And today in “Good Gravy, What Is Wrong With People?”, we have this: According to a post on a British message board, a pair of newlyweds allegedly emailed one of their wedding guest to tell them that their wedding gift wasn’t generous enough. I… I cannot. I just cannot. And the thing that makes me even less able to stomach this is the fact that it's far from the only time a story like it has emerged from the depths of the Internet. In the words of the original poster, I am "utterly gobsmacked" that so many people seem to think demanding gifts of their guests — and gifts of a certain price, at that — and then shaming them for not giving them certain things is a totally OK thing to do.
The post appeared on Mumsnet on May 6, where user Puzzledandpissedoff (if this had happened to me, I would be both of those things, too) wrote about a truly baffling experience they had following a wedding of a former colleague. “I recently attended an ex-colleague’s wedding where, in response to a request for cash gifts, I sent what I thought was a pretty decent cheque (£100 if it matters, though I can’t help feeling it shouldn’t),” read the post. Then this happened (all sic):
Last night I received an email which opened with a few comments about how glad they were to see everybody and how generous they’d all been, then said “we were surprised that your contribution didn’t seem to match the warmth of your good wishes on our big day. In view of your own position, if you wanted to send any adjustment it would be thankfully received.”
Puzzledandpissedoff went on to say that they suspect the “your own position” bit to be a reference to “a recent inheritance I’ve had, which maybe [the couple] expected something from.” (I'm sorry, what?! Who does that?! Not your inheritance, not your money!) The post finished up with a plea for guidance about what to do in this situation, which, honestly, I can’t blame the writer for doing, because seriously, WTF is this.
That’s what the users of Mumsnet thought, too, with responses ranging from “email them back calling them out for their bad behavior” to “send a glitter bomb.” And neither are the Mumsnet denizens the only people to be shocked at the behavior of these newlyweds; indeed, the post was even picked up by The Guardian. (The Guardian, for Pete’s sake!)
Worth noting: Yes, this story was a post on an anonymous message board, and no, we don’t have a way to verify whether it’s actually true. The Internet is a strange place, and people make stuff up on it all the dang time. But this is not the only time a tale like this has filtered through the World Wide Web, and the fact that there are so many similar stories out there suggests that it’s a thing that actually does happen, and with a truly astonishing degree of frequency.
Take, for example, the tale of two brides who responded to a gift basket of food items put together by a guest with a demand for cash that went viral in 2013. Or take a bride who wrote to A Practical Wedding in 2015 about a bridesmaid who didn’t give a gift, saying, “I know I should confront her but I don’t know where to begin.”
Pretty much everyone involved in the Gift Basket Saga responded poorly, and A Practical Wedding editor Liz Moorhead’s answer for The Confrontational Bride was to just let it go:
There could be any number of reasons that your friend didn’t give you something. But zero of those are reasons to approach her about it. And it makes me really nervous that you use that word “confront.” … Besides, there are very very very few times when it’s a good idea to ask someone why they haven’t given you a gift. … That’s just not how gifts work.
But seriously. I have no idea how it somehow became acceptable to grab for gifts, because “that’s just not how gifts work” hits the nail right on the proverbial head. No matter what the occasion — a wedding, a birthday, Valentine’s Day, “just because” — the bottom line is that no one is ever entitled to a gift. That’s why they’re called “gifts.”
I suspect that what makes these kinds of situations even more ugh-worthy is the fact that they so often center around money. Whether or not it’s acceptable to ask for cash instead of traditional registry gifts has become something of a debate; Carolyn Hax, for example, firmly frowns upon it, while others thing it’s perfectly fine.
Personally, I think there are ways that asking for cash instead of items works, a lot of which have to do with the evolving state of relationships prior to marriage. The purpose served by the traditional registry is to help a couple jump start their life together, with their friends and family pitching in to help them acquire some of the items that a reasonably well-appointed adult household has: kitchen appliances, spare linens, dishes, etc. But with more people getting married later, a lot of couples already have these bases covered when they tie the knot, largely due to having been functional adults for a pretty considerable amount of time beforehand. What they may not have covered, though — and likely for a variety of reasons, most of which can be traced back to the recession (student loans, not having been able to save much due to the terrible economy paying relatively low wages, etc.) — are the savings required for things like, say, putting a down payment on a house. This is indicative of a change in what it means to “help a couple jump start their life together”: it’s not about the things anymore; it’s about shoring up resources for the future. So I would argue that asking for cash is A-OK; if you're not comfortable giving it, then just don't.
There’s one caveat, though: No matter what you ask for — whether it’s items or cash — it’s generally best not to come at it from a perspective of gifts being a foregone conclusion. Yes, giving gifts is a nice thing to do for other people, and yes, gifts are nice things to get — but that is the extent of it. In an ideal world, there would be only two rules for gift giving: If you’re the giver, give selflessly without expecting anything in return, and if you’re the receiver, receive gracefully. Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world, which means there are exceptions, particularly for those on the receiving end; if, for example, a gift is given with strings or conditions, or given maliciously as a tactic to manipulate you, by all means, refuse the gift and speak up about it. But the true spirit of gift giving doesn’t ask for gifts to bear a certain monetary value, and it doesn’t give conditionally.
Part of me thinks maybe we’ve come to a point where the registry needs to be optional for everyone, betrothed and guests alike. My partner and I just started putting together our own registry, and honestly, it’s a little weird. While it’s a totally valid choice not to put together a registry at all (don't want it? Don't have it!), all of the registry advice I’ve read notes that the whole thing is less about the couple and more about the guests these days; apparently people really like to give people wedding gifts — something which I suspect goes back to the Benjamin Franklin Effect — so in addition to the “jump start your life” thing, that’s another one of the (many) reasons registries exist: Giving gifts makes people feel good, and having a registry makes the whole thing easier.
So we did decide to make a registry; we’re putting one together using Merci Registry. But as we've been working on writing the descriptions both for the main landing page and for the individual things we’re putting on it, we’ve struggled to find a way to word it all that doesn’t say, “Hi, give us things, because we want them.” If I’m honest with myself, yes, it would be awesome if someone was willing to spring for a spare set of sheets for us or kick in a few bucks for our honeymoon fund (particularly since we're paying for the wedding ourselves and are therefore on a relatively strict budget until it's all over and done with) — but it is by no means required, and neither of us wants our guests to feel like there’s a price of admission for attending our wedding. We’re probably going to end up including a note along with the registry info saying that gifts are absolutely not a requirement; we just want to say our “I dos” with our favorite people around us, because, well... they're our favorite people. At the risk of sounding cheesy, their presence is gift enough.
Puzzledandpissedoff later posted an update on the Mumsnet board saying that they responded to the email with a simple message: “I assume this was some sort of mistake?” That sounds about right to me; it calls out the bad behavior while also giving the couple plausible deniability, so if they realize, “Oh, hey, maaaaaybe that was bad of us,” they can say, “Yes! Absolutely a mistake! So sorry!”, carry on, and hopefully learn from their mistake. Meanwhile, Puzzledandpissedoff can bask in the glow of having responded well to a bizarre situation while simultaneously not having to open their wallet any more than they already have (because seriously, you guys, £100 is a not-insubstantial gift. That’s almost $150).
And in the meantime, let’s reframe how we think of wedding registries — and gifts in general. They’re a privilege, not an expectation. And besides, it all goes back to what we’ve always been taught: It’s not the gift itself, but the thought that counts.