All About Engagement Parties

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

I just got engaged and a friend asked me if we’re having an engagement party and what is that?


Somewhat Unfamiliar with the Wedding Industrial Complex

Victoria: So an engagement party TRADITIONALLY was meant to announce your engagement. Your parents would throw it and it would be a surprise to all the guests.

Jaya: But now we have Facebook.

Victoria: Yeah, so, NOW, it’s a celebration of your engagement. And it’s totally optional and is just for fun. And people should know that they shouldn’t bring gifts, even though a lot of people might. It is totally not expected and you as the couple should not expect it.

Jaya: Yesssss. Though I mean people will absolutely bring presents.

Victoria : But I feel like it is my mission to stop people from feeling like they have to give engagement gifts as well as shower gifts and wedding gifts.

Jaya: I am into that mission.

Victoria: You heard it here first. But yeah, you can have any kind of party you want! You and Matt had a bunch of people come to a bar. And that was the best engagement party I’ve ever gone to!

Jaya: Uhh did I not tell you about the other engagement party thrown for us?

Victoria: Hahah yeah, you did.

Jaya: I mean, it was a fun time, but I’m still slightly worried. I feel like there is some relative who came to our engagement party who probably assumed we expected presents and now thinks we’re selfish for throwing that party when we didn’t even expect anything!!

Victoria : But you didn’t throw that party! It was thrown in your honor and thus you are absolved from any blame.

Jaya: Okay, but how much do we really think that now?

Victoria: I do!!!

Jaya: You are the only one.

Victoria: I mean, its pretty clear who is throwing the party, no?

Jaya: I feel like most other people expect the bride and groom to be the ones orchestrating things. Yeah sure my grandma threw it, but they probably expect that we requested it be thrown. The way that brides ask for showers and bachelorette parties.

Victoria: Ugh, yeah, well, one, brides should stop doing that because its obnoxious. And two, I can 100% tell a parent decided event vs a couple decided event. Our other friends’ parents threw them a backyard BBQ engagement party that was great. And definitely felt like a parent orchestrated event. And I mean, are that many people really ASKING for an engagement party?

Jaya: I’m honestly not sure, but I feel like it’s really hard to tell. I don’t know if all these “couples making gift grabs” stories are real or just the media harping on a couple instances.

Victoria: I THINK, given my generous nature, that it’s a few bad apples

Jaya: Yeah

Victoria: Like your “night before” party was all you guys, and pretty obviously so.

Jaya: Yeah, it’s just so funny to me. I think pretty much everyone accepts that this is exhausting to have this many parties, and yet we still do it.

Victoria: It’s silly! If you don’t want to do it, don’t (unless it is forced upon you). If our writer doesn’t want one, I would say to just tell those people “we aren’t having one.” But yeah, if you DO want to have one (and actually I can understand this more than the array of showers because it is early on when you are still SUPER PUMPED), you can have basically anything you want! I would say that it should occur somewhere in the first few months that you are engaged though.

Jaya: Yeah! I feel like if anything, an engagement party is way more fun, and then it involves both of you. Definitely agree about being on the sooner side.

Victoria: Like within 3-4 months if you are going to be engaged for a year+ or like 1-2 months if you are going to be engaged less than a year. Oh and one thing to point out, if it’s going to be a formal engagement party with parents and family and all of that, it should be HOSTED by someone, not just all the guests pay for themselves. (Your informal, lets get together at a bar thing is fine if that’s a normal thing in your social circle.) But the thing I have been seeing complained about a lot lately is people being invited to engagement parties/showers etc, bringing gifts, and then being told, okay, your share is $50.

Jaya: What?!?! Omg ew.

Victoria: Yes, right? And even if it’s upfront, its not really okay.

Jaya: Like okay, the only time I could mayyyyybe see something like that happening…Wait no, I can’t because if you decide to do an activity like camping or a trip or going to an amusement park that requires people to pay, then you recognize that that is your gift. And that’s more of a bachelor/ette party thing anyway.

Victoria: Yeah, and like, a shower can be split among several hostesses (which is common!) but they should be providing all the food and drinks and decorations and stuff. I mean, I can see a group of friends saying, let’s take the bride out to tea and call that her shower and we will all split it. And that seems fine but it’s more of a group decision than this situation where someone is deciding, “I am going to throw a party, but oh no, I can’t afford the party I want to throw. I know! I will just ask everyone to give me $20! and then we will be set!”

How To Avoid Rude Small Talk

Get it?

Get it?

Small talk! It’s weird and often uncomfortable, but we all have to do it otherwise we’d never make friends/would always be that person standing just outside of a conversation. You have to wade through the small talk to get to anything interesting! Or you can be like me this weekend and drunkenly start talking to strangers about their love lives before you get their names, but maybe you shouldn’t do that.

Here’s my theory: I don’t think you should open a conversation with a stranger/acquaintance with the most obvious thing about them. For example, if you meet a pregnant woman, don’t ask her about her pregnancy. Maybe she’ll bring up her pregnancy on her own, and then you can talk about it, but maybe she’ll want to talk about her job and her other interests because she’s sick of being asked about morning sickness. The same thing goes for someone getting married, on a job search, or applying to college. They may want to keep talking about it, but there’s also a good chance they’re completely talked out.

This doesn’t count for everyone. If you’re asking your own teenage son about how high school is going? Duh. Are you a Maid of Honor asking the bride how planning is going? Makes sense. But you have to make sure you’re close, which generally means friends-who-talk-constantly or close family (meaning you have a relationship outside seeing each other three times a year at whole-family gatherings). Below are a couple of suggestions as to questions/comments to avoid, and as always leave yours in the comments!

For an Engaged/Married Person

  • I’m so excited for the wedding!—Did you get an invitation yet/have the couple verbally confirmed you’re invited? If not, don’t assume anything, even if you’re close to them.

  • Are you dieting?—Usually followed by a weird stare if you say “no,” or a push for details if “yes.” Weird either way. Plus it comes off as you thinking the person in question should be dieting.

  • When are you having kids?—This is SUCH a personal question, and can often be painful to the person/couple in question. Maybe they have a medical condition that prevents them from having kids and don’t want to talk about it, or maybe they flat out don’t want kids. It should never be a question of “when.”

  • Unless you know for sure that one person in the couple is really into planning and the other is really not, ask both people the same questions and use plural pronouns. This is especially an issue with heterosexual couples, where everyone has a tendency to ask the bride-to-be about wedding planning and issues, and continues to ask the groom-to-be about his job, his hobbies, or anything else going on in his life.

For a Single Person

  • Any variation on “why are you still single?”—First off, single is not a “still.” Plenty of people are just fine with being single. And even if they’re not, this pretty much just blames them for their relationship status. Often this comes in the “But you’re so pretty/smart/interesting!” iteration, which both suggests that a) these are objective requirements to finding a partner and b) it’s somehow the person in question’s fault for not finding someone attracted to these things. Relationships aren’t science, and they take a heavy dose of luck.

For a Pregnant Person

  • Do you want a boy or a girl?—What is your expected answer here? “Oh man, I just want a boy so bad. If it’s a girl I’ll be so heartbroken. Nine months for nothing.”

  • When are you due?—True story: When I was in New Zealand I went shopping with another woman for sausage. This woman had a two-year-old daughter and still had some “baby weight” or whatever bullshit you want to call it. Anyway, the butcher gave me a slice of one sausage to try but hesitated giving it to her, joking that it was made with wine. She looked at him quizzically, and he gestured to her stomach in a “you know, because you’re pregnant” sort of way. She wasn’t pregnant. Do not assume anyone is pregnant.

For Kids

  • Where are you going to college?/Are you going to college?—This is specific to a certain class that assumes college is in the cards, but for the entirety of high school any adult talking to me only wanted to talk about SATs and college applications.

For Anyone

  • You look great! Have you lost weight?—Unless this person maybe lost 400 pounds and is super proud of it, no. Skinny does not necessarily equal healthy or beautiful.

  • You look tired today—I get this so much when I don’t wear makeup. It’s my normal face. My normal face looks bad to you? Ok.

Should I Compliment My Therapist On Her Engagement?

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

What is proper etiquette when you spot a diamond ring on the left ring finger of…your therapist?


Awkward On The Couch


Miss Manners says that back in the day, it was rude to remark on anyone’s possessions, but she concedes that those days are long over. Since Miss Manners spends a lot of time talking about how to deflect personal questions, I think her advice would be more along the lines of not asking personal questions, especially in a business situation.


Jaya: I think this ties well into bringing up any noticeable life change you see in another person. Engagement, pregnancy, tattoo, etc.

Victoria: Miss Manners has mostly dealt with people grabbing the engaged lady’s left hand or asking to try it on. Which are both pretty rude!

Jaya: Just because they have a public display of something doesn’t mean they want to talk about it. Oh god, those people are terrible.

Victoria: Have people been grabbing you? (ed: Jaya recently got engaged!!)

Jaya: They have! It happened this a few weekends ago at a family party.

Victoria: Aaaaahhhh!

Jaya: Some family friend I’ve never met but who apparently knew ALL about me.

Victoria: LOL

Jaya: And would not stop asking questions about the wedding.  And it’s infuriating because it just makes me feel bad for talking about it to someone who is not invited.

Victoria: Yeah.

Jaya: However, a normal “congrats!” is totally fine

Victoria: I was going to say, in this case, I think a glance at the ring and a “do I owe you a congratulations?” is fine. Just like, if they have pictures of kids in their office, I don’t think it’s THAT bad to say, “cute kids” or whatever. Just don’t start asking tons of personal questions.

Jaya: And I think this goes doubly for a therapist. Obviously everyone has their own relationship with therapists, but generally the focus is more on the patient, right? Especially since there are rules about getting too involved, making your therapist a part of your personal life, etc.

Victoria: Yeah, I don’t know very much about therapy etiquette (therapists, please submit your thoughts to us!). I would think, for me, maybe its a little weird to be in such an intimate atmosphere and sharing so much about yourself and never asking any questions about the other person.

Jaya: It varies, but I think the therapist generally sets the tone. So saying congratulations at the end of a session is fine but asking lots of questions perhaps isn’t, in general but especially when it’s your therapist.

Victoria: Yeah, exactly, and if they seem like they want to talk more, then that’s great.

Jaya: And if your therapist doesn’t want to get involved, I’m 100% sure they are trained in how to gracefully discourage a patient from asking personal questions.

Victoria: Yeah, I would think they deal with these kinds of things all the time.

Jaya: It is strange though, these public displays of life changes. I had a coworker who was pregnant, and I never said anything, because by the time I could tell she was pregnant she had obviously been pregnant for a while. So it’s sort of weird going “congrats on the thing that clearly happened to you about six months ago.”

Victoria: I mean, I don’t think most people are annoyed or offended by simple congratulations for almost anything. It’s when the personal questions start piling up that it gets annoying.