By Amy Alkon
Q: Nobody expects a free meal from a restaurant. So what’s with wedding guests who think it’s acceptable to give no gift or just $100 from two people? My understanding is that you are supposed to “cover your plate”—the cost of your meal (at least $100 per person). If you can’t, you shouldn’t attend. I’m planning my wedding and considering not inviting four couples who gave no gift at my two siblings’ weddings. Upsettingly, most are family members (and aren’t poor). I’d hate to cut out family, but if they won’t contribute, what else can I do?—Angry Bride
A: If gift price is tied to meal price, it seems there should be a sliding scale. Uncle Bob, who’ll singlehandedly suck down 16 trays of canapes and drain the open bar, should pony up for that Hermès toaster oven. But then there’s Leslie, that raw vegan who only drinks by licking dew off of leaves. Whaddya think … can she get by with a garlic press and a handmade hemp card?
The truth is, this “cover your plate” thing is not a rule. It’s just an ugly idea that’s gained traction in parts of the country—those where bridezillas have transformed getting married into a fierce social deathmatch, the wedding spendathalon. What gets lost in this struggle to out-lavish the competition is the point of the wedding—publicly joining two people in marriage, not separating their friends and relatives from as much cash as possible. And though it’s customary for guests to give gifts, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “gift” as “a thing given willingly”—as opposed to “a mandatory cover charge to help fund the rented chocolate waterfall, complete with white mocha rapids and four-story slide manned by Mick Jagger and Jon Bon Jovi.”
But because you, incorrectly, believe that guests owe you (more than their company), you’ve awakened your ancient inner accountant, the human cheater-detection system. Evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby describe this as a specialized module that the human brain evolved for detecting cheaters—“people who have intentionally taken the benefit specified in a social exchange rule without satisfying the requirement.”
Instead of grinding down into tit for tat, you can decide to be generous. It’s a thematically nice way to start a marriage—in which 50/50 can sometimes be 95/“Hey, don’t I at least get your 5 percent?” It also makes for a far less cluttered invitation than “RSVP … with the price of the gift you’re getting us—so we know whether to serve you the Cornish game hen at the table or the bowl of water on the floor. Thanks!”
Q: Though my boyfriend is loving and attentive, he’s bad at responding to my texts. He’s especially bad while traveling, which he does often for his work. Granted, half my texts are silly memes. I know these things aren’t important, so why do I feel so hurt when he doesn’t reply?—Waiting
A: You’d just like your boyfriend to be more responsive than a gigantic hole. (Yell into the Grand Canyon and you’ll get a reply. And it isn’t even having sex with you.)
What’s getting lost here is the purpose of the GIF of parakeets re-enacting the Ali/Frazier fight or the cat flying through space on the burrito. Consider that, in the chase phase, some men text like crazy, hoping to banter a woman into bed. But once there’s a relationship, men use texting as a logistical tool—“b there in 5”—while women continue using it as a tool for emotional connection. That’s probably why you feel so bad. In research that psychologist John Gottman did on newly married couples, the newlyweds who were still together six years later were those who were responsive toward their partner’s “bids for connection”—consistently meeting them with love, encouragement, support or just attention.
Explain this “bids for connection” thing to your boyfriend. However, especially when he’s traveling, a little reasonableness from you in what counts as a reply should go a long way. Maybe tell him you’d be happy with, “Ha!”, “LOL” or an emoji. You’d just like to see more than your own blinking cursor—looking like Morse code for, “If he loved you, he’d at least text you that smiling swirl of poo.”