By Rachel Wilkerson, Lover.ly
When it comes to weddings, few things are more controversial than the gift registry. You can't mention the wedding invitation you just received without someone launching into a rant against the "greedy" couples who use registries to scam innocent distant relatives out of all their hard-earned money for stuff the couple will never actually use. Forget religion and politics; wedding registries are the topic to avoid in mixed company.
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The latest person to hate on wedding gift registries is Matthew Yglesias at Slate. In Stop the Scourge of Wedding Presents, he calls wedding gifts "outdated, inefficient, unfair, and unnecessary." He writes:
"Traditional wedding presents no longer make sense in a contemporary context. Our gifting is based on the outdated (and, needless to say, sexist) assumptions of near-universal marriage, a very young age at first marriage, and extremely low expectations of male housekeeping skills. If you think of a marriage as typically taking place between a young man who's not expected to know how to cook and an even younger women who's likely still living with her parents, then gift-giving makes perfect sense...
...in a society where a large and growing share of the population never marries, the custom is both unfair and inefficient. With birthday presents, what goes around comes around. Not so with wedding presents. Married people already live longer and earn more than single people; we don't also need to benefit from wealth redistribution."
While we don't disagree with all of the points Yglesias makes in the article, we can't help but feel like he's got wedding gifts all wrong! So here's why we will always love giving wedding gifts and are totally cool with the gift registry.
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The wedding registry is outdated...but that's why there have been so many recent attempts to modernize it. There's no doubt that a lot of couples feel really weird about the idea of asking for specific gifts, especially if they've been living together for a while. (In our experience, it's usually guests who request that couples have a registry; they want to give a gift and want to be sure the couple will like it.) But in the past few years, more and more alternative gift registries have popped up. From honeymoon registries to charity registries to down-payment-on-a-house registries, couples are looking for creative, modern ways to let guests contribute. It seems silly to just abandon the idea altogether.
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Lots of wedding traditions have sexist roots, but that doesn't mean the couple is falling into old gender stereotypes for taking part in them. Grooms today are more involved than ever, with both wedding planning and at home. While a sex-segregated shower feels a little old-school (and is often done that way at the insistence of the older hosts, not the bride and groom) there's nothing about a registry that says it's about gifts for the "little wife." Couples today typically pick items out together that they will both enjoy, and most of the guys we know are eager to register for some nice cooking gadgets so they can pretend to be Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen. So whether the bride has her father walk her down the aisle or the couple is registered for a nice Dutch oven, it's not necessarily indicative of their attitudes toward gender roles at home.
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If you're worried about the unfairness of it all, you're doing it wrong. First of all, a bit note on etiquette that bears repeating: wedding gifts are not a requirement. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise! Registries should not be taken as more than a suggestion, and no one is checking guests at the door to see if they brought a gift. But if you're only bringing a gift because you think you have to, you're missing the spirit of a wedding gift (and, really, of a wedding). Many people, particularly older relatives, want to contribute to a big moment in a loved one's life with something tangible; it has nothing to do with "What will I get in return?"
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No one is saying you can't ask for gifts at a time that's more appropriate to you personally. Yglesias argues that the right time for a gift registry would be at a college graduation; it's a big life event that often corresponds with needing things like dishes, pots and pans, and maybe some nicer sheets. While he overlooks the fact that both high school and college graduation gifts are not uncommon (and they often come in the form of big checks) we'll still agree with him on the point that there are plenty of other times when a gift registry would make more sense. But people don't always know what events are important to others; sometimes, they have to be told. If you're feeling like buying a house all by yourself is the right time to throw a huge housewarming party and register for some items you need, go ahead! If we were your friend, we'd be happy to contribute to something that was such a big deal to you. But you have to tell us it's a big deal to you. We already know weddings are a big deal; with other life events, we just need a hint.
While we know that wedding registries can get out-of control (and we always make a point to remind bride and grooms to be sane when registering), saying that wedding gifts are outdated misses the point of wedding gifts. Wedding gifts are a way for to mark the day the couple symbolically starts building a life together, even if they've already been doing it in the more literal sense for a while, and for the people who want to to say "best wishes for your future together."
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By Rachel Wilkerson, Lover.ly