My mother has a habit of recommending articles to me that read like warning signs, so I wasn’t exactly surprised when last year, in the throes of my momentary preoccupation with rings of the left-handed variety, she sent this New York Times column my way.
The piece, published under the Modern Love heading, is about a woman who becomes a little overly invested in and reliant on material possessions, namely those listed on her wedding registry, and ends up ultimately losing the thing that inspired the gifts in the first place: her marriage.
Unlike some of my mother’s previous PSA pass-alongs, this one was surprisingly well-written: textured and funny and real, peppered with anecdotes that made me nod in recognition and, admittedly, fear slightly for the health of my own as-yet-unformalized marriage plans. I tucked the cautionary message away in the back of my mind, flagged it with a “deal with this when you finally get a ring” internal post-it. The message to self was clear: Try, oh lover of shopping, not to give in to your retail-obsessed tendencies when you should be focused on your relationship.
At first, it seemed like I wouldn’t have too much trouble taking this advice. The first time I sauntered into Bloomingdales in search of the perfect food processor for our new life together, I emerged an overwhelmed and exhausted wreck ready to pay someone, anyone to just select the optimal blender model for my imaginary kitchen of the future (because lord knows our current one can’t hold any more crap) and get on with it already.
I, the girl who usually feels more comfortable in department stores than her own bedroom, was apparently not cut out for registering. I hated the pace of it (slow and plodding), hated all the choices (I have to pick a brand of knives and a line? Seriously?) I decided against fine china, scoffed at the $125 picture frames, pared my list down to the bare necessities. My mother had to implore me to select a few serving bowls. I was most definitely not into it.
By the time we ventured to Williams Sonoma, to tackle the gritty kitchen supply section of my wish list, I was feeling slightly better about the whole thing. This place was smaller, with fewer crystal displays to get lost in, and free mulled apple cider. Always one to be wooed by food samples, I relaxed a bit, and even allowed myself to fall the tiniest bit in love with a removable-bottom tart pan. The sparer displays allowed me to catch glimpses of things I could actually identify, and, I reasoned, perhaps one day find room in my homewares-adoring heart to love. Wasn’t that the seltzer system Dave wanted me to buy last month? Weren’t those the fun stemless wine glasses my friend set her dinner table with last week? Did that Le Creuset dutch oven come in blue? (Answer: Yes, yes, and yes — with a matching trivet to boot!)
Zap, zap, zap — onto the registry list they all went.
It’s no secret that many aspects of my life feel a little out of control right now. I’ve been forced to place all my faith in a computer system that will tell me where to live and, as a result, what to do, in T minus four months from tomorrow. My career path is starting to feel less and less like the paved roads and smooth trajectories all my friends seem to have built for themselves, and more like it was carved by a blind guy wandering aimlessly through a dense forest with a machete.
I feel a little lost about a lot of things, but I can guarantee, with a comparatively high amount of accuracy, what color dinner plate will be sitting on my table come 2012. And even though my mother and the article and common sense tell me otherwise, I’m choosing to cling to that dinner plate, just for the moment. I’m scrolling daily through my online lists; I’m adding candlesticks and mother-of-pearl serving trays and yes, even that $125 picture frame; I’m rejoicing at the news that someone bought me that food processor.
Yes, the marriage is what matters; yes, china is cold comfort. But it’s comfort I’m going to let myself indulge in, just for a little while.