In the last year, I’ve noticed a trend among the invitations I’ve been receiving in my mailbox: Rather than being simple invitations to celebrations, they are becoming thinly disguised money grabs. I have been invited to weddings and told (not requested, but told) to give cash. I’ve been invited to a “going away to college shower” right on the heels of the high school graduation party where I gave the graduate a check that I assumed would be used for college expenses. I’ve been invited to a Sweet 16 party and told to give cash to contribute to the birthday girl’s car. I was invited to a baby shower for a fifth child (I always thought the baby shower was only proper for the first, maybe second, child and after that it was assumed that the other kids would be using hand me downs). Another baby shower invitation told me to give cash that would be put in the kid’s college fund. (Oh, really? My response was almost to ask if I could get that in writing since I suspected that most of the cash would be going toward other things.) I was even invited to a divorce shower where the divorcing woman was seeking presents so she could set up her new household since the ex-hubby was getting the house.
Of course, all of these invitations (except those cheeky enough to outright ask for cash) come with all sorts of crazy registries attached. People have registered at Toy’s R Us for children’s birthday parties and sent me the lists. The college shower invitation came with a note that the student-to-be was registered at Target, Pier One, and Bed Bath and Beyond, but cash was acceptable, too. (I wanted to ask if they took MasterCard and Visa, as well.) The divorcee registered at almost every store imaginable, including Tiffany’s. (Is there really something at Tiffany’s that you need to set up a new house?) The topper was the baby shower that listed, among the traditional stores like Target and Babies R Us, that gift cards to Best Buy and the Apple Store would be appreciated “in order to pay for baby’s future electronic needs.” That one left me speechless and temporarily unable to come up with even a sarcastic response. I’m still working on it.
Maybe I’m old fashioned and this “invite my money, not me” strategy is the new norm, but it offends me. I was always taught that gift giving was just that: a gift, not an obligation. I was taught to ask for nothing and be happy with anything you received because a gift, no matter what it was, meant that someone thought enough of you to get you something. And certainly, except for letters to Santa (which you outgrew around age nine and wouldn’t dream of doing at age thirty), you never explicitly stated what you expected to get. You would never include on an invitation that you wanted cash or gift certificates to a certain store, and you certainly wouldn’t tack on a list of the items you wanted.
The only occasion that I ever expected to register for was my wedding. And I certainly didn’t include a mention of it in the invitation. If someone asked, it was okay to tell them where you were registered, but you left the rest up to them. If they chose to use the registry, fine. If not, that was fine, too. You didn’t include the whole registry list in the invitation, as I have seen several brides do lately. I guess I can sort of understand the popularity of registries. They do make it easier for people to choose a gift. But this idea of registering for everything at every store and then telling everyone about your choices smacks of greed, not helpfulness.
I’ve noticed something else, as well. As these money grab invitations become more popular, the size of the guest list seems to increase simultaneously. Where a birthday party might have once included ten people, all close friends of the celebrant, now I routinely see parties of fifty or more and most of the guests are very distantly associated with the celebrant, if they even know her at all. Half the time I wonder why I’m getting invitations to Sweet 16’s (I’m certainly not sixteen and don’t have any kids that age), baby showers for the kids of people I hardly know, and weddings of people I can only claim a passing acquaintance with. Why this sudden interest in ballooning the guest list? Maybe I’m cynical, but I have to wonder if some of these people are thinking, “Heck, if I’m going to ask for money and gifts, I might as well ask as many people as I can think of so I can grab a little more.” That might not be the case for all, but I’m getting the distinct impression that this is where we’re heading.
The truth is that while I’m happy so many people are having celebrations (I like a good party as much as the next person), I simply can’t afford to buy this many gifts, particularly for people I hardly know. My budget can’t keep up with this sort of thing. Maybe now that I’ve put that out there in public some people will quit inviting me to things. Read this: If you only want my money, I don’t have any more to give. If you want me to come to your party and are okay with the fact that I might arrive sans gift, invite away.
A couple of times when I’ve politely declined invitations to parties for people I hardly knew (largely because I could smell the money grab a mile away), I’ve been snubbed later. Example: I ran into a woman that I only have a passing acquaintance with in the grocery store a couple of weeks after I RSVP’d to her daughter’s wedding invitation that I would not be able to attend. The woman pulled me aside and told me, “I hope you’re happy. Janie (not her real name) was so counting on you coming to the wedding and she’s so disappointed you won’t be there. You’re ruining her day.” Here’s the thing: If I even knew Janie, I could understand her being upset. But I’ve never met the girl. And I only know her mother in passing. So I doubt my absence will matter one iota Janie. Apparently, however, the absence of my gift is causing quite a problem with her mother.
I find myself somewhat adrift in this new world of parties as blatant begs for money. I enjoy celebrating special occasions and I enjoy giving gifts when I genuinely feel moved to do so. In other words, I like to give gifts to people that I know and whom I trust want my presence at their function because they want me first, gift second (if at all). I don’t enjoy the fine line that I now must walk in order to preserve my budget.
If I say no to some invitations because I feel like I’m only being asked to go for the gift, but I say yes to the invitations of people I genuinely care about, inevitably it gets around and someone will eventually ask me to justify my choices. I could be rude and say, “Well, gee, if you’d really wanted me there you wouldn’t be asking me why I bought a gift for Julie but not for you. You would have been disappointed that I couldn’t go. Period.” But responses like that aren’t likely to win me any etiquette awards.
I could just go to the parties without a gift, but I’m certain the host of a money grab party would frown on my eating their cake without giving something in return. Sometimes I feel like I’m part of a balance sheet that the host has drawn up. “OK, if we spend $50 per person in dinner and cake, can we reasonably expect that they will bring a gift that will earn out our investment?” If I show up with no gift, I blow their investment plans. Maybe that’s not a bad idea. Blow a few people’s earning plans and see if the ridiculous invitations stop.
I could just stop going to any parties and say, “That’s it. I’m unavailable for anything.” But that punishes the people I care about, as well as myself because I do like to socialize and celebrate with people. I have to find either a middle ground or a thicker skin that can stand up to the disapproval of those whose invitations I decline.
My solution for now is to muddle through; to accept the invitations of people that I feel really want me there, that I am close to in some way, and politely decline the others. Basically, I’m buying gifts and accepting invitations for those who don’t ask for anything beyond my presence. If you feel the need to ask for money or attach a “suggested gift list” to your invitation, expect a no from me. If you want someone to contribute to a car fund, or a future electronics need, I’m not your girl. I can’t afford to buy gifts for everyone who asks and, even if I could, I wouldn’t give it to someone rude enough to show more interest in my wallet attending the party than my person. However, if you ask for nothing from me beyond my presence at your function, you might get a phone call from me asking if you are registered somewhere. Or I might sniff around and find out about that something special you’ve been wanting and get it for you. I can be surprisingly generous when the occasion is right. But I will no longer respond to demands for generosity disguised as invitations.
Image courtesy of Glynnis Ritchie