have that conversation way before the point that I’m meekly offering her “Best wishes” for getting through life with him — so far.
I get that for most people “Congratulations” is just the easiest way of voicing their happiness at someone else’s good news, because there’s no better word to say “AAAHHH!” (although, maybe that’s the right word?). And you might say that getting all cerebral about what it ~really means~ calls more intention to my own insecurities than it schools anyone on proper etiquette. But sometimes a casual word or phrase isn’t just a casual word or phrase, and it’s OK for someone to react to your news in a way that differs from everyone else.
So, if you get engaged, I will send you my best wishes, I will tell you how happy I am for you, I will exclaim “HOLY SHIT I’M BLINDED BY THIS!” when I see your beautiful ring… I just won’t say congratulations anymore. When you get through twenty years of marriage together unscathed? Then I’ll tell you congratulations. Now, that’s an achievement.