I wrote before about how crappy showers can be if they turn into merely transactional experiences (a means of present-getting) and how much better they are if you think of them as parties rather than showers (a good time for all rather than that obligatory list of hoops to jump through). I think those things go double when you’re throwing a bridal shower for a grown-up. When people get married really young their showers function kind of like a more advanced graduation party. Older family members and family friends show up with big checks or expensive gifts and there’s a giddy vibe of communal ownership/pride, celebration, and vague warning: You kids grow up so fast! You don’t even know what you’re getting into yet, ha ha! Crazy kids!
The whole idea of a bridal shower suggests a transition from adolescence to adulthood. The implication of all that kitchen gear and bathroom furnishing is that you’re establishing a household. When you get married right out of college this makes sense—you really are forming your own household for the first time. The women of your clan want to outfit you for a new kind of life and consequently you can throw out those funny plastic plates you got as a high school graduation present. (Just me?) After awhile though, the household thing kind of works itself out—shower-assisted or not. Especially now, when it’s less common to get married directly out of your parents’ dependent tax status, engaged couples have to worry as much about merging kitchens as they do registering. I assume it’s always nice to get a fresh set of sheets and I bet everyone has their eye on a few things that would complete their dream marriage kitchen, but generally, at this point you should have what you need.
I don’t think anyone can be 100% prepared for what marriage is, but things surely look different after you’ve tried a career or two and totally have a 401k…or at least feel guilty about still not getting what a 401k is about…ahem. You don’t need to learn how to cook, or manage your own money, or balance your time while working; you need to learn how to adjust those things now that you’ll be doing them with another person…forever. The kind of Important Life Event advice you need and want is different; the gifts you need or want are different; fewer showers happen in home towns; and they’re primarily attended by peers. I like when showers reflect the stage of life the bride-to-be is actually in.
When I throw bridal showers now, they’re for what my friend Saayeh would call grown-ass women. Their needs are different, their families live far away, they have fewer friends who live close by than they used to. In that situation, I find the best, most enjoyable way to celebrate the upcoming marriage of a lady friend is with a small, intimate bridal shower. Close friends, good conversation, no anatomical plates or decorations. In fact, a dinner party instead of a traditional shower.
Enter: my old roommate Jenny’s engagement. She spent years making a real home out of her rented apartment before she got married—investing in many things that usually show up on a wedding registry. She’s had a lot of the classic marriage kitchen supplies for awhile now. There were a few things she could use and wanted while establishing her marriage kitchen, but when talking about it she primarily stressed that, especially in combination with Ryan’s stuff, they did not need excessive replacements or improvements in gear. They already had the Le Creuset, the Kitchen Aid, the cast iron skillet, the juicer. For some people that wouldn’t matter; lots of people, really: West Elm subscribers, Pottery Barn addicts, anyone (even with the best intentions) who finds themselves in an Anthropologie, etc. But, on the one hand, unnecessary consumption is not exactly responsible or good; and in this case, despite her nice things and good style, Jenny is not what you’d call a stuff person. I’m sure she enjoys cute things as much as anyone who cares about cute things, but if she owned all of the cute things it would STRESS HER OUT. She’s an anti-hoarder. I’ve never seen someone get such a kick out of cleaning out closets and giving or throwing stuff away.
When she got engaged I wanted to do something special for her, but so did a lot of people. She’s terribly well-liked, that Jenny. So, instead of adding another shower-shower to the insanely busy mix, I decided to do something different and host a tiny dinner party for just a handful of her close friends. I figured she’d appreciate being able to relax more than she would enjoy a bash with a lot more presents. And, considering her stuff-stress with all the showers, I asked everyone to bring booze instead of presents from her registry.
If you’re friends with an anti-hoarder or engaged couple that has an aversion to stuff or more stuff, I highly recommend throwing something like a stock-the-bar shower (dinner party). If they’re DIYing their wedding food you could host a fancy cheese party close to the wedding day and take care of that hors d’oeuvre expense. If they’ve got a caterer but could use help with décor, ask people to bring candles or mason jars or cool old teacups or whatever they’re wanting. This could get weird with future mother-in-laws or grandmas, but with a small party for close friends the etiquette becomes a bit more flexible. That’s the joy of tiny parties—there are fewer sensibilities to take into account and you know who you’re dealing with. You can be more creative in the ways you celebrate and help out your friend, without giving in to rampant wedding consumerism if there’s no need to. (I mean, buy them plates if they need plates. If they really want a food processor, go for it. I’m not opposed to household goods on principle. Obviously.) But anyway, the point is that in small parties the focus tends to fall more on your relationship with the bride and less on your relationship with her registry. And that’s a good thing.
Beyond presents issues, small parties make it easier to orchestrate a good time for everyone involved—because you know what your friends like, and you only invited a few of them. Aware of the food habits of this handful, I could confidently make a meal consisting almost exclusively of vegetables without the fear that someone would be disappointed or wonder when the main course was coming. Jenny’s favorite thing is vegetables, but if a football team were invited to the party I would not exclusively make vegetables—despite it being Jenny’s special day. Four skinny, health-conscious women? Vegetable party.
We played no games and did no groom interviews. I do occasionally enjoy shower games and activities; but when you’re only dealing with five people, the need for formal entertainment kind of disappears. Especially on this occasion, when the point was more to relax and enjoy each others’ company than hype up a celebration time, games seemed like they would get in the way. When everyone feels free to really talk about marriage and sex and jobs and last name choices—and not just towel colors and the Great China Plates Debate (should you get them!?!? will you use them!?!? I don’t care), I find it best to roll with that. We ended up talking about lingerie for a long time and laughing hysterically. Success.
I was going to post the recipe for that stuffed acorn squash, but then I got to thinking…it’s midsummer. And that would be stupid. I’ll save it to post when all we want to do is drink apple cider and roast root vegetables.
In conclusion: we’re all adults here; you’re getting married?; let’s eat dinner. Go small or go home.