Dear Co-It-All,

My boyfriend and I are going to a friend’s wedding in Mexico in April. As guests we are paying for our fights and accommodations for the week. Should we also be buying a gift? I was sure the tradition was no gifts at a destination wedding, but my friends have included registry information on the invite. 

 

If you can believe it, I find myself in a nearly identical situation as of last night. I too received an invite to a destination wedding and was surprised (read: slightly irked) to take notice of registry info on the invite. But before delving any deeper into my own personal feelings, let’s establish the official protocol on the subject. Because if there is one thing that wedding culture offers in droves—it’s rules of conduct. Also, taffeta, drunk uncles and pissed off bridesmaids who never want to speak to the bride again because she dressed them in the aforementioned taffeta fabric. Not that I’m bitter or anything…

The “tradition” that you reference is not so much a tradition as a recognized option—couples who are asking their friends to absorb the cost of an away celebration have the option of writing “No gifts please,” or “Your presence is your present,” somewhere on the invite. In my experience, though, most of them don’t. And, at least technically speaking, they don’t have to.

According to the world’s most famous etiquette expert Emily Post (1872-1960), buying a gift for the happy couple is part of the deal, whether they tie the knot close to home or in Honolulu. Martha Stewart (1941-infinity) is slightly more lax on the matter, pointing out that since guests have already spent money on flights and accommodations, an away wedding registry should be stocked with affordable options. No word on what M-Stew considers “affordable,” btw. We are talking about a woman whose monthly flower budget is probably bigger than my annual salary, but it really doesn’t matter so much since her advice is directed at the people hosting the big event, not us guests.

Speaking of those host people, let’s give your friends (and my friends) the benefit of the doubt. Because while “No gifts, pls” is definitely the right move, it’s not always the easy one. The story, in my experience, often goes a little something like this:

Boy (or girl) meets boy (or girl). They fall desperately in love and decide to go the happily ever after route. They want to throw a destination wedding and at first they agree that “No gifts” is the way to go. “We’re already asking our friends and family to spend money to join us in Barbados,” they agree. “We don’t want to ask them to spend more money on top of that.” Their minds are made up, their intentions are pure. And then inevitably they find themselves in a conversation with some relative or friend who tells that even if they do say “No gifts,” there will be people who want to get them something and those people will appreciate a registry. So will the people who can’t make it to the wedding, but still want to get them something nice…maybe a glossy new La Creusete cookware set…or that fancy espresso machine with the built in milk frother.

And then…well…I get how the allure of new stuff—fancy, expensive new stuff—can be difficult to resist. Besides, (they tell themselves), they’re only putting the info there for the people who want to buy gifts. Maybe they even write something like, “Should you choose to bring a gift, blah, blah, blah,” (as if that isn’t just code for, “should you choose not to be an a-hole.”)

Note that writing anything at all relating to gifts on a wedding invitation is (technically speaking) an etiquette no-no. You are either supposed to put that info on a shower invite (weird, since it’s possible that people invited to a shower are not invited to the wedding), or simply “let the information circulate.” Like so many wedding dos and don’ts, this one drives me crazy. It’s like, yes we want gifts, but putting that down in black and white would be…unseemly. So instead we’re going to ad an extra step to the gift-buying process…and pretend that that makes us, what? Classy?

The reality is that (like more than a few marriages) a lot of these official rules around wedding conventions weren’t built to last. I remember when my sister got married she toyed with the idea of sending an Evite—easier, faster, less costly. She was eventually vetoed by a certain family member (our mom), still it seems like more and more, modern couples are rejecting old notions of déclassé. Benedict Cumberbatch sent his wedding invites via the world wide web when he got married last year, and that guy is easily the most debonnaire, distinguished, classy person on the planet. Point is that you can listen to Emily Post (who is probably pearl clutching in her grave at the thought of electronic invites), or you can make up your own mind.

On a practical note, you might want to make it up quickly. In the past, I have dilly dallied on such decisions. Best Intentions Me thinks—I don’t want to buy a gift for an away wedding—instead, I’m going to send the newlyweds something handmade and thoughtful. Maybe I’ll make magnets out of the pics from their wedding or one of those awesome Apple photo books. By the time Busy Disorganized Me finally arrives at the registry (because really—who has time to make magnets?), all of the affordable stuff* is long gone.

(*Note to couples creating registries: Include more affordable items. Because Martha Stewart says so.)