A champagne cork rockets through the salon to the delighted shrieks of 20-somethings seated in cushy pedicure chairs along the wall. Bachelorette party in progress.
The cork narrowly misses a mirror and everyone erupts in laughter. I laugh, too, though I’m not a member of the #bridesquad — I’m just a salon patron who unknowingly scheduled an appointment overlapping their party. But as I watch them toast the bride-to-be, I realize what I’m doing here in Hawaii — treating myself, catching up with friends and mulling over a marriage-related milestone — isn’t all that different. It’s just later.
A few weeks prior, I was lying in an emergency room in Jordan, my husband holding my hand while a nurse inserted an IV in my other arm. Exhausted and feverish, I closed my eyes. “What are you thinking about?” my husband asked, trying to distract me from the needle.
“Sea turtles in Hawaii,” I whispered. “I need to get back there. I need the ocean. I miss my friends.” Hawaii had been my home for many (single) years but I hadn’t had a chance to return since moving to Jordan.
That day in the ER, the doctors discovered I had the flu, an infection in my chest and ear, and insufficient nutrient levels. I’d passed the point of burnout. In addition to medications to fight infection, I received doctor’s orders to get some rest and sunshine.
I’d spent the majority of the past year — our first year of marriage — working long hours to build my freelance business. Waiting on my husband’s U.S. visa approval required us to stay put in his country until further notice. The high cost of living and low local wages meant our survival hinged heavily on my success, and I quickly became hyper-focused on keeping us afloat.
Self-care requires time and often money — luxuries I couldn’t afford while we were trapped in immigration limbo. But my deteriorating physical and mental health demanded it. So I started doing airline-miles math and lining up assignments to see if I could swing a solo trip to Hawaii. I planned to take work with me and also allow time to reconnect with longtime friends, the `aina (land) and the ocean. Serendipitously, I received an invitation to an event in Hawaii and heard a friend’s condo would be empty on the same dates.
It might seem selfish to take a tropical trip sans my spouse as we were approaching our first anniversary. But I’d given my all to our marriage, supporting us and integrating into his life — his country, family, culture and friends. I’d gained a loving partner, a Jordanian family and new adventures, but I’d also unintentionally lost (or, at least, temporarily misplaced) my own identity. He and I agreed it was time to take care of me.
“Marriage is an adjustment within self and society,” marriage and family therapist Bianca Konstantinidis writes via email. “It is crucial for the individuals to have solo time and time for self-care, as identity and independence are redefined.”
I stepped off the plane in Honolulu unsure of who I was beyond devoted wife. Thankfully, my friends and memories were there to remind me. I ate at my favorite restaurants, swam at beloved beaches and jogged my old running routes. I took time for myself, reflected on my marriage and reconnected with friends. Each ocean wave I watched, each raw conversation I had, every tear and laugh shared was another stitch, slowly weaving together the seemingly disparate identities of the person I’d been and who I was becoming.
“It’s hard sometimes, isn’t it?” Elena sympathized while sitting on a sea wall in my old neighborhood one evening with waves crashing under our feet. We’ve been friends for 15 years. She’s been married for three. Between bites of fish tacos, we discussed the challenges and rewards of marriage while the sun slid below the horizon in front of us. She understood me.
“I’m so proud of you,” Craig said. He and I caught up one night in the lobby of the condo where I was staying — him in his Aloha shirt having come straight from work and me sweaty and sun-kissed from my run. We’d met while studying abroad in Japan and stayed friends over the 14 years and innumerable life phases that followed. I’d been so focused on surviving, I hadn’t stopped to appreciate all I’d accomplished. But he did.
“It was really good to see you! Looking forward to getting you back more permanently,” Nia texted as I headed to the airport on my final day in Hawaii. A mutual friend introduced us years ago and we’ve been friends since, despite the oceans between us. We met up multiple times on this trip to celebrate the many turns our lives have taken and to plot my return — when I hope to finally bring my husband along and make Hawaii our home. I admire Nia’s devotion to the people she loves and I knew I was lucky to be one of them.
I didn’t have a traditional pre-wedding bachelorette party. With my friends scattered around the world, it would have been impractical and expensive for everyone. But a year later, I got the kind of celebration I never knew I would need. It gave my husband the chance to spend solo time with his family and friends as well. We reunited refreshed, grateful and ready to continue growing together.
And it got me thinking: Maybe bachelor(ette) parties are due for an update. Relationships have evolved, people choosing to marry are doing so later and sometimes after longer periods living together, and the increase in global travel and remote work means that, for a growing number of people, friendships span the globe. Rather than a night of debauchery marking the transition from single to married, what if we planned to celebrate a year later instead? A postponed gathering eliminates the stress of a traditional pre-wedding party. It gives you, your spouse and your friends something to look forward to. And it’s a chance to reflect and reconnect before diving into year two.
“It’s truly a win for all parties involved,” writes Rachel Wright, a marriage and family therapist and co-founder of the Wright Wellness Center, via email. “You’ve hopefully recovered financially, emotionally, mentally and physically from the wedding planning and wedding process (and so have your friends), and you’ve had a year with your partner. Alone time is healthy in a relationship. And you get a guaranteed girls trip a year into your marriage.”
Her husband and co-founder of Wright Wellness Center, Kyle Wright, agrees and adds that the traditional bachelor party felt like “something I was supposed to do, rather than something I really wanted to do.”
In the weeks leading up to our wedding last year, my husband and I discussed what our life would look like together, where we would live, our personal and shared goals, and whether we wanted children. But, however naively, we didn’t realize at the time just how much merging our two already full lives would challenge our individual needs and identities.
Deliberately setting a later date for bachelor and bachelorette parties could open up a conversation about self-care and identity long before getting hitched. Now, we just need a new name for them.