I remember once seeing Facebook photos of a group of women solemnly passing an inflated penis balloon around a Center Parcs chalet, and vowing that hen parties weren’t for me. Until now.
Having made it through my twenties safely steering clear of L-plates and bunny ears, I have finally succumbed… well, alright, I’ve been asked on one. Come May bank holiday, I will be ensconced in a tradition that I am simultaneously intrigued and horrified by.
Hen-party clichés are as entrenched as they come. They are the pink, glittery, fluffy, stilettoed, willy-adorned whirlwinds that rip through the high streets of Britain and, increasingly, across the Continent. They are the “Reserved for SHAZ’S HEN DO!!!!!!!” areas you back away from in pubs and clubs and the empty prosecco bottles that collect in Airbnb recycling bins.
Whenever I tell people that I’m yet to don a sash and tiara or make a wedding dress out of loo roll, they look incredulous. “What, never?!” they exclaim, like I have revealed an essential part of my womanhood is missing, that I never had a crush on a gay boyband member or that I never used roll-on body glitter.
I’m eyed with suspicion, as though I might be a woman who says, “I just don’t get along with other girls.” It’s not that – I have friends. (I definitely have friends.)
It’s just that most of them aren’t married (and some of them – gasp – never plan to!) or I didn’t know them when they were getting married or they didn’t have a hen party at all. Clearly, I gravitate towards people who feel the same way I do about taking fun sex-life quizzes in front of someone’s nan.
But it does feel like I’ve missed a grand rite of passage, albeit one that most women describe with the same level of fondness they adopt when talking about their first period.
Because, my vicarious experience of hen parties hasn’t exactly been encouraging. Merely mentioning a hen party generally has women elbowing each other out of the way to tell you their most horrifying experience.
From bridesmaids being hugely out of pocket because they’ve had to book train tickets for 15 stingy people they’ve never met and passive-aggressive WhatsApp groups to the split personality of one party turning from respectful, church-based chat into a filthfest of rude plasticine shapes and games with bananas.
It does feel like I’ve missed a grand rite of passage, albeit one that most women describe with the same level of fondness they adopt when talking about their first period
Money comes up more frequently than any other topic and, reportedly, the average cost of attending a hen party in the UK is £471.
One friend can’t go on holiday this year because all her spare cash is paying for hen parties and weddings, and another recounts spending more than she did on a whole European mini-break just to go from London to Liverpool on a Friday night.
Because a hen party now is apparently synonymous with a weekend away, which invariably means going on holiday with some people you’ve never met, like a sort of angry Love Island experiment.
There is no way that everyone can be pleased. Either you want an afternoon tea with naughty cupcakes or you don’t. The more diverse the party – pregnant friends, elderly relatives, basic schoolmates, too-cool-for-school colleagues – the more complicated it is.
The Pool’s Amy Jones remembers her hen do as planned perfectly by her bridesmaids and with “absolutely no penises”, but acknowledges that, even though she was delighted, her least musical friend was forced to endure a Frozen sing-a-long.
And so I’m feeling weirdly apprehensive about my first, fully fledged hen do. There’s a strange pressure not to reveal my newbie status, all while having the Most Fun Ever.
Knowing how little I care for wackiness, the whole mixed bag of hen-party paraphernalia makes my heart sink. I am fairly confident that my final straw is willy-shaped and I have zero interest in hilarious incidents involving a butler in the buff – apart from when some friends booked one for a bog-standard house party and then found it so awkward that they engaged him in small talk, including “Where did you go to university?”, before letting him go home early.
But the belief sustaining me is that, underneath all the whingeing from hen-party veterans, there must be more to it. Because a group of women hanging out, celebrating themselves and enjoying each other’s silly company, sounds lovely. And I have no qualms about throwing myself into an activity that makes a friend happy. That’s why I once went on a horseriding tour in Ecuador despite it being led by a chain-smoking Dutchman who didn’t believe in riding hats – so that I could see my pal beaming as she named her horse Chestnut and lived out a childhood dream.
As it happens, I’m pretty sure that my upcoming introduction to the world of hen parties will get the balance right between silliness (there will be glitter) and sensible (the budget is a long, long way below that £471). I know most people going and they are, without exception, delightful.
So, bring it on. At the very least, I’ll be able to weigh in on hen dos just as everyone else moves on to baby showers.