If you’re between the ages of 28 and 35, this is the time of year when your inbox goes Peak Hen. With summer weddings locked into the calendar, the round-robin emails begin to circulate.
“Hi Hens!” a breezy, well-meaning Maid of Honour will write to kick off the proceedings, “With Laura’s wedding coming up, I think we need to get going with planning the hen do! I’m keen to put together a really special weekend for her :) ”
Maid of Honour will then lay out a plan which she reasonably hopes will accommodate “all budgets.” A weekend away, a champagne brunch, an activity (life drawing, chocolate making, poking your eyes out with tiny, pointy sticks)
And on the surface everything will look nice and civilised. “Sounds great!” “Good plan” “Can’t wait!” “Love this idea!” “Let me know if I can help!”
But behind the scenes a secret undercurrent of Debbie Downers will already be forming - Avengers Assemble style - to bring the whole operation down from the inside. “I can’t believe Jo thinks it’s OK to spend 300 quid on a weekend away?” “I know! And £50 for a chocolate making class? Do I get a f**king stake in Cadburys for that?”
Because nothing unites women in mutual outrage more than an overpriced hen do. Shouting “pricey hen do!” at a group of women in their late twenties is the conversational equivalent of petrol on the bonfire. Out the stories will shoot, each one dafter than the next. A few real-life examples from my own friends and colleagues*
*Names have been changed to protect the security of the hens involved.
“Maggie” - “The breakdown of the day included a picnic, for which the Maid of Honour had budgeted £70 each between ten of us. That’s £700. On a picnic. I kept trying to imagine what this sumptuous spread might include to justify the cost. Wagyu beef? Buffalo mozzarella flown in from Italy? Gold-flecked flutes of chilled Moet? I show up and it’s warm prosecco, dips and a selection of pasta salads. Where did the other 650 quid go? That’s what I’d like to know.”
“Alice” – “I was recently invited to the hen do of an old friend planning a five star luxury hotel for her 8 girlfriends for a weekend away. She emailed us all excitedly to tell us of her plan, which she breezily told us would 'come in at just under £450 each'. And we were expected to share 4 rooms between the 8 of us, therefore each doubling up with a girlfriend of hers we didn’t even know, plus take the Friday off work to get there by lunchtime. BTW, she's also getting married abroad in peak season so the whole thing is due to cost us at least £1000!”
“Jessica” – “The Maid of Honour suggested New York. I replied to say I couldn't afford to go long-haul. Only four of the bride’s schoolfriends went in the end. I suspect it was the plan all along to price the rest of us out of the market :( ”
“Sophie” – “On the day of the hen do we were all sitting around having lunch and this photographer guy turns up and starts taking photos of us. We didn’t really know who he was but presumed it was just an extra thing one of the hens had organised. After the weekend we got an email from the Maid of Honour asking us all if we could ‘chip in’ an extra £20 for the photographer (a friend) who had 'kindly photographed the weekend' for us. WTF?"
BUT... For the sake of balance we need to put the shoe on the other foot here. Even if you’re the most reasonable, accommodating Maid of Honour in the world, being tasked with organizing a hen do is a hollow prize. Unless the bride has been ruthless with her team sheet, the challenge of bringing several (often disparate) groups of women together, with varying life goals, disposable cash, ideas of what makes a fun weekend, taste in strippers etc. is a pretty tough one.
You’re also on the front line of bride-hen relations. “It’s my dream to go to Vegas!” says the bride. You need to temper expectations to avoid disappointment, all the while coaxing people to splash out on a weekend of activities which are all in your hands. Oh yes, and there's always the potential of the old schoolfriend who channels her hurt at not being Maid of Honour herself into as many passive aggressive emails as possible. “Oooh, I’m really not sure karaoke is her thing, lovely!”
In the thick of all of this right now? A few parting tips….
1) Say early on if you can’t afford it. If there’s no way of tailoring the trip to your budget then offer to take the bride out for a lovely dinner and wish the group a happy trip.
2) Limit the whinging. Once you’ve committed to the weekend and got all the ‘oh my god I now can’t afford to eat!’ out of your system, commit to the fun and enjoy yourself. If you’re spanking £300 on a weekend away you might has well get as much out of it as possible. That includes making sure you drink / eat your fair share of the booze and food. Get stuck in, lady!
3) Offer to help the Maid Of Honour. Whether you agree with her wildly expensive plans or not, she’ll have a put a lot of non-refundable hours of her time into this whole fandango. Send her a text asking if there’s anything you can do to help.
4) And to the Maid Of Honour herself? There's no pleasing some people. Only booze can get you through this.