I used to work upstairs from a fancy kitchenware store. In the months before we got engaged (we’d picked the ring together, so the next step was pretty obvious), I used to go downstairs and run my hands over all the expensive goodies: plates, platters, pots, and all the things you could use to create a (slightly expensive) married home together. Of course, the odd thing about this situation is that I don’t cook. Of our duo, my husband is the cook, so I was never going to touch an expensive pot unless I was washing it. But still, I found the fantasy of this happy, shiny, pricey, domestic life crazily enticing.
And then we got engaged. After about a month dealing with the wedding industry and their vapid but aggressive insistence that I Buy All The Things, I was no longer excited by the registry. It felt a little weird to me. Uncomfortable. Why did getting married mean that I got to order my friends and family to buy me pricey stuff? And I didn’t care about those pots anyway! I wasn’t a cook. Why did the registry have to be about the kitchen?
Well, I’m here to tell you what I figured out. Basically, I was right about the pots, but dead wrong about the registry’s intention.
In much of the western world, we’ve collectively decided that registries are for kitchen things. It’s as if we’ve all collectively agreed that marriages mean you’ll stay home a lot of the time, where you’ll cook and be domestic (this is totally not true, by the by). I was right to feel like a registry full of nothing but pots and pans was not quite what we wanted out of married life. Because over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve learned that marriages and families are what we create. Our marriages can push us to dream big, to go outside our comfort zone, and to travel far outside the kitchen (or stay in the kitchen, cooking up daring feats of deliciousness). For us, marriage has been more about travel and professional adventure (I mean, I wrote a book thanks to the support of my marriage) than it has been about being at home. And what I was figuring out during our engagement is that building a registry is part of dreaming up the life you want together. So, for goodness sakes, if you’re not into pots, or mass-produced linens, put down the scanner, turn to Etsy and conjure up a bit of magic (hand thrown pottery, anyone?).
But what I didn’t understand is that the registry isn’t about you, exactly. It turns out when you make a list of things you’d like for your married life together, you’re not twisting your guests’ arms to get them to buy you stuff. Nope! In fact, you’re allowing them to love you. Because when you stand in front of everyone you love to make your vows, many of them know something that you don’t: that marriage is complicated and that a life together is longer than you can imagine. They don’t just want to come to your wedding, have a few drinks and do the conga line. They want to provide tangible support for the two of you as you grow and build a life together. A registry lets your guests do that. A registry is like a modern barn raising. When your guests give you plates or awesome pottery, they support the dreams you’ve created together, and they know that for years when you take their gift off the shelf (possibly well after they’re gone), you’ll remember that they loved you, hard.
Because it turns out, the registry is not about stuff. (I suppose this is an obvious conclusion, given that I’ve already written for Etsy about how your wedding is not about stuff, but I literally did not get this ’til recently). When I sat down to write this post, I started pondering what we’d gotten as gifts when we got hitched. And I kept coming back to this…interesting…pepper grinder that someone got us off-registry (because yes, people will buy you exceedingly odd off-registry gifts). When we opened it the day after our wedding, we laughed, and commented to each other that we’d probably never use it. But here we are, almost three years later, using it every day. Because for all it’s funky oddness, it reminds us of all the people who loved and supported us on our wedding day, who still love and support us now. It reminds us that our marriage is not isolated: it’s part of a community. And yes, that community sometimes has strange taste, but it’s a community that loves us and supports our vision for married life.
Now go build a dream you believe in, starting with your registry. Because that’s really what a marriage is.
Meg Keene is the founder and executive editor of A Practical Wedding and Reclaiming Wife. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was released in January 2012.