There is something excruciating about the rare experience of a bachelorette party when you’re in your mid-thirties. Gone are the days of putting on your slinkiest dress and a sash that says “Bachelorette Party” (but that means “Buy me a drink, I’m not the one getting married and I am using all of my mental faculties not to think about that”), going bar-hopping while cute guys buy you blow job shots, and dancing until dawn.
I knew this would not be that kind of party when the invitation indicated that it would be held at a house in the suburbs and that the gift I was to bring was a pair of panties that “represented my relationship with the bride.”
Perhaps I would have had a better attitude if this weren’t the same month my ex and I had been planning on getting married. I had a Pinterest board to plan it, which is how you know it’s serious. But between the pinning of plumeria flower bouquets and this bachelorette party, he had cheated on me, we had broken up, and here I stood in the suburbs with a pair of panties for a bride that actually would be getting married this September.
The panties, by the way, had been a real debacle. I don’t enjoy choosing another woman’s panties under the best of circumstances, and these were certainly not it. Whatever lingerie you choose will inevitably be sending two simultaneous messages about you—who you are in bed, and who you think the future bride is in bed. Is she a sweet, soft, teddy kind of girl? Is she a leather strapped, Fredericks of Hollywood, crotchless see-through leotard kind of girl? There’s no way to know, and the pressure is on when your guess is unveiled at a highly public unwrapping of the underwear at the party. There’s nothing worse than watching sweet, lacy pink matching sets come out of innocent floral bags, knowing that your raunchy selection is three bags away, and is filled with penis confetti that is going to go everywhere. And now, a new stipulation–it had to represent my relationship with the bride? What did this even mean? Was she supposed to think of me when she put it on? Was she supposed to think of me when her new husband removed it with his teeth? In the end, I sweat it out in Target for an agonizing twenty minutes before a male colleague from work walked by. We made horrific but undeniable eye contact as I clutched handfuls of panties, varying in sluttiness. I threw everything back on a shelf, chose the most neutral black cotton panties I could find and ran for the suburbs.
The fact that just buying a gift had been a complete train wreck should have told me everything I would need to know about this party. As I walked in, the room laid out its cards. Besides the bride, I didn’t know a soul. Two women had brought their babies. Two women were visibly pregnant. All but one young woman was married. There would be no blow job shots tonight. I had been tricked into attending a shower disguised as a bachelorette party, and there was no escaping now.
As we ate dinner, the topic of choice was the ever-popular bachelorette party game, “Which birthing strategy do you prefer?” I don’t have children. I don’t want children. I have never wanted children. It still feels odd to me when new people ask me if I have kids, I reply “no,” and the conversation screeches to a halt like the ending jolt on a roller coaster. It is, however, fun to watch them squirm and try to find an appropriate response. “I’m sorry?” “That’s cool?” “Do you want mine?”
I work in theatre, and in improvisation, you are taught to never respond to a question with “no” for this very reason—it leaves your partner with no way to respond. You are always supposed to say “yes, and…” and then add new information to the scene. I’ve been trying to work this principle into this part of my life. “Do you have children?”
“Yes, and I sold them to a circus.”
“Yes, and they are invisible.”
“Yes, and no.”
I’m still workshopping it.
Luckily, the dinner conversation eventually came around to a topic I could actually contribute to, which was that I would not be able to attend the wedding because I am a playwright, and I would be doing a writing residency in Maine. This got a genuine round of “Wow!” “That’s amazing!” “Congratulations!” Which did feel like a small consolation prize for not having a preferred birthing strategy. Or a wedding.
After dinner, we moved on to a painful round of bachelorette games, including a round of “make lingerie out of toilet paper,” a team activity where one person is the model, and the other two wrap her like a sexy mummy. Nothing helps you make new friends like saying, “Sorry I just grazed your nipples while I wrapped you in toilet paper, Woman I Met an Hour Ago.”
The unwrapping of the panties wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. “I got you this matching panty set covered in margarita glasses, because remember that time we had all those margaritas?!” “We both like flowers, so I got you this nighty covered in flowers.” It seemed the other guests had struggled with the assignment as much as I had, and I was thankfully spared from having to explain my panties when Hannah, an older, slightly odd outsider in the group had accompanied her panties with a jumbo ziplock bag of “practical sex things you’ll need.” Wipes to clean up. A douche. A detergent that is “the best” at getting stains out of your sheets. The fun, sexy vibe of the moment was o-v-e-r, and the group quickly adjourned t the deck to make s’mores.
“What’s your favorite musical?” Megan, the young unmarried woman, who said she had always wanted to work in theatre, walked with me to the campfire. As I answered Sweeny Todd, I was thrown back to all the nights my ex and I had spent camping at Lake George, our favorite place, making s’mores by the campfire and convincing myself that I was genuinely happy—and sometimes being genuinely happy. I wondered how long it would take until every little thing didn’t remind me of some moment with him.
The campfire consisted of Danielle repeatedly telling us how babies love her face—every baby she meets is just obsessed with her funny face, she told us, while the actual babies at the party (BECAUSE THERE WERE BABIES AT THE PARTY) could not have been less interested in her face. From what I could tell, she was one of the only women in the circle who didn’t have children. Anna must have said “Trenton won’t let me” three times that night, referring to her husband.
“Is that a new tattoo?”
“Oh, no, it’s a stamp from an amusement park. I’d love to get a new tattoo, but Trenton won’t let me.”
Hannah, despite her official Woman Status of having a husband and children, remained an outsider after her traumatizing sex bag and took out her knitting, and started working on a blanket. She left without saying goodbye to anyone. No one seemed to notice when she left.
Megan continued to pepper me with questions about working in theatre, and how she had wanted to work in theatre, but, but, but. She hadn’t achieved Woman Status yet either, and we had a lovely conversation by the fire.
I looked around the circle at these women. I knew my bad attitude about this party had nothing to do with them. Well, very little to do with them. These weren’t bad women. It was Woman Status—having a husband and children—that had so clearly drawn the line in the sand not only between the women at this party, but women in all areas of life. I had arrived at this party insecure about being in my mid-thirties, suddenly single. The childless part didn’t bother me personally, but in a way, it kept me on the lowest rung on the ladder to Woman Status. My single, childless existence was where we had all been once—in our teens, in our early twenties. It’s where my little theatre friend Megan was at, and why, despite our different ages, she was the only one at the party I could connect with. I was still on the bottom rung, behind other women for my age. And all the feminism and writing residencies in the world don’t erase that deeply engrained, systematic feeling of inferiority.
But as I looked around the group, I realized everyone was alienated by their own rung of the ladder. Danielle was married but didn’t have children. Her obsession with making sure all the babies at the party liked her reeked of her desperation to make it to the next rung. Anna was married, with children, but with all her “Trenton won’t let me’s,” her spot on the ladder felt like a place you didn’t really want to get to. That she hadn’t wanted to get to. And Hannah, who by all accounts had reached the top of the ladder and achieved everything we were supposed to be striving for, had now gone “too far” past that, to the place of being an old, dowdy wife and mom who ruins the fun at the bachelorette party with a ziplock bag of practicality. She had achieved it all, but she wasn’t young or sexy or fun anymore, so she, too, was alienated. The only person who was “winning,” I suppose, was the bride-to-be. She was on the rung that said, “I’m moving forward, but I’m still a good time.” Even her success was temporary though—ten minutes after her wedding she’d be on that next rung, once again insufficient while everyone asks her when she’s having kids. As I ate my s’more and looked around the circle, it occurred to me that my broken engagement wasn’t a reason to feel so insecure. My career wasn’t a reason to feel secure. It didn’t matter. Everyone here was insecure. Even Megan, my little theatre friend, was insecure about having a dream to work in theatre but being too scared to pursue it. Insecurity, it seemed, was inevitable. But now, I realized, I wasn’t insecure and married to the wrong person.
As the night wrapped up, I was one of the last ones to leave—at 9:30 (WHOO WILD SATURDAY NIGHT BACHELORETTE PARTY!). As I said my goodbyes to the remaining women and headed for the door, Megan called out, “I wish I had your life!”
And for that moment, I was glad I did.
Jenny Stafford is an award-winning playwright, lyricist, and essayist. BROADWAY: Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour. OFF BROADWAY: The Artist and the Scientist, Two Bugs are Better than One. REGIONAL: The Homefront, Extended Stay, Prodigy, Awakening, Beating a Dead Horse, Secret Hour. INTERNATIONAL: Some Kind of Weasel, Alive, Paramour. Publications: Pioneer Publishing, The Colorado Sun, The Ponder Review.