There is no delicate way to put this so I am just going to say it: stop inviting me to your showers. Please. I am delighted about your forthcoming nuptials, thrilled to be in attendance at your special day. Need I, though, spend a precious Sunday afternoon rummaging through my purse for a Q-tip or a lipstick (in a shade I'm not wearing!) to be crossed off a competitive inventory list? Must I really wear a clothespin on my dress to be snatched by your great-aunt's second cousin when I say the word "wedding?"
"Wedding." Here's my clothespin.
I don't want to guess what spices are in the unmarked jars ("coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant!? You're kidding!"), or where you and your fiancé had your first kiss ("in your dorm room? No way!") Your grandmother survived two world wars and a depression: does she really have to guess how many jellybeans are in that jar? Can't she just have one?
Sure, I'll send you a gift fastened with a bow so your maid of honor can staple that bow to a paper plate for you to wear on your head. I just don't understand why the present has to begin with a designated letter for your alphabet-themed party. "I" you say? Here's an ice bucket. Satisfied? Can't the theme of a bridal shower be a bridal shower? When did this become unoriginal?
I know what you're thinking. You think that while showers may be tiresome as a general rule, yours wasn't. Yours was different. Yours was actually fun. You served good food; you didn't play those games. Besides, yours wasn't just any old celebration. You and your fiancé are adorable. Your love story is unique -- you lived a long distance apart, you have been together since childhood or you met each other when you had all but given up on love -- so your union is exceptional. I'm telling you, it's not. Here's the hard truth: no one was excited for your shower except you and your mother. You know how you groan when you get someone else's shower invitation? That's what everyone did when they got yours.
Isn't it strange that in this day and age we still see bridal showers as an essential rite of passage for women into wifedom? The origins of the custom are so antiquated, so contrary to our modern view of women. Historically, bridal showers were developed as a means of providing poor girls amongst the lower class with sufficient goods to marry. They are believed to have originated in 1860s Brussels, Belgium, where the young daughter of a prominent family fell in love with a man below her station. When the girl's disapproving father refused to provide her with a dowry, the townspeople got together to "shower" her with presents, together raising a dowry for her so that the wedding could go forward.
Luckily, a woman's value as a wife today is not monetized. She no longer needs her father to cough up gold coins or cattle to secure her a husband. With increased access to higher education, the Bureau of U.S. Labor Statistics reports that more and more women are working before tying the knot, so the bride likely owns her own blender already. And with some 60 percent of couples living together before marriage, the average bride-to-be might even own two. So what purpose does the bridal shower still serve? Why are casserole dishes still seen as prerequisites to getting hitched? Couldn't we women make it down the aisle without them? If they are to help those starting out accumulate the accoutrements of a home, why aren't they held when a young woman first moves into her own place? Why must she unite with a partner to be ceremoniously gifted Tupperware?
It is interesting that while bridal showers have spread, becoming de rigueur now in North America where they are celebrated amongst women of every race, creed, color and class, the Europeans who began the practice have since dropped the custom; in fact, they consider it ill-manners to ask others for presents, especially when the recipient herself has chosen them.
"How did you know I wanted this four-speed hand held mixer!?"
Because you put it on a pre-approved list of things to buy you.
Sociologist Beth Montemurro goes so far as to call modern day bridal showers an insidious form of gender discrimination, perpetuating pre-conceived notions of gender roles and, thus, gender inequality. These over-sized tea parties are a way of initiating a woman into her role as a wife. Buying a bride-to-be spatulas, baking sheets and cookie tins insinuates that this is her domain, her responsibility. Men, after all, don't spend Sunday afternoons wrapping each other in toilet paper tuxedos and gifting each other oven mitts. And why not, if we believe in domestic equality? Why are showers the last bastion of gender segregation?
If we insist on having these pre-wedding get-togethers, if we are going to sit in a circle and gush over a DustBuster, pass it around as if it's not like every other DustBuster, as if it isn't just a receptacle for suctioning dirt and therefore a chore, perhaps we can use this time to talk about matters of substance. I often find myself sitting back at bridal showers silently surveying the grandmothers, mothers, aunts and great-aunt's second cousins bustling around me, serving drinks and collecting wrapping paper strewn about the floor. I think about how much wisdom is in that room, how much these women must have experienced, how much more they likely know about making a marriage work than we younger women do. It strikes me as such a waste. Instead of bridal bingo and passing around soup bowls, perhaps we can spend this time listening, looking to this older generation to share guidance and advice. Because this is what we young women really need. More than dishes and linens, we need these matriarchs to warn us of the times we'll be so angry at our partner we'll want to throw that very plate we are unwrapping. We need them to tell us that some nights we'll be burying tear-stained cheeks into our Egyptian cotton pillowcases, regardless of the thread count. That's what I needed most when I got married, and I imagine I'm not alone. So can we stop with the games? Can we put away the tea and the roses, the clothespins and the toilet paper? Can we stop pretending that brand name pots and pans have any bearing on marital happiness?
Six years into marriage now, I have yet to use the fine china, the waffle maker or the sushi sets that were generously gifted to me. More than any dish or pan, I use most often the marital advice my mother gave me before she died, months before my shower: tell your husband you're willing to be an expert in one room of the house, and let's see if he picks the kitchen.