A piece by Abby Ellin in the Times discusses the reaction of some people when a guest fails to give them a wedding gift.
In the hierarchy of social transgressions, the wedding-gift omission, for some, is a sin of the highest order, the cause of relationship breakdowns and unwavering resentment.
I would like to propose a small edit to her paragraph:
In the hierarchy of social transgressions, the wedding-gift omission, for only the most petty, materialistic, and universally disgusting people, is a sin of the highest order, the cause of relationship breakdowns and unwavering resentment.
I was married seven years ago. I have few recollections of who gave me what gift.
More importantly, I have absolutely no recollection of who failed to give us a wedding gift because I am not petty, materialistic and universally disgusting, at least when it comes to gift giving.
I can’t begin to imagine the level of mental stamina, materialism and pettiness required to perseverate over the absence of a wedding gift for years and years.
Honestly, the gifts that I received or didn’t receive were the least important aspect of my wedding. They were the absolute last thing that I thought about before, during or after that day.
My wedding was a day dedicated to my wife. It was a celebration of the love that we share. It was filled with food and dancing and well wishes from the people who we love.
It was perfect.
Honestly, only a petty, materialistic idiot would allow the absence of a crystal vase or a set of hand towels mar the memories of such an important day.
Even worse, I can’t believe that Ellin managed to find people willing to admit to this level of pettiness for her story. But she did.
Lisa Kaas Boyle, an environmental lawyer in Los Angeles, knows exactly who gave her what for her February 1994 wedding and is still upset about the absence of a wedding gift from some of her guests. Nineteen years later, she’s still holding a grudge.
“How could those miserly moguls have forgotten us?’ she asks.
I ask you:
Who is more miserly? The person who fails to deliver a wedding gift or the person who remains embittered about the material loss nineteen years later?
I find the person who remains bitter over the absence of the gift far more disgusting than the person who failed to deliver the gift.
Jodi R. R. Smith, an etiquette expert and consultant for the wedding industry, attempts to explain away this level of ongoing embitterment:
“Gifts are symbols of the relationship. It’s hurtful if this is someone I really cared about, who I thought was a great friend, who made the cut to come to my wedding, and she doesn’t do the right thing. For them to be so blasé about their relationship with me makes me think that maybe they’re not as good a friend as I thought.”
Gifts are symbols of a relationship?
Perhaps in some snobbish, materialistic circle of friends, this might be true, but certainly not in all.
My best friend for more than 25 years and I have never exchanged a single gift. In fact, of my top 10 friends (and maybe my top 20), I can’t remember exchanging a single gift with any one of them.
Not a single one.
While this is admittedly uncommon, it doesn’t mean that our relationships are devalued in any way, nor does it mean that they lack any meaningful symbols.
There are much better symbols of relationships than gifts:
Time spent together. Memories of these important moments. Cherished photographs. A well times note or email. Late night conversations over the phone. Important advice given at just the right moment. Assistance in a time of need.
All of these seem a hell of a lot better to me than toasters and blenders.
Ellin also managed to find some more rationale minds for her piece, including executive coach Karen Elizaga, who said, “It’s a crime to let something material get in the way of the history of the friendship.”
Maybe not a crime, but one of the greatest acts of stupidity and selfishness that I can imagine.
Peggy Post, who writes a wedding etiquette column for The New York Times, agrees. “It’s a custom to give a gift if you attend the wedding, but I’m not sure I like the words ‘have to.’ The short answer is for couples to take the high road, not to get upset and graciously let the matter drop.”
It seems to me that a decent person wouldn’t get too upset in the first place, since we’re talking about things. Stuff. Material objects. Kitchen appliances and decorative ceramic.
We’re talking about attaching negative memories to your wedding day and damaging a friendship in the process for the sake of a place setting, a decorative bowl or a juicer.
Not the stuff of a real friendship.
But Post is right. If you’re upset over the absence of a wedding gift, find the grace required to forgive and most importantly, forget. Don’t let this petty nonsense become part of your wedding narrative.
One more thing that I would like to add (and I think Peggy Post and most others would agree):
As disgusting and uncouth as you think it may be to forget to give a wedding gift, it is far more disgusting and uncouth to speak about the absence of the gift to friends and family, especially if you mention the perpetrators by name.
You just finished marrying someone, and that someone also failed to receive the same gift. If you need to complain to someone, make it that someone. That’s what spouses are for. Don’t begin the round of phone calls to parents, siblings and close friends, lamenting the absence of the gift and wondering allowed how so-and-so could ever do such a thing to you.
I promise you that every time you make such a call or engage in such a conversation, the people around you think of you as a little more petty, a little more materialistic, and a little ore disgusting than the person who failed to give you a gift in the first place.