The Conventional Politeness of Congratulations

by admin on January 29, 2013

I have been a long-time reader of your wonderful site, and have often shaken my head at the cluelessness of some of the individuals discussed in the submitted stories. However, as it stands, I find that I may be one of the clueless. If I am, please let me know, as I truly don’t know what to do in situations like I have encountered.

First, a tiny bit of back story about myself. I am a childless adult, both by virtue of being a homosexual male (and the troubles involved with same-sex adoption in my state, especially by men), and by choice (I don’t really wish to have children, even if I could have them the “old fashioned” way). However, I hold no animosity toward children or parents, and my own nephews and nieces are the shining lights of my life. Now, that said, I am afraid that I may have inadvertently severed a decent friendship recently.

A friend of mine, who I will call “Sally” for the sake of the story, recently announced that she and her husband, here to be known as “Jim,” were expecting their first child. Sally and Jim were not trying for a child, and had actually planned on waiting a bit longer before having children. However, as Sally put it, “sometimes Mother Nature changes your plans.” Though the child-to-come is a surprise to them, they are quite excited. Once Sally and Jim had shared the news with their families, they began to share the news with the rest of their friends. I was told amidst a group of five other friends when Sally joined us all for our social circle’s monthly night out to dinner.

Immediately, the chorus of “Congratulations” echoed around the table, immediately followed by the barrage of “When are you due?” and “Are you going to find out the child’s sex?” It was baby-palooza at our dinner table, and I was perfectly fine with it all. I asked my own questions, participated in the conversation, and had a wonderful time discussing Sally’s news. At the end of the meal, Sally handed each of us an invitation to a celebratory barbecue to be hosted by her mother a few weeks down the line. It was not a baby shower, and the invitation made that clear. Rather, it was a party for family and friends – a chance to get together, have some good food, and share in Sally and Jim’s baby excitement at the treat of Sally’s mother. This child is to be the first grandchild, and Sally’s mother is over-the-moon with excitement.

After dinner, once I was back home and had filled out the RSVP card to be mailed to Sally’s mother the next day, I received an uncomfortable phone call from Sally. It seems, after we had gone our separate ways following dinner, “Rachel,” with whom Sally had carpooled to the restaurant, informed Sally that I had committed a serious violation of etiquette. Though I hugged Sally, asked her plenty of questions regarding her expected child, and commented upon how lovely the barbecue was sure to be, I had neglected to say the one word that, apparently, I was socially obligated to say: “Congratulations.” Sally, at Rachel’s behest, wanted to know why.

I did not lie to her. It is true, I did not say the magic word. I rarely say “Congratulations” to expectant parents for two reasons, both of which I communicated to Sally when she asked. First, when a person, or a couple, is expecting a child that is unplanned, I find “Congratulations” to be a bit awkward. I can understand saying it to the woman, or couple, who had been attempting to conceive but who had been having a rough go of it. However, when the child is unplanned, I feel like it is an out of place remark. This leads to the second reason I don’t say it. It is out of place because, in the end, I feel like all I am saying is “Congratulations on having functioning reproductive organs,” or even worse, I feel like I am congratulating them for having enjoyed the activity required to make the baby. Neither of those situations is, to me, is worthy of congratulations.

But, I did also explain to Sally that I am happy because she is happy. As her friend, I want her to be happy. So, when a situation arises, planned or unplanned, in which a friend finds themselves in a happy place, I am happy for them.

Apparently, this wasn’t enough for Sally. Through tears, and with Rachel’s voice audible in the background, Sally stated that I had deeply hurt her. She then offered the opinion that I am, perhaps, jaded about babies and pregnancy because my sexual orientation leaves me unable to have a child with my romantic partner. I was, in Sally’s words, “a jealous man who couldn’t be happy for her.” She then, rather abruptly, withdrew the invitation to her mother’s barbecue and hung up on me.

After getting off the phone with her, I stewed in my own anger for a while. I truly was happy for her, but I didn’t feel that I needed to be socially pressured in to saying some magic word to her just because everyone else was saying it. But, as my anger subsided, I began to focus on Sally’s accusation. I don’t consider myself to be jealous or jaded when it comes to pregnancy or babies. As I said, I am childless partially by circumstance of sexual orientation and partially by choice.

Please help me. Am I in the wrong here? Did I break a social contract by not saying “congratulations” to Sally? Did I, in an oafish way, truly hurt someone I did, and still do, consider a friend? 0128-13

First point of business – Get yourself a copy of “Miss Manners’ Basic Training:  The Right Thing To Say”.   It is out of print but there are still used copies for sale online and occasionally Ehell gives away copies.   In the first chapter, Judith Martin explains the importance of “conventional politeness” in response to other people’s good (and sometimes bad) news.

Etiquette can provide people with the right thing to say -but not because its so adorably creative (although heaven knows it sometimes has to be to get through the situations people throw at it nowadays).   It is because it expresses its feelings in the time-tested ways that it knows will be appreciated and understood.

I underlined “understood” because when people announce significant life events, they do have a deeply engrained, culture expectation of hearing responses they will understand as being supportive.    Judith Martin writes further,

People whose lives are being enriched often take the simple view that if life is good, one should be happy – and the outrageous view that their friends should be happy for them.  They would enjoy hearing their friends say so, in those highly conventional ways.

Unfortunately you used the happy occasion of your friend’s pregnancy to not focus on their good news but rather to gird up your beliefs as to why you cannot utter the word “congratulations”.    To put it bluntly,  you were selfish and only thought of your own opinion rather than laying them aside to genuinely wish someone, in the conventional politeness they would understand, congratulations on this new season of their lives.  And then you deepened the problem by actually defending your actions to Sally when discretionary restraint would have been a wiser choice.    It is not lying to be discreet in your choice of words.    Later in the book, Martin addresses what to say upon hearing the news of a most unexpected pregnancy or one you think is not a good idea.  It’s one word – “Congratulations.”

Rachel doesn’t get off the hook.  She took offense at something that was not hers to take up and etiquette doesn’t give much grace to secondhand offendees.   She is a troublemaker who created drama and conflict that could have been easily avoided by simply ignoring your lack of graciousness.    My imagination takes me to the point where you, confronted on the phone by Sally, could have said, “Did I? Forgive my oversight!  Many congratulations to you!  I am excited for you!”, and Rachel would have looked like an meddling idiot and this whole drama utterly diffused.  Good heavens, you played right into Rachel’s hand on this one whereas if you had used conventional etiquette to congratulate Sally in the first place, you would have never ceded any power to a rude boor.

As for Sally, two words. “Pregnancy hormones”.   It doesn’t excuse her selfish demand that you must be happy for her and her rude insistence that you will explain yourself but it does explain the high emotions.

How to fix the friendship?  Here on Etiquette Hell, we understand that we cannot change the behaviors of others but we can change our own by taking ownership of our actions.   If you want to heal the friendship, I suggest arranging to meet Sally AND JIM to offer no excuses for your behavior but rather to humble apologize for your part of this debacle.   I emphasize her husband because you need someone who is not influenced by pregnancy hormones to hear your words and who will remind Sally later of what you really did say.   Here is what you would say,

“Sally, you were right.  I did not use the word, ‘congratulations’ upon hearing your good news.   I was selfishly thinking of my own reasons why I prefer to not use the word and not focusing on your happy news.   I do apologize for that.  I am very happy for both of you and look forward to meeting the newest member of your family.” 

Whatever you say, always bring the focus back to Sally, husband and the baby and do not give in to any desires to explain yourself further.

 

{ 132 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie January 29, 2013 at 11:37 am

A long time ago, I read something by a woman who had conjoined twins. She said that during her pregnancy, another woman who had had conjoined twins called her to give her advice, and the first thing she said was, “Congratulations on your pregnancy.” She was the first person who had said it; everyone else defaulted to shock and horror.

Since I read that, “Congratulations” is always the first word out of my mouth about any pregnancy, no matter what the situation.

Which is not to say that I fault the OP for not saying it originally–just for his subsequent unnecessary explanation.

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L.J. January 29, 2013 at 11:42 am

You were going to lose the friendship anyway. Sally is moving into the world of motherhood, which contains an awful lot of women like Rachel. Sally won’t have time for non-parent friends, she’ll be too busy keeping up to the motherhood standards of women like Rachel. Pity Sally for that, but keep away from the craziness and be glad you escaped before spending $$$ on gifts.

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Wendy B. January 29, 2013 at 11:49 am

Sally needs to get a grip and decide if ending the friendship over one word is really worth it.

Rachel needs to get a grip and shut up. It is neither her baby nor her business.

You need to get grip and stop over explaining things. When Sally asked, just say, “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean I’m not happy for you, you know. I am. I’m thrilled. I was just startled, is all!” Or whatever.

Sally and Rachel were bullying the OP to make him act the way they wanted him too. If friendship is that fragile, OP needs new friends.

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Mary January 29, 2013 at 11:54 am

SKM, Puff the magic dragon makes me cry even when I’m not pregnant.

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Stacey Frith-Smith January 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Sifting through the detritus of a conversation in order to determine whether one has accrued all the “congratulations” or “best wishes” one is due smacks of “keeping score” in a most uncharitable and unsavory fashion. (But OP, if you are ever caught off guard again with a challenge to your particular choice of “I’m so happy for you!”, for heaven’s sake, don’t offer up any such bald explanation. It puts you squarely in the line of sight of such icky persons as Rachel. (Who really has nothing better to do than to dig for dirt on other friendships? Is she jealous or just overly dramatic?) Please take Admin’s advice to heart and hopefully no one else will trip you up simply for the sport of practicing evil motives in your friendships from now on.

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Barensmom January 29, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Well, OP, you put your foot into it with your explanation of your dislike for “Congratulations.” However, Sally saying that you’re jealous because you’re a bitter gay man is worse, pregnancy hormones or not. Under the veneer, you now know what Sally really thinks of you. I don’t think Sally will listen if you apologize, but you should try, then see if she apologizes in return. Somehow I doubt it. You should definitely stay far, far away from Rachel – she sounds like a nasty troublemaker. It is obvious from your post that she was the power behind that phone call.

Finally, I think you should remember that sometimes the less said, the better.

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BellyJean January 29, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I agree with PhDeath – who the heck keeps a tally?! You HUGGED her for pete’s sake. The fact that Rachel actually COUNTED and PAID attention? That’s awful. And for Sally to actually care? That’s carp. I’m sorry Rachel doesn’t like you. That’s what I got from this story. You were happy for her. What does it matter what you say exactly? Joy is joy.

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Stefanie January 29, 2013 at 12:07 pm

SKM – exactly. When my best friend told me that she was pregnant, I don’t think I said “Congratulations”… I think I shrieked with joy and immediately rushed to give her a giant (gentle) hug. If someone then started telling me that I wasn’t appropriately happy for her by telling her a specific word… I think my only response would be “Wow.”

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Cami January 29, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I’m having a little trouble believing that the omission of one word in what sounds like a lively and excitable group of people all talking happily and exclaiming over the news was sn noticeable. I have a suspicion that the OP unconsciously through body language, tone and/or questions, gave Rachel (and Sally, once prompted by the evil Rachel) pause to wonder if the OP really was happy about the baby.

I wonder this wonder because years ago at a family event, a relative of mine excitedly announced she was pregnant with her eighth child and I too got in trouble for my response. Like the OP, I too had the opinion that congratulations were not appropriate in this circumstance of an eighth child when they were already on welfare and food stamps, regularly begged family for hand outs, and pressured their older children to drop out of school because “Education is not necessary.” I THOUGHT I made the appropriate and socially acceptable happy noises and exclamations. I THOUGH me giving her a hug and saying, “Congratulations!” and participating in the ensuing happy conversation was “good enough”. To my shock, it was not, because Relative called me the next day to ream me out for my “attitude”. I truly thought I had hidden my attitude. Then a few weeks later, I was visiting another relative who had been taping the family and she put in the tape for us to watch. I was shocked to see that — unconsciously — when I thought no one was looking, I relaxed my vigilance and my body language and facial expressions most assuredly conveyed what I was really thinking. So I thought I was hiding it, but I was not.

Perhaps the OP was in the same position and his tone, questions, and/or body language were conveying what he subsequently explained — that an unexpected pregnancy is not a time for congratulations.

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gramma dishes January 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Sorry, I call total baloney!

I think this emphasis on saying one “correct” word is ridiculous. He expressed his joy and enthusiasm and happiness for Sally and her husband in other ways at the time of the announcement and throughout the remainder of the pregnancy centric dinner. That’s what was important.

Rachel is a trouble making busy body and Sally would have been smart to steer clear of her input.

The comment about his never being able to have kids was intended to be cruel. Would Sally have ever even considered saying such a thing to another couple she knew were having fertility issues?

Yes, I agree that the OP could have handled it better by simply saying “Oops! Sorry! I thought I had said it. Guess I was just so happy for you that the exact word slipped my mind. Congratulations!!”, but the fact is that he should NEVER have been confronted like this in the first place.

I can’t help but wonder if Rachael and possibly Sally, felt that Sally’s parents might possibly be uncomfortable hosting a gay person and they were looking for an excuse to disinvite him. I hope not, but the thought crossed my mind. That to me would be a much bigger social faux pas than simply neglecting to use a certain very specific word. Even if that wasn’t the reason, disinviting someone is rude, period, unless that person has done something truly offensive. The OP didn’t here.

In any case, Rachael is a societal pest and Sally needs to grow up and accept that enthusiasm doesn’t always use the “right” word but is still quite real and totally valid.

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acr January 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I can’t decide what is worse here – the OP’s rather silly attitude towards saying “Congratulations,” Rachel and her pot stirring and Sally and her drama fest. None of them sound pleasant.

Unless the OP sat there like a lump while everyone else said “Congratulations,” how did Rachel even notice? Some people say “Congratulations!” some people say, “I’m so happy for you!” some people say, “How exciting!” These are pretty much interchangable.

However, the OP’s longwinded explanation about why he doesn’t say “congratulations” makes me think that he probably makes his refusal to use the word pretty darn obvious.

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Calli Arcale January 29, 2013 at 12:22 pm

When I was pregnant, both times, I was very emotional. I would cry very easily. But I didn’t turn into a *jerk* who’d disavow a longtime friend over something so petty. That said, I have known manipulators who would try to turn friends against one another, and I do wonder whether Rachel might not be one. What a shame.

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Lychii January 29, 2013 at 12:22 pm

For me, the glaring question here is WHY had Rachel decided to make a fuss about it?

It makes me wonder if more took place than OP discloses. Did he make faces/comments to others when Sally was out of earshot? Did he do the “congratulations rant” which Rachel overheard?

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Elizabeth January 29, 2013 at 12:27 pm

You sound like a very nice person; Rachel is a pot-stirring drama inventor and Sally sounds like high maintenance (and likely to become more so in the coming months) and perhaps somewhat superstitious. You say you still consider Sally a friend so I suggest “I am so sorry you are upset with me. I am very happy for you and Jim and it troubles me that my quick choice of words has caused such a stir.”

Avoid Rachel at all opportunity and keep Sally at arms length.

Am I the only one that thought Sally rude to dominate the group dinner with everything-baby? Yes of course one shares the exciting news but at some point Sally is obligated to say, ‘Enough about me. Fred, what have you been up to? Did you get that book you mentioned?’

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aschmid3 January 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Nice going, Rachel. Sally and the OP both have their parts in this mess, but if it weren’t for Rachel stirring the pot for no apparent reason, it never would have started. I hope the OP can mend fences with Sally, and they both keep their distance from Rachel from here on out.

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bansidhe January 29, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Shannon said, “I think Sally and Rachel are ridiculous drama queens, and the OP is well shot of them.”
I could not agree more. What a ridiculous tempest in a teapot. Someone that fussy, accusatory, and eager to look for offense isn’t worth the effort, OP.

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--Lia January 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I’ve thought about this more and have concluded that it really doesn’t matter what the OP does at this point. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that OP had apologized and said congratulations when Sally first called. Let’s say he said “how could I have forgotten that? I am so sorry and wish to make it up to you. Congratulations! I’m so happy for you! I hope you’ll tell me all about the new baby and the exciting time leading up to it. I’m here for you.” Etc. Which of the following do we suppose happens next?

1. Sally and Rachel both realize they were mistaken in their assessment of the OP and go on to enjoy many years of friendship.

2. Rachel keeps her eyes and ears open for the next transgression on the part of the OP and lies in wait for him to do something wrong– according to her own definition of wrong. As soon as he does, she pounces and continues filling Sally with tales of his mean spirited jealousy. Perhaps, after many years and after the OP has moved on to other friends, Sally wakes up and wonders about all the friends Rachel has pushed away. She wonders even about the way Rachel has tried to interfere with her relationship with Jim. She starts to wonder if maybe Rachel is the one with the jealousy problem, maybe one rooted in unacknowledged homosexuality …

I know I’ve given myself leeway to engage in quite a bit of fiction writing myself. I acknowledge that I can’t know Rachel’s motives. But if I had to bet on one scenario or the other, I’d go with door #2.

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Calliope January 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I’m 100% on the OP’s side, here. It sounds like he was being kind and supportive, showing interest in Sally’s pregnancy. There is no reason he should have to expressly say, “Congratulations,” as if it were a magic word. His actions and his questions for Sally expressed that he was happy for her, and that should be enough.

I don’t like it one bit when pregnant women’s unreasonableness is blamed on “pregnancy hormones”. I’m pregnant right now, and I’m still firmly in control of myself. The hormones may make me more prone to crying at a Pampers commercial, or even at a car commercial, but they don’t cause me to be rude to my friends. Sally was rude and demanding and needlessly confrontational, and if there’s a good reason for this friendship to be over, it’s the hurtful things she said to the OP.

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Peas January 29, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Sorry, but NOBODY looks good here.

The over-analyzing of the word “congratulations” is a jerk move, but so is the over-analyzing of the lack of a congratulations when other expressions of support are made. Rachel is the biggest jerk for pointing this out to Sally and stirring the pot, but the OP should have just said, “Sorry, it just didn’t occur to me that you were looking for a specific word” instead of, “for what? you got knocked up. you weren’t even trying” Sally should have just let it go instead of bringing it up with the OP in the first place. And no, the “pregnancy hormones” excuse does not give you free reign to be a jerk to everyone around you.

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Tsunoba January 29, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Perhaps it’s because I take things too literally, but if I held the same views that the OP does, I would likely have reacted the same way. Sally didn’t just say that he never congratulated her. She asked WHY he didn’t do so. I honestly would have viewed it as a direct question about my motivations, not as a reminder of basic etiquette.

As much as I hate the Asperger’s excuse, it’s entirely possible here. I have been told that my literal interpretations are caused by my Asperger’s, and it has gotten me into trouble before.

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Ashley January 29, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Admin is right on. Though Rachel is sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong and causing unnecessary drama, OP played right into her hands when Sally called. While there’s no law that says you have to specifically use the word ‘congratulations’ (‘How wonderful’ and I’m happy for you’ are sufficient.), OP is overthinking it. Congratulations is just another nice word one uses to express happiness for another’s good fortune.

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helen-louise January 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Forgot to add that what I *do* say is a heartfelt “Good luck”, and/or “Best wishes for a happy & healthy pregnancy”. Both of those cover much of what people mean when they say “Congratulations” without feeling like I’m a hypocrite.

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Catrunning January 29, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Wow – I think I’m just as guilty of the same “sin” as OP. A co-workers just announced to me that she was pregnant. I hugged her, said that’s wonderful and how excited I was for her. But I never said the actual word “congratulations”. I guess I’m really a mean person.

I think that both Sally and Rachel are super-special snowflakes, and OP would be smart to look for other friends. If Sally is that sensitive about a single word, imagine how she will act when the baby is born and people start changing the subject after every conversation is babyjacked.

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secretrebel January 29, 2013 at 1:12 pm

OP, I really feel for you.
I once attended a wedding where I found myself in a line up to speak to the parents of the bride. As person after person ahead of me said “congratulations”, I failed to realise this was an etiquette mandated phrasing. I arrived in front of the parents and said “what a beautiful wedding, the couple are so happy, thank you so much for inviting me”. I thought this was a heartfelt and genuine sentiment. More fool me. When I left the line up I was taken aside and told I had been very rude not to say the “congratulations” that was expected of me.
I don’t agree with this attitude. But it seems that there are some people like my friend at the wedding and your friends with the birth announcement who care more for the phrasing used than the feeling expressed.

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Harley Granny January 29, 2013 at 1:13 pm

What a bunch of drama queens!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You can’t undo what you said to Sally period. What you can do is talk to her without Miss Buttinski and explain that never in a million years would you knowingly hurt her but when you were blindsided by this, your explaination came out rather rudely.

Sally reacted badly also, but in reality she was caught in the middle.

Now to Miss Buttinski. I would not Absolutely Positively EVER consider her a close friend again. I’d be nice and polite to her, but she has shown her true colors and they aren’t pretty.

I hope you and your friend can patch things up.

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MichelleP January 29, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I have to respectfully disagree with admin that OP is “selfish” and “used the pregnancy” as an excuse to “gird up his beliefs”, whatever that means. The OP was congratulatory in his actions, that is all that’s necessary. I’ve had friends tell me about unplanned pregnancies and then got offended when I said congratulations, as they didn’t want it. Anyone see the movie Waitress?

Ditch Sally and especially Rachel, OP.

I agree with Gen Xer. Pregnancy hormones are no excuse to act like this. I’ve been pregnant twice and never carried on like an adolescent idiot.

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MichelleP January 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Have to agree that OP shouldn’t have explained why he didn’t say congratulations, though. Just say it and move on.

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Rebekah January 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Maybe I’m the rude boor, but I don’t think “congratulations” is a required statement. (Of course, I’m terribly awkward, so in situations like a pregnancy announcement, I usually just say, “Oh, okay. That’s good.” and nothing else. Bet Rachel would lose her mind over that!)

It’s a nice thing to say, of course, but I’ve never really put much emphasis on stock phrases. I’d rather a friend tell me something that came from their heart than follow a socially-mandated script. “I’m sorry for your loss,” “congratulations on X” etc., has never seemed especially heartfelt to me.

That being said, though, I can see how Sally’d be offended by OP’s reasons for not saying congratulations. They do come off as holier-than-thou and high-and-mighty. You don’t even have to say congratulations when Sally confronts you, just say, “Oh, I didn’t? I’m so sorry, it must have slipped my mind. I was just so excited. Of COURSE I’m SO happy for you!” If she pushes for the actual word, “congratulations”, it just shows how entitled and self-centered she is. Of course, this doesn’t help now.

As others have pointed out, Rachel keeping tabs on who was saying what is a bit strange, but smacks heavily of Drama Queen Syndrome to me, especially because she was talking in the background of the phone call and Sally had made the call “at Rachel’s behest,”. “Now, let’s see… who should I pit against each other for my own entertainment today?” Completely immature and obnoxious.

Sally is wrong, too, to join in on it and call you up. I wonder how the conversation went beforehand, “[OP] didn’t say congratulations to you! This is unacceptable! Grab that phone and call him right now to get your due well-wishes!” As she was told in the car after the party, I imagine she was simply too happy and excited to take note of who said what. And if she didn’t notice immediately, it obviously didn’t matter THAT much.

The homophobic statements are completely uncalled for, and while I can accept “pregnancy hormones” as an explanation, I don’t consider it an excuse. Hand-waving blatantly nasty behaviours with “hormones” is something parents do for their preteens, not themselves! Take some responsibility for your actions, even if it’s just “I’m sorry I’ve been such a pill to you, I’ve been quite stressed out recently with the pregnancy,”

OP, you need to think long and hard whether you want to deal with this kind of behaviour; the juvenile manipulation of Rachel and (perhaps) the nastiness and entitlement of Sally. If you decide you do, please follow the Admin’s advice.

But if one word is enough to ruin a friendship (even with pregnancy hormones), I doubt very much that it was much of a friendship to begin with. (admittedly, there is always multiple sides to the story)

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Phoenix January 29, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I’ll agree with popular opinion here: all parties are at least partially in the wrong. OP should not have brought up his reasons for not saying the stock phrase Rachel deemed necessary. Sally should have not jumped down OP’s throat about omitting one particular word in the midst of the festivities, especially if a) she didn’t even notice it until it was brought up and b) OP expressed happiness for Sally and Jim’s news in a multitude of other ways. And Rachel is most certainly wrong for deliberately starting drama.

To me, Rachel sounds like the kind of person that looks for drama anywhere she can find it. If OP has previously mentioned how he feels like “congratulations” isn’t an appropriate reaction to unexpected good fortune, Rachel could have stored that information for just such a time and then sprung it when it seemed likely to cause the most drama. Suppose another friend admitted to Rachel that she was uncomfortable with public displays of affection, even something as simple as hugging a friend. Would Rachel report back to Sally that friend Jane only hugged her once (and briefly at that!) as a way of suggesting to Sally that Jane wasn’t happy about the incoming baby?

OP, I’d do as advised here: make up with Sally and forgive her for an emotional outburst, and take it as a lesson that sometimes it’s better to just go with the etiquette flow than to share your personal beliefs. Hopefully Sally will realize how absurd it is to get so upset over the omission of a single ‘customary’ word and also apologize to you. As for Rachel, I would discreetly end my friendship with her. Just make sure not to get sucked into any drama that she might try to cause in the future.

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Cheryl27 January 29, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Even though I see with the writer, since she is pregnant but it was unplanned which was expressed, then saying congratulations? in a questioning way in which one could reply, it wasn’t in our plans right now but we are happy about the news can result in a well then I am happy for you. But I feel that both parties are at fault, the writer for not saying congradulations in any fashion but the friend for calling and asking with a freind in the background heckling. The writer was wrong to insinuate his own issues or beliefs into her moment. However, resending the invitation is also equally rude. If the friend is the one who pointed our the faux paux then Sally didn’t notice with the group having a simultaneous congradulations. At least the writer did join in on the conversation. Again, though Sally was equally rude in using the writers homosexuality in a rude fashion as an insult. At this point this friendship is done.

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LonelyHound January 29, 2013 at 2:01 pm

OP, I would have said something like, “Oh, did I not say it when I HUGGED you?! Forgive me! I was so wrapped up in your joy and trying to hug the stuffing out of you I did not realize!” This focuses her attention on the fact that you did express your happiness for her at the appropriate time if just not in the standard way. I agree with the Admin. Though you may not agree with saying congrats this is a time when just diffusing the situation would have been best than trying to explain yourself. You could have even used a method that allowed you to apologize without actually having to say it. Try to get Sally and Jim together, and try to repair your side of things.

Rachael is a mess all her own. I mean, seriously, who keeps a running tally on who said what! she is the real wicked witch in this story. You and Sally are willing pawns. Try an apologize to her and Jim. Heck, maybe even offer to get a prenatal massage with Sally so you two can spend time together (and I know very few pregnant women who can turn that down!). If you do not want to lose a friendship because Rachael is a meanie, please apologize. You may not feel you are wrong (and I do not think you are) but you have to look at it how Sally sees it, and she sees it from a very emotional state right now.

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James January 29, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I feel the OP definately erred in explaining to Sally his justification for not saying “Congratulations”, but I can well understand that it can be hard to suppress the natural instinct to answer a “why” question with a justification – especially when one hasn’t had a chance to prepare for the conversation and when speaking with a trusted friend. From his own description I don’t see that his behaviour at the dinner was reproachable – if he showed that his happiness for his friend’s good news then what should it matter if he didn’t use a particular formulation of words?

Sally behaved much worse by being so eager to ascribe a negative motivation to the OP, surely friends are supposed to think the best of each other and not automatically jump to the worst possible conclusions? (And while pregnancy hormones may or may not play a role here, I can testify to similar cases in my own life in which pregnancy played no cause whatsoever.)

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Tracy January 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm

The whole thing is mind-boggling. Rachel, for noticing and pointing out that the OP didn’t use a single specific word. Sally, for caring. And the OP, for saying (as someone put it upthread) that *some* pregnancies are worthy of the word “congratulations,” but this particular one is not. (Also, the idea that pregnancy hormones are really capable of causing such havoc, but that’s a gripe for another day.)

OP, if you really could not force yourself to say the “C” word, you might have said something along the lines of “Did I not say that? I’m sorry. I thought I said that I’m very happy for both of you. Couldn’t you tell?”

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sv January 29, 2013 at 2:31 pm

OP, defending your conscious decision to not say “congratulations” was a mistake, simply because your reasons, although personal and important to you, mean nothing to a pregnant woman. It is common social convention to say congratulations to someone when they are happy about something, no matter what your personal opinions on it may be. Period. That being said, the fact that Sally (egged on by Rachel) even noticed, much less felt the need to call you to task on it, is ridiculous. If you did indeed express happiness and support for your friend then I can’t imagine what else she wants from you. And her further remarks about you being jealous and everything else was an unnecessary and hurtful attack. Hormones can make pregnant woman do some very wild and crazy things – I once had to sit down because I was sobbing so hard over the song ” Mr Tanner” by Harry Chapin – but I never, ever said such mean spirited and hateful things to anyone, much less a friend. And I’m pretty emotional in my regular life, all pregnancies aside :) Her comments were terrible. And why would Rachel stir the pot like this? What was the point?

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Lacey January 29, 2013 at 3:29 pm

This sounds like an episode of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, where one little word or lack thereof is life or death to a friendship. Rachel is a manipulative drama queen and I guess Sally can fall back on the hormonal excuse for taking it so seriously. OP, I’m also childfree and think it’s a bit ridiculous to congratulate someone on having working reproductive organs. However, once you were actually confronted about it, the admin is completely right and “congratulations” is the social convention.

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Jewel January 29, 2013 at 3:59 pm

With your update, I’m glad to hear that Sally has come to her senses. Hopefully, you’ve also learned not to place more priority on your maintaining your odd philosophy on this matter above the value of your friendships.

It sounds like Rachel won’t be on Sally’s invite list anymore, but if you do happen to be at an event where Rachel is present, the “cut direct” appears to be in order.

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Angela January 29, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Now that the OP has weighed in, it sounds like all will end well. Sally owned up to behaving poorly and reached out.

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Goldie January 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Robert/OP, thank you for the update, this is great news!

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Stacey Frith-Smith January 29, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Sorry to chime in again- I wondered if the furor by Sally/ Rachel et al over “congratulations” isn’t a sign of our entitlement culture? I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t offer courteous treatment to all by the simple use of “congratulations!’ or its customary equivalent. But “you didn’t say what I wanted and now I’m offended!” sounds suspiciously close to “you didn’t buy what I wanted”, “you didn’t bring what I wanted to my party”, “you didn’t offer me enough support for my party:, :”you didn’t bring a present to my housewarming”, “you didn’t invite my kid’s siblings to your child’s birthday party”, “you didn’t come to all of my wedding showers”, “your proposal wasn’t romantic enough”, “your date wasn’t planned with my interests in mind”, “your toast wasn’t what I wanted said about me”, “your gift for my child wasn’t a book (or toy) that I would have chosen”, “your dinner party isn’t enough”… We seem to have gotten it all a bit mixed up. Once upon a time, people gave gifts that came in boxes and were chosen by the giver, and received written thanks. Once upon a time, dinner parties featured whatever the hosts desired to offer and could afford, and guests thanked them. Once upon a time, honors done to others were prepared by those interested in offering them, and the honoree thanked everyone for their kindness. Once upon a time, invitations went out to parties for a selected list of guests, and those not selected for that party could overlook it. Once upon a time, disappointment in the gifts, compliments, romantic endeavors, cuisine, and benefits conferred by others was best kept to oneself, short of brutal insult- for fear that expressing it might dissuade those desiring to gift us, toast us, honor us or merely to live with us. Now we have come to a place where gifts and invitations are demanded, toasts are scripted, hosts charge for food and refreshment in gifts or cash, and the omission of a single word (or gift, or invitation, or honor) by a single body in the midst of many is seen as an occasion to insult, to bully, to badger, to shame, to accuse, to demand, and even to extort. What once was not tolerated or barely tolerated is now seen as the norm tinged with a bit of regretful nostalgia for better standards. It will shortly become “de rigeur”, I suppose, to satisfy all and sundry to whatever standards they deem fit. God help us then.

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Twik January 29, 2013 at 4:55 pm

I notice the OP’s description of his reaction: “It was baby-palooza at our dinner table, and I was perfectly fine with it all. I asked my own questions, participated in the conversation, and had a wonderful time discussing Sally’s news. ” He doesn’t say at any point that he said the equivalent of congratuations, such as “How terrific!” or “This is wonderful news!”

I sense that perhaps his own opinion that *he* doesn’t think pregnancy is such a big deal actually leaked through, and the fuss is less “you didn’t say Congratulations!” and more “you never congratulated me”.

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whiskeytangofoxtrot January 29, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Whoops, I missed Robert’s response- my bad! Glad to know the friend is trying to make things right. :)

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Ellen January 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Just scrolled back through to see the follow-up by OP.

What a nice update, so glad you shared it and that your friendship with Sally will continue.

“A friend is one to whom you can pour out the contents of your heart, chaff and grain alike. Knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”

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Spuck January 29, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I can’t blame the OP here at all. If you go fishing for electric eels don’t get surprised if you get shocked.

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Barbarian January 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm

I support what Stacey Frith-Smith said. It sounds like Sally and Rachel have too much time on their hands to get so offended. From the media down with multiple reports of celebrity bump sightings, pregnancy has become an achievement that must be acknowledged by everyone and death to everyone who does not feel like putting mom-to-be on a pedestal for the next nine months.

OP says he is gay and has a partner. That is a new situation that probably has its own etiquette protocols that I could unknowingly offend. I think they would probably more graciously tolerate my errors and not shoot me down in flames like Sally and Rachel did to him.

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Em January 29, 2013 at 6:16 pm

I don’t think that the OP did anything wrong. Everyone has their oddities and he doesn’t like to use congratulations for that situation. Personally, I hate clapping so I don’t. I will compliment, but I don’t clap.

They were wrong for confronting him about it.

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Angel January 29, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Two things for Robert:

1. You should have just said congratulations when she called you up. Clearly you haven’t been around a lot of pregnant women. The hormones make all reason and logic go right out the window.

2. Rachel is a snake in the grass who cannot be trusted.

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CatToo January 29, 2013 at 6:21 pm

OP, although I was prepared to blast back at Sally for her reaction to your explanation, I am really glad that it never got anywhere near that. I suspect Rachel will have a lot more trouble pouring her poison in the future, and how awesome that Sally is married to a man who will tell her when he thinks she’s in the wrong and give her another perspective on the situation, and that she will listen to him. I think you’ve got some pretty good friends there.

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Kate January 29, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Rachel sounds very strange. Some possible motivations came to mind as a way of explaining her behaviour:
1) Jealousy. Rachel could be upset that OP and Sally are such close friends and might feel left out.
2) Bigotry. If Sally is a good friend, presumably she’s never had an issue with OP’s sexual orientation before. Why, then, does she immediately jump to “you’re not happy for me because you’re gay!”? Could this be more Rachel’s opinion than Sally’s?
3) She is just one of those people that likes to stir up trouble. Avoid when possible.

OP, you goofed by explaining your issue with the word ‘congratulations’, but obviously you are aware of this judging by your response to this post. I would steer clear of Rachel in future and hope your friendship with Sally continues.

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JackManifesto January 29, 2013 at 6:38 pm

That was a nice update by the OP! I’m with others who believe that Rachel was being a drama llama who took advantage of a hormonal woman’s unstable emotions to start trouble.

As someone who works with pregnant women every day, sometimes it’s hard to say “congratulations”. Not every woman who chooses to remain pregnant is happy about the situation, regardless of their commitment to carry it through to the end. Granted, most of the time you can tell whether the situation is a good one or not, but all the facets are not always obvious.

I always come in with a smile and gauge my word choices from there; the only time I say “congratulations” is after a successful and wanted birth. Otherwise, I keep it polite and supportive.

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Lauren January 29, 2013 at 6:59 pm

OP did nothing wrong except choose some crazy friends. CRAZY.

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