A Bride-to-Be writes: “We will be married in a few months after living together for 8 years. We have already furnished our home with most everything we need and we feel it’s not in our best interests to clutter into our lives with a lot of new things. Frankly, neither of us has any interest in traditional wedding gifts like china, crystal or even appliances anyway as we are a “green” couple and prefer to live a minimalist lifestyle. If we get unwanted gifts we have to waste our time figuring out how to give them away or return them. We did ask people to give to a charity of our choice, but given our particular political views, we’re finding that people are being resistant to donating. Some people have insisted upon disrespecting our wishes and they’ve bought us traditional wedding gifts anyway, Do my fiance and I have to write and thank them when we feel they’ve been so rude and disrespectful of our wishes? What should we do about this?
A gift, any gift, whether it is for a bride and groom or just because for any occasion, is not something you can demand. When it comes to wedding gifts, items to set up a home are traditional, but no gift, not even a donation to a charity, is the price of admission to your wedding. Most couples are grateful for the thought when they get a wedding gift of any types, but since you aren’t, there are some ways to handle the situation, and I’ll get to the at the end of my letter to you.
I’m hoping that you weren’t as crass as to send out a notice saying: Hey friends, family, colleagues and others: we’re getting married, but don’t give us china, don’t give us toasters, oh, and we’ll really be pissed off at you if you show your love with a set of wine glasses, so please save us the trouble of wasting our time and your money and give to this charity and only this charity that we like (even if you don’t agree with its policies) or don’t come to our wedding.”
If the majority of your friends, family and colleagues know you well, they probably know your lifestyle. For those who don’t, you will just have to understand and accept that they will assume you are like other couples getting married, who would welcome a token of genuine affection and joy to honor you on this happy occasion. Unless they specifically ask what you would like (or know where you are registered –more on that below) they will give you what they honestly think will be appropriate.
What your question brings up for all of us is not just one of wedding etiquette and tradition, but of differing expectations. You are entitled to your personal views and lifestyle choices, but both you and your fiance are going to get a lot of gifts in your lifetime unless you push everyone away with your self-centered attitude. And not every gift you get is going to delight you. If you get a gift you don’t like (unless it’s a dead fish in a box or a horse’s head in your bed), it’s almost always meant to be a nice thing, not a way to torture you. Consider: What if at the birth of Jesus, the Magi schlepped to the manger with their gifts of frankincense and myrrh (really precious, expensive swag for the time but hardly the stuff babies dreams are made of) and held it up to Jesus and he cried: “but mommy, I really wanted a teddy bear or a new blanket, not this smelly , ugly, resin stuff in a box….why are those kings being so rude and disrespectful of me? — waaaaaaaa!”
My point is: Gifts are given with the best of intentions, and you are being the disrespectful and rude one and yes you absolutely must thank each gift giver promptly with a short thank you note not an email or a text , even if it’s for a gift you personally loathe (this goes for any gift you get as long as you are alive). It doesn’t matter if someone made a huge donation to that charity you like (a big “yay!” for you) , or it is a hideous china cupid riding on a swan from your elderly Aunt Ida . Sending a thank you note and mentioning the gift in positive terms is an absolute must do (in the case of a wedding gift, you have up to six months to respond but no longer). If you simply can’t find the “words” to thank Aunt Ida for the cupid riding swan, there are all kinds of books which can help you express yourself, especially when it’s hard to show genuine enthusiasm for the gift. All you have to do write a few short sentences thanking them for thinking of you and say something about the gift (e.g. how did you know we both adore birds? or cupids are such classic expressions of romance…). Since you obviously don’t plan to keep the gifts you don’t want, give them all to one worthy charity and take the donation as a charitable deduction.
Before you give everything away: Since you say you live a green lifestyle, instead of wasting energy by driving back to the store to return them, maybe re-gifting some of the things you get would not be a bad idea, if you have the room. For example, someone you know who is also getting married soon and setting up a first home might really welcome that fancy espresso maker you received. But I’m not a big advocate of re-gifting because it can backfire. If you must get all those “offensive” items cluttering your home away, perhaps a refund in the form of a gift certificate could be arranged, and then you can use that to give to someone else as a gift in the future (or use it for yourself to get something you do want).
Another way to handle this issue : Sign up with a gift registry if it’s not too late. Many modern brides and grooms can register at non-traditional places such as sport stores, gourmet shops, hardware store–you can even register for lumber and paint! Registries are a more gentle way of directing people to the types of gifts you’d really like to have. Your close friends and family, who know your future plans and your feelings about being “unencumbered” by material possessions, will most likely ask if you’ve registered somewhere –and then you can tell them.