Engagement announcement worries.
August 4, 2018 2:12 PM   Subscribe

My fiancée and I are publicly announcing our engagement at an event coming up very soon, but I’m having weird feelings related to my longtime friend announcing his engagement just a week before. I’m struggling to figure out to proceed and whether my worries are justified or if this is an indication of some weird assumptions I need to think about.

Some backstory, just to provide context (sorry for the length):

1) I’m male (31), so is my friend. My fiancée is 30, she read over this before I posted and shares some of the same concerns.

2) My now fiancée and I have been together for over a decade, cohabiting and sharing finances for a significant chunk of that time. We were both quite young when we started dating and at first had skeptical feelings about the institution of marriage: neither of us is religious and both sets of our parents have weird dynamics in their marriages.

3) After being together for so long and reaching a good place in terms of love, comfort, finances, pets (2 dogs!), and careers we are both very excited about getting married for both practical and symbolic reasons. For me, a major appeal of the ritual of getting engaged and married is communicating to the world (including friends and family) how important our love is for each other.

4) Since we’re not approaching this process from a traditional or religious standpoint, my fiancée and I are both determined to move through this process is a way that’s reflective of our values and feels right to us while minimizing stress. We’re going with some of the usual parts, and ignoring others. For example, both of us appreciated having a physical symbol of our intent to get married and be together forever, so we picked out a really beautiful non-traditional engagement ring.

5) My friend and I have known each other since childhood. As adults, we are relaxed around each other but there have been uncomfortable periods where we haven’t been very close and our friendship has been a little strained. We probably don’t hang out as much as we could, and our interests have diverged a good bit. That being said, I think we probably put about the same amount of labor into the friendship, and I think both of us value it and get something out of it.

6) My fiancée and have an extremely tight friend group with two other couples dating back to college. There’s a large amount of professional and personal overlap, in terms of being former roommates, working at the same companies and in the same fields, etc. There’s a high degree of emotional openness between everybody in this group. My friend will occasionally hang out with us and this group, even when I’m not attending, but my friend’s fiancée almost never does.

7) My friend and his fiancée are very well matched and I’m genuinely really happy for both of them. They recently moved in together, share similar talents, and seem to have the same outlooks towards life goals. While me, my friend, and my other friend group are pretty conflict avoidant, she’s very socially intense and can come across as competitive or one-up-y. She’s mentioned that she has pretty strong anxiety and I think this is one way it manifests. This has resulted in slightly uncomfortable situations before, but I don’t think this is a reflection of her character in any way. While she’s not super close to me or my other friends, we usually get along quite well.

So here’s the situation as it stands now. Several months ago, my friend and I were having a private conversion where we both mentioned that we had been discussing getting married with our then-girlfriends. We didn’t discuss any specific plans or dates. In this interim time, my then-girlfriend and I decided to get engaged, bought the engagement ring, and setup an event to publicly announce the engagement. No one except me and her knows the real reason for the gathering, just that we were planning a get-together suspiciously far in the future, and we agreed that it would remain a secret between the two of us until then. We invited my friend, his then-girlfriend, and the two other couples.

Soon after letting everyone know about the event, my friend and I hung out one-on-one, and he told me he was planning on proposing to his girlfriend and showed me the ring. He also asked me if there was any special reason for the upcoming event, and given that I promised my fiancée I would keep it a secret and not wanting to outright lie, I replied that it was for a “celebration” and left it at that. I’m 99% sure at this point he easily figured out what that meant given our conversation months ago.

So, the announcement event is coming up soon. My friend officially proposed and announced it a week ago. Upon learning about this (online, not directly from him), I felt some weird vibes that I’m trying to parse and I could use some help. Here are some things that popped into my head, and I’d like input on how to understand them:

1) My #1 priority is making sure that my fiancée has a positive experience throughout this whole process. She’s a little anxious by nature and sometimes public attention is stressful for her. On the other hand, she’s expressed hope that our friends will be excited and supportive, and I feel the same way.

2) I’m worried that having my friend and his fiancée at the event will dull the excitement expressed by our other friends. They tend to be extremely considerate and in the past there have been situations where they’ve tamped down positive reactions to news, assuming that other people might react badly to it. For instance, upon hearing that someone got an awesome new job, they have minimized their reaction knowing that a different person in the group was stuck in a crappy job. Obviously this isn’t an exactly comparable situation, but I worry that they would tamp down their reactions to avoid coming across as having favorites.

3) I feel really horrible thinking this, but I am afraid that my friend’s fiancée will react badly. As I said, she is often competitive and isn’t always the most graceful or positive when her anxiety kicks in. I really don’t want any negativity directed my fiancée’s way. Neither me or my fiancée are competitive in general, but she’s sensitive to feeling uncomfortable and guilty when that type of dynamic arises.

4) I’m afraid if I dis-invite anyone, or reschedule, or change the plan for the event in any way there’s a chance that this will blow up into a situation a million times more awkward. I value everyone’s friendship and I don’t want anyone to be left with yucky feelings.

5) I feel kind of gross and dumb for even worrying about any of this.

So, I guess my questions is in two parts: Are any of these weird feelings justified? Is this a situation where the best course of action would be to just handle my own worries or is there something more concrete I can do? Any other suggestions or thoughts are welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Only you know these people, so there's only so much any of us can offer. I will say that—absent any of the specific interpersonal stuff, except that I am a very conflict-avoidant person—I remember being very stressed out when, right before we sent out our save-the-dates, one of my best friends (who had no way of knowing our plans) announced he was getting married about 3 weeks after the date we'd picked out.

I freaked out and wanted to reschedule (thinking that our scattered-across-the-US friends wouldn't want to go to both, that it'd be weird, whatever);my now-wife suggested it probably wasn't going to be a big deal at all.

It turned out it wasn't a big deal at all, and I basically just got to see all my out-of-town friends twice in three weeks.
posted by Polycarp at 2:26 PM on August 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

She’s a little anxious by nature and sometimes public attention is stressful for her.

Then I would not recommend creating a whole big showy occasion with potentially problematic guests just to announce an engagement. Send letters or make phone calls or any of the other less stressful and less expensive options.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:28 PM on August 4, 2018 [46 favorites]

He also asked me if there was any special reason for the upcoming event, and given that I promised my fiancée I would keep it a secret and not wanting to outright lie, I replied that it was for a “celebration” and left it at that. I’m 99% sure at this point he easily figured out what that meant given our conversation months ago.
So if I’m understanding the situation correctly, your friend tried to ask you if this event was an engagement party so he could try to figure out if any coordination was required, and you didn’t tell him the truth. Now you feel bad that there’s no coordination and you’re afraid that your friends fiancée and your fiancée will both be anxious and unhappy.

One course of action might be to host a dual engagement party. That way your fiancée isn’t the center of attention, and your friends fiancée won’t have to feel competitive.

Or you could skip the engagement party and just announce your engagement. Then start being honest with your friend and coordinate your wedding celebrations.
posted by bleep at 2:40 PM on August 4, 2018 [27 favorites]

If you ask me, you're way overthinking this, but my friends circle is not prone to drama over things like engagement announcements. This shouldn't be a big deal - you're at the age where a lot of people get married.

Regarding point two, you may need to brace yourself for your friends not just making a big deal out of your announcement, especially if the norm is to just announce it online. If you're effectively living like a married couple, they may not want to do more than say congrats and move on with the rest of the event. I'd have been surprised at that age if someone wanted to spend all evening talking about it after announcing it.
posted by Candleman at 2:42 PM on August 4, 2018 [82 favorites]

The person that is most important to you in this whole thing is your fiancée, as you noted. She has read this and knows exactly how you feel about her and this whole situation. So, no matter what happens, and I happen to think it will be a non-event (meaning not awkward), you two will always know your intent, your love for each other and how much you thought about this before hand and tried to make sure it went smoothly.

Just go forward as per your plans safe in that knowledge.

You cannot control how other people think or react.
posted by AugustWest at 2:43 PM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I did not know there was a custom of creating events to announce engagements. I mean, your friend announced his engagement online, so maybe you can too.

Or who knows, maybe your friend announced his engagement online as a courtesy to you, in light of uncertainty about what was up.
posted by batter_my_heart at 2:44 PM on August 4, 2018 [12 favorites]

Well on the one hand your worries here seem overblown, but on the other hand it seems like you are really hoping for this to go a very specific way, that everyone will react a specific way, etc. As things involving how other people behave rarely work like that, to some extent it's completely reasonable that you would be worried something will go wrong, because something would have been likely to go wrong whether or not this other couple got engaged.

This woman who you are worried about how she will react (um, lets call her Sally for short), it seems like there's a good chance she would have anxiety in pretty much any sort of gathering and consequently "behave badly" for however you want to define that. Do you imagine that if Sally had instead not just gotten engaged, that she would feel less competitive? How would Sally feel hearing the news that someone was getting engaged if she was sitting next to her long term boyfriend who hadn't proposed to her yet?

I'm not sure why you feel that Sally would have reacted better in that situation as that's not how I would bet, but I don't know your friends, so I have to assume you have a more accurate assessment of the situation.

I would deal with this by getting a toast to Sally and your friend's engagement out of the way at the very beginning of this gathering -- I'm assuming this might be the first chance people have had to see them in person since they announced their engagement. Make sure Sally gets a chance to show everyone her engagement ring and how nice it is. Wait a bit before you start in with announcing there is a special reason you planned this gathering so far in advance, etc.
posted by yohko at 2:50 PM on August 4, 2018 [14 favorites]

You are a very sweet and concerned friend. That sucks that she is socially awkward, but it's not your problem to worry about how others will receive your wonderful news and you shouldn't change your plans. Go ahead with your event, but maybe before you do your announcement, give a little time to celebrate their announcement. They'll get their pats on the back and feel good socially, then do your thing. I wouldn't be surprised if they cancel last minute and you don't have to worry about this at all, sometimes these things have a way of taking care of themselves.

Hopefully your friends will remember that the thing about love and happiness is that they are not finite - there is plenty to go around for everyone and you'll never run out.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:58 PM on August 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Are engagement parties the norm in your social group? Because if I were your friend and invited to a “celebration” too far in advance to be a pregnancy announcement I would assume it was a surprise wedding. (I’ve been invited to a few surprise weddings of already-living in love couples, so maybe that is just my friend group) Your friend may have assumed the same.

I don’t see why anyone would feel awkward having two recently engaged couples at the same event. I agree with making it a joint celebration if you were up for more guests from your friends other friend groups, otherwise, sometimes the attention will be on the other couple and that is a good breather for your fiancée.
posted by saucysault at 2:59 PM on August 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

YMMV, but in my social groups for literally my whole adult life, an engagement party would not have been a thing and therefore I would never in a thousand years have guessed that a mystery party was going to be an engagement announcement. I might well think it was a surprise wedding reception. None of the things I would think it was would change my personal plans re: my own relationship and what I was going to do or not do as far as solemnizing my commitment to that person unless I was literally planning an event for the same weekend, which they don't seem to be doing.

This reads like exactly the kind of stress you can expect when you try to surprise people with big news instead of just telling them when something happens. If you keep a secret, you don't get to hold it against people when they continue to behave as though they don't know. You were the one who wanted people to act like they don't know.
posted by Sequence at 3:03 PM on August 4, 2018 [30 favorites]

You're fine. Young friends tend to get engaged, married and have children around the same time, it's completely normal to get engaged or married within a few months of your peers. You are way overthinking this- make a nice gesture like when you announce your engagement and the first round of applause dies down, say something like "and while we are all gathered here I'd like to take the change to offer my congratulations to the other happy couple we have here tonight!" wave your drink at your friend and lead a second round of applause/ toasting.

People scoff at manners and traditions but it's important to be able to handle social situations gracefully and not ruffle feathers while still being able to be happy.
posted by fshgrl at 3:23 PM on August 4, 2018 [18 favorites]

You are in complete control of how you want your wedding to go. If you want to stress over every minute detail, and worry about all of the things that could (but probably won’t) go wrong, then that is a choice. The wedding industry/wedding culture in the West will stoke the flames of this stress as well.

But the process really can be much more relaxed if you choose to make it so. Some highly-anxious type folks (such as myself) tend to fall back on obsessive worrying to solve problems, but rationally that is almost never the best course of action. It solves nothing and just creates more stress. So take this opportunity to set out on the right foot.

I think it would be wise to go on with your plans, and include a toast for the other couple. Etiquette-wise, that is appropriate. Nobody could possibly complain about the ethics of that, and if they did, that is really THEIR problem.

In my own wedding, I made certain sacrifices/compromises to my vision of my Dream Wedding, because creating harmony among my guests trumped those details. And it turned out great anyway! it is honorable that you are trying to create harmony. And if you are ever unsure in the future regarding any wedding-related decisions, know that you can consult etiquette, as there are COPIOUS resources out there regarding wedding etiquette.

And if you are still unsure, do a gut check, talk with your betrothed, and do what YOU AS A COUPLE truly want, and don’t let anyone make you back down.

Even if everyone else in your wedding thinks it’s a little weird, as long as it’s not mean, you will find people will generally give you a wide berth for any details you choose.

And if anyone is a little anxious about your (etiquette-appropriate, kind, harmless) wedding stuff, that is their anxiety to own. Take this opportunity to practice good boundaries regarding other people’s emotions. It will make the bond with your fiancé stronger and prepare you for even greater challenges ahead. Mazel tov!
posted by shalom at 3:53 PM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

1) is a good thing to be concerned about but is relevant to the question of whether you should have a public engagement-announcement party (a decision you've already made) completely independent of this issue with your friend.

2) is a non-issue unless your friend group is very different from friend groups I've encountered in my life. Why would they see cheering your engagement as inconsiderate to your friend and their fiancee? In general, friend groups have enough cheer to spread to everyone in their circle who's getting married, without taking anything away from anyone.

4) Yes, you would probably be making a not-that-problematic situation way more problematic if you started cancelling or, worse, disinviting.

5) Neither gross nor dumb, just stressed out.

OK I skipped one, and the reason I left it for last is because of the Iron Law of Ask Metafilter stating "the part of the question you preface with "I feel really horrible thinking this, but"" is The Actual Question.

So I think the Actual Question is, "I don't like my friend's fiancee very much, I think there's a chance she'll bring negative energy to a happy occasion, what can I do?"

And I think the answer is, when people are engaged or married, inviting one means inviting both, they're a social unit, and you have no real choice but to give them a chance, because very probably they are going to behave themselves and contribute to their joy.

If they don't? Well, you learned something important about who to invite to your wedding that you otherwise wouldn't have known.
posted by escabeche at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

Speak or write to your friend. Tell them that you and fiancee have decided to announce your engagement at the upcoming gathering, and that she wanted it kept secret, but agreed with you that it would be okay to tell him, since you know he and his fiancee will keep it to themselves.

I have known a few people who have been pissed at friends, and thought that the friends/relatives announced wedding plans or scheduled a wedding "too close" to theirs. But if your friend makes a thing about it, just ignore that. Your friend might actually be bothered that he asked you and you said the party wasn't for any particular occasion... so tell him the reason now.
posted by wryly at 5:05 PM on August 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I’ve never heard of an engagement announcement event either! Forgive me if my response is irrelevant to your social circle.

It sounds like you’re overthinking/overstressing. At this point, it’s rude to disinvite this friend, so I think you’re limited in your options—unless your fiancée simply cannot be around these people. Then yes, she comes first and you’ll have to risk certain melodrama for her sake.

Tell him the news now if you think that will ease things along; it’s not a state secret, and people in your circle have probably have guessed already.

You really can’t stage manage people’s reactions; that’s a needless source of stress and you and your fiancée, and it seems to me quite a social overrreach. Adults are gonna react how they see fit, and getting big reactions isn’t some kind of prize. Cross this off your worry list as you have zero control over it: but I worry that they would tamp down their reactions to avoid coming across as having favorites.
But if it turns out your friends’ reaction isn’t what you’d hoped, don’t blame this guy and his fiancée.

Now would be a great time to practice detaching from your expectations about your announcement (and wedding—you def can’t manage anyone’s behavior there!) and just let the cookie crumble as it will. Mazel tov.
posted by kapers at 6:14 PM on August 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm with everyone else that you're over thinking this and that it isn't typical in my life for people to have an engagement party or big announcement, especially if they've been cohabitating for awhile. Maybe this isn't nice to say, but I suspect that people don't generally care that much about such an announcement.
If friend's fiancee acts weird, just blow it off.

Fwiw, in my experience, the time spent with such friends is going to dramatically drop off soon.
posted by k8t at 6:56 PM on August 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

For instance, upon hearing that someone got an awesome new job, they have minimized their reaction knowing that a different person in the group was stuck in a crappy job. Obviously this isn’t an exactly comparable situation

far from it. it's an exactly opposite situation and makes it sound like you think your friend is stuck with a lousy fiancee, compared to your awesome new one. such that people will feel sorry for him and embarrassed to show too much excitement for you. if you think your own partner is so great that anyone else would feel bad about being engaged to a lesser woman, that bodes very well for your marriage but is not a realistic concern.

an engagement celebration party is a little unusual but sweet and completely inoffensive. a secret revelation announcement party is exciting in theory, but only for the two of you who are to be the stars of the evening. could easily come across as over-dramatic if someone were looking for a reason to be annoyed and not fond enough of you to find it cute. the simplest thing is just to tell your friend the night before and have him pass it on, so that if his fiancee really doesn't feel up to being an admiring audience to a staged surprise, she can develop a headache in time to politely no-show.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:46 PM on August 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

I’m worried that having my friend and his fiancée at the event will dull the excitement expressed by our other friends. They tend to be extremely considerate and in the past there have been situations where they’ve tamped down positive reactions to news

I read your question last night and keep coming back to this part; what do you envision an un-tamped-down reaction to your engagement to be? If I were at this party I would say "congratulations!" and/or "aww!". If it seemed to me that you and your fiancee expected it, I'd clap a little. Then I'd go back to the party - not because I was trying to suppress my response out of consideration of someone else, but because I would have thought I had reacted appropriately. An engagement is happy news and I am a total sap for love, but even I don't think I'd be wildly over the top here.

So I guess my suggestion is to really think through how you expect your friends to respond, and maybe ratchet that down a few notches. That way, if they do spontaneously burst into song or do a human pyramid you'll be pleasantly surprised, but otherwise you can genuinely enjoy heartfelt but low-key congratulations without suspecting your friend and his fiancee of causing people to hold back.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:39 AM on August 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

I’m worried that having my friend and his fiancée at the event will dull the excitement expressed by our other friends. They tend to be extremely considerate and in the past there have been situations where they’ve tamped down positive reactions to news

The assumption here seems to be that... there's something bad about two couples getting engaged at nearly the same time? That seems like an unlikely thing for your friends to think.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:06 PM on August 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

My #1 priority is making sure that my fiancée has a positive experience throughout this whole process. She’s a little anxious by nature and sometimes public attention is stressful for her.

I agree that an engagement party is... something of a risky approach if this is your number one priority, even without the friend drama?

Why not tell people beforehand (NOT FACEBOOK - call them or group whatsapp, whatever is your vibe) - then they can reach out to you individually and express their excitement. Then you can use the event just as you described to your friend - as a celebration. And if it were me, I'd use it to celebrate both engagements. Why not? If he's your friend, he's your friend, and you both have happy and exciting times coming up.

I also don't always love being the centre of attention at times like this, and telling our friends individually (on the phone, by text, whatever worked) was a definite winner for me.
posted by greenish at 5:22 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

DingoMutt's response is similar to mine - I'm not sure what exactly you're expecting from your friends that you're worried about a "tamping down" of their reactions. If your friends are anything like my social group (which of course they may not be) there's not much to tamp down! Everyone congratulates you, maybe you clink glasses, and then everyone gets back to hanging out. Maybe a couple of the most wedding-minded people want to get together and talk proposal details or wedding planning off to one side. There likely isn't going to be a big to-do for your friend's fiancee to derail.

If you're really worried about it but also really committed to Keeping the Secret, you might want to consider telling just your friend, a few days ahead of time. Give him a chance to share the news with his fiancee and let her work through whatever bad feelings you think she may have. Then they can either come and behave themselves once they've worked through it, or stay out of it if they're aggressively not into sharing the spotlight. Either way they're not processing in real time in the middle of your party. If that sounds like it would ease your mind some, it might be worth letting just two people in on the secret ahead of time.
posted by Stacey at 5:46 AM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think the root of your problem is that you are expecting a BIG REACTION!!! to your SURPRISE ENGAGEMENT ANNOUNCEMENT EVENT!! that really you probably won't get because quite frankly and rightly noone cares about your engagement as much as you do. So if you approach your party as a warm hangout of friends and announce your engagement with as little fanfare as possible that would be best. The idea of a surprise engagement announcement party is inherently gauche to me, so i think the classiest way to handle it would be to chose a moment and announce your engagement and say that you wanted to tell everyone close to you at one time and thank you for coming and for being in me and my fiance's life. In other words, make this event about the guest's contributions to the relationship and not about yourselves.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:52 PM on August 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

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