FEEL FOR IT WHAT YOU WILL, but if you’re somewhere between the ages of 20 and 200, you are either embarking, on board, or (hopefully) departing this bittersweet time of year, a time which used to be filled with summer camps and catching fireflies but is now filled with group hotel rates and monogrammed sparklers: wedding season. I say this with both judgment and guilt, as I most certainly had both those things when I had a wedding.
Weddings are one of our society’s most paradoxical traditions: it’s the most practical thing people do and yet the event itself, and all the emotions that come with it, are some of the most complicated. Every person involved — bride, groom, wedding party member, family member, or simple guest — all come to the event loaded with emotion and some sort of litmus test of expectation. Whether this is the event where one hopes to find their future Mr. or Mrs., or see the dreaded family member he or she has successfully avoided for twelve years, people come with more than just your impending nuptials on their mind. What I think is the most common self-absorbed expectation is this one: how does this wedding define my role in the happy couple’s life? Or the reverse: how does this wedding define the bride and groom’s role in my life?
For the first part, this shallow exploration can manifest by the simple realization that you yourself are being categorized in the couple’s life. Are you invited to the wedding? Are you a regular guest or VIP? As in, are you in the wedding party or have you been asked to make a speech or a blessing? Is that more important or less important than being a bridesmaid? Are you invited to the other celebratory traditions leading up to the wedding?
Then, with all those elements in consideration, you are now presented with the next obstacle of defining your relationships: deciding what gift you will give the bride and groom. Personally (and mistakenly), I used to see this as a defining moment of how you see the couple in your life, because every act of gift giving is a direct reflection of your generosity to that person. But all that stuff must be put aside with a wedding: the regular rules just don’t apply. Wedding registries exist for a reason, but many of us ignore this, largely due to the fact that we don’t regularly have registries of the gifts we want. I guess a holiday list is the equivalent (but now that I think about it, my mother has never given me a single gift I’ve ever asked for, so maybe keep that in mind).
Anyway, as someone who has put together a registry before and found it didn’t matter in the long run, anyway, since people gave me whatever the hell they wanted, here is my analysis of how to master the art of gift giving for a wedding while remaining relatively judged-free on your relationship categorization with the couple.
First and foremost, be sensible about your budget and your finances. Buying a hugely extravagant gift to prove your love for your friend at the expense of paying your rent is not only silly, but it is also totally co-dependent. Whitney Cummings wrote an interesting article for Lenny Letter, discussing a time in her life when she couldn’t afford rent but was insecurely buying people super-expensive gifts to make up for how she felt about herself as it related to that person. It’s weird. Don’t do it. If your friend is really a friend, your presence will be enough, so take that into serious consideration. Your friend most certainly doesn’t want you to have to move in with him or her while he or she is a newlywed because you ran yourself broke and evicted just to throw back some cocktails and dance to MJ while simultaneously Periscoping the experience under the appropriate hashtag. Plus, what kind of thank-you note do they write to that?
After you decide your budget, take a look at the registry. You may think you want to diverge from the registry and get them a “super special” gift because you are a “super special friend,” but as this NPR segment discovered, couples don’t actually like it when you don’t take their desires into consideration. “Super special friends” know how important that registry is to the couple and should act accordingly. For example, my friends who are getting married this weekend have been so clear from the beginning: just check the registry! As someone who prides herself on excellent gift-giving skills, this annoys me. I find myself thinking: “Please let me prove to you how amazing I am at guessing what you want.” Since I am totally guilty of this, I’ll admit it goes back to one of my biggest character flaws I am in constant conflict with: I will almost always make the harder choice for myself. This would be a perfect example. My friend is telling me exactly what she wants, yet I want to make it harder for myself, literally creating a challenge to put myself up for evaluation. Classic wedding mindset. So, as I go against all my internal struggles and choose, instead, to go with the registry, these are my strategies (all in theme of my favorite movie characters because, why not!):
DO Jerry Maguire The List:
Complete the sets. Go by collection and sections and take notice if they are collecting a set of something and need one more plate or one more cup. Finish the one set or the last piece of a couple sets.
DON’T Sally Albright the Gift:
Keep the gifts together— not separate, on the side, or removed. If there’s a gift that requires separate itemized parts, say like a sangria jug and stand, buy both together. If it’s too much, go to a different section and buy something else. As someone who received three napkin rings — and only three napkin rings — from one person at my wedding, I can confidently say that completing a set is always appreciated and purchasing things in even numbers is even more appreciated. I’m not trying to sound ungrateful because “it’s the thought that counts,” but I never figured out what thought process was behind the three napkin rings. I guess Tommy just wanted to come over for a nice dinner at our house with no other guests. No hope for a significant other down the road? Maybe he just didn’t like our other friends? I guess I’ll never know.
DO Tracy Flick the Sh*t Out of That List:
Buy a bunch of little stuff with the genuine appreciation of what it feels like to cross something off a list and mark it as complete. Instead of buying one big thing or two big (complete!) things, buying a bunch of tiny little things is so satisfying for the giver and the gifted, especially if you don’t have a big budget. On both sides of the equation, you just crossed a bunch of stuff off a list — and who doesn’t love that? I’m in type-A personality ecstasy just thinking about it.
DON’T Elf Yourself:
Bringing a gigantic gift with an obnoxious bow on it also does not make you the best, most special friend there. It will be annoying before it is appreciated. Even though bringing a gigantic gift seems like an amazing entrance in your own mind, trudging around in heels and a fancy dress with a huge box will more likely cause an embarrassing wardrobe function more than anything else. Or turn the groom’s 90 year-old granny into road kill. As for the couple, they have a lot to take out of that venue when the clock strikes the sound ordinance, and carrying this small island back home will only make things more complicated. Ship it to their house. It will arrive safely and if there is any issue, the company or shipping carrier will take responsibility, not you.
I know all of this might sound frivolous or over-thought, but so are weddings. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. You will more than likely go to a wedding in your lifetime, and figuring out how to mitigate your personal feelings about said event and the choices you have to make throughout the process will only help you enjoy the experience more. For some reason, it is totally natural to overthink something like gift-giving, at a time like this one when you are at a different place in life than the people you are celebrating or the people you will be spending time with. This moment, when we are supposed to be most supportive and celebratory of our friends, can often send us down a road of insecurity. Hopefully, these tips keep some of those feelings at bay, and maybe even inspire you to watch a couple classic movies.