What happens in Vegas in 2019 will haunt you in the group chat forever. Spray-painting your nuggets gold at the Golden Nugget will be replayed from six camera angles, two in slow motion, three months later while you’re in a quarterly budget meeting, followed by a barrage of commentary from fellow bachelor partiers.
All group chats are invasions of privacy—bits of private life invading professional and social spheres throughout the day. Bachelor/ette threads are the most highly concentrated and extreme versions of these encroachments. This is a nightmare. This is also a blessing. As a millennial who has spent more on this dubious sacrament than I could count without vomiting, I can report that the greatest gift of modern bachelor parties is where they begin and never end.
The chats always start innocently, sensibly. (As a boy, my views are bachelor-centric, but bachelorette threads have been reviewed by WIRED.) Boys, meet the boys, the groom-to-be texts, introducing his childhood and college buddies to his coworkers and future brother-in-law, Michael, who’s only 22, so go easy on him. This prompts jokes about Michael Michael Motorcycle’s forthcoming antics, which prompts our bachelor-in-chief to start a side chat and notify the rest about Michael’s sensitivity, I meant it when I said go easy. Then, Where to? Miami? Gettysburg? Toronto? Cartagena? Three nights? Four? Harpoon fishing? Skydiving in matching leather leotards?
How did bachelor parties become such expeditions? Centuries older than Christianity, the rite of passage was by the mid-20th century a night of suds and strippers at the groom’s or bride’s home. Today, greater migration rates among college graduates often necessitates cross-country, if not cross-continental, travel. Social media, meanwhile, necessitates the illusion of happiness and exoticism. More than a third of millennials slip ’n’ slide into debt to attend bachelor/ette parties, which have buttressed and built entire industries, from Airbnb to boutique travel planners. The CEO of one such service told me, “I can’t tell you the number of times women have filled our questionnaires with no details except, ‘We want an Instagram-perfect spot for brunch.’” Blame that generational mantra, “experiences over things.”
In my experience (among men who are mostly white, mostly straight, and often raised repressedly Catholic), every bachelor party follows the same narrative. These were friends you made when you all wanted to be racecar drivers or filmmakers or astronauts. Then you all became marketing strategists, accountants, attorneys, and product managers. We came to tentatively adopt, and then fully embrace, these new personas. Then one of you gets engaged, and you burn money to reconnect with your fellow dreamers and gather at an Airbnb, where you talk poolside over Trulys about how Jesus started his ministry when he was 30 and was crucified at 33 and look at him, and look at us, when are we going to do something real? Then you go further into debt to prove you’re living well and go to the club and you all order a $375 bottle of vodka (that costs $27 at the liquor store) that cues DJ Homicide to blast that airhorn that was popular in mid-2000s rap and to scream, “Oh shit!” as if it’s a miracle someone ordered alcohol in a nightclub, and you drink and reminisce and scream “Oh shit!” when the next bottle comes until you puke and loathe yourself for the next 16 hours but you’ve only got one night left with your closest male friends so you go back to the club and drink $85 worth of cranberry juices but pretend they’re full of vodka so your closest male friends don’t eviscerate you in the side chats and 24 hours later you’re back at work. And that’s when the group texts begin in earnest, and your financial debt is paid back in the form of psychic restoration.
The French call bachelor parties enterrement de vie de garçon, burial of the life as a boy. In reality they are the exhuming of the boys’ life, debauchery that was suspect when you were 20 and that rots as you round 30. Boyish hijinks—the James Patterson book you stole from that Georgia frat house that we snuck into; the belligerent shouting of “Suave! Suave!” that continued hours after Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente” played at the lesbian bar; the wrestling; the torrent of male nudity—all of these repeatedly appear in the group chat in the following days, weeks, and months.
You have a choice. You can mute the conversation and move on. Sometimes you must. There are only so many snapshots of Michael Michael Motorcycle’s sunburnt hog you can see before it becomes a professional and psychiatric liability. Or you can let the group chat shape you into a fuller human.
Bachelor parties are portals back to younger selves, their group chats instant time machines. They persist long after the trip (and tend to be most active during the workday) because part of you wants to forget your morality and feel younger, and part of you wants to glance at your most immature self and feel grateful and safe that you are back as a functioning member of society. Perhaps a larger part of you wants to harmonize the fragments of your personality, to bring more openness and joie de vivre to the office and more reflection and discernment to social outings.
For all the harm texting can inflict on relationships, verbal communication, and even literacy, texting is also the most immediate reminder of who we are (or imagine ourselves to be) ever invented. As you reel from a poorly phrased email you just sent your manager, your mom sends you a sonnet you wrote about Street Sharks that she just found in the crawl space. As you gloat about a sale you just closed, your friend sends a photo of the black thumb you got from shutting an Uber’s door on yourself. Texts may take you out of the moment, but they remind you that only a fragment of you was present in the first place and give you an opportunity to bring to the next moment a unified self. Maybe Gen Z won’t have to spend a month’s rent and yak at the club to be set free.