Social revolutionary, or just tacky?
The question came up after swim practice one day: Are you going to register for your housewarming party or not?
It had started as one of my off-handed remarks. Last winter, I purchased my first home: a modest condo. In jest, I told some of my swim team that I was considering registering for housewarming gifts. I said I was thinking about sending change-of-address announcements and writing, "by the way, I'm registered at Crate and Barrel" - just to see what happened.
Lisa's eyes got wide when I told her my "plan" as we waited to order at a coffee-shop counter.
"I counted it up once," I explained. "Over the past 10 years, I have spent close to $7,000 being a bridesmaid or attending far-flung weddings, so I figure I'm due a set of matching glasses." I laughed to show I was joking, but only half joking.
Michelle raised her eyebrows while she considered this logic. By the time we'd settled around a small wooden table, Lisa, who was expecting her first child and starting to receive a pile of baby gifts, was convinced.
"You should do it!" she exclaimed. "There's no reason why you should have to wait for a rite of passage like marriage."
The fact is, women are getting married later: The 2000 US Census shows the average marrying age for American women has risen to 25 from 20 over the past 30 years. I had a hunch that I wasn't the only 30-something setting up house on my own with mismatched pots and pans and four usable drinking glasses. I was sure more friends would cheer on this idea, just as they did when I bought my place.
I decided to float the concept past my brother and new sister-in-law, who'd just reaped a windfall of crystal goblets and china plates from their recent nuptial vows. So I called down to Atlanta where the cost of living is considerably cheaper than Boston.
"You're going to do what?" asked Leslie.
"No, no, no," said Dayton. "That's way too tacky."
My progressive mother atypically had no opinion on the issue. But I knew what she was thinking: Do this, and you'll seal your single fate forever.
My father only said, "Well..."
I tested out the idea on a close male friend who has his own set of mismatched table linens. He raised both hands and said, "I'm not going to have anything to do with this."
So when Lisa asked me a few weeks later if I'd registered yet, I hung my head. It was so easy to be a strong and independent woman in so many ways - why was this so hard?
It was one thing to conquer the real-estate market on my own when I bought my condo, but was registering for a housewarming party crossing some unspoken line of how much a single woman could ask for? I've heard stories of couples who married and combined households later in life and realized that together they already had enough stuff. I had even heard of one couple who set up a website and asked their friends and family to help them buy a house - a doorknob here, a cabinet hinge there.
So how was this different? Registering for housewarming gifts seemed to me to be a simple way to send a message to friends and family: Please show your support for my new venture.
Even though I knew friends and family would support me in whatever I chose to do, when it came right down to registering, I just couldn't do it. Since the 1600s, it's legally been easier for a femme sole to purchase her own home than for a married woman. But filling those homes is a different matter all together.
Maybe what I was asking for was still a bit too far outside the societal comfort zone: Registering for household items remains for the betrothed. And I didn't feel ready to start my own housewarming revolution.
But the good news is that friends and neighbors do like to care for one another, and my housewarming party was no exception. I have to admit, I liked the beautiful bowl of strawberries someone brought to share just as much as the gift certificate to my favorite home-furnishings store.
• Kendra Nordin is the Monitor's assistant Opinion page editor.