Q: Dear APW,
I thought we’d just put up a “donate” button for a charity on our wedding website and forget about the whole racket of a gift registry. I mean, we are already a household with plenty of dishes and water glasses and even some Champagne flutes. Also, I’m so not comfortable broadcasting to my guests a list of products they can purchase for us. Ugh. I realize it’s traditional to have a registry. I realize it’s not actually perceived as greedy by most people. But it still feels like a strange and antiquated tradition that is really only appropriate for 22-year-olds moving into their very first apartment without a paper plate to their names.
The issue is my soon-to-be in-laws have a very different take. Mostly my MIL. She wants everything to be fancy in general, and a fancy gift registry is an essential element for her. My partner is basically swayed by the prospect of getting some nice gifts after gifting to many of his friends as they married over the years. So a constant stream of texts and calls from my MIL to my partner gave way to a compromise registry section on our website. It started small, where we added a couple of really nice kitchen items for his fancy and well-off guests (his mother’s guests) to consider if they like, plus some small and cute items for people who want to give a gift that won’t break the bank. And a charity we both like.
More texts, more calls, more prodding, and I added more items, traditionally found on registries, so there are now plenty of things for would-be-gifters to choose from. More texts, more calls! Why? Geez. Why does she care??? We added a second “nicer” dinnerware set after the “everyday” set was criticized. But I grew up in an informal environment with none of the fanfare or pomp or social conventions my partner’s family is pushing. My parents’ wedding was a backyard barbecue and I don’t think I’d ever seen a man wear a tie IRL until I was in my 20s. Which isn’t to say I wasn’t socially privileged. It was just a cultural thing in my parents’ circle or something. A lifestyle choice.
Part of me is resisting the registry because I’m bashful about some less well-off family and friends perceiving the gift list as extravagant (when I already have much more than they do in some cases), and also partly because I’m bashful about others of my friends and family seeing the registry and judging me as a materialistic sell-out. I know that’s some deeper issue related to shame I picked up during my childhood from the culture I was immersed in, so I probably shouldn’t listen to that voice. But it feels impossible not to fret about the messages I’m sending to all these people about myself and what I value and my hopes for the future. Since there’s this whole big website with our faces on it and a page full of suggested gifts! Half the world lives in deprivation and we’re doing just fine with our two half-sets of “everyday” Pier 1 flatware. But at the same time, this is also my partner’s registry and his guest list and social messaging and his side clearly EXPECTS to show their support via expensive Dutch ovens and food processors. Is there a way to send different messages to different sides, so everyone is at ease? Is it more distasteful to have a registry or not?
Do I need to just stop caring what other people think, and allow fancy gifts, and give to charity myself?
A: Dear Bashful Bride,
Yes. That last part. Do that.
People judge all kinds of stuff. It makes your life easier to simply choose not to care about what other people think of you. But getting to that place of not caring (and doing the deeper, harder work of wrestling with these class issues you’re feeling) is a long process.
So the immediate solution? Take the registry link off of your website and give it to your mother-in-law to hand out as she sees fit. No one has to see it unless they ask for it, which indicates they want to see it, which means you’re helping them by providing it. A registry is never, ever a demand for an obligatory gift. But this at least will help you to really feel like that’s true.
That’s the simple answer to a question about a registry you don’t want. But there’s a lot more to this, isn’t there? For example, why is this your responsibility? Your mother-in-law is requesting this registry. Your partner agrees that it would be nice. Why is it falling to you to supply it and all of the many addenda?
And what impact will this actually have on your life? Everyone could use a good expensive blender that doesn’t just uselessly whirr when you make a thick potato soup. But do you need eight place settings of “nice” china that you’ll never use and don’t have space to store? Are these registry items serving an actual purpose other than appeasing your in-laws? And if you really look inward, are these things you do not want, so you don’t want people to think that you do? Or are they things you do want, but you don’t want people to know that you want them? Those are two different kinds of class tension (and internal tension).
We can wrestle with ethical consumerism, the question of whether it’s alright to have nice things when there’s so much inequality in the world but… is that even the question here? Or are you simply being strong-armed into a tradition you want no part in, that truly makes no sense for the life you’ll actually live?
Take down the registry. Give the link to your mom-in-law. And then when you get around to it, dig deeper into why this is bothering you.