Q&A: Case of the Gay Wedding Crasher

Dear Dr. Hurd:

I have two good friends who live in a “red” state, where gay marriage (or even civil unions) are not recognized.  They decided in September to exchange vows in New York City when they were visiting.  They realized that the marriage would not be recognized in their backwards state, but accepted this and felt that the symbolic gesture was important at this point.

A few weeks ago, I got an email requesting our mailing address and last week we got a letter from the “newlyweds.’ I fully expected it would be an invitation to a celebration of some sort to recognize their union.  When I opened the letter, I found a picture, a one-line statement stating “YES! We are married!” and a list of stores where they are registered.  What was not in the letter was an invitation to a party or event to celebrate their union.

Dr. Hurd, I am very happy for their great news, but I found the notice to be a bit on the tacky side.  In addition, all of the stores where they have registered are high end and I am guessing that we will be out at least $100 to purchase something for the happy couple.  Do you think I am overreacting to getting a notice of where they are registered without an invitation to a party?  Or should I just overlook this “faux pas,’ bite the bullet and buy them a gift?

Dr. Hurd’s reply:

You’re not overreacting. Normally, wedding gifts are presented in the context of an actual event. What your friends are basically saying is, ‘We already got married, you didn’t attend—and now send us the gift.’

There’s no wedding–but here’s the store registration list. Excuse me?

I recognize your friends have no choice about the fact that weddings are not allowed for them (at least legally recognized ones) in the state where they live. However, they do have a choice about whether or not to have a celebration after the fact. There’s no law in their ‘red state’ preventing them from having a ceremony and/or a celebration/party, and inviting people to attend in that context, including the reference to the gift option at that time.

I don’t know what the specific errors are in your friends’ thinking, but their conclusions are erroneous for the reasons I’m saying. One possible explanation for their error is that they feel victimized. ‘We are not allowed to marry in our own state, nor even any state before very recently. It’s not our fault.’ This much is true. But the error might come about this way: ‘It’s not our fault—therefore we are entitled to our wedding gifts, just as everybody else gets.’

If it’s true that holding a wedding or any kind of ‘conjoining’ celebration entitles you to a gift—then you are obliged to at least hold the celebration if you are to get the gift.

Taking it a step further: I’m uneasy with the whole premise of entitlement in the first place. This is true whether the context is gay or straight, traditional or unconventional. Why does loving someone else entitle you to anything? Your happiness in your personal relationship does not oblige me to do anything for you, nor does my happiness in my own oblige you. Granted, if you are important to me then I might WANT to celebrate your happiness by bestowing some kind of gift upon you. But wanting and being obliged are not the same thing.

What your friends did is kind of like not being able to attend a Christmas Party celebration this year, and then sending a note with the statement, ‘Here’s where you can mail my Christmas gift.’ Ridiculous!

Treat this as having learned something new about some friends.  And don’t feel obliged to buy a gift. Let them come to you and ask, ‘Why didn’t you give me the gift?’ I’d be honest at that time. But they ought to at least push the issue and assert their case for why they’re not only entitled to be married—but to be rewarded for it, at the same time.

If you prefer to avoid conflict, then bite the bullet and send the gift. But then don’t write me later with complaints about how dissatisfied you are with this inauthentic friendship.



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