Gifts are cool. Thus, in theory, gift registries should also be cool. I really want to like gift registries in the same way I like the novelty food at minor league ballparks. They combine several things that are independently tremendous. A hot dog in a donut? Cheesecake wrapped in bacon? Buying gifts for people who will someday buy me gifts in return? Yes, please!
But there’s a catch to enjoying each of these tandem combinations. Some of the catches are tiny. For instance, I can easily tune out the negatives while savoring The Peanut Butter and Pepper Jelly Jalapeño Bacon Burger, because I believe calories work differently than the scientific cults claim.
Likewise, giving gifts is a simple deed because I am a generous, selfless individual, no matter what people say. Good thing, too! Gifts are obligatory for every birthday party, graduation party, retirement party, bar/bat mitzvah, Christmas shindig, and casual clambake I attend, and the recipient (or the recipient’s designated representative) must always say, “Oh, you SHOULDN’T have,” even though, if I hadn’t, I would get nasty looks while eating cake.
But the catch here is too great to ignore: even for a generous, selfless individual, gift registries kill the gift-giving bubbles like cockroaches pop a ballpark appetite. A wedding registry in particular is an overactive guilty conscience coupled with an anal retentive Transportation Security Administration agent. A wedding registry says, “You WILL buy the happy couple a gift in exchange for their mail-merged invitation, EVEN IF you are not attending for reasons including death, and I will tell you precisely what you may buy them.”
This setup also drains the fun out of receiving gifts. Normally, in drafting a wish list, one writes down the things one wants (say, a Mr. Nozzle mister nozzle for the garden) and any pressing essentials (like an alpaca) and lets responsible adults sort out the surprising details. Not so with a gift registry. A registry forces one to select the brand of alpaca and the precise alpaca features one wants, thereby removing all pretense of amazement and wonder when no one buys me a compact, purple, PC-compatible, non-pooping alpaca.
A not-yet-nuptialed couple must repeat the feature-selection process for all eighteen hundred individual items they think they want. And they must pretend to agree on every single item, because filing for separate his’n’her registries is too reminiscent of a divorce settlement.
If the couple emerges out the other side mostly intact, the finalized registry grants every invited guest a peek into the couple’s tastes, which are tacky. (This isn’t necessarily the couple’s fault. A lot of housewares on the market today look tacky when located in actual houses and not the unrealistically staged showcases at Target, Bass Pro Shops, and Toys “R” Us.)
Furthermore, you can now subject yourself to all the reputable registries online! These online registries are sure to show tech-savvy shoppers and honored guests like you which items have already been purchased, so you feel really schmucky selecting a spaghetti spoon for $6.99 when someone else purchased the 24-piece china cookware set with embroidered fringes and digital readouts for $499.99.
Never mind if you do not know the couple well enough to care how, exactly, one embroiders a china cookware set. Never mind if your love for the couple cannot be measured by a price tag alone, or whether or not you have yet met the bride. The thought is not what counts at weddings. What counts is that the happy couple will permanently associate you with the item you select from the prescribed registry—with zero personalized creative input of your own, mind you—until they donate it to Goodwill.
All I can muster is that a couple must really want to recall my face every time they flip a grilled cheese with their Burnished Steel Substitute KitchenMeister 6G Spatula. Why else would they register for the most unexciting items in the history of housewares, when dozens of alpaca accessories fall in affordable price ranges?
This social navigation is hard work, and yet, the Darling Fiancée and I are still getting married later this year. Our upcoming Life Event has led us each to undertake a great deal of self-reflection. We want to show our dearest friends and relatives how much we cherish them and not their gifts. It’s the people we love who matter most. Which is why, if they hope to eat their pulled pork parfaits in peace, we will accept cash.