Welcome to It’s Complicated, stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships. (Want to share yours? Email pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
It was the strangest thing, looking at my phone screen and seeing a missed call from Adam. It had been at least a year since we last spoke, and nearly two years since I’d moved out of our sunny Brooklyn condo to live with my college best friend, while he packed up a U-Haul headed for the Midwest. He had been ready for marriage, and I’d wanted nothing more than to be single for the first time in my 20s.
The last time we talked, Adam (not his real name) had mentioned that he’d met someone in his new city. They became serious pretty quickly, and I’d recently seen a Facebook status update announcing their engagement. Following millennial rules of social-media etiquette, I’d liked the post and wrote a congratulatory comment below the many left by mutual friends. And now, for lack of a better reason, I assumed that was why he was calling: because he felt he needed to make sure I was handling the news okay.
I decided I’d call him back to ease his mind — and, more importantly, to give him a subtle reality-check: I was actually happy for him, and I was able to feel that way because I was actually happy in general. Yes, since we broke up, I’d had been on enough terrible Tinder dates to compile an anthology on the subject while he had quickly settled down, but I was certain we were both exactly where we needed to be.
I dialed, we exchanged a few short pleasantries, and then he quickly got to his point: “I’m actually calling because I’m engaged and …”
“I saw on Facebook! Congratulations! I really couldn’t be happier for you” I blurted out, aware of how bubbly and insincere I probably sounded.
“Thank you. We’re both very excited. About that … and why I called …” A pause. “We’re having a problem with our registry. You see, we’re trying to set it up, and when we searched my last name, another registry comes up also.”
Oh. Oh, no.
Adam has a unique last name, and an equally uncommon real first name. It’s highly unlikely that anyone else in the world would have his exact name at all, let alone another person on the same wedding registry website. The second I realized why he called, mortification hit me like a punch in the gut: He had found the fake registry I’d set up for us years ago.
Since I was a small child, I’ve had a passion for shopping — but especially for picking out my own gifts. I would spend hours writing detailed decorative wish lists for Santa, scour all the catalogues my family received in the mail, and eagerly await packages from relatives on holidays and birthdays. In my early 20s, while Adam and I were together, a high-school friend got engaged (the first of my friends to do so). Unsurprisingly, scrolling through her wedding registry got me fantasizing about what my own would look like. All she had to do was add things to a wish list, which was subsequently sent out to every person she knew, and they were basically required to purchase something from it to send directly to her. Just thinking about it gave me the same gift-induced excitement I’d felt as a kid.
I may not have been sure about marriage when Adam and I were together, but I was sure that a registry was definitely something I was down for — and I felt no need to wait to indulge in a seemingly harmless pretend version. After all, many women start planning their wedding day years before they meet the right person. Was it so bad that I was more interested in the part that involved shopping?
To create an account on TheKnot.com, all I needed was a wedding date and a groom. Since Adam and I had been together for several years at that point, it seemed logical to use his name, and I set a far off wedding date ten years in the future. I opened a bottle of wine and began making pretend decisions on what to register for.
I carefully selected fine china, crystal stemware, and high thread-count linens from a luxury department store. I picked out practical household items one would need, like a Dyson vacuum cleaner and a mint green Kitchenaid electric mixer that retailed for $699. I found the best hand towels and bath mat for my future guest bathroom, and I picked the top-rated ice-cream maker for the hot summer days after our hypothetical June wedding. It felt more like a Pinterest board than planning a deranged fake life with someone I wasn’t engaged to. When the novelty wore off after a while, I closed my computer, poured myself another glass of wine, and never thought about it again.
Now, confronted on the phone with the evidence of what I’d done, I had to frantically try to explain all of this to Adam — and convince him that his ex-girlfriend was not trying to derail his wedding planning by setting up a vindictive fake registry to cause problems with his fiancée.
“I think I made it like, you know, just for fun,” I said, trying to sound breezy. “I’m pretty sure I told you about it? I don’t know. It was a long time ago.”
“This is definitely not something I knew about or was part of,” Adam replied, in the same cold and analytical voice he’d use whenever we got into fights when we were dating. “I can’t believe you would create a pretend registry, Mel. You were the one who wasn’t ready to get married.”
That was the moment my embarrassment started to turn into anger. His tone was judgier than seemed appropriate — I could tell he was surprised and frustrated, and I could only imagine the conversations he must have had with his fiancée about the ordeal, but that last comment felt more personal. My drunken afternoon of picking out table settings and throw pillows for our hypothetical life together was a little embarrassing, yes, but not because I didn’t want to marry him. I didn’t need to be shamed for that.
“Listen, I’m taking the next step in my life that I’ve been ready for, for a while,” Adam said. He went on to say that he and his fiancée need a registry, he continued, stressing how “real” this problem was for him in what was certainly another dig. “When my friends and family search for my wedding, there are two options and it’s creating a lot of confusion. Can you just help me clear this up? Can you log in and take it down, please?”
I apologized for the trouble, made a promise that I would fix everything, and hung up the phone, glad to be done with the conversation and ready to put the whole thing behind me. But as it turned out, agreeing to delete the thing proved a lot easier than actually doing it.
My first attempt at logging into my account on TheKnot.com totally failed. I’d forgotten my password, and the reset-password email routed back to an old work account I no longer had access to. I called the department store my registry was linked to and was told they could erase the registry, but that wouldn’t resolve the issue of our names and fake wedding date showing up in the search on the Knot. I tried calling the Knot’s customer-service line, but was told they were only able to help with subscription-related problems. I finally found a general inquiries email address and wrote a plea for help, confessing that I had used their site to create a fake registry “just for fun” and now required urgent help removing it, as the groom “is actually engaged and planning his real wedding.” I ended by writing, “I feel awful as I am preventing them from planning their wedding due to this,” and enclosed my cell phone number just in case they had any questions.
I emailed Adam to let him know the measures I had taken to rectify the situation. While he’d wanted a more immediate solution, we were both hopeful that someone would reply to the email within a few days.
No one ever replied — and in their defense, what could they even say? A few days later, though, I got a text from Adam saying that the registry had been removed. I knew that would likely be the last time he and I ever spoke.
For a split second, I wondered how things would be different if I had chosen the life Adam wanted instead of forging my own path. He had found someone to share a life with; they could register for fancy dinnerware and an insanely expensive electric mixer for their real wedding, that would take place on an actual day, and send it out to real people who would purchase the things they registered for. I, in contrast, got drunk and played pretend. It was difficult to see where they were, and realize just how far I was from it. But I would be okay. I had my freedom, and an entire future full of potential registries still ahead of me.