We receive (too) many emails about the horror that can be the bridal shower. In fact, a post on Bridal Shower Survival has been our number one request recently. Why? Well, in talking it over with Meg, I called the bridal shower a “festival of obligations.” I think that’s why they’re so fraught. The guests feel obligated, the host feels obligated, even the guest of honor (as many of you know) feels obligated. There’s a felt responsibility to be adequately surprised (if that’s the schtick), to open all of your endless gifts in front of your guests and continue to be excited after the twelfth spatula set, and to make sure that all of the guests are enjoying themselves after the twelfth spatula set (even though that’s beyond your control).
The other tough piece about bridal showers is one of the harder lessons of adulthood, period: learning how to be nice, without doing anything that makes you uncomfortable. That’s pretty much the sum of how I expect you to act at your bridal shower, ladies. Be grateful, be nice, even get a smile on your face. But don’t feel pressured to take part in rituals, jokes, or whatever else you find offensive. Practice the art of the polite, “No, thank you.”
Don’t get me wrong! They’re not all terrible. And even painful showers can be endearing. After all, even if you don’t enjoy strained party conversation and tea sandwiches, you can usually appreciate that all of these people that love you have gathered together to honor you. Even if you, as the friend of the bride, aren’t gunning to sit in a crowd of strangers and play party games, you’re probably still genuinely excited for your friends and happy to help give them things to start their lives. That’s sort of nice, right?
Here are just a few of the many emails you guys sent in on the topic:
My parents are divorced and live in the same town. I’m not psyched about having a bridal shower, but I know my family wants one. I talked to my mom and she happily agreed to throw a low-key jack and jill bbq for both sides of my family to attend on a weekend that I’m back in town.
I was happy with the compromise but recently heard through the grapevine that my dad’s side of the family didn’t think this plan was “nice” enough and are throwing me a second surprise shower on the same weekend and inviting ALL of the same guests. I feel like this is terribly inconvenient for guests and makes me look like a present grubber.
How do I turn down a shower I’m not even supposed to know about without offending half my family?
That sounds terrible. My first question is, “How did you find out?!” because if you could relay that information back in the same way you heard it, it could save everyone some grief. You wouldn’t have to cop to finding out about the surprise, but you could let it pass back through the grapevine that this is a TERRIBLE idea. (Really? The same guest list, guys?) Chances are that flat out approaching your family with an, “I heard about this and I don’t like it,” means trouble in two ways. Not only do you risk outing your information source, but you of course end up insulting their grand vision. If you stealthily pass the information along, at least you don’t get your tipster in trouble.
There’s a good chance you won’t be able to stop this terrible shower from happening. It sucks. But, realize that in their weird, backward way, your family is trying to love on you. Sure, family drama being what it is, it’s very possible that they’re trying to one-up the other side of the family or show the guests how fancy and classy they are. But even that might be rooted in some deep, deep down root of love for you, way deep down there.
Luckily, most smart shower guests realize that what happens at a shower isn’t up to the guest of honor. Anyone who puts two and two together will know that you’re not throwing either of these showers, so don’t be concerned about anyone thinking that you’re just scouting for more gifts. Besides, if I was invited to two showers for the same person, I’d take my originally planned gift and split it in half. Or, just bring a card the second time. And that’s if I even went to the second one! Your friends and family want you to feel supported and loved as you get ready for marriage. Most of them will know that this doesn’t necessitate attending every event, nor bringing a big old gift each time. This falls under the heading of “trust people to be adults.”
Those few snide old ladies who whisper behind their gloves about how greedy you are really are just looking for something interesting to talk about, anyway. Canasta and bingo only go so far.
A couple of people (close friends, family, etc.) want to throw me a shower. To clarify, these people are from different social groups, so there would be no overlap on the guest list. Honestly, I’m excited by the idea of some of these showers, and scared by the idea of others. Do I have to accept all the showers? If not, how do I turn them down? If I accept, can I weigh in on what happens at the showers? What do I do if the showers come with gender expectations I’m not comfortable with, or hosts I don’t like?
Not Open To Having Any Number (of) Kooky Showers
Dear NO THANKS,
Kind of a terrific problem, isn’t it? Too many friends want to throw you too many parties? I need friends like this.
You can graciously and gratefully turn down a few of the showers if it seems like there will be more than you can handle (and really, more than three is just sort of ostentatious). The easiest way might be to let friends know off the bat, before any parties are even discussed, that you’re hoping to keep pre-wedding festivities to a minimum. Simply telling friends that you really appreciate the thought, but would rather save everyone the stress might do the trick. You can offer to connect friends so that all social circles are included in one mega shower, but even that is probably unnecessary since it’s likely that you’ll get to approve the guest list and add anyone who was mistakenly forgotten.
As far as other specific expectations, you can gently offer those. In fact, the hope is that whoever is throwing the shower knows you well enough to know what’s up (ha! A bunch of other brides just laughed along with me, I promise), or cares about you enough to maybe ask for some input. Otherwise, remember that requests are nice. Demands are not. Because the thing about showers (like gifts and other things) is that they’re an aspect of the wedding that’s not all about you. Sure, it’s a party in your honor! But, this is one piece of the wedding where you’re not calling the shots. You get to just sit back and (gulp) enjoy what everyone is doing to honor your marriage. Sometimes you’ll be asked what you’d like or you’ll have the room to voice preferences, but if those preferences are ignored, sorry pal. Tough luck. This may be a party for you, but it’s not about you.
That holds true for most of the shower planning details. The one exception would be setting boundaries about anything that would make you feel uncomfortable. I’m not talking about, “I prefer my luncheons to be served before the eleven o’clock hour,” (that’s why I eat two lunches, sweetie) but instead, “Please no strippers at any party in my honor.” See the difference there? It seems like a fine line (and I’m sure you guys are gonna let me have it in the comments), but there is a real difference between, “There must be pink napkins!” and “No pig roasts at the bridal shower for the vegan couple.” We’re talking grand scheme decisions here, not the minute details.
You’re hosting the wedding—you get to make your own decisions, big and small, according to your own whims and preferences, choosing when and how to cater to the desires of others. The specifics of the shower just aren’t your call. We could debate about whether or not it’s rude for your host(ess) to ignore your request (it probably is), but there’s not too much we can do about that except figure out how to respond. Wedding-related or not, the most gracious way to react to something given from someone (even if it’s not something you want), is to accept it with a “thank you.” And, perhaps a gulp from a big old glass of champagne.
What are you are able to control is your own behavior at the shower. If there are gender roles that make you feel uncomfortable, you aren’t required to quietly slide into them. Don’t feel comfortable holding up a brand new set of lacy panties for the eyes of a roomful of your elderly in-laws? Discretely tuck them under your chair and signal a “thank you” to the giver. Brace yourself. That stuff can be awful and eye-roll inducing. But you don’t need to be a part of it (just enough to, you know, come back with juicy funny horror stories for us in the comments). You do, however, need to be nice.
So, a family member threw me a shower. Let’s just sum the whole thing up by saying it was unpleasant and uncomfortable. People said things that hurt my feelings, I was forced to play at being someone I’m not (the girl who opens girly presents with bows on her head!) and I’m not over it. I know the easy answer is “water under the bridge, just move on” but I feel like it brought up some painful realities of what people want from me in my new job as “wife” and who I actually am. What do I do with all these feelings? How do I get these bows off my damn head?
In Horrible Anxiety, Taking Extra Breaths Over Wedding Stress
Dear I HATE BOWS,
Oh, sweetie! Don’t even give this a second thought. Yes, it’s possibly true that people expect you to slip into some ready-made mold for what a wife should be. But, the happy difference between a shower and, you know, marriage is that this room of thirty or forty people isn’t going to be there sitting on folding chairs balancing punch cups on their laps. They all gave you pots and pans and dishrags, right? And made jokes about how you’ll be cooking for and cleaning up after your spouse? They won’t know if you don’t, and even better, they don’t have any say in the matter.
There’s something about showers that encourage the most awkward, rude, assumptive, and sexist comments. All of these little old ladies suddenly become dirty male chauvinists. It’s something in the air or the macaroni salad, or maybe there’s a small-print line on every bridal shower invitation, but there always seems to be at least one question about when you’re going to get pregnant, a comment about wedding night sex, and/or encouragement to “get used to” some sort of terrible marriage trope.
Like getting your period or bra shopping, the bridal shower is a crude initiation into a weird club. Now we can all chat like girls! We all know how it is, now. The way your mom knowingly nods and smiles when you say you’re feeling crampy is probably the same way she’ll knowingly nod and smile if you ever complain about your spouse. You’re in the club! But being in this club doesn’t require any sort of participation grade. You don’t need to fit into a wife mold, you don’t need to join in with the round of partner complaints, and you certainly don’t need to wear dumbass bows on your head. But, like any other initiation into a club, they had to humiliate you somehow, right?
Team Practical, how did you survive your bridal shower? Did you manage to make it something of your own, representative of your relationship?
Photo: Julie Randall Photography.
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!