I’m fed up with the wedding-and-baby-etiquette industrial complex. Can I opt out?
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I’m a mid-30s millennial, which means my social life has been consumed by weddings and babies. And I’m grumpy about it. Bachelorette parties, wedding registries, baby showers, meal trains — all those destination weddings and gifts get expensive. And what working person in their 30s has time to make a whole extra meal for another family, pack it in Tupperware they don’t care about getting back, and then deliver it, all on a weeknight?
Also, I find it sad that community support has been reduced to buying people something off an internet list or dropping a postpartum meal at their door. It’s 2022. Do I have to participate in the wedding-and-baby-etiquette industrial complex? Or can we finally put that to rest? How can I celebrate my friends in a way that’s supportive of them and meaningful to me?
Dear Grumpy Gifter,
The “wedding-and-baby-etiquette industrial complex”: you nailed it with that one.
Your reaction resonates with anyone who has lived through their 30s. There’s that sense of forced celebration — you have to do this, buy that, go to this fitting, get the ticket for that. And then maybe wear a dress you hate.
What is the nature of your relationship to these folks? We imagine there are some people whose wedding you’d fly across the world and get the most amazing gift for, because you’re very close. And there are probably some folks who send you an invitation and you think: Why are they inviting me?
Part of what you need to begin thinking about is, What obligation do you have to whomever is celebrating, regardless of what they’re asking for?
But there’s also the broader question — if I don’t participate in these social customs, if I don’t attend these events, am I still part of the community? Celebrating a wedding is a specific mitzvah in Judaism, and witnessing any life cycle event can create a unique kind of bond.
The nature of social obligation changes over time. Communities change, social structures change, the ways we celebrate change, too. You may be at the vanguard of the next era of celebration; one that doesn’t require us to empty our pockets every time someone has a baby or walks down the aisle.
Some of these traditions are based in norms that are increasingly irrelevant. In earlier times, two newlyweds were setting up their first home together, and genuinely needed help furnishing it. The idea that the community literally fills the home is quite lovely. Now we have gift registries with $200 spoons.
The same is true for starting families. Many people now are starting families when they’re much more established and have things set up in a way that was not the norm 50 years ago. Some of these compulsory gifts can feel superfluous.
But no matter what era we’re in, there will remain an expectation that friends and families acknowledge and participate in celebrations of life milestones. Realistically, you’re not going to love every minute of your involvement in the wedding-and-baby-etiquette industrial complex. If you care about your friends, you do have to participate in some way anyway.
So let’s see if you can think about a non-burdensome expectation of giving; one that still allows you to participate in your community without feeling overly taxed. Maybe even in ways that feel meaningful. Here are some suggestions:
- Make a donation to a hyperlocal charity or cause in their neighborhood, or a cause that’s near and dear to them. Especially with a small charity, a modest donation can go a long way.
- For new moms, a freezable, single serving food that she can eat with one hand.
- Buy a gift for the parents, not the babies.
- Alleviate thank-you note stress by sending a gift accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped thank you note to yourself.
- Ease the burden of new parenthood by taking the baby, or an older sibling, out for a few hours.
You don’t have to participate in exactly the way you think you do — no more $200 spoons — but you have to participate.
And remember: not all relationships are the same. You’re allowed to opt out of a few events if you prioritize the ones that really count. You don’t have to show up to every fight you’re invited to, and you don’t have to show up to every wedding you’re invited to, either. And ideally, they won’t be the same event.
To hear more of our advice to Grumpy Gifter, download the latest episode of “A Bintel Brief: The Jewish advice podcast” here or on any podcast platform. Send your dilemmas about Jewish-American life, identity, culture, politics or your personal hopes and dreams to firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a voicemail at (201-) 540-9728.