Stylist’s picture editor Alessia Armenise dreaded hen parties, until a weekend away with her best friends changed her mind.
There’s no getting away from it: hen dos – or bachelorette parties, if you’re American – are divisive. Particularly because, nowadays, the average person has to use up their precious annual leave so they can attend the big event, not to mention fork out an eye-watering average of £507 for the pleasure (and that’s not including those hen dos which take place overseas).
So, in the run-up to my own wedding, I made a point of telling absolutely everyone that I wouldn’t be having a hen do of my own. My protestations didn’t come as a surprise to many people, other than a few startled colleagues. Everyone who knows me is well aware of one thing: I hate social obligations. I absolutely despise the idea of doing something that you don’t want to do, seeing people that you don’t want to see, and just going against your will to adhere to some kind of imaginary law which states that everybody else’s needs come before yours.
Don’t get me wrong, I will do things, attend important events and spend time taking care of the people I love. But, would I go to my random colleague’s birthday drinks on the other side of London on a rainy Friday night? No way. Would I attend a long lost cousin’s wedding in another country? Thanks, but no thanks.
See, I wouldn’t want people to see me or do things for me because they feel obligated to, and I don’t want to be psychologically harassed into doing something I clearly don’t want to do, or worse, I can’t do for any reason.
I had never really thought about the concept of not doing things you don’t want to do as a concept in itself before moving to England and discovering the crazy world of hen dos. Of course, I haven’t spent the last few years living under a rock, and I have been very much aware of social obligations, but the cult of hen dos here seems to be on a completely different level compared to the rest of Europe.
I have never actually been to a crazy hen do, or event to a demanding one… because I have never been to one. Back in Italy, a hen do is just a dinner, a night out or maybe a spa day – nothing unachievable. “Here in the UK,” says one of my colleagues who wishes to remain anonymous to save her friendships, “the least demanding hen do is a day filled with a constant stream of activities that are usually more than £50 each – it adds up pretty quickly.”
That seems to be a lucky scenario though. Around 70% of British hen dos take place in the UK, but a weekend in London, Bristol or Edinburgh is not necessarily cheaper than one in Marbella. The average spend on a hen do is £507 per person, and this doesn’t count the possible double hen dos (apparently that’s also a thing) and the wedding itself which, according to research conducted by Opinium for Mastercard, costs an average of £391 alone.
Going away for your best friend’s hen do might seem nice, but when you have seven weddings a year and just as many hen dos, you end up working only to spend that money paying for your friends’ celebrations. People I know have been asked to go to Marrakech, Copenhagen or Ibiza for hen dos, and I have heard of weddings in Greece, Italy or even Santo Domingo, when all locations had absolutely no connection to either the bride or the groom. I guess they just sounded nicer than Leicestershire (which is a lovely place). Thank god none of my friends married young – there is no way I could have afforded multiple demanding weddings in my early 20s and, to be honest, I probably couldn’t even now.
When I got engaged, I didn’t even for a second think about having a hen do. The wedding seemed stressful enough to organise and I didn’t want to ask my friends to spend money on both a hen do and the wedding. Plus, my best friends all live in different countries which made organising anything small and easy absolutely impossible (I will spare you the wedding drama on this occasion).
Fortunately, though, not all my friends are as cold and pragmatic as I am, and so I did end up having a hen do. In fact, the fact that me and my friends are all scattered around Europe actually meant that a destination hen do was fairer for everyone involved. Despite a few difficulties, they managed to find a place that was easy enough to get to from England, France, Italy and Belgium. Funnily enough, that place turned out to be Amsterdam, a favourite location of stags and hens, and also one of my absolute favourite cities in Europe: bingo.
To make sure I kept the weekend free, my friends gave up on any thought of surprising me and told me up-front what was going on. And, quite honestly, the whole idea of a bachelorette party filled me with fear. I was afraid of having to endure a male striptease – I put a veto on penis-shaped things, or penises in general actually – and I was afraid of getting caught in the middle of a fight or something equally dramatic. After all, the fact that all of these women have me as a friend in common doesn’t mean that they have to like each other. They did, though… or, at least, they faked that they did pretty well.
I tried not to interfere with any plans (apart from the afore-mentioned penis veto), but it was hard, as I hate passively waiting for things to happen. Eventually, after much pleading, I managed to convince them to let me book our accommodation. Eagerly, I set to scouring the web for hotels, but nothing felt quite right. After all, where’s the fun in going away with a big group of friends, only to find yourselves split up in different rooms in a hotel? With this thought in mind, I changed my search criteria: would there be a house big enough for all of us?
Turns out, there was: using Homeaway, I found a duplex in a lovely neighbourhood of Amsterdam, which even came with a little garden – well done me! I am going to call this a ‘positive interference’, very far from a Bridezilla moment…
I have to say, until we all touched down in Amsterdam, I was still not convinced at how enjoyable the hen do would be. Because I’d never been to one before, almost everything I’d heard about them consisted of horror stories from my British friends – some even got fired from their bridesmaid job for not ‘fulfilling their duties’. I guess the fear of the unknown got the best of me and made me forget that, sometimes (when they are good), your friends know you better than you think.
We had a fantastic two days, filled with laughter, love, food and other things that nobody else needs to know about. It was great fun but, most importantly, it reminded me of how pivotal it is to choose your people well. When living in a foreign country, far from family and childhood friends, your group of friends becomes a real surrogate family which you create and nourish. They end up being those you go to when you have a problem, the emergency contacts you use, those who will help you pack your stuff for a move and hear you complain about anything over a last minute drink. It’s the family you will meet for Sunday lunch, celebrate birthdays with and sometimes even spend Christmas with.
Now that I’ve been on a hen do, I see them as an amazing excuse to bring your friends together and enjoy how lucky you are to have some fantastic women in your life. Whether you’re going to a cottage in Devon or a villa in Ibiza, at the end of the day, the old saying “it’s not about where you are but who you’re with” is very true on this occasion.
The concept of a hen do still feels alien to me, but mine did change how I see them: as a chance to celebrate your most precious friendships. When done right, a hen party can be a great way for gathering all your best friends together, creating new links between them, celebrating the women in your life and enriching their lives by introducing them to some equally amazing women. Hen dos shouldn’t be an obligation, but a flamboyant celebration of sisterhood. A message to the brides, just enjoy it – everybody will have a good time if you do.