weddings, marriage, & divorce

Why am I still crying over my registry?

I thought I could be everything that other people needed me to be, but I can’t. There’s no way I can.

So why am I still crying over my wedding registry?
a) Because I didn’t originally want to make a registry at all
b) Because I worked so hard to make my registry look right to others that I didn’t make it right for me
c) Because I feel it’s my responsibility, even though it’s really our responsibility
d) Because I had assumed I could make the right decisions in the right moments, and then I didn’t
e) All of the above

In my series analyzing the role of capitalism, patriarchy, and materialism in the process of wedding planning, how could I overlook this one ever-so-obvious element: the wedding registry? Well, when I was blogging in the month leading up to our wedding, I actually wasn’t thinking about the registry at all. Sure, I was enjoying our beautiful gifts—some of which I certainly remembered choosing myself—but I wasn’t facing head-on my experience with the registry process. No, the registry process began far earlier, more than a year before the wedding itself.
And now that we’re approaching our first anniversary, I’m learning that the registry is also an element of wedding planning that lasts long after the event itself. (At some point I’ll also share my thoughts on the wedding photos…)

What is the registry really about? No, scratch that, what is a wedding present really about? Is it about the couple and their wants and needs? Is it about the friends and family and what they want to get for the couple? Is it about the wedding-industrial-complex playing off the insecurity of couple and guests alike, creating and exaggerating need and want on all sides?
And what about the narrative of “you may not think you need it now but you will love having it later”? In all fairness, I don’t know that this narrative is definitely false, but it seems suspect. It seems all about creating need where there is none. If I have something that I’m not using, I will return it, give it away, or create a need for it so that I can start using it. But that doesn’t mean I actually needed it—or wanted it—in the first place.

I hesitate to rant and rave too much because I am so grateful for the loving, generous support of the many people who helped me put together my registry. After all, they were truly trying to help. And I am so grateful for the loving, generous gifts I received from friends and family, both gifts from my registry and off-registry surprises. And while I am nitpicking a few specific decisions that I probably would do differently if I had another chance, I totally understand the practical nature of producing a registry during a year when you expect lots of people to want to buy things for you. However, the nature of the market is not simply practical. In my first round of registry-producing, I tried to really focus on things we needed (e.g., pots and pans, plates and bowls, cutlery) and things we wanted (e.g., games, electronics). But then people told me that it wasn’t enough. I simply didn’t have enough items on the registry, enough things for people to choose from, enough nice things. The registry wasn’t fancy enough, apparently, and people would want to buy us “nice” things whether we wanted them or not. Things we really needed, like an iron and ironing board, we still don’t have. And a lot of people went off registry—maybe that would have happened anyway, or maybe indeed they were not satisfied with the range of items on our registry. I don’t know. There seem to be many different forces at play in these dynamics, but too many of these forces feel like they are working against me/us and what we really want.

A note on gender dynamics. As I’ve written about, I am a female who married a male, and while in our partnership we commit ourselves to addressing structures of power both at home and in the world, we certainly got to experience some of the workings of the patriarchy first-hand through the process of wedding planning. When it came to the registry, he had the privilege of not having an opinion. Not wanting to decide. What made this even more complicated at the beginning is that he is the one that does all the cooking. So when I made the first pass at registering for pots and pans, it seriously made no sense. He did come to Crate and Barrel with me one day to use the zapper, and we sat down together to create our Amazon registry. But when it came to the border-line calls, the hardest elements, and the pressure from friends and family—those decisions felt like they fell on me, because he would look at me with “BORED” written all over his face, honestly not knowing even how to try to have an opinion, and let me make the decision on my own.

And you know what? I LET HIM. He was actually the one to point this out in a recent conversation: “Mimi,” he said, “Sometimes, you need to tell me that I need to have an opinion. Just shake me until I engage.” He recognized the ways in which male privilege gave him the space to back away, leaving me with the burden of decision and diplomacy. And he honored me with this invitation to call him out in such future occasions—to say no to his boredom, to tell him that I need him as a full partner. I needed to tell him to go figure out how to have an opinion, how to think with me. I wonder what was going on in my psyche when I didn’t do this last year: was I protecting him? Did I so dislike the task of registry management that I thought I might as well deal with it on my own, leaving him free of that one source of stress? Of the many things I learned from wedding planning, I think one of the lessons I learned is not to “put up with” stress that seems unfair. I had the right to ask for him to be a partner on my side; I had the right to say “no” to tasks I didn’t want and didn’t value; we have the right to try to do our life our way, even when it means we can’t be what other people think they need us to be.

I thought I could be everything that other people needed me to be, but I can’t. There’s no way I can. So now, I’m trying to be what I need me to be. And that’s hard enough as it is.

Published by Mimi Arbeit

applied developmental scientist, antifascist community organizer, sexuality educator

3 thoughts on “Why am I still crying over my registry?”

  1. Tyler Hoppenfeld says:

    Wow. So many dynamics of Mita's and my wedding last summer, so well captured. It kind of makes me glad that we're not the only ones who felt slightly nuts and ungrateful for feeling put-upon by people who wanted to give us stuff.

    And I also totally need Mita to demand an opinion from me before I form one, sometimes.

  2. SM Berry says:

    helpful, as usual. thanks for your wisdom, mimi!

  3. Casey says:

    Despite many couples living together before marriage and not needing much of anything in terms of "setting up a new household together", people still insist on getting useless porcelain, china, and glass items that just end up being sold at a garage sale years later, never having been used. Our consumer culture just won't change in respect to wedding registries, it seems.

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