Are Wedding Registries Tacky?

It’s sort of crazy to admit, but long before I got married — even before I met my now-husband — I had a real fear of having a wedding. It wasn’t so much getting married that scared me, but simply all the preparation and planning that I knew would go into throwing a wedding. With family and friends spread around the globe, I worried how I’d get people in one place. I fretted that loved ones would feel obligated to come even if they didn’t have the time or money to travel. I worried about my aging grandparents and whether they’d feel terribly left out if they weren’t well enough to attend. I was concerned about the cost, of course. And I worried about certain friends and family members who might be recently divorced or broken up and find it sad to attend a wedding. And remember, I had all these concerns before I even met my now-husband! When we finally did meet and started seriously talking marriage, I had a brand-new worry: wedding gifts! Would people feel obligated to get us something? Would we get a bunch of stuff we didn’t want or need? Where in the world would we put everything in our small one-bedroom Manhattan apartment? And finally, should we register for gifts? Is that tacky? Would we look, gasp, greedy?The Washington Post had an article this weekend about this very topic, prompted in part by the publication of this spring’s Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding in which the authors make a call to abolish the wedding registry. “A gift is something that someone voluntarily does and chooses for you,” says co-author Jacobina Martin, daughter of Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners. “When you’re just handing out a shopping list, you’re saying, ‘We don’t care what you think we like.'”

I do understand what Martin is saying, but I think she’s oversimplifying things quite a bit. Traditionally, weddings have been an opportunity to give couples things they might need to furnish and stock a new home. Of course, these days many couples live together before they marry and may not need the same sorts of things our parents or grandparents needed to start their married life together, but that doesn’t mean every modern couple has everything they may need or want or that they wouldn’t turn down some nice upgrades. A registry lets guests, especially those who haven’t spent much time in the couple’s home, know exactly what those items might be. It doesn’t eliminate choice or free-will, but it does take away the often annoying guesswork. And you know what? Guests don’t have to use the registry if they don’t want to! That’s the beauty of it! If they want to give a more personalized gift, they’re more than free to.

Ah, but what about people who can’t or don’t want to give a gift? Does a registry make them feel like it’s expected of them? I don’t know. That’s a question I worried about when Drew and I were planning our wedding and it’s still something that doesn’t sit well with me. In the end, we went with a registry, though. It wasn’t so much a declaration of “You must give us gifts!” But more: “We know some of you may want to give us gifts and to make the selection more convenient for you, here are some ideas of things we could really use.” We chose things at a variety of price points and thought guests may even go in together on the more expensive items. But I still hoped a registry wasn’t creating an expectation for gifts that wouldn’t exist without it. We had several guests who traveled a ways to get to the wedding and didn’t get us anything, which was perfectly acceptable (their presence, of course, was gift enough). So if they even knew about the registry, I’m assuming it didn’t put any expectation on them or make them feel awkward about not giving us something. At least, I hope not.

In the end I’d say a quarter of our guests got us gifts from our registry, another quarter got us gifts not on the registry (here are some great ideas for non-registry gifts), and most of the rest gave us cash gifts. Someone told us that we’d receive enough cash gifts to pay for the wedding (remember, we had a budget wedding), which is just about what happened. When the holidays rolled around a few months later, I quickly learned another benefit of the wedding registry: My mother looked at what hadn’t been bought yet and knew exactly what to give us for Christmas! So, all in all, I’d have to say I’m a converted fan of the wedding registry. It made our lives a little easier, and hopefully simplified things for our guests, as well, without creating any pressure or expectation.

What are your thoughts on the wedding registry? Do you use it when shopping for gifts? Do you prefer to choose something off the registry? Did you have — or would you have — a registry at your own wedding?