Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Does "No Gifts" REALLY Mean "No Gifts?"

Dear Bashionista,

I was recently invited to a wedding and the couple is adamant about not wanting people to give gifts. They invited those gift-inclined to make a charitable donation instead. But the concept of going to a wedding empty-handed is so alien to me that it's giving me an anxiety attack. Plus, I'm sure that someone will bring a gift, and then those of us who didn't are going to feel like jerks.

What do you do when people say, "No gifts, please"?

Do you take them at their word?  Do you bring a token gift?  Any ideas?

Carol D.

Before you make a decision about whether or not to bring a gift, try to suss out the couple's motivation here. While this request seems radical and confusing to you, they may have an excellent reason for bucking tradition, even if it is giving you a panic attack.

Maybe they live in a small apartment and their kitchen is already overflowing with all the plates, silverware, linens and gadgets they will ever need. Maybe they're already well-established financially and think it's crass to ask people to give them things they don't really need, when their guests are already paying for plane tickets and accomodations. Maybe they know that some of their friends are flat broke, and they want to spare them the embarassment of adding their Starbucks gift card to a table overflowing with lavish gifts.

Maybe your friends are seriously committed to a particular charity, and knowing they selflessly funneled money toward it will make them feel awesome. Or maybe after the wedding they're moving to an ashram in India and they're giving away all their worldly possessions. I don't know your friends! But here are a few things I am certain of:

1. The couple is not doing this to trick you.

"No gifts" seriously means "No gifts"! They are not sitting there thinking, Well, now we're going to find out who our *real* friends are . . . you know, the ones who refuse to take our wishes seriously. They are actually envisioning driving away from the wedding without having to find bags for all their gifts, which they will then have to cram into their getaway car. They are envisioning not having to write thank-you notes. Or they are actually not thinking about any of this, and are just looking forward to all that non-materialistic marital bliss people talk about. You absolutely do not have to get them a gift.

2. The couple is not doing this to make you uncomfortable.

So if not bringing a gift is making you supremely uncomfortable, then bring a gift - not because you have to, but because you want to. If you do go this route, think about what would be right for the *couple* - they are bucking tradition, so you should, too. A big shiny stand-up mixer, or anything that will take up a lot of storage space? Inappropriate. A small and thoughtful token gift? Something with familial value that you have always intended to pass on to the bride or groom? An envelope filled with cold, hard cash? Yes, yes and yes.

3. No gifts really means no gifts necessary!

Which means that if your initial reaction was one of relief, go with that. The couple is trying to do something nice for you, so for pete's sake, let them. Do not allow yourself to feel guilty if you do show up and see that other people have gifts in hand - they are working through their own issues. The couple doesn't love you any less. After the wedding, drop them a note to let them know what a fabulous time you had, or email them fun candid pictures you might have taken. If it's the thought that counts, and it really is, then just let them know you're thinking of them and wishing them well.

Having trouble thinking of a token gift for a wedding or a less formal event? Check out this article from awhile back:


  1. What a great post! Love how you get at that subconscious thought in the gifter that the giftee is trying to trick them...that the host really DOES want gifts, but only if you really, really want to give them one. And guess what? If you don't really, really want to give them one, then you're not a good friend.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, I'm sure that people who say "no gifts" are shocked when their guests are resistant. They are obviously trying to make things less complicated, and instead stir up some very complicated emotions.

  3. I love that our friends did this! I think it shows a lot about the couple and while I think I'd like to do that if I ever get married, I don't know if I would...hopefully I would though, because I already have enough "stuff" why , BUT as a guest, I thought it was awesome. I liked that I got to donate my money to two awesome organizations.

    Earlier in the year, I went to another wedding where the couple registered for a million and 1 house hold things, but they eat out for ever meal (they told me and I see their check-ins on FB). Why should I buy them a crockpot then?!

  4. Also...this couple is obviously WELL aware of the economy that we're in. Where friend may not be able to afford gifts and/or those that can, can donate it to people or places that NEED it more than them. This is the true definition of selfless. Ok, I'll get off my soapbox.

  5. I know, I really appreciate that couple's decision - I could never be that selfless. Some little girls spend their lives planning their wedding day. I just fantasize about one day having a set of matching dishes.