Why Do We Have Engagement Announcements?

Why Do We Have Engagement Announcements?

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In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.

Maybe you can relate to this: there's nothing to do in my hometown. Unless you enjoy seeing back-to-back matinee movies or perhaps driving three towns over for a rousing bowling match, your best bet is just to flip through the soft news section of the local paper and check out the happity-haps. There's the police blotter section of course-here's a taste: “A resident called police August 25 shortly after 11 p.m. to report a bat had gotten into the home. The officer used a traffic cone to capture the bat and a lid to secure the bat. The mammal was released outside uninjured.” Folks, I did not make this up. And the other section of the newspaper that's always a treat-the “Life” section, where you can find the engagement announcements.

Here is a sample set of thoughts that have passed through my mind when checking out hometown engagements: “Whoa, he aged really well,” “I totally did not see that coming,” “I totally saw this coming, “There's a lid for every pot,” and “Wow.”

Emelie from my hometown recalls having a little battle with her mom regarding the engagement announcement. “My mother really wanted to do an engagement announcement in our hometown paper, and we were super uncomfortable with the process because we were being asked to list our accomplishments.” Emelie is a humor writer, so she approached the announcement in the best way she knew how: “We wrote really funny responses about how we wished we had gone to Hogwarts, but we didn't get our letters, so we settled on muggle schools instead, and now we spend our time working day jobs and trying to be as awesome as possible.” Her mother was not amused. “In the end, we came around to the fact that this announcement wasn't about us; it was about our parents announcing that their child was getting married, so we let it go.”

Once upon a time, engagement announcements were not just for bragging parents to show the neighbors that their kid got an MBA and is marrying an attorney. “At one time, announcements were strictly formal and undertaken for serious reasons," according to wedding historian Susan Waggoner. "In the days of arranged marriages, where goods and property changed hands, formal, very public announcements ensured that the contract would not be broken without the offending family enduring a substantial loss of face." As in, oh you're marrying my daughter, buddy. It's right here in writing, and the whole town knows! Furthermore, “notifying members of the church congregation… was initiated to give anyone with grounds for objecting to the match ample time to state their case.” So if you had some insider knowledge that Bartolomea and Bartolomeu were in fact closely related, you had some time to make them aware of this fact.

Therefore, it was pretty uncool to keep your engagement secret, and it's still somewhat frowned upon. “The assumption-often proven correct-is that if matters must be kept secret, something's bound to be amiss,” writes Waggoner.

If you are looking for cute, creative, and totally annoying ways to share the news that you are engaged, every blog on the internet has an idea for you. Put the ring on your dog's nose. Hold a Starbucks cup with your left hand. Photograph your hand with your blurry fiancé out of focus in the background. You can also find etiquette tutorials about whom to tell first about your engagement and how soon. When should you post about your engagement online, anyway? I honestly did not recall when I made the leap to making our engagement Facebook official, but a quick 45-minute scroll through my timeline shows that I made the relationship status change approximately two days after the proposal, promptly creating an “Engagement :)” Facebook album, as well as a later album titled “Spring Bling,” in which I flash my ring about town and look really giddy. Probably not the suavest approach, but I turned out okay.

Helen of Virginia says, “We went in the opposite direction and decided not to announce it publicly at all when we got engaged.” Why, you ask? “I was just about to go on a weeklong work trip, and then my partner and I were off to the UK to see my family so we could tell them in person, so at first we just deferred the decision of whether to say anything on the internet… and then by the time we got back, we'd been engaged for almost a month and we realized that we preferred to tell our loved ones in person, anyway, and didn't care about telling anyone else. It felt private and more special that we'd just told close friends and family!” Helen, you are a stronger woman than I.

Whatever you decide, don't forget to casually mention all of your accomplishments, and it would do well to double-check that your fiancГ© isn't a relative. Cheers!