Why You Should Say "Congratulations" When Someone Gets Engaged
What's the one, joyful exclamation everyone uses when someone they know reaches a milestone or accomplishes something awesome? That's easy—"congratulations!" But this word has become a bit controversial when it's applied to circumstances unrelated to earning a reward or reaching a specific goal—circumstances like getting engaged or married.
Offering congratulations is a way of commending someone on achieving a goal or accomplishing something difficult, like landing a big promotion, finishing a PhD dissertation or finally beating a personal record in the 50-meter backstroke. So with that definition in mind, it makes sense that some people might be uncomfortable, even angry, when they hear others congratulating an engaged or married person. By saying "congratulations," the congratulator perpetuates the untrue notion that being engaged or married is a hard-earned accomplishment that everyone else should be striving toward too, while implying that those who aren't engaged or married are unaccomplished or underachieving. Some people then cite the above argument to justify why they don't think newly engaged or married couples should be told "congratulations".
And that's where we disagree. It's important to understand that congratulations aren't only given in order to praise someone's successes—which is where the second part of its definition comes into play. It's also a way of recognizing and supporting someone's happiness and good fortune. Saying it to someone who hasn't overcome an obstacle, but who's reached an exciting life milestone—like getting engaged, married, pregnant or celebrating an anniversary—conveys a particular feeling of empathy, a way of expressing how happy you are that they are happy. When good things happen, we show appreciation for them because, one, it's the polite thing to do (even if you don't feel particularly excited or attached), and, two, too many bad things happen not to stop and soak in the good. It's a social instinct to share our joy with others and to share in each other's joy.
Isn't it one of life's greatest fortunes to find ultimate happiness with the love of your life, whether or not you choose to marry them? Marriage is not about landing the perfect wife or husband (as it was once perceived to be in very dated modes of convention) or achieving the relationship status of "married" on social media—it's about making the genuine, joyful and very personal decision to unite with your special person until death do you part. And for anyone who isn't engaged or married, you are not behind the curve or less accomplished than anyone who is—so forget what the outdated etiquette books say. When people congratulate engaged or married couples they're invoking the second definition of the word, offering best wishes and acknowledging the couple's happiness.
That's why we'll always say congrats to happy couples all over the world.