“Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older. When did they?
When did she get to be a beauty? When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?”
~ Sunrise, Sunset, From Fiddler on the Roof
For the purposes of this entry, I’ll be addressing the etiquette guidelines for couples who are engaged and marrying for the first time. At the end, I’ll comment on the protocol for those who are experiencing love the second time around.
First Tell Your Parents
For a parent, there are some milestones that their children reach that are very emotional for them. Generally, it starts with their child going off to school for the first time, followed by learning to ride a bike, the first summer away at camp, that first date, getting a driver’s license, going to prom, graduating from high school, leaving for college, graduating from college…and announcing her or his engagement.
Thus, when it comes to engagements and weddings, in a parent’s mind’s eye the image of her or his son or daughter as a child flash by, causing a swell of emotion that is either kept behind a well-controlled facade or bubbles up in the form of tears. This video, which contains the wedding scene from Fiddler song, and the song, Sunrise, Sunset, illustrates this emotion quite dramatically.
On the other hand, news of an engagement might be met by the parents with great relief and tears of joy!
In any case, as someone who is newly engaged and bursting to tell the world, keep the feelings of your parents paramount at this time and be sure to tell them first. Control the urge to call your bestie or sibling and risk your parents’ hearing it from someone else before you can tell them in person or by telephone if they live far away. Even after the telephone call, it’s a good idea for the engaged couple to pay a visit to their respective parents to discuss wedding plans and beyond. This is especially important if your parents have not yet met the man or woman to whom you are engaged.
There are exceptions, of course. If you are estranged from one or both of your parents, you must decide whether you wish to notify the alienated parent or parents, or not. On the one hand, such momentous occasions become catalysts for reconciliation. On the other hand, when bad feelings run deep it might not be possible to repair them even when a lifetime milestone occurs; in that case you might not wish to turn your life, as well as others, upside down and possibly cast a shadow over the joyful journey ahead of you. It is purely your choice to make. If both your parents are deceased, if you have a relative to whom you are close, notify that person first; otherwise you are free to notify the person — other than your intended — to whom you are closest.
It’s also important that the engaged couple gather their parents together for a celebration, especially if the respective parents have not yet met. This get-together could anything from a quiet visit with tea or champagne toasts to dinner out at a nice restaurant. As a nod to tradition, it’s appropriate for the parents of the groom-to-be to contact the parents of the bride-to-be and make arrangements to visit soon to celebrate with the couple. In this age of informality, however, if the bride’s parents do not hear from the groom’s parents after a day or so, they should make the call.
When parents live far away, then a conference call among all parties or a Skype visit should be arranged soon after the engagement has been announced. If the couple is living together, they might want to invite the parents to their abode for a quiet celebration. Any kind of formal or informal arrangement is fine provided everyone agrees.
If one or both of the engaged couple’s parents are deceased or estranged, if so desired one or more close relatives — an aunt, uncle or step parent — could substitute as the parent figure(s). As well, if one or more parents are divorced and extended families are involved, the couple must decide whether the best approach is to meet with them separately or collectively.
Everyone should receive the news of an engagement with grace, acceptance and congratulations. If there are compelling reasons for anyone to object to the engagement, they can be addressed later.
Then Tell the World
Once you’ve told your parents and other close family members and friends, feel free to shout the news from the rooftops — or mountaintops, depending on where you live! There are several ways to do this:
- Engagement Party – Engagement parties were originally a way in which the parents of the bride could formally announce their daughter’s engagement to family and friends, and introduce her fiancé and his parents. It was usually a surprise, although not always. At modern engagement parties, attendees usually already know the exciting news; thus, it is optional and appropriate only when the wedding date is expected to be far in the future. It is usually hosted by a family member, godparent or close family friend and can be as elaborate or informal as the host chooses. The engaged couple should be considerate and appreciative of whatever kind of party the host decides to throw; only if they have a legitimate reason should they object to the host’s plans. Guests generally should include only close family and friends who will be invited to the wedding. Invitations should reflect the level of formality of the party; they can be printed or handwritten, telephone calls or emails. Note on Gifts: Gifts are optional, and depend on current trends, family and regional customs and the practices of the couple’s social circle. Traditionally, engagements gifts have been personal but tasteful items for the bride, but today they can be gifts for the couple. They need not be elaborate, but should be meaningful as they are coming from people who know the couple well. Of course, an engagement party should never be an occasion to solicit gifts; the only party with that aim is the bridal shower. If the invitation includes a “no gifts” request, guests should honor that; but because many guests give presents regardless, you might want to bring a thoughtful token gift to the party just in case (you can always present it later, but at least you’ll be covered). If it’s your party, be considerate of your guests’ pocketbooks, as they will be the same people invited to some or all of the celebrations associated with your upcoming marriage, including your shower, bachelor/bachelorette bashes, rehearsal dinner and wedding and will have many expenses ahead of them.
- Newspaper Announcements – If the bride, groom, their parents, grandparents or other relatives are well-known in social, business, professional, civic or political circles they might wish to send an announcement of their engagement or wedding to their local newspapers. The larger the publication the longer the lead time to receive the announcement and photo, and most newspapers have specific guidelines for submission. It’s wise to contact the newspaper for their requirements and any submission forms. For example, here are the instructions for The New York Times. For smaller newspapers a tasteful and clear black and white photograph of the couple along with a well-written and informative paragraph (see published engagement announcements as a guideline) can often be emailed to the publication.
- Social Media – Announcing one’s engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and personal websites and blogs is becoming commonplace, and why not? There’s no better way to get the news out fast to many. Just be sure that the wording of your announcements and any accompanying photos are dignified and in good taste.
- Telephone, Telegraph, Tell-A-Friend – In addition to announcing on social media, a very gratifying way to announce (and spread) your exciting news is to pick up the phone and call friends, family, acquaintances and other relevant parties, and also tell people the news face-to-face — your neighbors, coworkers, your letter carrier and so on. That’s how word was spread before the Internet, through the highly effective Grapevine technique. It still works well!
- Handwritten Notes – For some close family members and friends who live far away, in addition to or instead of a phone call or Skype visit, a handwritten and heartfelt note might be the warmest way to announce your engagement.
Not Everyone Might Be Happy For You
There are times in which an engagement announcement is met with disapproval from one or more parents. Perhaps they have never approved of your significant other and now are dismayed that you’re going to marry him or her. It might also be that they are feeling left out because they weren’t able to get to know your intended very well before your announcement. Or there might be more serious concerns — some reasonable, some not — that should be discussed honestly and openly with your parents. Perhaps you are the one of whom your intended’s parents disapprove. In either case, try to win over the parent or parents who disapprove. If you cannot and are determined to marry, learn to cope with the situation.
If you are the disapproving party, refrain from putting a strain on the initial meeting between the couple’s respective parents, siblings and other relatives. Speak with your daughter or son alone and try to come to an understanding. If he or she decides to go through with the wedding, be supportive and positive to avoid nervous breakdowns on anyone’s part!
Sometimes children, either minor or adult, disapprove of their parent’s decision to remarry. In such cases patience, open communications and time often can improve relationships. But, if the situation regresses into incivility, then it might be time for professional family counseling.
Such situations are challenging, but no family is perfect. Even in the happiest of families there are often a few imperfect relationships. But where parents and their children are concerned, it’s essential to be open to compromise and tolerance to avoid losing connections with the very people you love the most, as well as beloved grandchildren who might come along later!
When It’s the Second Time Around
This can be a lovely time in your life, but there are some exceptions to the aforementioned guidelines when it’s the second time around, or more:
- Children – If there are children from previous marriages or involvements, then the children should officially be informed first of the intentions of their parent or parents to remarry, and what that might mean for them. Such an occasion can be informal or formal, whichever best fits the situation and families’ lifestyles. It’s usually a good idea for the parent or parents to have a talk with their own children alone first, before getting together with the parent’s intended or the soon-to-be blended family members.
- Announcements and Party – Because engagements and weddings focus so much on the bride-to-be, if you’re getting remarried, it’s considered tasteful to skip the usual flurry of formal announcements, engagement party and fast forward to the wedding plans. There are always reasonable exceptions, but generally the engagement ado is for first-time brides. The second time around limit your announcements and celebrations to family and very close friends.
Take a deep breath. This is a very heady time. You want to bask in the glow, but keep your wits about you. There’s a lot of planning and emotional minefields ahead and you don’t want to jump the gun and make rash decisions about your attendants, wedding guests and other issues in the euphoria following your engagement. People’s feelings are fragile and you don’t want to lock yourself into commitments you might later regret because you spoke too quickly in the excitement of the moment. Keep calm and approach the planning of the most important event of your life with a full heart and a cool head.
Until next time,