Registering for love and money

Inviting friends and family to celebrate the major events in our life should not be about dictating what gift, if any, they bring.

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It was warm and sunny the day I ventured into Bed Bath and Beyond two years ago to buy a wedding gift for my roommate. I found the white desk with its own personal attendant. “I’m here about a registry,” I said.

The blonde woman smiled at me, eager to help. “Are you creating one?” she asked.

I considered smiling at her, making up a wedding date (and a groom) and pointing that plastic gun at all of the things I would need to buy to make my house into a home.

But I didn’t.

“I need to access one,” I told her. “My roommate is getting married.”

As my roommate transitioned to her new apartment with her husband, and nicely wrapped boxes of new things, I was also transitioning—into the master bedroom she was packing to leave. For the first time, I would have my own bathroom, so while I was shopping for her, I was also planning to pick up some shower curtain rings to display my new, color-coordinated curtain, decorated with a pattern of birds in all my favorite colors.

There are some moments when my eyes roll before I can help myself, like when I get a bridal or baby shower invitation from someone I haven’t seen in years with a Macy’s registry and a little note that says: ‘hope you can make it!’

As I set off into the store, I kept thinking about my visit to my engaged roommate’s new apartment and the two melon ballers she had placed in the dishwasher. “I really wanted to make sure I’d get one,” she said “so I registered for it at both places.”

How could she ever need two melon ballers? I thought. Is there a situation where you would use more than one?

Ironically, one of the last items on my roommate’s registry was a set of shower curtain hooks, to match the rest of her master bathroom decor. A salesgirl directed me to the right place, and then helped me with my own shower curtain liner. She pointed me toward one used in hotel bathrooms, and also suggested that I purchase “rings” that were actually hooks on each side, designed to keep the liner from touching the curtain itself, keeping the dampness inside the tub.

I felt luxurious as I placed these items in my cart. My room was coming together, and everything would match, just like in a grown-up house.

Since that day, I’ve contributed to many more online honeymoon funds, bought bath toys and onesies, and kitchen implements. I’ve been invited to showers that requested children’s books from every guest, with a Target registry slip tucked into the same invitation.

Often, I’m thrilled to celebrate a significant time in a friend’s life. But there are some moments when my eyes roll before I can help myself, like when I get a bridal or baby shower invitation from someone I haven’t seen in years with a Macy’s registry and a little note that says: “hope you can make it!” In those moments, I take a deep breath and throw the registry slip away.

I’ve had to purchase much of what I need without the help of a wedding (or a registry). My life continues to move ahead even without a life event like marriage. As a single woman, I still need towels.

As I get older and continue to be unmarried, sometimes I wonder if I will ever have a chance to create my own registry. I became fascinated by their history after stumbling across it in Rebecca Mead’s book One Perfect Day: the selling of the American Wedding. When wedding registries were invented by Marshall Fields in 1924, they were intended to help a young couple just starting out, people who hadn’t ever lived on their own before. I’ve already lived on my own. I have a Kitchen Aid mixer and a good knife. I have fancy shower curtain hooks that separate the liner from the curtain. If you’re asking, I could use some silverware that matches. But I’ve had to purchase much of what I need without the help of a wedding (or a registry). My life continues to move ahead even without a life event like marriage. As a single woman, I still need towels.

Now, when I look at a bridal registry, I’m no longer surprised to see high end appliances, workout gear, board games, or fancy candles included. And now that Amazon has joined the registry fray, there is no limit to what an engaged couple can wish for. While browsing these lists, I try to fight jealousy. I too would love a Le Creuset dutch oven that matches my kitchen. I too would like the entire collection of Harry Potter movies on Blu-Ray. Still, even as I struggle with present-envy, I’m not sure I would register for these things even if I was getting married.

A few years ago, I attended a baby shower with a registry. This mother-to-be had been very precise on her list—every toy, blanket, and sippy cup had matched her jungle animal nursery theme. As she opened the gifts, she chatted to those around her about the importance of a registry and how rude it was when someone went rogue and brought a present that hadn’t been requested. The next gift she opened was a set of handmade burp cloths, representing countless hours with a sewing machine. Immediately, the mom-to-be started gushing, just a bit too loudly, to the woman who had brought them. I wanted to go to that crafty friend right then and tell her that her gift was more meaningful than all of the others scattered on the floor, ready to be checked off the list. I wanted to tell my pregnant friend that she had been unspeakably mean. Instead, I watched them awkwardly trying to pretend that the incident hadn’t happened as we ate miniature quiches and sipped iced tea.

Registries were created to enhance the bottom line of a department store, to ensure that everything a couple would need to begin their married life would be purchased from one place. Registries are about money, not love.

At moments like this, I like to remember why the registry was invented. It was never intended to be a way to facilitate thoughtful gifts for a bride and groom (although that may have been a side-effect).

Registries were created to enhance the bottom line of a department store, to ensure that everything a couple would need to begin their married life would be purchased from one place. Registries are about money, not love. Much may be gained by having a kitchen that matches, or the convenience of pre-selection, but sometimes I wonder about what is lost.

If I get married, I hope that I will have the courage to buck the trend. I want to send out wedding invitations without registry slips, or expectations. I hope that if people want to buy me a gift, they will choose something they think I might love, or they will ask me, or a loved one, for guidance. I hope that they bring homemade jam and crocheted dishcloths and beloved family recipes. I hope that I will not be resentful if I don’t get a Le Creuset.

Cara Strickland
Cara Strickland
Cara Strickland is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about food, faith, singleness, and relationships for a variety of publications in print and online. You can find more of her work at carastrickland.com.

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