Here’s what I’ve learned about raising boys… if you keep ’em busy, they’re fine. You let ’em get bored, they’ll dismantle your house board by board. ~ Kenny Rogers
Another age-old custom is that of the bachelor party — or stag party, as it’s called in the U.K., Canada and New Zealand. Dating back to ancient Sparta in the 5th century BCE, a celebration was held to honor the groom on his last night as a single man. As Spartan men were restrained and frugal it can be assumed that such celebrations were quite reserved. As the bachelor party evolved it remained a rather staid, decorous and tame occasion; the men smoked cigars, exchanged anecdotes and toasted the bride in absentia.
As civilization approached modern times, the bachelor party unfortunately changed into an occasion for men to behave badly. Here are a few highlights from three recent generations:
- 1896 – The swanky Fifth Avenue bachelor party of Herbert Seeley Barnum, grandson of P.T. Barnum, was raided by the vice squad when a report was received that there would be dancing in the altogether. Then Superintendent of the New York City Police Commission and future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt even got into the act defending the raid. It was a nifty little scandal.
- 1949 – Squeaky clean gentleman actor Jimmy Stewart had quite a raucous affair at the legendary Chasen’s in Hollywood. Apparently the actor who played Lollypop Munchkin from The Wizard of Oz was hired to dress up and…well, we won’t go into that. Suffice to say it was not the kind of party you would imagine for the star of It’s a Wonderful Life.
- 2004 – A gross indiscretion by Mario Lopez of Saved By the Bell, Extra and Dancing with the Stars fame at his bachelor party might have contributed to his marriage failing.
The common denominators in the above three bachelor party meltdowns are money and fame, leading to all sorts of bad choices. I do believe that the Spartans had the right idea at the start, but over time bachelor parties turned into occasions that came with acceptance that grooms and their friends would behave badly, including too much booze, women, gambling, blue movies and sometimes ill-advised true confessions — the sorry messes recorded first by Polaroids and later by current advanced technology that can send awkward images viral around the universe in seconds to compromise grooms and their friends.
Art Imitating Life?
Movies reflecting men-behaving-badly at bachelor parties and their repercussions include How To Murder Your Wife (1965), Bachelor Party (1985) and The Best Man (1999) to name a few. In these movies, the art is imitating — or perhaps creating — the sexist, even misogynistic, overtones of the stereotypical bachelor parties that occur in real life.
Thus, it might be the Hollywood vision of a bachelor party that fuels the absurd lengths to which some will go to outdo the next guy with the most expensive, alcohol-soaked, macho-man extravaganza that usually leaves everyone foolish and much poorer in every sense. It’s important to separate the fiction of screenplays from actuality.
Same-Sex Bachelor Parties
Unlike their straight counterparts, many gay grooms and lesbian brides eschew straight wedding customs, including the bachelor party. Tess Ayers and Paul Brown in their The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Weddings provide this explanation: “Maybe because many gays and lesbians had years and years of ‘boys’ and girls’ nights out,’ they just don’t feel the need to kick out the jams at this point.”
Just as in the planning of any the pre-wedding rituals for either member of the straight wedding couple those wishing to plan showers or bachelor parties for one or both members of a gay couple should first learn what the brides or grooms prefer. Now that gay marriage has entered the mainstream of American life the rules of etiquette are evolving for same-sex couples and likely will affect straight wedding etiquette to some degree. The bottom line is know your wedding couple, straight or gay, and show respect and consideration for everyone’s individuality and preferences for celebrating. Always keep the lines of communication open.
Books, websites and other resources are emerging to help same-sex couples and their families and friends — both gay and straight — plan weddings and accompanying pre-wedding events; one of these is Wedding Wire’s GayWeddings.com.
Etiquette and Timing
Typically, the best man plans the bachelor party for the groom. Generally only the groom’s closest friends are invited, and depending on how tame or raucous the event will be the fathers of the groom and bride may be included — just ensure that if they are there are no shenanigans and the event is fairly wholesome and tasteful. You don’t want the father of the bride objecting to the wedding after seeing his future son-in-law drunk beyond reason (and perhaps blabbing inappropriately) or engaging in lap-dancing!
If the best man — or other attendant who wishes to organize and host — knows the groom well enough he could plan a surprise bash. Normally, however, it’s prudent to consult the groom to ensure that the bachelor party is one with which he will be comfortable. As well, trying to humiliate or set up the groom in compromising situations, complete with embarrassing photos or videos is really counter to the upbeat, supportive and joyful tone of a wedding and of friendship.
Sometimes the bachelor and bachelorette parties are combined, with both bride and groom being fêted by their closest friends, also ranging from very formal to very casual either over an afternoon, evening or weekend. And, in many cases there is no bachelor party at all, either due to preference, expense or time constraints. A few decades ago neither my husband-to-be nor those of my friends had bachelor parties; there was no interest as the women and men enjoyed each other’s company too much to bother. We even had mixed gender showers. Thus, there’s no imperative for a bachelor party, and if the groom is not enthusiastic don’t push it.
The bachelor party should be held at least two weeks before the wedding to allow time for recovery (it is a given that there will be imbibing) and the availability of the groom and his attendants for last-minute tasks. There is no value or joy in stressing the bride or the mothers of the bride and groom because the groom and attendants have disappeared when they are most needed.
Invitations should match the occasion. If the party is formal the invitations should be formal; if it’s informal or casual, invitations may be emailed, texted or phoned. Use your creativity to word the invitations and include the basics: what, when, where, why and if necessary, how.
The main things to remember are:
- As best man or other honor attendant you are responsible for the groom — his well-being, comfort and getting him to his wedding on time, in one piece, sober and not bankrupt!
- As the groom, you are expected to behave as a man in love and about to be married and keep your bride uppermost in your mind!
What the Bachelor Party Should Be (And Should Not Be)
Thus, to reiterate and summarize, a man who is about to embark on a life with a woman with whom he has fallen in love should not feel the need to spend a night or weekend (or longer in some cases) of drunkenness and debauchery, either by ogling partially or completely unclad women in person or watching “blue” movies or feeling the need to become blotto just for its own sake. By the time a man is a groom-to-be he should be past that stage of his life; if not, perhaps he’s really not ready to settle down. After all, a man in a committed relationship, married or not, is not really a bachelor and has no business behaving like a drooling and irresponsible adolescent when away from the true love of his life. For this reason, perhaps the “bachelor party” should be renamed to the “groom’s farewell-to-singlehood party,” or simply “groom’s party.”
So, in my view the true purpose of a bachelor party should be more reasonably to provide an opportunity for the groom-to-be to spend quality time with friends that he might not be able to do as often after getting married. Married life obviously is different from single life; priorities change, time is shared with one’s spouse and new family and friends, children come and time becomes even scarcer. Whether it’s a swanky black-tie dinner at someone’s club, a weekend backpacking or fishing trip, night at the bowling alley with dinner at the pub afterward, movie night at someone’s home with take-out, or an evening at the theatre make it a meaningful occasion for the groom and a send-off full of fun and good memories. Risking one’s neck, health, relationship or pocketbook makes no sense.
For the groom’s friends who are already married the bachelor party provides a change of pace and an occasion to get together with the guys for a reunion of sorts. Whether the groom and his friends are twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings or beyond, planning a bachelor party that brings friends together in a mature and responsible manner can be enjoyable, meaningful and memorable in the moment and in the long run.
Until next time,