Hitched: How Many Pre-Wedding Parties Is Too Many Pre-Wedding Parties?

Shortly after Patrick and I got engaged, my mom called with a request that was so cute, I didn’t know what to say: “The ladies at church want to throw you a bridal shower.”

The “ladies” in question were women who had watched me grow up in our small-town Methodist church, with whose daughters I attended countless birthday parties, bunked with at church camp and defied the chaperones at all-night lock-ins for Jesus.

I was touched. I hadn’t had a conversation with these women for years and yet they wanted to throw me a party. And not just any party. A presents party!

Trouble was, the thought of having a bridal shower freaked me out. I am a shameless extrovert who will never turn down a shot at being the center of attention, but I couldn’t imagine myself surrounded by doting friends and family, opening silver-bowed presents amid tables of canapés and fizzy brunch drinks.

I’d already told my person-of-honor that she was excused from shower-throwing duty; I didn’t expect to have to politely decline another opportunity to get free shit. And yet, politely decline I did.

I am all about giving gifts to celebrate milestones; after all, humans have been marking special occasions this way since the dawn of time. But something about going for a wedding shower thrown by well-meaning church ladies I hadn’t talked to in a decade seemed grabby to me.

I’ve written before in this column about the bizarre phenomenon of wedding registries in an era when so many couples already cohabitate before marriage. You’ve already gotten one of the greatest gifts life can give — a forever partner — and on top of it, you also get carte blanche to ask people to upgrade your toaster situation!?

I could not let the nice church ladies upgrade my toaster situation.

Mostly, I wanted to make sure my friends and family didn’t go through multi-party burnout in the months and weeks leading up to our wedding. On the other hand, I wondered if I was denying my mom and her friends an opportunity to participate in a rite they’d come to expect and appreciate as a communal, it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child event.

I blame, as I usually do, the Wedding Industrial Complex, for making a consumer spectacle out of something that feels natural and good — giving gifts to our loved ones. I simply didn’t know how to have a presents party without having a gimme-gimme party, and I didn’t feel like trying. There’s a point at which gifts gladly given start feeling like gifts grudgingly expected.

Because we’ve all heard of — or maybe even been part of — that marathon wedding that seems to begin with an engagement party, segue into a friend shower, continue with a work shower, soldier on through a lingerie shower, detour into a honeymoon shower, and that’s before the destination hen and stag nights that precede the day-of brunch, the wedding itself (oh right, the wedding!) and, if that’s not enough, a send-off luncheon the next day.

Maybe I over-corrected in not having any pre-wedding showers, or an engagement party, or a “real” bachelorette party. I’ve certainly been to some excellent pre-wedding shindigs in my day — the couples shower being my favorite, since it centers the experience on the people getting married, rather than putting the bride on a pedestal as some kind of magical princess who’s finally found her true place in the world vis-a-vis a man.

Indeed, men can expect a maybe an engagement party, and a pre-wedding bachelor party, but beyond that, their friends and family are largely off the hook in the fiscal fawning department. But woe unto the women, who have to walk a fine line between grabby and gracious. That, I think, was what turned me off of the pre-wedding bonanzas more than anything else: the fact that, as a woman, I was expected to welcome them, while that wasn’t the case for Patrick.

And yet, I write this column directly from my wedding trampoline. Yes, my wedding trampoline. Or rather, our wedding trampoline, the incredible group gift that arrived by Fed-Ex truck last year, in the heaviest single package I’ve ever encountered. I barred myself from jumping on it before the wedding, lest I be forced to trade my heels in for a cast and flats. But now, it’s become a go-to writing spot for sunny afternoons, and a go-to bad idea for everyone who’s had a couple of beers at any of mine and Patrick’s many backyard barbecues.

I treasure it because I think it operates in the true spirit of what wedding gifts should be: items that help new families create those little villages of friends and loved ones they’ll need in their lives going ahead.

I wonder if the church ladies want to come over and jump sometime.

Email me at [email protected] Follow me on Twitter.