When I tell people I'm engaged, and they say congratulations, I know I should just say, "thank you." But because congratulations feels awkward, I usually joke around and say one of the following instead, "Thanks - I finally bagged me a man!" or "Thanks - I'm not gonna die alone!" (Although with Mark being 2 years older than me and women's life expectancy being 2 years longer, it is highly likely that I will.)
I don't know why I do this, except that is what congratulations sounds like to me. It sounds like:
It sounds like, "Hey, now we know you're not gay" or "you are so lucky that anyone is willing to marry you." I know it's my own insecurities, and that they are just congratulating me on...well, what, exactly, are you congratulating the woman on?
You congratulate the man on finally manning up and making an honest woman out of the girl, of finally getting over his fear of commitment, on dropping a large amount of money on a rock, on finally capitulating to the woman's harpish desire to get married, you congratulate him on getting sex for the rest of his life, even when he's bald and in his sixties. Ultimately, you are congratulating him on choosing to get married.
Because of the sexist nature of the proposal, women don't really choose to get married. Yes, they have that moment where they say yes or no - but usually men string the process out for so long that they are sure she will say yes. (I know I'm generalizing. But every guy I know has done this. Okay, except one.) Often couples have talked about it beforehand - but equitable decisionmaking has no place in the "real" proposal! (My ideal proposal was to go out to dinner on New Year's Eve and resolve to spend the rest of our lives together. I thought it was the perfect way to make proposing romantic, special, and mutual. Didn't happen.)
So when you congratulate the girl, you are congratulating her on getting "picked". It's like being drafted into the team of marriage. Suddenly she is special - all because somebody asked her. She had no power or autonomy in being asked (and if she tried to have any, man was she a nagging ring-hungry b*tch.)
I realize that most people think that they are congratulating people on deciding to get married, on growing up, on committing to each other for the rest of their lives, but they're not. The reason that I know they're not is because....well, because of what happened to me when I tried to propose. I came up with a plan and I really wanted to ask Mark, because well, I love him and I want to spend the rest of my life with him.
What did people tell me? I got one response: You can't do that.
The most horrifying reason? "The guy gets so little in relationships - you have to just give him this." "This is the one decision that the guy gets to make."
Excuse me? Maybe you have so little power in your relationship that you felt like you had to seize it by holding out on your girlfriend and torturing her with the promise of a proposal around every corner (I had friends who deliberately tried to throw their girlfriends "off the scent" by "faking them out.") I like to believe that we have a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding, and that neither of us have more power than the other. I don't run Mark's life, I don't prevent him from going out with his friends and having fun, and I certainly don't think that I have all of the power. When it comes to wedding planning, I am willing to go with the place he likes instead of the place that I like - because at the end of the day, we get to be married to each other and if he is a little happier than I am about where we did it, who cares? He is going to get to pick his own clothes and his own groomsmen and the music and I am going to pick my own clothes and my bridesmaids and every other decision we will make together. (I have terrible taste in music. I'm uncomfortable making those decisions for our guests.)
Anyway, ultimately I let him propose, for a number of reasons - but I still couldn't handle the congratulations, and I know that people mean well. I congratulate people on getting engaged. And I'm not sure if I mean, "congratulations on making a decision to marry and spend your lives together" or "congratulations on landing the white whale of relationships."
Does anybody else experience the problem of not knowing how to thank people for their well wishes?