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On hearing that friends have decided to marry, congratulations are most definitely in order. But expressing your happiness for the engaged couple is a nuanced proposition, as traditional etiquette dictates that you choose different wording for the bride than for the groom.
What to Say to the Bride
When reacting to news of an upcoming wedding, it was traditionally considered poor word choice to congratulate a woman because it implied that she had managed to "catch" a man. In contrast, it was considered appropriate to congratulate the groom-to-be -- he did everything right to "win" the woman he desired. The rationale may seem outdated now, but older social mores required a man to woo a woman and for a woman to remain charming and encouraging enough of his attention to secure a marriage proposal.
Many etiquette experts recommend avoiding “congratulations” for women 50 and older, since these older traditions -- whether or not the bride agrees with them -- might still resonate. If you want to be safe, you can congratulate the couple together -- even old-guard etiquette allows for this response.
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