The sight of an engagement ring can make even the most well-meaning friends and family members start asking touchy questions or offering unsolicited advice. “Most people weigh in because they’re excited,” says Meg Keene, author of A Practical Wedding. “But people can end up unloading a lot of their own baggage on brides.” Avoid accidentally offending an engaged woman by reading these ten common things she’d rather not hear—and what wedding experts suggest saying instead.
10 Things Never to Say to Brides
1. “Congratulations on your engagement! Did you set a date yet?”
Friends and family barraged Amy of Long Beach, CA, with wedding questions days after her boyfriend proposed. “I didn’t even have a venue, but people were asking, ‘Do you have a DJ yet?’ and ‘Do you have a veil yet?'” she says. “I wanted to say, ‘Please, back off!'” Even though you may be genuinely eager to hear about wedding plans, someone who just got engaged likely doesn’t have any yet—and all those questions can be overwhelming. “Instead, ask about the engagement story,” says etiquette expert Anna Post, co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition. Can’t help asking about the wedding? Test the waters with an open-ended question. “Try: ‘Have you had any thoughts about planning yet?’ If she looks at you in horror, change the subject,” suggests Post.
2. “I can’t wait for the wedding!”
This comment is appropriate if you’ve received a wedding invite or save-the-date—but awkward if you’re not on the guest list. “My mother’s school’s secretary, old neighbor and distant cousins have all said this,” says Amy, who isn’t inviting those people. “If a bride isn’t able to have the big guest list she wants due to her budget, she’ll feel uncomfortable having to break the news to you,” says Sharon Naylor, wedding expert and author of Bridesmaid on a Budget. A better approach: Offer your congratulations, but don’t assume you’re attending.
3. “If your marriage is anything like mine…”
Recent bride Ashley, of Houston, TX, was speechless when her mother’s friend told her, “The things you find hilarious about your fiancé now will annoy you when you’re married.” “Giving marriage advice is fine when it’s actual, constructive advice,” says Keene. But statements like what Ashley heard come across as complaints about the “advisor’s” spouse—or the institution of marriage. “Saying something like, ‘Marriage is hard sometimes, and the honeymoon period won’t last forever’ is helpful. Assuming all marriages will be exactly like yours isn’t.”
4. “Are you sure you’re ready to get married?”
If you think a couple hasn’t known each other long enough or is too young to marry, you may think saying this is helping them avoid a big mistake. But unless you’re a close family member or friend with serious, substantiated concerns, it just sounds judgmental. “A lot of our friends married young, and people would say, ‘Do you really want to do this now?'” says Keene. Remember that outsiders (that’s you!) don’t know better than the bride when it comes to her own relationship. “There are plenty of well-matched, happily married couples out there who dated for just a few months,” says Naylor. So stick to more welcome topics, like asking about where they’re going on the honeymoon.
5. You should have a church wedding.”
While planning her wedding, Jean of New York City couldn’t believe how many people pointed out anything that didn’t fit their definition of a wedding. “One relative commented, ‘You’re not walking down the aisle to ‘Here Comes the Bride’? That’s not traditional.’ I was like, ‘Who cares?'” she says. What was the norm when and where you got married may not be for others. For instance, 70% of couples married in a church in 1980; in 2009, only 35% did. “Remove the phrases ‘You should…’ or ‘Why are you not…’ from the conversation,” says Keene. Statements like these sound like you think the bride has made the wrong choice, which puts her on the defensive. Instead, say, “An outdoor ceremony? That’s so you!”
6. “What time does the wedding start?”
Even after sending invitations with the link to her wedding website, bride-to-be Kathleen of Sacramento, CA, found herself fielding questions about information included on her site. “When a friend asked me, ‘What hotels are nearby?’ and ‘What’s the venue’s address?’ over Facebook, I thought, ‘If you’re already online, can’t you go to our website?'” she says. A bride has plenty of things on her mind, so try to answer your questions yourself before bothering her. If you truly can’t, then e-mail or text the bride—as long as it’s not the week of the wedding, says planner Sarah Pease of Brilliant Event Planning. “If possible, pose it as a yes or no question so she can respond quickly,” says Pease. “And if she doesn’t reply in a reasonable amount of time, reach out to her bridal party or family for help.” The don’t-bother-the-bride rule also applies during the wedding. “If something happens that you can’t fix yourself, mention it to the maid of honor or the wedding planner, not the bride,” advises Pease. “They can strategize a solution that won’t create more stress.”
7. “What’s your budget?”
While talking about wedding plans, Jean was taken aback when a friend asked, “Don’t you think it’d be better to save your money for a house?” While you may intend to help the bride, comments and questions about finances can be insulting and nosy, according to Post. (You wouldn’t ask a friend what her salary is, would you?) “I understand how a conversation with friends can get you to that spot,” says Post. “But your opinion on how much they’re spending doesn’t do the bride much good, and it comes across as spiteful.” So unless you’re contributing to the wedding, keep your mouth shut on the subject of the budget.
8. “Can I bring my kids?”
“We made it clear that the reception will be adults-only, since there will be music with explicit lyrics,” says Kathleen—but that hasn’t stopped guests from asking to make an exception for their kids. “The decision not to include children isn’t usually one made lightly,” says Post. “So asking to bring your kids is inconsiderate—and unfair to guests arranging childcare. If it really upsets you, decline the invitation.” The same goes for dates. Unsure if you get a plus-one or if your children can come? “The names of invited guests appear on the envelope,” says Post. “If it says, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Weinberger,’ then that’s it. If it says, ‘The Weinberger Family,’ then everybody under the roof is invited.”
9. “Why aren’t you inviting your dad?”
Kathleen’s fraught relationship with her father led her to exclude him from the wedding—a choice that left some guests wondering why. “When someone asks about it, I want to snap, ‘Cause I’m not. Deal with it!'” says Kathleen. If you find out a bride isn’t inviting a close relative, pause before asking why. “No matter how curious you might be, it’s hurtful to make the bride explain herself,” says Post. “If you don’t already know the answer, it’s probably because she doesn’t want to talk about it with you.” Instead of prying, ask what you can do to help with the wedding, or take her out for a drink, in case she’s feeling overwhelmed by family drama.
10. “Are you thinking about kids yet?”
Since her wedding last summer, people keep asking Sonia of Boston, MA, when she’s having a baby. “I don’t think it’s so outrageous that we want to enjoy our success for a little while first,” she says. Jean agrees: “Right after we got married, people started telling us we should have kids soon—someone even mentioned it in a toast during the reception!” Not only is it invasive to ask about a couple’s sex life, you could also be bringing up an emotional subject if they’re having fertility issues. “No one asks this question to be mean, but don’t concern yourself with the bride’s baby plans,” says Naylor. When you see her after the wedding, focus on the honeymoon and how she’s enjoying married life, suggests Keene.