Hen dos are often a topic of contention, and that’s when you’re getting a holiday out of it. Rachel Cleeves, self-confessed hen do hater, just experienced her first virtual one – and this is why she wouldn’t log in again.
In my opinion, hen dos are always a bit of an awkward one. As a bride (and I can say this, because I’ve done it) you’re asking a group of people to come together – who often don’t know each other – and spend a lot of their hard-earned money just because you fell in love.
In theory, it’s lovely. In reality, it leads to a lot of grumbling about mounting costs, using annual leave and social anxiety for those going along on their own.
So, you’d think that a virtual hen do would erase a lot of these problems. There’s no annoying WhatsApp group with the same “hey hens it’s me again – who can send me this month’s deposit?”, and for that matter, no money involved. You don’t have to go anywhere, and considering we’re all in lockdown anyway, what else do you have to do with your time?
Well, after the experience I had – I can think of plenty. Yep, even cleaning out my fridge would have come further up my list of desired evening activities.
My friend lives abroad and had flown home for her picturesque English countryside hen in which we were supposed to be glamping and doing outdoorsy activities like air rifle shooting, long walks and toasting marshmallows. You know, all the good stuff (read: drinking a lot of wine).
Sadly, her hen had to be cancelled, and considering her August wedding might not even be on the cards, it’s been a difficult time for her. To try and cheer our bride-to-be up, her mum thought it would be a nice idea to surprise her with a virtual hen do. She very sweetly reached out to all of us before and asked if we’d be keen and promised to organise the whole thing.
On the day of the hen, my friend texted me to say her mum had woken her up with a pancake breakfast, organised champagne for lunch and even got out her own wedding dress from the 80s and dressed her up in the veil, promising her something was coming.
And, of course, by 5pm all 18 of us were awkwardly grinning away at our friend on Zoom, with gin and tonics in hand. Surprise!
This sounds harsh but to be completely honest, my initial thoughts on a virtual hen were: absolutely fucking not. I already hate video calls and sitting online in stilted silences, time delays and camera glitches really isn’t my idea of a good time.
I accept my point of view is very biased, especially because I only knew one other person in the group, so I was already expecting to feel like a spare part. The bride has two main groups of friends – from school and university – so if like me, you weren’t part of a gang it was very hard to get involved in any conversations.
You see, in person, I would have made the effort to introduce myself properly and spent time with people to get to know them. But even though I knew that wouldn’t really happen on a video call, I hadn’t expected just how awkward it would be.
Without being able to read the room, people constantly interrupted each other or spoke at the same time. Both then retracting and refusing to carry on, until they succumbed in unison and spoke over each other again. Often, people would respond to something, the call would glitch and their opinion came in too late when the conversation had already moved on.
As the call continued, I felt more and more withdrawn and had less desire to even try and wedge myself into the conversation. Let me tell you, forcing a fake smile and staring blankly at a screen for hours without any interaction is literally painful.
The other problem? Life stages. The participants’ home lives were drastically at odds with each other. I would say around half the group had children, while the others were much more of the ‘party’ attitude.
I have a one year old, so it’s been tricky keeping her entertained at home in lockdown. Although my husband helped, there were points in the call when I had to look after my little girl, as did other mums, which created a few issues.
Again, if we’d been on holiday together I would have loved the chance to let go of family life – but unfortunately right now that isn’t an option. Having half the group soothing their children, glancing back at the call every few minutes, and the other half screaming about dick pics and doing shots alone in their bedrooms was very jarring and I think made everyone feel a little uncomfortable.
But most importantly it didn’t give the bride the best experience because those of us putting our kids to bed couldn’t give her the attention she deserved. Plus, every time a baby came on the camera, everyone would coo and again the attention was removed from the woman who this whole virtual gathering was meant to be for.
The only structured game we had planned was a Mr and Mrs quiz, but as everyone’s signal kept cutting out, it didn’t really work. The whole call lasted just over two and a half hours, which with 18 people feels like a very long time. But as Zoom has a limit on minutes the end point came because it automatically cut out… and the most spine-tinglingly awkward thing?
Well, I signed back in, being the good ol’ pal that I am, but it was clear everyone else was also thinking that the call was dead in the water. So… only five other people called back, and I didn’t know any of them. Let me tell you, being stuck in a very silent virtual room is not a place you want to be.
After that, the remaining people made excuses and signed off, but I still feel like it was the right thing to do to come back and say goodbye properly to the bride and her mum.
If you’re thinking of holding a virtual hen do yourself, learn from my experience and take my advice:
Divide the hen into two groups
I think 18 people is just too many people on one call, especially if they don’t know each other. Although it’s lovely to bring friends together, no one can actually connect in this type of forum so it’s better to split off into groups that make sense. Whether this is because they know each other the best or they have similar home situations or children.
Think about a time that works for everyone
Holding a call at 5pm is the worst time for me because I have to start preparing my baby for bedtime. I appreciate this is a very specific example but if there are mums in your group, think about doing a time later on when they’ll be more present.
Be clear on a finish time
Please, please, please don’t put your hens through the dragging conversations when everyone is clearly ready to leave, but no one wants to be the first to bail. Cap the call at an hour and a half, make the finish time clear before and whoever is organising needs to be confident in calling it when it’s over so people can leave without feeling bad.
Make an itinerary before and share it with everyone
Some chatter time is great, but as it can be difficult to hear what everyone is saying, structure is key. I would advise three games at a max and making them activities everyone can join in on like a quiz.
Start with introductions
I felt strange speaking to people I didn’t know because I hadn’t had the chance to even tell them who I am, so even though it can feel a bit tedious, get everyone to do a quick hello at the beginning of the call with their name and how they know the bride.
Images: Getty / Unsplash