The One Thing You Should Never Say To Someone Who Just Got Engaged, According To an Etiquette Expert

Illustration with magnifying glass and wedding ring

MyDomaine / Stephanie DeAngelis

"We're engaged!" my friend blurted out with a huge grin on her face, holding up her left hand so the group of girls could see the diamond band she sported on her finger. Those two simple words plunged the group of normally polite and reserved girls into chaos. "Finally! It's about time," one friend quipped. "At least the diamonds around the outside make it look bigger," another added.

"When you're dealing with emotions and excitement, it's easy to forget about etiquette," says Lizzie Post, co-president of The Emily Post Institute and host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast. Social norms are constantly changing—especially when it comes to marriage—making engagement etiquette particularly difficult to gauge. "When Emily [the institute founder and Lizzie's great great grandmother] was writing about this during the '20s, she didn't recommend saying 'congratulations' to a bride. You would say 'best wishes.' Now, that seems dated, or like you're saying 'good luck with that!'" she points out. 

Meet the Expert

Lizzie Post is an author, etiquette expert, and co-president of The Emily Post Institute, an organization dedicated to bringing manners to a wide audience.

Not sure how to react? Avoid these four common engagement faux pas, according to an etiquette expert. 

"Your Names Sound Great Together"

If your default response is to consider how your friend's first name pairs with her fiancé's last name, pause before you speak. An analysis by The New York Times suggests more women are opting to keep their maiden names after tying the knot, a trend that's consistently risen over the past decade. In 2015, 30% of women chose to keep their own name, a figure that has doubled since the 1980s. 

"Most brides haven't totally had time to process [these decisions] in the first moments of an engagement," Post says. Instead, she recommends waiting a few weeks before broaching the subject, if at all. 

Repeat After Us: 

Make it clear that you recognize the bride might choose to keep her own name. Post recommends saying, "Have you thought about whether you’ll keep your name or blend both?" "Give them options, so it's clear you aren't judging or making an assumption," she says. 

"Finally! It's About Time"

This is the number one faux pas to avoid. "I don't think that's ever okay," Post says, as any comment about the timing of the engagement is laced with judgment and brings instant negativity to the conversation. Time-related comments "make a comparison or a judgment about why you think it took a while. It implies a problem," she says. 

Repeat After Us: 

It's okay to express surprise if the news throws you off-guard, but be sure to phrase it positively. "I think you should keep it to, 'Oh my gosh, that's so exciting! I was not expecting that,'" Post says.

"What Is the Carat Size?"

"The engagement is a celebration of a life choice. The ring is an addition to that life choice," Post says. In other words, if your reaction focuses purely on the ring, it overlooks the most important part of an engagement: the relationship. 

If you do want to make a comment about the ring, focus on its beauty rather than the carat size or price, which is judgment-related. "I once had a client who got engaged, and a friend said to her, 'Are you going to upgrade later?'" Post says.

Avoid commenting on ring price or carat size as this is usually considered inappropriate because we have no control over those aspects, and they are opinion-related. 

Repeat After Us: 

If the ring doesn't match your taste, find a positive aspect to comment on that reflects the bride's style, not your own. "Try and find a compliment, like 'I know you’ve always loved that shape,' or 'It's so sparkly. You must be thrilled!'" she recommends.

"Can I Try the Ring On?"

It's normal to want to see the ring up close and wish you could try it on, but Post warns that this makes the interaction about you rather than about the bride-to-be. "It's really supposed to be about the bride, and in the excitement, it’s easy to make that mistake," she admits. If you're close friends with the bride, "save that for the second time you get together," she recommends. 

Repeat After Us: 

Skip this question altogether, and focus on the exciting news and the bride's relationship rather than the ring. "'Congratulations' is a modern go-to, and 'I'm so happy for you' is one of the very best responses," Post says. "If you keep your tone bubbly and upbeat and show genuine delight, you can't go wrong."

Article Sources
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  1. The New York Times. Maiden Names, On The Rise Again. June 27, 2015.

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