Among the first pieces of advice for the newly engaged couple is to set up a wedding registry as soon as possible. If you don’t, you’ll get six toasters and some terrible ceramic statuettes, the guidebooks warn. There are a lot of decisions to be made—and all the gender-neutral terminology in the world can’t hide the fact that this is clearly intended to be woman’s work. Some stores (like Bloomingdale’s) are honest: They call it the Bridal Registry. It’s shopping, it’s girly, and while the man can hold the official Bridal Registry bar code zapper gun, it’s the woman who is supposed to make the big decisions.
If you think “big decisions” should include talking to your fiancé about the role that God will play in your marriage and family or how the two of you envision spending and saving for the future, you are absolutely right—but most guidebooks are silent on these points. Before many couples talk about faith and finances, they (read: she) has already set up the wedding website, complete with a 200-item registry.
A bride is asked to care about a lot of things she probably never gave a moment’s thought as a single miss: choosing “fine” china and cutlery, deciphering the difference between 200- and 400-thread count sheets (not to mention the difference between sateen, pima and Egyptian cotton) and weighing the relative merits of one fluffy towel over another. I had no idea that there were so many choices—nor did I have any concept that intelligent people actually cared about these sorts of things.
The Set Up
Type-A person that I am, I set up our registry and learned to differentiate. I researched. A nice lady in the Bloomingdale’s bedding department spent 45 minutes with me, as I trailed behind her with a notepad and pen in hand, instructing me about cotton and why I must avoid (shhh… don’t even say it too loudly) polyester and cotton blends.
After all these lectures, I forced myself to express an opinion, and even got frustrated with my fiancé, Peter, when he didn’t seem to think our choice of a duvet cover (plain or patterned?) was as important as I had begun to think it was. It’s so wonderful that generous friends and family will foist all these riches upon us, but I was in the midst of a wedding registry process that was taking on a life of its own.
My maid of honor stopped me mid-tirade one day, plunked me down on one of the pre-made display beds and reminded me that I was getting married, not becoming a different person. And I (finally) had a moment of clarity: The wedding registry is a blast from the past where engagement was a training ground for young women on how to make good choices in the home, how to keep house and how to be a proper lady.
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And since I am a perfectionist, I had decided that I needed to cram a lifetime of genteel knowledge into one very fraught registry process-without ever considering the fact that perhaps I didn’t need this knowledge to have a good marriage, or even to have a lovely home.
Here’s a friendly reminder from someone who has seen the dark side and come out the other side: If you don’t cook gourmet meals for 12 now, you probably won’t after you say your vows, so it’s not necessary to register for the $500 professional mixer that comes with a 75-page instruction manual. If you didn’t care about high thread-count sheets for the 20- or 30-some years when you were sleeping alone, you probably won’t care about them after the Big Day either. I’ve always used bed-in-a-bag from Wal-Mart, so just one step up seemed quite nice once I thought about it. But I do cook a lot, so I happily registered for most of the contents of Williams-Sonoma, and I promise I really will use the mixer if someone would be so kind as to take a second mortgage out to buy it for me.
Couples can register together. It can be fun, and can be accomplished in one weekend. While it doesn’t always go according to plan (the salt-and-pepper shakers you like aren’t available for online registry, the towels are on sale and going out of stock) as a pair, you’ve been through worse together. If you haven’t, you will, so don’t waste tears over the registry and just zap something else. You can always return it later.
So last Saturday Peter and I went to Bloomingdales to register together, and surprise, surprise, he was a whole lot less conflicted about these decisions than I had been. We happily zapped away, with nary a care about whether the flatware we chose was rattail or feather edged. And just like that, I could go back to getting some real work done.
Amid this tirade, I’ve thought up a whole variety of other, useful things I could have been learning to prepare for my marriage—including a bit more about personal finances. I want to hear from you—fill out our survey here to share tell me what you wish you’d known before getting married, or what you think men and women should do to prepare for marriage (instead of obsessive registry shopping). Thanks as always for your input—your experiences make this column come alive!