Wedding Gift Conundrum: To Buy, Or Not To Buy

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Dear Miriam,

I’m a college professor, and a few times a year, I get invited to weddings of former (and sometimes current) students. When my schedule and other logistics allow, I do try to attend, especially if it’s someone with whom I am close, if I know both members of the couple, or if the wedding is local. However, more often than not, I don’t attend. When I don’t attend, should I send a gift? Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, but I never feel sure of my decision either way.


Guessing about Gifts


Dear Guessing,

By my most recent extremely accurate and irrefutable estimate, there are approximately 90 trillion sources of wedding-related etiquette on the internet. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you chose to ask me this question instead of one of them. Because the truth is, when it comes to weddings – or any other simcha or life cycle event – there are guidelines, and then there are exceptions, and the special cases almost certainly outnumber whatever the “standard” situation may be.

Since I am not, technically, an expert in weddings, I did start with two of the 90 trillion options just to gauge the starting point for my answer. The first source said that you don’t need to send a gift if you don’t attend, and the second source said that you do. So, I definitely feel emboldened to offer you advice that’s somewhere in between and that takes your particular circumstances into account. 

And that advice is: you should send a gift if you want to. You should assume that your students have limited space for guests at their weddings, and they’re choosing to allocate one (or two, if they’re inviting you with a plus one) to you. The invitation in itself indicates that they value you as a presence in their lives, and if you’re able to give them a gift that honors and respects how they feel about you, the acknowledgement inherent in you giving them something – anything – is at least as important as the gift itself. 

You can, of course, get something from the registry, but you can also get something more personal (and probably less expensive!) that would mean more to these students. Consider a beautiful book related to something that you learned in your class together, or a donation to a cause related to the course or the student’s major/career trajectory. If you’re invited to a Jewish wedding, a check in reasonably generous a multiple of $18 is fine, but for a non-Jewish wedding, I don’t know how to suggest what amount would be appropriate for a former student, so I’d avoid sending money altogether, unless it’s directed to something like a honeymoon fund. 

You have a lot more students than they have teachers, though, and you may well not reciprocate the importance of your relationship. If that’s the case, and especially if they are no longer your student, you can get away with not sending a gift. But really, in the long run, wouldn’t you rather be the inspirational teacher who responds to an invitation in a thoughtful way than the teacher who RSVPs no and then never mentions the wedding again? 

In any case, a personal note from you wishing the couple well will probably mean as much as any material item. And if you hate the effort that goes into writing such a note multiple times a year, type it once, email it to yourself, and then hand write and personalize the message in a beautiful card whenever the time comes. While we’re at it, find one wedding card you like, buy a dozen copies, and free yourself from wedding-related gift giving dilemmas for years to come, while still maintaining a positive connection to your students. 

Be well,