Hitched: The Bizarre Phenomenon Of Being Rewarded For Getting Married
On Saturday morning, Patrick and I were enjoying some delicious breakfast tacos when I got the greatest e-mail of my life from Susan, my person of honor at our wedding: in the next week, we should be watching the mail for the trampoline the wedding party bought us.
Yeah, you read that right: the trampoline the wedding party bought us! Tramp! O! Line!
I could hardly contain my excitement. I read and re-read the email over and over again. I envisioned the giant trampoline in our backyard, and the afternoons we’d spend sunning and jumping on it, and how our backyard parties were about to get approximately a million percent more fun, and how oh my God, we are going to have a trampoline!
Because of course we put a trampoline on our wedding registry. Why not put a trampoline on your wedding registry, if you have the choice between not putting a trampoline on your wedding registry and putting a trampoline on your wedding registry?
I certainly never expected anyone to buy it for us. The thing is like $400. That is a ridiculous amount of money for a wedding present. [Jessica’s Note: Someone must not have read our post about Kim Kardashian’s wedding registry.] But our wedding party are a sneaky bunch, and they split the cost among them because they are wonderful and creative people who, and I think this idea must not have completely escaped them, are about to have friends who own a huge trampoline.
I was especially surprised by their amazing generosity because I’ve never thought wedding party members should feel obligated to buy wedding presents. I’ve also never thought people who have to travel to attend a wedding should feel obligated to buy wedding presents. Many members of our wedding party are both in the wedding (obviously) and flying in from out of state. That shit is expensive, you guys. Your presence is the gift, right?
The second emotion I had, after craaaaazy exxxciiitteeeddd exclamation points, hooray, was kind of embarrassed. Because I am 28-year-old woman who just got a trampoline for a wedding present. Clearly I’m not taking this marriage thing seriously. Clearly I should focus my attention on the nice sheets Patrick’s aunt bought us. Clearly I should begin making tiny cakes in the lovely Le Creuset cocottes that arrived in the mail last week. Like grown-ass wives do.
But fuck it, you guys, I am the most excited about that trampoline.
And also I am a little mystified, because I don’t totally understand why couples nowadays even make wedding registries, especially when many already live together and clearly are not moving directly from their parents’ homes into their married lives. I don’t need a $160 cast-iron skillet just because there’s a marriage license out there with my name on it.
It seems bizarre to further reward people who’ve already been blessed by capricious Fate. You found someone you like enough to marry? Who also wants to marry you? And now you want some fucking towels as a bonus prize, are you kidding me?
I also feel like I am breaking some unspoken agreement by talking about wedding presents in the first place. Getting them. Wanting them. Making lists of them. It seems gauche, the way it’s gauche to talk about money and politics in polite company.
But I don’t think we can ignore the phenomenon of wedding presents in the era of the Wedding Industrial Complex. Very often, weddings are elaborate testaments to the extremes of consumer culture. They are the ultimate hand-fasting between materialism and deep cultural emotion. Buying stuff is a seminal part of the whole arrangement.
And it’s because today’s newlyweds often live together before marriage and no longer genuinely need a set of Teflon cookware, a microwave or sheets that I think the WIC has transformed the idea of wedding gift-giving. It used to be a helpful leg-up for a bride and groom building a new household; now it’s a kind of straight-up goods-and-services exchange. You give us a double boiler and we’ll buy your food and drink for one night.
Which is, I guess, how I came to find myself checking Target.com every day to see if anybody bought us the salad spinner yet. And how I came to be kind of disappointed that my mom didn’t buy us the right kitchen torch.
The fact that anyone would have the gall to have an opinion about a freely-given gift is atrocious and sad. And I totally did it. Patrick and I put together a registry not long after we got engaged last fall (it’s what our wedding planning app told us to do first, I promise!), on which we put exciting and fun items like kitchen torches and pricey French cookware.
Imagine my surprise when at Christmas this year, I opened presents from my parents that included items very similar to, but not exactly, items on our wedding registry. Not always cheaper items. Not always more expensive items. Just slightly different ones. My mom’s explanation: “I just thought you’d like these better.”
Better than the items on this highly specific list of things I made that I very specifically wanted? Yes, better.
It’s more than a little bit fucked up for the thought, “I’m paying for and organizing this wedding, I better get some goddamned flatware out of this,” to have occurred to me. But it did. I had that thought. I’m deeply embarrassed to admit it.
But at least kitchen torches and salad spinners are the kinds of things people expect to see on wedding registries. Trampolines? Not so much. I’ve been wondering, ever since we registered for that trampoline (and, to be fair, Beatles Rock Band and a bunch of Just Dance! games) whether we were doing it right.
Is there a “right” way to encourage people to buy you stuff? The Wedding Industrial Complex says: yes. Both Target and Sur La Table, where Patrick and I have registered, have registry-building wizards that help you determine whether you have the right combination of types and expenses of items. Neither suggested we opt for the trampoline, but opt for the trampoline we did.
When I think about material possessions that will make my relationship with Patrick more fun and enjoyable, and hopefully result in a more fulfilling and long-lasting partership, I don’t think about a salad spinner. I think about a trampoline. It anchors us to a home and a way of life that we love, wherein we host yard parties that help us build and maintain a social network of friends and family. Of course, a beautiful set of servingware does something similar — dinner parties are tremendous fun and also help weave that social web. But dinner doesn’t cook and clean itself. A trampoline? That’s all fun.
A trampoline’s no use if you don’t jump on it. It’s an experience as much as it is an object. And psychologists say that experiences make people happier than material possessions do. So while I’m excited about making crème brulée with the kitchen torch (seriously, thanks, Mom!), I’m the most excited about making crème brulée for the guests at our first trampoline party.
I’ve written here before about experiencing intellectual dissonance between the concept of “wife” as it exists as a cultural trope and how I feel about being one, personally. One of the reasons I’m especially excited about getting married is that I feel like I get to be part of a new vanguard of couples redefining what it means to be husband and wife (or husband and husband, or wife and wife), building partnerships that are founded on romantic love, equality and shared goals instead of politics, convenience or obligation.
To me, a wedding registry full of pots and pans is a remnant of the marriages of a different era, one in which being a wife meant being the sole master of the domestic sphere. But a wedding registry with a trampoline and pots and pans? That feels more like a prelude to a different kind of marriage.
I just hope it’s not a prelude to a wedding involving crutches.
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