Can We Please Talk About The Politics And Expense Of Wedding Gifts…

Weddings never fail to make me believe in the inherent optimism of humans. But then, I always wonder, why do the things have to be so expensive?

Can We Please Talk About The Politics And Expense Of Wedding Gifts…

by Helen Nianias |
Published on

Before I start this, I want to be absolutely clear: I adore weddings. I’m obsessed with the things. I have joyfully circle-danced around my friends as they’ve been hoisted onto chairs; I have watched my friends shyly exchange vows on lawns in the New Forest; I have done tequila shots with brides in East London warehouses; I have admired more canapés and drunk more fizzy wine than I will ever be able to recall; I have stayed in B&Bs, on friends’ sofas, pitched tents, and taken three-part train journeys to remote barns in Norfolk to see people I love undertake the commitment of a lifetime.

Weddings never fail to make me believe in the inherent optimism of humans. Because getting married is the most insanely optimistic thing you can do, isn’t it? To stand in front of the your friends and family and to say to another human – another unreliable, changeable human – “I promise to love you forever.” It’s a supreme vote of confidence. It’s putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s a leap into the unknown taken with joy and hope and boundless good will.

But then, I always wonder, why do the things have to be so expensive? I am very much in the Wedding Years – I did five last year, three this year, and that’s chicken feed compared to some of my other friends. This means that when a friend puts the engagement ring emoji into a WhatsApp group or the save-the-date email drops into my inbox, I start doing panicked mental maths. Trains, hotels, dresses, and, of course, the unpleasantness of the wedding present.

My views on the wedding gift list generally change in line with how many weddings I have coming up over the next few months. If it’s none, I think “Of course they should ask for what they want! And there’s no obligation, really, is there?” And then when I have a spate on the horizon, as I do now, I suddenly think it all seems a bit unfair.

I’m delighted my friends are getting married, and delighted to have been invited, but when I’ve already spent £70 on the train, £120 on the hotel, potentially more on the hen do and drilled down into my overdraft to make myself look presentable for their big day, I do wonder why I’m being asked to spend £50 on a walnut-wood salad bowl. And I wonder what the walnut-wood salad bowl will really mean to them? Will they think of me and what a thoughtful gift it was every time they use it? I doubt it.

It feels like a terrible thing to confess, but I do resent buying expensive presents for couples, particularly those who are more financially secure than I am. Give me a pair of 23-year-old artists and I’d dig deep, but today the average age of a bride is 34. This is a stage where people are more likely to have financial security. When I’m sent a gift list for a wedding, the happy couple might own a home in zone three of London and have rich parents and good salaries on top of posh towels, glassware and all the Le Creuset a couple could ever dream of and still be asking for a present, the premise of which was to help a young couple get a start in life. They’ve already started! They’re ahead of me! Why am I contributing towards the kitty for a honeymoon when I can’t afford a house, a wedding a honeymoon?

I believe that the insane present-asking comes down to the sheer amount of money that’s been invested in the big day. The average UK wedding now costs over £25,000, and the couple might start out with a vision of laid-back day for close family and friends, but it never ends up that way. Before they know it, they’re organising a sit-down meal for 250, have booked a wedding band starring the Home Counties’ premier James Brown impersonator, bought 50 white doves to release at midnight, and spent £3,000 on a Temperley bridal gown.

When the couple has parted with sums that would make a Saudi king blush on making sure their guests have a nice time and making sure they inexplicably look at some doves it’s understandable that they might expect their skint friends to buy two dozen silver cake forks or a chaise longue from The White Company. (Couples unfailingly ask for the sort of thing that MPs got in trouble for claiming during the expenses scandal). And it is a sort of expenses scandal. But it’s not the fault of the couples who do this, but the whole circus that surrounds a wedding. It’s become a competition to see which couple can come up with the most insane demand.

It can’t be said enough that wedding guests don’t come to see the Hampshire version of Elton John’s White Tie and Tiara ball. At the very most they want a dance floor, a sandwich, and a free bar. But even that is unnecessary. What guests really want is to see their friends get married, and to hug them and to promise to support them in times of difficulty and celebrate with them in times of joy. They want to tell them that they love them. And a salad bowl does not do that.

But a book you’ve specially chosen does say ‘I love you’. So does a painstakingly compiled mix-tape. So does being a brilliant guest, talking with difficult relatives and making it easy for the couple to relax. If you think you’re showing up to a wedding empty-handed, you aren’t. You’re bringing something that cannot be bought or sold, and certainly won’t appear on a John Lewis list.

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Follow Helen on Twitter @helennianias

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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