What It's Like Being A Man On A Hen Do

Esquire's Sam Parker discovers what men can learn from women about having a good time

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Last week I attended my first hen do, in a remote cottage by the sea.

The bride-to-be – a dear friend from university and one of the most effervescent and open-minded people I know – invited me along, despite the fact I have a penis.

Being a laidback sort, I don’t think it was a particularly difficult decision for her to make. To me, being asked felt like an honour and a rare privilege.

Bachelorette parties have been going for centuries and – in their modern form – since the 60s, but I don’t think brides have even considered inviting their male pals to join in until fairly recently. (Certainly none of the men I have asked have been on one, and most – picturing inflatable cocks and stripping firemen – shudder at the thought).

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In fact, in 2015, with the last vestiges of enforced gender segregation crumbling away at a few antiquated edges of society, hen and stag dos are just about the only formal events left where it being ‘just the girls’ or ‘a boys weekend’ is still approved of and even – in most cases – insisted upon.

So I was excited, but a little nervous. What, if anything, would I learn about the opposite sex by being ushered into this hitherto hidden world of female solidarity? What if, just by being a man, I somehow ruined it for the girls? And how different would it really be from what men get up to on stag dos?

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The answer to that last question became abundantly clear by breakfast time on the first morning.

The bride was presented with a beautiful book compiled of photographs of the good times we had all spent with her over the years. Then she was instructed to read out fond or embarrassing memories written on small slips of paper that we had all contributed anonymously.

As we drank tea and laughed, reminiscing about good times past with the sun breaking through the trees and the blue coast winking on the horizon, I had a sudden, jolting flashback to a friend’s stag do a couple of years ago.
 

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About twenty of us – all male – were on a pair of barge boats we’d rented for a long weekend. Our cargo consisted of several hundred pounds worth of beer, wine and spirits and – if I remember rightly – a couple of frozen pizzas someone picked up as an afterthought from the Spar on the way there.

As we bumped and crashed our way down the canals in the rain, running topless along the roofs, pretending we were pirates, the primary focus of our efforts was getting ‘nighttime drunk’ by midmorning and – crucially – ensuring the stag had as miserable, humiliating a time as possible.

We chanted and sang rude songs about him. We ordered him to wear children’s fancy dress costumes. We ganged up on him to recall in detail his lowest moments and most crushing failures. Most of all, we conspired to make him vomit – lining up rows of shots and an inhumane number of pints as the boats rocked queasily in the night.

Back at the hen do, we were preparing for a BBQ, working together as a big team to marinate chicken and slice up vegetables then later, do the washing up. We drank, of course, a hearty amount. We stayed up late and made a mess and told rude stories. And the focus was all on our Hen, just as it was the Stag back on the boats.

But instead of trying to make her squirm with shame, her friends teased her to make her laugh. Instead of trying to destroy her body and mind, they were trying to make sure she had fun. And at the end, they – we – were a tightly bonded flock of hens, high on the simple pleasures of friendship and food and fresh air, not disparate shells of human beings limping home to bed where we’d suffer through feverish, post-booze nightmares, haunted each time we closed our eyes by a carousel of each others manic, jeering faces.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how differently men and women demonstrate their love. It’s not as though, as stags, we cared any less about our friend, or that it put any less of a lump in our throats to think of him, this spotty teenager we grew up with, falling in love and becoming a man, putting a clear marker in the sand between our shared past and his individual future. It’s just that it felt like the best way to tell him all of this was to dress him up as an infant sailor and go out for a curry. And it was.

What do you learn as a man on a hen do? In my case, that thoughtful planning, restraint, respect for one another and a little sincere, open affection are not mutually exclusive to having a great time. I think I managed to be ‘one of the girls’. I certainly felt like one.

Which isn't to say, of course, that I’ll be suggesting any of this on my stag do if I ever get married. The reprisals would be too severe. But I have decided I’d like some of my female friends to come along. I think they’d get some valuable insights into the benefits of random cruelty and merciless humiliation. Though come to think of it, I doubt they’ll want to.

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