Right after I got engaged in November, I decided that my fiancé and I needed to have an engagement party. I wasn’t even exactly sure what an engagement party was or what purpose it was supposed to serve. What I did know is that I am a huge fan of parties where I get to wear a cute dress, drink champagne, eat cake and have all of the people I love in one room (which is a polite way of saying, “I get to be the center of attention”). So, after a couple of phone calls and a few rounds of emails, my engagement party was set in motion.
Traditionally, an engagement party is a semi-formal affair hosted by the family of the bride to announce the engagement of their daughter. But, it’s 2012 and girls can marry other girls, dads don’t always foot the bill for weddings and an engagement party can basically be anything you want it to be. If your or your fiancé’s parents are traditional, but also really awesome and supportive of gay marriage, maybe they will host the party for you. But there are plenty of other options. Maybe a few pals will throw a low-key bash at your favorite bar or restaurant. Perhaps another family member will pick up the slack if your parents aren’t up for the job. You can even host your own engagement party – before or after you have announced your engagement.
For my own engagement party, I not-so-subtly let my sister know that I wanted a pre-nuptial bash to kick off my wedding festivities. She arranged a medium-sized cocktail party for our friends and family members. Everyone in our circle was completely jazzed about the event, and we even had some amazing friends and relatives fly in from out of town – even though no one, including me and my fiancé, had any real clue what the official purpose of an engagement party is in the modern era where most engagements are announced almost immediately after they occur (and probably via Facebook).
A few hours before our party, as the champagne was chilling, my sister was slaving away preparing food and our out-of-town guests were arriving at the airport, I started to get nervous and had a little freak-out session with my fiancé. As I sat on the floor painting my toe nails, eyeing white cocktail dress I’d purchased for the event, I asked my betrothed, “Um, so…do you have any idea what we’re supposed to do at engagement party or why we are having one in the first place?” She didn’t.
But, it was clearly too late to cancel, so we decided we’d just go with it and have a good time. Our party was a huge success, and I’m happy to report that the engagement party, which may seem at first glance like an antiquated custom, actually serves quite a few very useful purposes.
Here are seven reasons why you need to have an engagement party:
1. Get a head start on figuring out what type of wedding attire suits you.
You may not want to wear a “look at me!” white feathered dress like the one I wore, but you’ll probably get dressed up for your engagement party. Shopping for your party attire will help get your juices flowing about what you might want to wear on the big day. You’ll also be able to start discussions about how you and your fiancé can coordinate your ensembles. If she’s dreaming of vintage and you have your heart set on sleek and modern, better to figure that out now.
2. Set the tone for your wedding.
Sadly, same-sex weddings are relatively new business. A lot of well-meaning, not at all homophobic people genuinely don’t know what to expect when lesbians say they’re getting married. Some people assume gay couples who have to get married out of state won’t be having a hometown wedding. And, older relatives may be honestly curious about how your wedding will differ from all the straight weddings they’ve attended. An engagement party is the perfect place to set the stage. Your family and friends will be able to start envisioning you as an engaged couple and it will take some of the mystery out of what goes on at a lesbian wedding (usually exactly the same stuff as at a straight wedding, minus one groom).
3. Introduce your nearest and dearest.
Weddings mean bringing together lots of different people who don’t know each other. Aside from both of your families, you’ve got childhood friends, college pals, coworkers, out-of-town relatives, and all kinds of other people who have never met or haven’t seen one another in years. I’m lucky in that my family has already spent a few holidays with my fiancé’s and many of our friends run in the same circle – and I still spent half of the time at my engagement party introducing people. I’m glad I got it out of the way before my wedding. Now that my sister and my college roommate have already bonded over their shared love of 80s music and our aunts and uncles got to chat with all of our friends, I’ll have fewer hostess duties at my wedding and my guests will have more fun because they already know each other. Plus, if you’ve got skittish parents or other family members who have met precisely one lesbian (you) in their entire lives, attending your engagement party will give them some exposure to other gay people, so they can find out before your wedding that they have nothing to fear.
4. Discover potential wedding-related stressors that could cause arguments between you and your fiancé.
It’s all hearts and romance until you get down to the serious business of planning a party. It could be a squabble about cake flavors or a knock-down drag-out fight about the role your mothers will play in the wedding. But trust me, my little blushing brides to be, before you say “I do,” you and your beloved will have some serious disagreements and you’ll probably learn some new things about each other. An engagement party will bring out all kinds of potential fodder for arguments. The good news is that you can hash it all out well before the wedding.
5. Dysfunctional family dynamics will play out before you walk down the aisle.
The flip side of the joy that comes with having everyone you love in one room is the dysfunctional family dynamics that inevitably emerge. If your parents are divorced, it’s quite possible that the last time they were in the same room, it was a court room. Maybe your jealous cousin will complain about everything in an attempt to take away from your happiness. Or perhaps your brother starts hitting on your married friends after a few glasses of champagne. Wouldn’t you rather know all of this stuff before you put all of these people together with an open bar? If you have an engagement party, you’ll know what you need to do to prevent your dysfunctional family from ruining your wedding (i.e. – appoint a level-headed sibling to run interference between mom and dad, give your jealous cousin a job so she’s too busy to complain and set your brother up on a date so he doesn’t accost your friends on the dance floor).
6. Find out who you can rely on to help with wedding duties.
Whether you’re planning a formal wedding with a sit-down dinner or a more casual affair, you’re going to need some help pulling it all together. If you have an engagement party, you’ll learn very quickly which friends and relatives will be there for you. And, you may discover hidden talents (your great aunt makes adorable DIY invitations or your brother-in-law gives a great toast) that could come in very handy for your wedding.
7. Enjoy a smaller, lower-stress version of the wedding.
Even if you don’t wear a white dress and serve champagne at your engagement party like I did, it will be like a dry run for the wedding. About 99.9% of married women I’ve spoken to report that her wedding day was a blur and that she was so busy that she barely had a second to enjoy it (or eat a bite of that filet mignon she paid so much money for). So, in the highly likely event that I am not in that .1% of unusually calm brides who can relax and truly enjoy her own wedding, I looked at my engagement party as a chance to soak it all in – to savor the fact that I have an amazing woman who wants to spend the rest of her life with me, to appreciate that I have a supportive family who embraces my fiancé and to enjoy my good friends who keep my champagne glass full at all times. Because chances are high that on the day of my actual wedding, I’ll be overwhelmed and go all Bridezilla on their asses.
Will you celebrate your engagement with a pre-nuptial bash?