The news comes, inevitably, by phone: a call from your friend, or a picture text chirping a “left hand update!,” or an Instagram post with the engagement ring blinking out below a fresh manicure. And you’re happy for your friend, you are, because she and her bae are perfect together, and/or you’ve been hearing a lot about how ready she was for it to happen, and/or you know she’s been dreaming about her wedding ever since, as a toddler, she latched onto that final scene from The Little Mermaid (the objectively creepy one where Ariel dons a white gown and boards a ship with this near-stranger named Eric, and they wave cheerily to the family and community she’s leaving behind). But whatever, Ariel’s happy, and so is your friend, and her joy is your joy.
But your implicit agreement, once all this wedding stuff thrusts itself into gear, to make the bride-to-be as happy as humanly possible throughout the entire process has its limits. Or rather, it should. And here’s exactly where: the out-of-control, over-the-top, ever-escalating bachelorette parties women have been outdoing themselves for.
These days, “bachelorette party” almost never means a single, confined party—it implies an entire trip, studded with sightseeing and bourbon tastings and a private Pilates class and penis straws and champagne brunches and male strippers or just scantily clad bartenders-for-hire and nice meals out and a VIP table at the club. It’s all basically compulsory (no matter how many times the bride insists it’s totally optional), and if you’re going to pass, you’ll need a much more convincing and apologetic excuse than simply, “Not for me.” But damn is it not for me. Bachelorette party fever is out of control. I am not here for it.
Since we’ve lost our collective minds about the blessed event, let’s review, shall we? The original idea behind the tradition was to take a spouse-to-be out on his (yes, just his) last night as a “single” person, whooping it up before he signed on for a lifetime with one vagina. “Bachelor parties became more commercialized in the 1960s, as honeymoons also became a mass affair,” explains Laura Essig, Ph.D., a sociology professor at Middlebury College and author of the forthcoming book Love, Inc.: Travels in the Land of Romance and Capital. “Prior to the 1950s and ‘60s, most people who got married could not afford a honeymoon, but as resorts like the Poconos opened up or more couples had cars to go to Niagara Falls, honeymoons became democratized, and then bachelor parties also became more common.”
Second-wave feminism saw the creation of bachelorette parties, she explains (before that, women only got bridal showers), and as air travel picked up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we started filling out passport applications for the privilege of seeing our friends downing shots and donning cheesy bride-to-be sashes in exotic locales.
Interesting, yes, but none of this answers my real question: How the hell did the per-person cost of a bachelorette party mushroom to the price of a used car? One simple reason is that, even as fewer people are getting married, those who are are older, more educated, and wealthier, so they (and presumably their eight best girlfriends) have money and time to spare.
But Essig also ties the trend to these batshit times we’re living in. “As the world gets more and more precarious, more and more of us turn to a ‘privatized’ vision of the future.” It’s not logical, but in an uncertain world, the idea of capital-R Romance gives us hope—a kind of idolatry fed by increasingly extreme engagements, weddings, dresses, diamond rings, and, you guessed it, bachelorette parties. Essig explains: “Bachelor and bachelorette parties have become spaces for extreme spectacle and a public display of excess.”
Which brings me to the first and most obvious problem: the price tag. One in four millennials spends $800 or more on a single bachelorette party, according to a survey from Priceline.com. That’s absurd. That’s a new computer. That’s five weeks’ worth of food. That’s nearly the median U.S. rent.
And you won’t just be paying for a flight and the fancy Airbnb. Today there are mandated matching outfits to shop for, limos to book, penis-shaped things to buy, and gifts—so many gifts. Bachelorette parties now almost always include some kind of lingerie shower with that bizarre game where the bride guesses who selected which underwear for her and why (sounds like something a white, cis, male movie executive invented for a film about female friendship). And it means that, at minimum, I’ve bought my friend a bridal shower present, lingerie, and a wedding gift. But this isn’t the 1950s and you are (most likely) neither moving out of your parents’ place to stock a new home together nor are you nervously putting together a first-time boudoir of sexy trappings for your very special wedding night. Isn’t everyone’s presence (and collective vacation days) present enough?
Bachelorette parties also involve a bewilderingly booked-up itinerary that puts any other ladies’ weekend to shame. Seriously, if we don’t need a specialty in-home hot-sauce tasting on a normal girlfriend getaway, what is it about the word “bachelorette” that gets us scrolling through Angie’s List? Do brides actually have more fun when zero free time is allotted for talking to partners back home or checking emails or going for a run or nursing hangovers? Get moving, minions, there is a mandated fun to be had!
Speaking of having fun with strangers, is anyone really that into sharing a bathroom (and sometimes even a bed) with her friend’s fiancé’s half-sister? Real talk: I love you, but I don’t care about meeting your other friends. Seriously, not at all, 0 percent. I said “no” to attending a friend’s shindig recently, and then the other weekend the bride-to-be, mentioning a story about one of her bridesmaids, said, “It’s just too bad you can’t meet her before the wedding.” Why? Why would it benefit anyone for me to spend three days with this woman before I spend three hours with her (during which we won’t speak because she’ll be with her friends and I with mine) and then go back to never seeing her or thinking about her ever again?
Look, I have had fun on bachelorette excursions and I like getting to spend some extra time with the bride, knowing I won’t get too much of her attention during the wedding. But I’m going to come right out and say it: We are making too big a deal out of the wedding circus and the bride’s complete, sustained happiness.
I can feel some of you as-yet-unengaged readers nodding along with me, but will you change your tune the second you’ve got a diamond on your fourth finger? I get that kind of thinking, I do: I shelled out for every bride-friend before me, and dammit, I deserve the same. But that makes you no better than the mean upperclassman hazing new sorority pledges or the uppity manager treating the assistant like shit.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Bachelorette parties could be planned for a smaller crowd that already gets along, for example. (True story: I’ve been invited on bachelorette weekends for brides who didn’t even tell me about their engagement firsthand. Um, pass.) They could be truly optional or strategically located so everyone isn’t staring down a $500 plane ticket. (According to the Priceline.com survey, 39 percent of people opt out of a wedding event because of the cost.) They could even—gasp!—be a one-night event the same weekend and in the same city as the wedding, so that out-of-towners don’t have to miss out.
And finally, they could just be chill, for fuck’s sake: a night of drinking good wine and enjoying one another’s company like grown-ass women. Because do we really need a private yacht and a private barre instructor and a private chef to make the whole thing “special”? It’s special enough that homegirl’s getting married, right? Just as it’s special and awesome and worthy of celebration when a friend scores an amazing new job or finishes med school or gets her first book published. It’s incredible, and we love you, and we’re really, truly happy for you. Just maybe not $1,500 happy for you.