THE SHORT ANSWER
YOU CAN INVITE WHOMEVER YOU WANT TO A BACHELORETTE PARTY.
There is no formal etiquette except for this: any guest invited to any pre-wedding celebration (e.g. engagement party, bridal shower, bachelorette) customarily is also invited to the actual wedding.
You can also invite whomever you want to a wedding, of course – I just recommend maintaining the awareness of that common expectation. Specify clearly who’s invited to what, especially if you’re doing anything unconventional.
Assuming that your guests are grown-ass adults, as long as you’re crystal-clear then tantrums about the guest list will be minimal. (And if anyone has a fit about the bachelorette party guest list, feel enormously free to ignore them.)
YOU CAN INVITE WHOMEVER YOU WANT TO A BACHELORETTE PARTY.
THE LONG ANSWER
Once upon a time, forever and ever ago, party invitations were received as just that – invitations. One could decline to attend any event without shame before the RSVP date, and didn’t even necessarily have to specifiy a reason.
At least, I assume so. That’s how I picture the “good old days” before the Wedding Industrial Complex emerged (a concept I came across over at A Practical Wedding).
Sure, there have always been social expectations of weddings and events you “have” to go to for one reason or another, and that’s totally fine. I’m all about honoring your communities and families and friendships in whatever way y’all see fit. You do you.
Also, it seems that bachelorette parties are a relatively recent phenomenon. In my experience, the concept is relatively alien to Baby Boomers, and when Gen X-ers think of bachelorette parties they tend to think of strip clubs, tacky bars, and a generally “feminized” version of a “traditional” raunchy bachelor party.
See, various corners of the Internet may crap all over Millennials and how we ruin everything or make everything amazing or whatever, but at least we broadened our horizons when it comes to pre-wedding celebrations.
In this brave new world with very few rules, I’ve noticed two sides of the same coin when it comes to feelings and expectations of who “should” come to a bachelorette party.
Spoilers: There’s no wrong answer.
First – let’s talk about the folks who WISH an invitation were a summons.
For whatever reason, some brides find themselves particularly disappointed that XYZ person didn’t attend her bachelorette party. This gloominess or anger can get so intense that the resulting sour mood puts a damper on the whole experience.
What a bummer! Resenting the absence of a guest is such an easy way to ruin a perfectly good opportunity for awesomeness!
(I mean, I literally plan bachelorette parties professionally so I’m probably a bit biased as to their excellent potential for awesomeness.)
Since the majority of the time, any and all bridesmaids are invited to the bride’s bachelorette party, let’s talk about the temptation to “summon” the bridesmaids specifically.
From an etiquette perspective, the only “requirement” for serving as a bridesmaid is to attend and formally witness the wedding. Maybe there’s some paperwork to be signed. Considering the requests of the bride and groom for wedding attire is respectful, but not technically required.
But nowadays? The range of possible “duties” “and the range of expectations of those duties has ballooned and skyrocketed upward faster than Aunt Marge in Harry Potter.
The sheer number of possible parties – engagement party, bridal shower, possible second bridal shower in a different location, bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner, the actual wedding and reception, a morning-after brunch – and any number of additional choose-your-own-adventure wedding-related festivities.
And HOW DARE YOU not attend EVERY SINGLE EVENT because don’t you CARE about the BRIDE and GROOM and SUPPORT THEM during this ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME MOMENT?
Hooooooold the phone there, lovelies.
An invitation to any and all of these events is just that – an invitation. It’s an act of hospitality, not an act of a temporary social dictator. An engagement ring does not come attached with a magic proclamation that anyone and everyone in your life (at least, typically).
The attendance of any particular person at any particular life event – including a bachelorette party – is not a referendum on the quality or relative importance of your relationship.
Wedding attendants occupy a position of honor at the actual wedding. THAT’S IT. In an ideal world there’s a lovely group of people who are pumped to celebrate with you whether they are official wedding attendants or not.
We do not live in an ideal world.
Gratitude is an excellent antidote for resentment. The fact that anyone would take the time and spend the money to celebrate this special life chapter for you, when said person is already invited to your wedding and presumably attending that as well –
That’s a treasure. It’s worth celebrating. It’s worth appreciating. I hope you have an awesome time with the people who DO come – even if it’s just one person!
Second – let’s talk about the folks who FEAR that an invitation is a summons.
Confession time: I kinda fell into this category with my own bachelorette party, without even realizing it.
Let me tell you a story of a dear friend of mine who kindly called me out on my nonsense in a way I’ll never forget. (Hi, Sarah!)
I’ve attended the vast majority of the bachelorette parties I’ve been invited to, as well as a metric crap-ton of weddings. I love when I get to share in major life events and rarely think twice about the cost or effort to attend besides in my yearly budgeting.
When I was engaged, though?
When I became a bride?
When the best Maid of Honor ever planned exactly the kind of bachelorette party I wanted? (Hi, Dana!)
I FREAKED THE FRICK OUT.
The guilt! Who am I to ask all these people to give up a weekend and drive to the country for me? Who am I to be worthy of a group of ladies splitting the bill to cover all my meals and drinks? Are they going to resent me forever for making such a big ask?
(Side note: For various reasons I did not have either an engagement party or a bridal shower, so the bachelorette party was my only “official” pre-wedding event. Come let me know on Instagram if you have thoughts or questions about this!)
A potent combination of tremendous gratitude and enormous imposter syndrome washed over me regularly in the weeks leading up to my bachelorette party.
My coping strategy? Over-thanking.
I thanked my Maid of Honor a zillon times, thanked everyone in the car on the way down, and wrote personalized thank-you notes for every single guest that I left on everyone’s individual bed pillows of the bed & breakfast as soon as we arrived.
It may seem like humility or kindness to over-thank, but nope – it was a coping strategy. I was terrified that the guests thoughts I expected them to come, that I thought of the invitation as a summons, that they hated the ask I had made.
The moment I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong is when my dear friend Sarah discovered her thank-you note on her bed, marched up to me, waved the card in my face and said with a lovingly skeptical tone:
“This is a coping mechanism.”
Oof. “You know me so well,” I replied sheepishly.
After some reflecting and quite honestly after being married for a while, I’ve had to learn how to accept unconditional love like this.
I have to learn it! It’s a skill! Accepting and letting in the unquestioning love and friendship of the lovely people in my life has required a lot of vulnerability and practice.
My bachelorette party was an AMAZING first step on this journey.
And after Sarah called me out, for the rest of the weekend I let myself sink into being pampered. Everyone was so kind, so generous, and seemed to be having a great time.
All I had to do was sit back, let go of the fear that the bachelorette party invitation had come across as a summons, and let my friends love me.
LET ME SUM UP
Like I said earlier – there’s no way to do a bachelorette party “wrong.” And there’s no “wrong” way to feel about all things wedding-related. There’s… quite the spectrum of possible feelings.
Awareness of those feelings, though?
Awareness of where they come from? Why you have them? How to accept or work through them?
That’s the tricky yet wonderful part that never shows up in Instagram photos.
So go forth, remember that an invitation is not a summons, and let your friends and family love you.