It was a beautiful summer day. I was surrounded by friends, new and old, celebrating our dear friend’s pending nuptials, and I was bored out of my mind.
Not the whole time. Just in those moments when the partnered people were venting about wedding planning or their mothers-in-law, and I had nothing to contribute. I didn’t want to give advice that was divorced from experience, and so, after politely nodding my way through the conversation, I ducked out to find the other single woman there, so we could bond over the experience of not having in-laws dote on us or DJs to hire.
Most of the time, bachelorette parties are a blast. When friends, sisters, cousins and others convene to celebrate a big moment in the life of someone they’re close to, the love in the room multiplies. New friendships form, older ones can reach new depths, and, yes, you often go home with outrageous stories about whatever happened at 2 a.m.
But the joy can be tinged with discomfort, too. Celebrating one person’s life-cycle event has a way of bringing out the insecurities in everyone else. Even though someone else’s wedding is not about you, “it makes you think about you,” says Charreah K. Jackson, author of “Boss Bride: The Powerful Woman’s Playbook for Love and Success.” “You’re reconciling where you are based on where you thought you might be … as you’re watching (a friend’s) life goals happen.”
And at any given bachelorette party, everyone there is likely to be struggling with something: It could be a relationship that’s falling apart, money or career problems, health issues, etc. If you feel like the odd woman out at one of these gatherings, I hear you. Here are some tips that could make the experience a tad easier.
• If you’re feeling uncomfortable, that’s normal.
“We assume that everything that will happen at life-stage events is as pretty as an Instagram post … and it’s often not like that,” Jackson says. “Give yourself permission to feel however you’re feeling.”
The weird thing about any bachelorette party discomfort I’ve felt in my 30s is that it usually comes out of nowhere. In my daily life in Washington, D.C., being a 30-something single woman is pretty normal. I’m rarely the sole single person in a room. Unless I’m at a bachelorette party and everyone is talking about partnered life.
Caroline Moss, co-author of “Hey Ladies! The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year and Way, Way Too Many Emails,” says this fish-out-of-water feeling is normal. “Bachelorette parties and everything in the wedding industry is designed to put a lot of pressure on whatever your relationship status is,” Moss says. “It feels very close to skin. At other functions that are wedding-related, no one seems to care” whether you’re single or not, she adds. But at bachelorette parties, the single friends are often singled out to do the things that married or partnered friends don’t have the freedom to do, which brings us to our next point.
• If there’s a potential for you to be uncomfortable, over-communicate.
If you have a hunch a bachelorette weekend might surpass what your bank account or emotions can handle, Jackson suggests telling the planners what you’ve budgeted for the weekend—or that you might need a break at some point. “If you are at a bachelorette party, these are people you actually care about. So don’t feel like you need to hide your reality or carry shame around your circumstances,” Jackson says, whether those circumstances are frail finances or raw emotions.
She remembers attending a bachelorette party right after a five-year relationship ended. “It was soothing in some ways,” Jackson recalls. The celebration was both “a reminder that love is all around, and it was also very sobering. It was a catalyst for me to let go of a lot and keep moving forward.”
• Come up with an exit strategy.
This is a good rule of thumb for everyone. Moss remembers one bachelorette party in particular where she felt a bit out of her league (the other women were big partiers). So when she noticed there were four sets of keys to their Airbnb, she snagged one. That way she could bail if the night got too crazy.
It’s about knowing your limits. “Assess the situation you’re in, and come up with a way where, if you start to get anxious, you have a way out,” Moss adds.
When Jackson was still smarting from that big breakup and she didn’t feel like socializing at her friend’s wedding, after the ceremony she skipped the reception to sit in Central Park and journal about what she wanted for her next relationship. “You’re going to a space with heightened emotions, so you have to tend to your own emotional needs urgently,” she says.
• Don’t automatically opt out of conversations, assuming you don’t have anything to contribute.
I left that mother-in-law conversation because I was bored. But I could have stayed. “There’s a misconception that single women have nothing to contribute to conversations about marriage,” Moss says, but that’s not true. There’s a lot single and married friends can learn from one another.
And of course, “being single doesn’t mean you don’t know how to navigate interpersonal relationships,” Moss adds. By now, several years into my friends’ marriages, I enjoy hearing about their in-laws. And they still love hearing about my dating life.
• Your married friends will want to live vicariously through you. Take it as a compliment.
When Moss was single, she remembers her married friends saying a version of: I’m married; I’m no fun anymore. You do the idiotic thing. Or at least entertain us with stories from your wild-and-crazy dating life!
Sometimes the single friend does want to tell these stories, or go kiss that cute stranger by the bar. But sometimes, she does not. And that’s OK, too. “Don’t over-promise to be the life of the party and then under-deliver,” Moss says. “Keep people’s expectations for you pretty low.”
• Take advantage of the best part of being single at a bachelorette party …
… which is the best part of being single in real life. “There’s the potential for something exciting to happen. You can flirt, and it can lead to something,” says Michelle Markowitz, who wrote “Hey Ladies!” with Moss. There’s no need to take time out from the festivities to check in with a boyfriend or husband. Plus, Moss notes, “Some of (my married friends) would make marriage sound really great, and sometimes they made marriage sound awful.”
• Celebrate what makes you different.
“If you feel like being single is sad, everyone will treat it that way,” Jackson notes. So if you’re the one person who’s different, you should celebrate that fact, Jackson says, because “what you feel about your circumstances is contagious.”
At one bachelorette party I attended, the bride made a toast to everyone in the group, singling out each person’s recent accomplishments: a new job or grad degree, or foray into stand-up comedy. It was a nice way to acknowledge that marriage isn’t the only achievement in a woman’s life worth celebrating. I’ll toast to that any day.
—Lisa Bonos | The Washington Post