Don’t Be a Deadbeat Wedding Guest

I dread wedding season, and not for the reason you’re thinking. I love seeing my friends get married, and if the ten invitatations I got last summer are any indication, I’m a good guest. The problem for me—and for the … Read More

By / March 5, 2007

I dread wedding season, and not for the reason you’re thinking. I love seeing my friends get married, and if the ten invitatations I got last summer are any indication, I’m a good guest. The problem for me—and for the couple waiting for their silver gravy boat—is that I’m incapable of giving wedding presents on time.

Every spring, I feel the unique shame of the late-gifter—and by late, I mean in some cases overdue by nearly a decade. At my ten-year college reunion, I ran into two couples who had married soon after we graduated. I still owed them both gifts. And I know I’m not alone. In talking to friends and co-workers, I've found that there are a lot of us, though many are too ashamed to admit it.

For me, the slacking started due to lack of funds. I’d just graduated and was living in New York City, working at a low-paying, entry-level media job. It didn’t help that I was often a bridesmaid, forking out cash for showers and bachelorette parties, not to mention the dress. Add that to the cost of travel and lodging—since these weddings were often out of town—and I was tapped out. I always figured that I could spring for a gift later, once my bank account bounced back. But then the next wedding would pop up.

Now that I’m a little older, and a little more stable financially, my problem isn’t money but time. I always have grand plans about how I’m going to get the couple a thoughtful, personal gift. If it’s a destination wedding, as many of them are, I figure I’ll get them something local. But I’m always so busy, and since wedding etiquette dictates that you have a year from the date of the party to give the couple their gift, it's easy to stall.

I think I’ve finally beaten the habit, though. This summer, I went to a friend’s wedding in Italy. Not wanting to ship something internationally—that’s something I’d really drag my heels on—I decided to bring my gift with me. I’ve never felt more responsible than I did showing up with their present. But I still had to make restitution to those I’d wronged. If you’re in my boat—and it seems most people are—here’s my five-step plan for how to deal with all those late presents. It’s a lot like AA, only shorter and more expensive.

Step One: It’s never too late to pay your tab.


It’s probably not as bad as you think. For all you know, the couple believes they lost your gift. In any case, if you’re still friends, and no one has mentioned anything, it’s likely that they’re not dwelling on it. But the sin of omission has been hanging over your head. The good news? As Linda Lee, Macy’s General Vice President of Bridal Registry, points out, it’s never too late to do something nice. No matter when you give them the gift, the couple should appreciate getting it.

Step Two: Go Shopping. Immediately.

As soon as you read this and decide that you want to make amends, go out and take care of it. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. Ali Weiss, 35, a Miami publicist, likes to make up for the late present when the couple has their first child. She gave one newborn a three-foot long toy black sports car. Of course, the baby was too young to enjoy it, but she figured it would look great in his room. It’s now her shtick, she says, to bring an extra-huge present to the bris.

You don’t need to wait until the knives are out—you don’t even need a new baby as an excuse. Buy it today.

Step Three: Include a really good apology note. Handwrite it, if you can remember how.

Meryl Gold, Director of Public Relations for Michael C. Fina—wedding gift central— says you don’t need to overspend just because you’re late. Spending might ease the guilt, but it’s not necessary.

What is key, though, is admitting your tardiness. As Katherine Murray of the Knot points out, if the couple knows the present is late, there’s no point in pretending it’s not. You won’t fool anyone.

The card should start off with a sincere apology. Macy’s General Vice President of Bridal Registry, Linda Lee, suggests this fix: “We've been well-intentioned for a long time. Even after all this time, we still remember how especially beautiful your wedding was!" That may not be your kind of language, but you get the idea: regrets well-seasoned with flattery.

Don’t expect a wedding gift on your own big day.

There are consequences to being a gift slacker. Alex Mamlet, 34, a New York television producer, was planning his wedding last year when his bad habits came back to haunt him.

One B-list friend of the couple’s—invited after a certain number of the A-listers sent in their regrets—got word of a save-the-date card that he didn’t receive. Realizing he was in the second tier group, he sent out an e-mail to all of their mutual friends that read: “What, no save the date for me? I guess that means I'm not invited. That’s OK because I was going to give Alex exactly what he got me for my wedding: Nothing. Do yourselves a favor everybody and drink up at the open bar, because that's the last drink he'll ever buy you.”


But Mr. B-List does have a point. What goes around comes around. Mamlet’s still waiting on gifts from about half the couples he’s stiffed. Then again, there’s a month left on his year “deadline,” so maybe some presents will slide in under the wire.

Break the habit.

Ideally, you want to send a gift as soon as you get the invitation, says Elizabeth Howell of the Emily Post Institute. An invitation, she points out, obligates you to give a present, whether you go to the wedding or not. As for the idea that you can give your gift up to a year after the ceremony? That's a myth, says Howell. Some procrastinator made it up.

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