I knew something was up when an acquaintance of mine, a "modern" woman with definite feminist tendencies, announced, just after she'd announced that she was getting married for the third time, that she would not be changing her name, did not want to be addressed as Mrs., was going to write her own vows because the usual ones were too "sexist and outdated"...but felt it was "traditional" to be showered with gifts at a series of parties or "showers" thrown by her friends.
"It's just something you do!" she thundered, dumbstruck at my lack of understanding. "What's the matter with you?"
Her best friend was planning a not-so-surprise shower luncheon for her and twenty or so intimates at an upscale restaurant. Fortunately, I was not invited. My credit card limit wasn't high enough. But watching her make preparations for these festive fetes, I came to two definite conclusions about modern bridal showers.
Number one, they are an absolute perversion of what bridal showers originally were, and number two, do everything you can to stay far, far away from them.
Bridal showers are a throw back to the days when a young bride-to-be faced the somewhat daunting prospect of leaving her parents' home and starting a new one as wife, and, likely, mother. She usually didn't have much to her name, and her future husband didn't have much more. They often started out in tiny apartments, saved money by clipping coupons and eating leftovers, and used dresser drawers as impromptu bassinets when the baby came and they couldn't afford a crib.
It was a wonderful expression of friendship and support, in those days, for a bride's friends and relatives to a host a little party for her and give her small, practical gifts that would make setting up her new home a little easier. And in a way it was a kind of send-off, a group of friends saying goodbye to the carefree girl they knew as she entered into the mature world of marriage. Nobody had much of anything then, nobody expected to live in a four-bedroom executive house with a Lexus in the driveway, even before the wedding, nobody expected anything more than a toaster or a blender or some tea towels and no one felt pressured to give anything more. It was a meeting of friends more than anything, and every gift was given and accepted with love and warm wishes.
These days, however, this meaningful little custom has snowballed into something truly offensive. Bridal showers are no longer about toasters and tea towels, which wouldn't be useful anyway since most modern brides already live in a fully equipped home with their fiances. These days the gifts range from VCRs to lawnmowers, barbecues to vacuum cleaners, gifts that easily costs hundreds of dollars. Tucked into the invitation of one shower I was invited to was a list of "acceptable gifts", which outlined the kind of heavy machinery noted above and finished off with the request ( or was it command?) "figurines...Royal Doulton only." The bride in this case made a considerable living in the computer industry, as did her husband-to-be, and at the time of the shower had already purchased a luxury home to occupy immediately after the wedding. Her annual salary was easily triple that of any of her guests, the people who were expected to buy these things for her. She seemed completely oblivious to the rudeness, the presumption, of asking for a barbecue as a shower gift, or for insisting on expensive figurines, or for informing everyone she knew that she was registered at such-and-such, and really didn't want anything that didn't come from there. She was getting married, after all...it was supposed to be the happiest day of everyone's life.
I suppose I could have ignored the arrogance of this, if it weren't for the fact that soon after this invitation arrived, another invitation for another shower - for the same woman, mind - arrived from her future mother-in-law. This lady wasn't content to merely attend the shower already planned by the maid-of-honor, she had to throw her own shower and invite all the same people. She included a different list of acceptable gifts, which included microwaves, china sets, savings bonds and vintage wine...only certain vintages, of course, we're not savages after all. You might assume from this that I cavort with Rockefellers or Rothschilds, but I assure you these were ordinary people, who elevated themselves to near royalty all because of a wedding. I had barely had a chance to send my regrets for this shower when another invitation arrived in the mail, this one from one of her co-workers.
But perhaps the worst affront to the bounds of friendship and good taste is what arrived in the mail shortly after all the above; an invitation to the "Jack and Jill", a relatively new and appalling excuse to get your friends and family to bankroll your honeymoon. It's called a Jack and Jill - or a Doe and Stag - because it's a co-ed shower, open to both sexes and connivingly planned to thwart the groom's requests to have a bachelor party. The bride can have twelve showers if she likes, but if the groom wants to have even one night out with his friends, the Jack and Jill is meant to shut him up about it.
The idea is this: the maid of honor and best man get together and rent a hall. Then they get tickets printed up announcing the Jack and Jill party for the lucky bride and groom and sell these tickets, usually for ten to twenty dollars a piece, to everyone invited to the wedding. It is understood that even if you don't plan on attending, you should buy a ticket anyway.
There are money trees at these parties where you pin envelopes of cash to a plastic ficus and 50/50 draws for things like bottles of whiskey, which you are also supposed to donate back to the couple after you've won it. All the proceeds from ticket "sales" are given to the couple at the end of the night, along with the profits from everything else. A glass of wine will set you back about eight bucks at an event like this, and on top of it you are encouraged to play the various crown-and-anchor type gambling games that the maid of honor and best man have also organized. The proceeds of these games go directly to the couple. And by the way, if you actually win at one of these games, you are expected to turn that over to the bride and groom as well. At one Jack and Jill I had the misfortune to attend, a friend of the groom's won about forty dollars at Crown and Anchor, and when he didn't immediately turn over the money to the bride, she had the DJ stop the music while she chased him around the room demanding he hand it over. "This is for my wedding!" she screamed at him, and ended up in tears, comforted by her six bridesmaids who glared at him and called him a greedy and callous jerk.
All of this, I might add, is on top of the wedding gift - I've received "acceptable gifts" lists for those, too - and any other wedding-related expenses if you are unfortunate enough to be drafted into the wedding party. If you are a bridesmaid, you can expect to pay $300-$1000 for the dress - out of your own pocket, of course - more for the shoes, more to get your hair done and your makeup done and your nails done...all in all, your friend's big day could set you back a couple of grand and if you dare complain about, well then you're a stick in the mud, aren't you? You clearly don't appreciate what an honor it is to go into debt because your friend is getting married.
Maybe it would be easier if modern brides just forgot about the parties and the showers and the Jack and Jills and just issued an invoice to their guests, requesting x amount of dollars to be paid within ninety days of the wedding, like any other business transaction.
Do I sound like a grump? When it comes to this, I most certainly am.
I have no objection to lavishing gifts or money on people you love if you have a genuine desire to help them and make them happy. I find it heartwarming when friends and family pull together to support of one their own, like old fashioned barn-raisings and quilting bees, and I certainly appreciate the sentiment of those that are able to give generously and do so to help someone they love who might not be so well off. What I can't accept is the modern inclination towards outrageous spending, ostentatious gift giving, and over-the-top expectations from the bride and groom, without the slightest regard for how this will affect their family and friends.
I find it offensive that any modern couple would willingly accept this kind of money from their friends and family, given that their friends and family are probably no better off than they off, if not worse, and given the fact that personal pride is based on what you achieve for yourself in life, not what others give you. I find it hard to respect supposed grown adults who gladly take money and gifts from people even when they have a household of belongings and bank accounts already, even when they have good jobs and secure futures. I resent the childish need to be the center of attention that these couples so clearly display, and I hate how a couple's wedding day - something that should be private and intimate and meaningful - is used as an excuse for all manner of inappropriate and offensive behavior. The whole process smacks of pure, unadulterated greed.
To anyone who plans to get married in order to cash in, I say this: these are your friends, your family, not endless sources of cash. This is a wedding, not a museum fundraiser. Your loved ones will probably want to throw you a party or a shower when you announce your engagement; what's wrong with accepting graciously but adding that you don't want expensive gifts or money? What's wrong with accepting their presence, instead of their presents? Some of the classiest weddings I've seen have included an admonition to guests that gifts are not necessary, their presence is all that's requested, and one of the nicest bridal showers I've been to was a quiet, friendly gathering of family and good friends, where tea, homemade cake and good conversation took the place of VCRs and Royal Doulton figurines. Unfortunately I think these charming afternoons are quickly becoming a thing of the past, overwhelmed by the fundraising-drive mentality of modern brides and grooms.
Approach your wedding day with class. Let your friends know that their warm wishes are all you want from them. Feel the pride of knowing that you didn't furnish your garage or china cabinet with the hard earned money of the people you're supposed to care about most. And if someone insists on helping you, accept whatever they choose to give with grace and appreciation, don't direct their efforts ahead of time and tell them which gifts are "acceptable" and which aren't. Remember that your choice to get married doesn't require your loved ones to over extend themselves financially. Start your marriage with grace and class and self-sufficiency, or as my Irish grandmother used to say, "Start as you mean to continue."