My friend Rachel recently broke up with her boyfriend of four years. She wasn’t emotionally devastated. She slept at night. But she was sad. The relationship had blossomed over doctoral dissertations in California and began to lose momentum after a long, arduous fall into modern domesticity in New York.
It happens to the best of us. It happens even under the loveliest of good intentions.
But it was her decision. It was what she wanted. So Rachel kissed her now ex-boyfriend and moved out of their two-bedroom apartment in Albany. She was heading back to Brooklyn, back to her friends and her freelancing assignments and her half-finished great American novel. Her bags were packed. She had a sublet arranged for the next couple months. She had the empty feeling that at the age of 30, she was starting all over again.
Rachel’s teeth weren’t as white and her hair wasn’t as shiny. Her knees hurt after a long run. But, no matter, aside from those few minor issues and a smattering of white hairs near her scalp, she was 22 again.
There are plenty of singles who feel 22 again and realize they have nothing. Rachel happily moved out of the apartment in Albany, leaving behind the couch they had bought together, the silverware they accumulated and the sheets they slept in.
No one had ever told her that when you break up with someone and you are the one who moves on, the one who moves out, even if you didn’t do anything wrong or cause the breaking up, but the breaking up happened naturally over time like the accumulation of sad rain in a bad bucket. And all of the sudden, you’re on your own again without furniture or dishes. Nobody told her that when whoever stays in the house gets to keep all of that.
It’s why some couples stay together. It’s why some couples get married after a few years of cohabitation and divorce suddenly, violently, after two children twenty years of unhappiness.
Rachel receives wedding invitations forwarded to her mother’s address. She opens up envelopes to long websites printed on the thick stock pearly paper. The websites are for gift registries. Rachel is 30 years old, trying to build up her life again, pawing through thrift stores for mismatched side tables and forks and asked to look through registries.
Couples cohabitate for longer than ever before. It’s common to spend years and years living together—like Rachel and her boyfriend had—before marrying. They sign a lease in a one bed-room, they purchase plates and kitchen tables and credenzas. They do their laundry together. They cook groceries. They split cabs. And when these lucky expense-sharing couples send out their wedding invitations, they are sure to include helpful directions to purchase gifts.
The registries are always stocked with beautiful domestic accoutrements from stores where no singles shop—at least, no singles I know. The modest couples oft for Crate & Barrel and Macy’s. The lavish ones tend to flaunt the items they selected from Bloomingdale’s and Tiffany’s.
But I want to know why these couples need to register for presents in 2010.
Last month, I looked at a registry for a lovely couple I went to college with. $90 for a plastic dish drying rack? $79 for a single crystal wine goblet? I happen to know they have a perfectly fine dish drying rack stacked with perfectly lovely wine glasses. I gave them a crisp one hundred dollar bill in a Hallmark card.
As I sat with Rachel in her subletted kitchen, piecing together the odds and ends she selected from a tag sale and a bodega to make an omelet, I saw a few “Save the Date” cards on her fridge.
“Are you going to go?” I asked.
“Maybe,” she shrugged. “Weddings are expensive.” She wasn’t depressed and she wasn’t poor. She was a single woman trying to figure out how she was going to save up for her own apartment and her own couch.
I thought about the shared items Rachel left behind in Albany. I thought about the $90 dish drying rack. I wish I had just brought over a casserole or something. Instead, I had proffered her a cheap bottle of Pinot Grigio and a copy of Annie Hall.
Why don’t break ups require registries? Rachel didn’t need wine and Woody Allen. She needed new silverware. She needed a dresser. She needed a new set of sheets for that 22 year-old life she felt like she was living.
It would be easy to set up. She could select her wants and needs from Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target. All of her friends and family could select items (a soap dish! a hamper! an eight quart stock pot!) and, if they wanted, have them gift wrapped, too. They would send cards, too—“Congratulations on not settling!”
I didn’t tell this to Rachel.
We ate the eggs, drank the bottle of wine and watched the movie.
The gray hairs aside, she looked 22 again. The heartbreak, the starting over and the excitement of living on her own was infectious. As we watched Diane Keaton walk away, she laughed. I smiled, thinking about my boyfriend in our apartment uptown.
I hugged Rachel goodbye and walked back to the subway. She was going to be fine. She didn’t need a breakup registry. She didn’t need to turn her life into a production. She was going to be okay and she didn’t need any new stuff to prove it.