No matter that people are marrying later than ever, often after having lived together for a number of years, thus having acquired all the five-speed blenders they could ever need: In the world of wedding etiquette, the only thing worse than being a bride-or groomzilla is having the low-class temerity to ask for $$ in lieu of traditional gifts.
But things have changed, and it's time to get over ourselves and our phony outrage and pony up with cold, hard cash. This time, give the kids what they want already, and especially, what they really need: MONEY.
But first, let's clarify the terms of this debate:
- NO, I'm not saying that anyone is obligated to give anyone a wedding gift. You're not. If you're offended by someone creating a registry at all, don't buy anything. If you're double offended by someone saying they could really use money, by all means, go get them a Cuisinart and show them who's the boss (of high-class etiquette).
- I AM saying that IF you are going to give a GIFT, that the newlyweds SHOULD be able to say without petty shaming, gossiping or banishing from their social group that they prefer/need/want/could really use CASH instead of oh, I dunno, more cutlery.
- YES, we could argue all day whether the giving of the stuff to the people getting married is even a necessary part of this ritual at all -- I eloped, so don't look at me -- but most of us agree it is a fun part of the ritual because WE SAY IT IS. Different argument.
Moving on: This, then, seems to be the point of wedding registries. The couple lists all the stuff they need/want, the wedding invitees buy it. Only that "stuff" is not just any old stuff under the beautiful Saturday-in-June sun, though. It's largely domestic goods because of dowries, where if nothing else, you could at least hand off your prettiest daughter with a coupla mixing bowls to set up shop with her new overlord.
We're still using this dowry-connected notion of the wedding gift tradition today. Why? I think helping a young couple is about giving them what they need, not what I think they should need or should want because I think it's great. Maybe they "need" sex toys or his and her p.o. boxes or a subscription to HBO. It's not for me to judge.
No so fast, says etiquette: Even if the last thing on earth you need is more wine glasses, you're up a shit creek lined with 500-count sheets. Why? I've never heard or read a single convincing argument for why you're supposed to suck it up and take another 7-piece bar toolkit before you dare to just ask for cash to help with a nice honeymoon, a house down-payment, a new car, or a set of freaking tires -- things that actually make families go. At least, no argument that doesn't reek of classist bullshit about the fact that it's "tacky" or "rude" to ask for cash.
Here's why it isn't:
Some 70% of couples now live together before they get married, as compared to 10% who shacked up before hitting the altar in 1960, according to a recent roundup of 2013's wedding trends at WeddingRepublic.com. Meaning most people have already started a household and have a crockpot. Those who haven't, naturally, may still be best-served by the traditional registry of cocktail glasses and dinner platters. But those who typify the new normal shouldn't be forced to take a BBQ grill and shut the hell up. So far, the alternative says:
Sign up for a few gifts like that anyway; return them
Don't ask for any gifts at all and hope people get the hint.
Yes, "people" are so good at "getting the hint."
It's financially helpful.
Duh. There's the economy, for one. But for two, lots of people getting married don't have anyone to foot the bill anymore -- 50% of couples in 2013 pay for their own weddings. This means even if you don't go nuts on an overpriced $30,000 wedding charged to a credit card at 18% interest, it could still create financial hardship to even get married. (Anyone who tries to argue that you shouldn't get married if you don't have enough money for all the things can send their itemized complaints directly up their ass.)
It's classist to act like it's tacky/rude.
If you think about it for a split second even, telling someone to "show some class" or calling some "classless" for asking honestly for help getting their life started during a ritual wherein we traditionally give people stuff they "need" precisely to get their life started is a classist, bullshit thing to say. I guess only middle class people or better deserve to get married, people who "know better" than to ask for what they want/need.
So seriously: Please stop asking like it's "beneath you" to even have to think about people asking for money for a honeymoon or life stuff when they get hitched. The beauty of going to a wedding is that two people who love each other are getting started together. They should, if nothing else, be treated like an individual couple instead of a factory-assembled one off the top of the wedding cake.
If etiquette is supposed to be guided by what makes people comfortable, then I say we defer to what makes the newlyweds most comfortable: Getting them something actually helpful, which might be cash.
In this HuffPo piece about new wedding trends, a bride-to-be wants to ask for cash but isn't sure how, so they ask an etiquette blogger who says it's totes rude but OK, sigh, whatevs.
"The most elegant phrasing I've ever seen was 'Flat gifts preferred' or 'No boxed gifts please' or 'Please support our First Home fund,'" she wrote in an email. "But either one makes me shudder, to be honest. The only really elegant way to ask for cash is when it's going to a charity."
When you're done shuddering, I'd like to point out that when couples are strapped for cash, it is perfectly charitable to help them with….drum roll….cash. Suggestions included various wordings for asking for the cash, and perhaps getting your gossipiest family member to "spread the word."
Which is why I was thrilled to see that the acceptance of cash is slowly but surely catching on. WeddingRepublic.com's aformentioned infographic says, "Once considered taboo to ask for cash in North America, it is now a popular option."
And a piece over at the Washington Post details the popularity of "alternative registries," to which newlyweds-to-be are flocking to fund more practical or whimsical gift ideas like honeymoons, home repair or new cars. Sites include hatchmyhouse.com, honeyfund.com, and the Dodge Dart registry site.
Yes, it's still a middle-man type thing so no one has to suffer PTSD from writing a check, but it's a start. Call me crazy, but I like it when people can be themselves and get things they like without being excommunicated from civilized society. Of course, we learn in the WaPo piece that it's still super hard on people to ask for something other than dishes, or to be asked for something other than dishes. Which indicates that the shock at the "rudeness" of it all will probably still take some time to kill off:
Ryan Gaffney, 27, and his wife Carrie, 27, talked about whether to go the traditional route or use an alternative registry when planning their May 2012 wedding.
“We certainly considered the idea that couching what ultimately amounts to ‘give us cash’ more as a ‘pay for snorkeling on our honeymoon’ may help it go down easier for people who might otherwise be on the fence,” Gaffney said, although he and his wife ultimately decided against an alternative registry.
Count Karen Avila, 22, as a wedding guest who is on the fence.
“I’d much rather buy a traditional wedding gift as opposed to making a donation online because I find it to be more personal,” said Avila, who will have attended three weddings this season by August. “A big part of wedding gifts is letting the bride and groom know how special they are to you.”
Here's a wild idea: Let the bride and groom know how special they are to you by getting them something THEY really need or want? I know, it's crazy.
Reprinted with permission from Jezebel.