June has arrived, and with it, wedding season. For the newlyweds, whether it is their first marriage or their umpteenth, that means an orgy of presents – often shower gifts as well as wedding presents.
Once upon a time, the tradition of showering the new couple with money or useful things made some sense. People used to marry much younger than they do now, and marriage was more commonplace. Cohabitation was rare; the two people about to marry really were putting together the pieces of a household from scratch.
People giving gifts to the newlyweds typically were not themselves single and were not young. They had resources to spare (at least relative to the new couple) and so their offerings helped the couple begin their new life together.
Now, it is a whole different story. The number of single and married people is nearly equal. Those people who do marry often do so in their late twenties or early thirties – and sometimes later. The newlyweds in their teens or early 20s are now the outliers.
Plus, cohabiting before marriage is now standard stuff. If a cohabiting couple decides to marry, they have already combined their individual sets of sheets and towels and Panini presses into one, and perhaps acquired new ones. Maybe each person also brings his or her own income to the partnership.
So why do we continue with the tradition of giving gifts – and often expensive ones, at that – to people who are getting married? Often, it is single people, living on one salary (with or without health insurance, and without another person’s plan to get covered under) who are feeling obligated to buy costly presents for the new couples, on top of what they may need to spend to get to the wedding.
I understand the desire to offer well-wishes, and gifts can convey that. But why not just token gifts, especially if the new couple is not in need? More importantly, why do we offer gift-based well-wishes to mark weddings and not other occasions in which more people share and which are, perhaps, more important to more different people? Or why not direct our largesse at those who would most appreciate it? These are difficult economic times.
I have been thinking about this question because Joanna, who just finished reading Singled Out, sent me a long email with lots of thoughtful perspectives, including the idea that perhaps wedding registries should be replaced by housewarming registries.
Housewarming registries would be relevant to single people living alone as well as couples and other pairs or groups of people experimenting with new ways of living. In that sense, the home registry idea is consistent with the ways that our lives have been changing over the past decades.
I once asked Jaclyn Geller, author of Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings and the Marriage Mystique, what she thought and she said this:
“I suggest that when every person turns 25 he or she gets a party. The celebrant can register for house wares, furniture, linen. He or she might even have a ceremony that involves committing to important people, one of whom might be a lover. But these material rewards would not be contingent upon finding ‘the one.’ There wouldn’t be this mad husband-hunting mentality. It’s moving that the older generation wants to help the next generation get a start in life, but reserving this support for those in amorous couples is outrageous.”
So what do you think?
Wedding presents photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 3 Jun 2012