Though it took place over a decade ago, I can still picture the bride being carried aloft on a cheap plastic chair, blindfolded, as oiled-up men gyrated around her. I remember feeling very alone at the crowded male strip club. I also remember the shoes I wore. They were red sandals with sensible heels, and by their appearance should have been very comfortable. Instead, less than an hour into the evening, they had begun to brutalize my feet, which, by the time I got home, would be covered in tiny wounds. For a long time, I viewed bachelorette parties like I viewed those shoes. They had the appearance of comfort, the promise of a good time. But all too often, returning home from a bachelorette party, I felt covered in tiny wounds of the sort that take a surprisingly long time to heal afterward.
I’ve been to more than twenty weddings in my lifetime, which means I’ve been to nearly as many of those B-word events. Even before the strip-club experience, I’d never enjoyed the corny gag gifts, the penis pasta, the games that seemed to imply the bride’s years of fun were about to be over forever, or that she’d never lived at all before meeting this husband-to-be. While I knew these things were just not true, I also feared what such illusions might portend for our friendship: Would this friend, in marrying her husband, no longer be my friend? Worse, at so many bachelorette parties it seemed everyone was trying so hard—to have The Best Time Ever, to make this Last Single Night count, to prove Something—that they barely resembled the friends I’d loved for so many years before any engagement was announced. I understood these parties were important to my friends, though, and I wanted to support them and their relationships. So I went. And went. Until that night at the male strip club, when I’d had enough. Sorry, calling in sick.
A few months ago, though, another invite came. A good friend was getting married in another country. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to attend the wedding, so I went to the bachelorette. We sat in my friend’s living room and ate and drank for hours, talking about the same things we’d always talked about. Yes, there was a moment in which penis-shaped treats were served, but the giggling that emerged was anything but forced or rote. “These are deliciousness!” someone shouted. It was deliciousness. That’s when I realized that the beating heart of a great bachelorette party is friendship: the connective, protective web between those present, the community of support that will continue even as individual life paths diverge. What had upset me wasn’t the strip club. It was that in all the orchestrations for this grand event, we’d forgotten what we were really there to celebrate. If the wedding is about the couple, the bachelorette is about the bride and her friends, and the roles they’ve played in each other’s lives. It’s different than a typical night, yes, because one of you is about to get married, but it’s special because of what always has been.
Jen Doll’s memoir Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest is out in May via Riverhead Books.