Each week, Prudie discusses a tricky letter with a colleague or friend, just for Slate Plus members. This week Jenee Desmond-Harris discusses her response to “Tacky Wedding Planner” with her husband and fellow Slatester, Joel Anderson.
Is it tacky to ask for somewhat expensive gifts when you are not throwing an expensive wedding? My fiancé and I do a lot of volunteer work. Because of that, we’ve made some connections with people that are gracious enough to donate materials or time to the wedding.
We are having a wedding in the spring in a community garden center. It’s in a beautiful Victorian-style mansion that was donated to the organization. Most of the beautiful flowers will be in full bloom during that time. Our taste is a bit more casual and we love the architectural details of the house so much that we’ve decided to have very minimal decorations. I’m getting married in a regular dress I bought right before the pandemic but haven’t been able to wear. My fiancé has his outfit. Instead of paying for the food, we’ve basically been donating a ton of time to help in the vegetable and herb gardens. Some of that food is getting dried or pickled and will be used in our wedding dishes. We will hopefully have some crops that we will get in the spring as well. Because of all of this, we are paying very, very, little, like in the low thousands.
Well, fast forward to last weekend when my family figured out just how little we were paying for the wedding. My fiancé and I decided to make sure we put our registry up before the holidays in case anybody wanted to shop early and get some deals. That brought up the topic of the wedding. My family kept asking me about which vendors we were using and how we were decorating. After the twentieth time of me telling them that I wasn’t doing X with my wedding, it finally dawned on them that we were spending very little. Some of them kept telling me it was tacky for me to put such expensive stuff on our registry when we weren’t spending much on the wedding. Our registry isn’t that extensive, but it has very few things below the $30 range because my fiancé and I have been living together for a while. There were some big-ticket items on there that we honestly just expected people to buy as a group. The food and ambiance are going to be amazing, but a bit more casual. Is it an etiquette faux pas to ask for “expensive” gifts when you’re not spending money on the wedding?
—Tacky Wedding Planner
Jenée Desmond-Harris: These relatives have got to go. Who tells someone a wedding decision they’re making is tacky? Come on now… you say that privately, behind the couple’s back.
Joel Anderson: Right. They’re the ones being tacky! But it’s clear they feel empowered to tell the LW this because they’ve got enough support. Like, if more than two or three relatives mentioned this, there’s almost certainly a group chat going about their registry. And if the LW and their partner want to have a peaceful wedding day, they’re gonna have to deal with it—even if the relatives are being out of pocket.
Jenée: Ugh, I hate it when you remind me that all of us, at some point, are being discussed in someone else’s group chat. But in this case, the relatives are wrong. I think if you’re only feeding people cheese and crackers, or having a Zoom wedding, maybe…MAYBE there’s some question about whether you should be registering for expensive gifts. But even then, as my friend Danielle told me about my baby shower, “Register for everything. You know a lot of people who have jobs and want to get stuff for you.” Some people want to spend a lot because they are generous or it makes them feel good. And a registry isn’t a demand.
Joel: Danielle truly had great advice. Plus, I don’t believe in spending too much time thinking about your registry when at the same time you’re obsessing over a hundred other details: meeting everyone’s dietary needs, making sure there’s an alternate plan if the weather turns bad, not sitting people together at the same table who hate each other, etc. Just cast a very wide net, from the cheapest to the most expensive item or experience you’d be comfortable with putting on the registry, and let your family and friends decide for themselves.
The LW’s relatives are wrong to bring this up but they’re right about the general point here: There should be a few options available for the relatives who aren’t as well-off but still want to bring something. Hah, I mean, in my experience, some of your guests will be perfectly fine not bringing a damn thing. But you at least want to give them the opportunity to buy you a nice little trinket that doesn’t cost more than $25.
Jenée: Another week, another “Let’s see, who can we talk about because they definitely don’t have Slate Plus and won’t see it” exchange. On that note, some of them might wear a white gown to your wedding! And also not get a gift! It happens. I can speak from experience.
Joel: To say nothing about RSVPing for someone else who didn’t show up and then just sort of shrugged their shoulders about it—we could’ve invited someone who really wanted to be there! But we digress… I wouldn’t want to spend too much time talking about this with my relatives, so the LW and their partner should build out that registry a little more and not think about it again.
The days around a wedding go so fast and they don’t want to spoil them by giving too much consideration to people who aren’t considering that. They should want to reserve that energy and gratitude for the generous people in their lives who’ve made it possible for them to keep costs low. And, actually, maybe they should get that point across at some point during the ceremony or reception. Thank them, sincerely. Not saying that it should or would shame the complaining relatives, but maybe it’ll give them a second to reflect on how generous they’ve been during this really wonderful and stressful time.
Jenée: Yes and in the meantime a dismissive “Oh, OK, well, we’ll be making that decision as a couple” (repeated as needed) will be an adequate response to all the pre-wedding criticism. If it gets really bad there’s always, “I don’t want to put you in a difficult situation, so I’ll understand if you feel the event is so tacky that you can’t come.”
Joel: I’m so glad you said this! Because, yes! When people told me they couldn’t come to our wedding, it was actually a relief. Either we were causing an undue burden or we were freeing ourselves of hosting someone who didn’t want to be there. So you can’t really lose if they choose to opt-out. And, hey, don’t need me to say this but: You want people there who are happy for you and happy to be there. Thin out those other folks as best as you can!
Whenever I host large dinner parties, only the women offer to help with dishes. I appreciate this, but when I take them up on their offer, there’s a gender imbalance in the kitchen I’m uncomfortable with. I sometimes end up refusing because I hate the optics of it: The men sit around drinking, while the women wash up. I’d like the men to help more, but I don’t want to ask any friends and guests to clean up if they haven’t offered…