Why congratulations?

So, it’s like this, some people you know are getting married. They may be close friends, relatives perhaps, or merely acquaintances. They are a cis-gendered, heterosexual couple with an unremarkable age difference, they share the same beliefs and cultural heritage. You’ve just been told they are engaged, or perhaps you’re writing a message for them on the occasion of their wedding.

There are a number of things you might say but I’ll bet “Congratulations!” is right there at the top of the list of appropriate sentiments to express. It has certainly been my default message, “Congratulations and best wishes, love Mim” (Damn I’m bad at writing on greeting cards.)

Why? Why congratulations? Has someone won a prize? Overcome some great obstacle? Excelled at something and is therefore deserving of a reward?

I started thinking about this pretty much out of the blue and when I got to the “won a prize?” question my brain yelled “OH ICK!” because it brought to mind all the worst phrases used to describe two people getting married. He has won the girls hand in marriage – she’s a possession. She has caught herself a man – how exactly, by trickery?

Then there’s the obstacle thing. I can see congratulations being a sentiment I might very much want to express if the couple in question had been forced to battle for their right to choose to marry, but really, that couple I described above are taking the socially approved path, far from a path strewn with obstacles, they are cheered on by all and sundry.

I’m thinking that from now on I won’t be saying “Congratulations!” when someone tells me they are getting married, instead I’ll go for something along the lines of “How wonderful, I’m so happy for you both and I wish you all the best for your future together.” It takes a little longer to type but it has the virtue of saying what I mean.*

*Actually even that phrasing makes the assumption that marriage is an unequivocally good thing, which I’m not at all sure is true, but I figure if two people have decided to do it they clearly believe it’s a good thing for them** at any rate.

**Let’s not enter the territory of the couples for whom the first thing that pops into your head is “Oh dear god, you’re kidding!” or something along those lines.

5 Responses to “Why congratulations?”

  1. Dina says:

    lol. I like the "Oh dead god, you're kidding."

  2. Deborah says:

    I thought the tradition was to say "Felicitations" to the woman (wishing her happiness – she's gonna need it), and "Congratulations" to the man (in surprise that anyone has agreed to marry him).

    I like your long version much better.

  3. Ariane says:

    Congratulations is a weird word – it makes slightly more sense in the context of babies, but it still feels weird for me. I always felt slightly wrong receiving congratulations, especially for the pregnancy. I felt like saying "You do know it's not so complicated don't you?". There is a good chunk of luck involved, but not much in the way of achievement. (Different story if you've succeeded at IVF – then congratulations are definitely in order!)

    Maybe we should go into it – it'd be handy to have a better response than "Oh….. really?". 🙂

  4. Cathy says:

    I'd never given it any thought but now that you have written this post I agree with your longer version. I read with interest the following article last week: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/weddings-i-prefer-funerals–theyre-far-more-real-20090915-fplv.html. I won't be saying congratulations anymore I don't think. I'll have to construct a longer version similar to yours.

  5. Eternal Lizdom says:

    Interesting, Mim. I'd never really thought about it, honestly. But I agree with you.

    "I am proud of you for choosing love and commitment."

    Doesn't have the same ring to it but is certainly more honest!

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