DEAR MISS MANNERS: I understand that a registry should only be taken as a suggestion and that anyone who chooses to give a gift is under no obligation to purchase from a set list. I often use registries when I am stuck for ideas or don't feel I have a good grasp on what the person or couple in question would like.
However, I have a friend I have known for years who, upon discovering she was pregnant with her first child, a girl, I knew I wanted to give her baby clothes. I chose everyday cotton outfits that were for babies, but not newborns so that they'd not be too small, in a pattern and style I felt my friend would find pleasing that would reflect the season her baby would be old/big enough to fit into said outfits. It was a true joy to buy these things and I felt very satisfied with the selections.
In the past, she has returned many gifts that were not on her wedding registry and then purchased things on the registry with the money or credit.
I wanted her to have something from me personally. I did not send a gift receipt. I chose a store that had an exchange policy, hence she could choose a larger size if she wanted, but not use my gift to buy something she preselected. I'm not trying to thumb my nose at her wishes so much as I am trying to make sure the gift remains a gift, whether she uses it or not, and not a revenue generator for her wish list.
I have been told I am being selfish and unkind and ignoring what gift-giving is about. I'm told I'm making the present about me instead of about her. I'm told I'm trying to make her angry. I've been told that not to buy off a registry on purpose is the same as implying I don't care what my friend wants. (These critiques are not coming from my friend, who as of yet has not received the gift.)
I do want her to be happy, I just hate feeling like a personal shopper. I'm not going to keep tabs on if she uses my present. I just don't like feeling obligated in these ways, or used. I'm now feeling conflicted.
GENTLE READER: Well, what is gift giving about? Good question.
According to the system of your friend (and countless other people nowadays, of whom you seem to know more than your share), it is a purely practical method of coercing other people into buying her what she wants.
But is it so practical? Doesn't that mean that you can, in turn, order her to buy you things that you want? The only way to come out ahead would be to outdo all one's donors in producing babies or weddings, but doing so would entail other financial burdens.
And here you want to inject thoughtfulness and sentiment into this system. This makes you a throwback to when the system of exchanging presents did have a point: symbolically expressing thoughtfulness and sentiment.
Miss Manners congratulates you. If enough people refused to be bilked by gimme lists, perhaps the meaning of the custom will return to justify it.