The Adventure Begins
There's nothing more fun than the week you get engaged. Having a secret, practically exploding with excitement and anticipation, blurting out the news to your best pals, letting your families in on it all. There are a few details to attend to, but your biggest task right now is to linger on cloud nine!
When your feet finally hit the ground again, the first thing to consider is how long your engagement will be. It'll depend on a couple of factors, such as your ideal wedding date and how much time you'll realistically need to prepare the wedding of the millennium. A typical engagement lasts from six months to a year, but many couples stray outside those boundaries--if you want to get married next Tuesday or two years from today, do it!
In any case, no matter how long your engagement is, build in some break time from all things wedding-related--you don't want to be drowning in wedding planning every single minute from right now until the big day itself. Granted, your nuptials are about the most exciting thing coming or going, but they're not the be-all, end-all, and you need to remind yourselves periodically that normal life is happening simultaneously. You'll be a lot less stressed out if you take your mind off all things canape, carnation, and calypso from time to time. Your single friends, and those long-married, too, also will appreciate a respite from licking envelopes and hearing about the woes of finding the perfect wedding venue. It will make your life immensely more pleasurable and ensure that you remain healthily grounded in the real world--which is, after all, where you're going to be living once you descend gracefully from cloud nine.
Spilling the Beans
It's time to announce that you're taking the plunge. You could run buck naked together across the field during the live broadcast of the Superbowl, with the words "We're getting hitched!" tattooed across your chests. That way everyone you've ever met will get the news. On second thought, a little decorum can go a long way (and your families will probably appreciate finding out a bit more privately, too).
Where the Words
*Fiance/e: Old French fiance, a promise
*Betrothed: Be + the Old
English treowth, truth
*Husband: Middle English husbonde, householder
*Wife: Old English wif, woman, or possibly based on Indo-European weip, "the hidden or veiled person"
Talking to Your Parents
Share the news with your immediate families first. Unless your folks are already great friends, your best bet is to tell each set of parents separately so that they (1) will be able to express their emotions freely and (2) won't have to deal with the surprise of the engagement and the possible discomfort of having to hug all their new in-laws simultaneously. Traditionally--if you must know--the bride's family gets first dibs on the news.
The greatest way to let Mom and Dad in on your big secret is together, especially if they know and like your sweetie. Invite them over for dinner, or wait until your next planned get-together, and blurt it out. In your perfect universe, they'll leap from their chairs to squeeze you both, crying for joy. (Of course, if you get engaged on a trip or live far apart and you just can't, by all means, call!)
If your parents don't know your intended, this is the perfect time to organize a visit home. However, we don't recommend introducing your one-and-only and announcing your engagement on the same occasion. If you can, wait at least until the second visit. Otherwise, whether you're pressed for time or simply feeling awkward, it's A-OK to go solo when telling your parents about the engagement; in fact, they may appreciate your discretion.
Likewise, you may want to break the news without your partner if your parents:
*Have a problem with your mate-to-be
*Are over-the-top protective
*Have concerns about your religious or cultural differences
*Have seen you go through one (or two or three) messy divorces
*Are otherwise opposed to the concept of you getting married
"You're probably getting bombarded with questions from all directions. If people keep pressuring you about details, don't get intimidated. Whatever you do, don't forget to enjoy those first few weeks."
New York therapist and marriage-stress expert
If need be, telling them on your own means you'll be able to have it out openly with your folks without dragging your love through any unnecessary and unpleasant stress and strain.
If your parents live on another planet--metaphorically speaking--and you don't quite connect, send them a thoughtful letter. If your parents are divorced, make the time to personally let both sides in on your plans. The bottom line: Do whatever feels right to you.
Kids Come First
If you have children from a previous marriage, they should be your first priority--even before your mom and pop. They're the ones who are getting a new stepparent (and maybe a stepsibling or two), and they'll need some time to get comfortable with the idea of becoming the Brady Bunch. Give your kids lots of undivided attention: The two of you should have a one-on-one-on-one with each child. Also organize a fun stepfamily outing (picnic, bike trip, movie and dinner)--you might find that "the more, the merrier" rule is right on the mark. If not, it's probably just a matter of time.
Whom to Tell First
Don't share news of your engagement with your parents first if they've been negative about your relationship. Instead, turn to people you know will be thrilled. After they've showered you with love and approval, then tell your parents; you'll be fortified for the potential hostility.
Don't let your ex-spouse hear about your engagement from the dry cleaner you still share or, worse, Junior himself. If you have children, letting him or her know is not optional. If you're not on speaking terms, drop a polite note with the news saying you're willing to discuss any worries or concerns, provided the skeletons in your relationship closet stay put.
BILL AND EMILY
Proposed January 7, New York City
WHEN BILL WAS READY to propose to Emily, he wanted to do something creative and romantic, something that spoke to her. The solution was obvious: a crossword puzzle. A puzzle devotee, Emily did the New York Times crossword every day without fail. So Bill called Will Shortz, the crossword editor at the Times, hoping he would agree to play cupid. Shortz liked the idea, and the plan was a go.
On the day the puzzle appeared in the paper, Bill played hooky from work and took Emily out for a leisurely day on the town. They went to a cafe, and Emily, unsuspecting, started the puzzle. Soon Emily said, "Look, my name's in the puzzle." A few minutes later she exclaimed, "Look! Your name's in the puzzle, too!"
Emily says she was skipping around the puzzle, and "it seemed very relevant to our relationship." The giveaway clue was "1729 Jonathan Swift pamplet"--"A Modest Proposal." When she finally looked up at Bill, she just said, "This puzzle!" At that point, Bill got down on his knee and asked, "Will you marry me?" After such a memorable proposal, how could the answer be anything but "Yes"?
You may choose to broadcast the news of your engagement to the masses through a published announcement. Or you may decide to wait and publicize the actual wedding later on. If you're recently widowed or divorced, definitely wait to make the announcement; there's no need to place yourself smack dab in the middle of the gossip circle. You also should hold off on the announcement if you don't know when you're actually going to take the plunge, or if you're already having second thoughts about the marriage. (Some couples' therapists specialize in premarital counseling--go now.)
A Family Tradition
A treasured betrothal custom: the European hope chest. The bride's parents would stock a beautifully crafted wooden chest with linens, knickknacks, and other cozy items for her to take to her new home.
Get the Announcement Ball Rolling
Call your local newspaper, your parents' hometown rag, your alumni magazine, and anywhere else you want your engagement announcement to appear and find out the name of the appropriate editor or department. Ask for writer's guidelines or a standardized form, if available. Also ask if there's a fee for publication.
Typically, announcements mention career details about the two of you, your parents' names and places of residence, and your educational credentials (space permitting). Don't include your wedding date if you haven't quite decided, or if you have decided but want to keep people in suspense. (You could include something like "A June wedding is planned.") Do list the date if you'd rather publicize it now than answer a million "So when's the big day?" questions later. If you're interested, ask if the publication accepts pictures. Some publications only print actual wedding portraits, but if they will accept an engagement photo, get an eight-by-ten or five-by-seven glossy taken of your adorable mugs.
Word Up! Sample Announcements
Engagements usually are announced officially by someone other than the Happy Couple (unless they have no close relatives to give the honor to). When composing your announcement, select the textual variations that best reflect your reality, including who will be "sponsoring" (read: "hosting") the wedding and how (dys)functional your family is. Feel free to freestyle, especially if the publication you're announcing it in is hip or humorous. For those of you who need a helping hand, here are some typical engagement announcement wordings:
Standard, by the bride's parents. Mr. and Ms. John Doe of Little Rock announce the engagement of their daughter, Jane Annette, to Jack Smith, son of David and Beth Smith of Tishomingo, Oklahoma. Ms. Doe, a graduate of Vassar College, is a professor at Barnard College in New York City. Mr. Smith graduated magna cum laude from Princeton Law School and works at Smith, Golden, his mother's law firm, in Fort Lee, New Jersey. A June wedding is planned. (Or: No date has yet been set for the wedding.)
(The groom's family is also free to put an announcement in their hometown paper; it would follow the same format.)
Single parent sponsoring the wedding. Ms. Janet Jones announces the engagement of her daughter, Jane Doe, to Jack Smith . . . Ms. Doe is also the daughter of John Doe of Sioux City. (This line is close to the end of the announcement.)
(There's no need to mention the other biological parent if he or she wasn't involved in raising you.)
Remarried parent, sponsoring with new spouse. Ms. Janet Jones and Mr. Timothy Chapin announce the engagement of Ms. Jones' daughter, Jane Doe, to Jack Smith . . . Ms. Doe is also the daughter of John Doe of Sioux City.
First Photo Op
Take a photo of yourselves on the day you get engaged. It's a great way to remember that great day--and may come in handy if you decide on a formal announcement or to use pictures on your engagement party invites.
Imagination: Party Ideas
Creativity and informality are the buzzwords when it comes to today's engagement parties. If you or your parents don't want to make this a formal dinner affair, here are some alternatives:
*Beach bash. Think sand between your toes and a breezy seaside mood. Serve a raw bar and summery cocktails as the sun sets.
*Cocktail soiree. Mix up some martinis, make trays of hors d'oeuvres, and have your favorite people over for a night of conversation.
*Sunday brunch. Champagne, decadent pastries, fruit, and a group of well wishers make for a mellow morning soiree with style.
*Chomp feast. Reserve a looooong table at your favorite restaurant.
*Surprise! We're engaged. Plan your own party, and when everyone has a champagne flute in hand, make your big announcement.
How do you handle evil-wishers like high-school enemies, your commitment-phobic squash partner, or that waiter with a crush from hell? Just ignore them, because:
1. Who cares what they think?
2. They'll get over it.
3.If all else fails, you can always slap 'em upside the head with your 3-carat diamond.
Buying the Ring
The most universal of engagement traditions, by far, is the groom-to-be presenting his bride-to-be with a ring. Customarily, there's a luscious diamond involved, perched atop a band of pretty damn expensive metal. We love the ice, of course, but it's great that some people select a different precious gem, or group of gems--such as aquamarine, topaz, or tourmaline. Others opt for Victorian-inspired posy rings (bands engraved with inscriptions of love) or elaborate tattoos. It's also not unheard of for a woman to reciprocate and purchase an engagement ring for her man or to chip in for her own sparkly bauble. Other couples also give engagement gifts to each other.
Let's assume that you're a classic guy (or gal). You're ready to contribute to the $18-billion-a-year world of the diamond business. If you've got the guts, go traditional and surprise your honey with a beautiful ring. But we like the idea of asking for her (or his) input--clear, or slightly colored? Mounted low, or jutting out? Round, square, or heart-shaped?--before you go diamond hunting. Even better: Go ring shopping together. Most couples do, and report no lack of romance in the "big moment." You can propose first (one groom used a candy-ring stand in); or you can choose the ring, then spring it on her when she least expects it.
Name Your Price
Before you embark on your ring quest, figure out how much you have to spend (literally have in your budget, not "have to" as in must!). Generally, people set aside about two months' salary for the jewel, but you can spend as much or as little as you want (or, more realistically, can afford). A bigger diamond or swankier setting does not mean a better marriage.
Once you've established a budget, ask friends and family to recommend a reputable jeweler. Make sure s/he's a member of the American Gem Corporation (212-762-0028) and offers stones that are in your price range. Be a savvy shopper; retailers will take you more seriously if you use professional lingo. Throw around a few of the buzzwords: clarity, carat, color, and cut (also known as the four Cs; we explain them next). However, don't act overly sophisticated if you aren't; your ignorance will betray you, and some jewelers who smell an easy kill won't hesitate to draw first blood.
Sneaky Ways to
Get Her Ring Size
*Sneak away to the jeweler's with a ring she wears on her ring finger.
*Ask one of her friends to play detective. She should try on a ring of your honey's and say, "Oh, this is too loose (too tight, just right)--what size are you?"
*Measure the circumference of her ring finger with a piece of string and use a pen to mark the right spot. (This method is recommended only if she's a deep sleeper!)