Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Prenuptual Rituals and Human Nature: A Personal Reflection

All things considered, I think that I have a decent grasp on many of the sociocultural dynamics that define and (some might say) plague our world today. How people interact with each other and their culture over time is a "broad-brush" generalization about what many historians (including me) do in their work.

There is one sociocultural dynamic, however, and its set of attendant rituals and practices that utterly eludes me: everything to do with getting married.

Now, there is a certain level on which I DO understand the whole thing. That would be the recognition of the importance of marriage in a particular society (as narrow as that definition might be), the public acknowledgement that two people are now linked officially as well as emotionally and the formalization of a partnership that will redefine the position of the couple vis-a-vis the rest of society.

I also understand that these things, which a society deems important, often become laden with ritual because they are, in many ways, inherently conservative acts. The people involved are saying, in effect, "we will play the part in this ritual to prove that, at the end of the day, we are not maverick. We are not radical. We agree with a certain amount of society's expectations."

Much of this understanding, incidentally, comes from the days where marriage was more a business deal than an emotional event. Before, oh, the eighteenth century, marriage was really just an arraingment for the continued inheritance of property. It was not until later that emotion even entered into it. That much I get.

Perhaps what I don't understand is the performative aspects of the rituals that come before a marriage in the modern United States. These would be the bachelor(ette) party. In particular, one particular aspect of each that has come to my attention through observation and, in the latter case, participation.

First, the bachelorette and her cadre. I view nothing with more horror than the arrival of a bachelorette party at any bar at which I am ensconced. "Why is this, Will," you may ask. Think of the group dynamic that just entered my space and you will understand. The group will, invariably, begin to draw all of the attention of the staff until getting a drink is slightly harder than distilling one for yourself in the bathroom.

Then their attentions will doubtless turn to the other patrons of the bar, in many cases, all men. There are two types here: those men who will egg the women on and participate in their escapades and those who would just as soon be left alone. No points for guessing which of those I am.

It is well and good if it ends there (which it often seems to): with the jagoff locals wrapped up in the "fun," and me (and the other sullen, angry sots) moving elsewhere. It can, however, turn into the worse case scenario: your participation is "requested" by the fiat of the group of women or expected by proxy due to the fact that you are a man. This situation is often precipitated by one's male friends, seeing the possibility of women with their inhibitions down, trying to knock one for six, as it were. Your participation is then expected.

This is where I draw the line. If the rest of your group wants to get involved, fine. Not me. In the great words of Eric Cartman, "screw you guys, I'm going home."

Oh, and to the women, no one actually thinks you are funny/cute/charming/more attractive when you behave like this. The men who play along are just in it for the, well, you know, and the ones who don't really DO just want to be left alone. Most of the women who read this space know this and this is not directed at you (hopefully). To the rest, seems a bit harsh? Seems, madam? Nay, it is.

Now, as far as bachelor parties go, most of the ones that I have attended seem to be more private, not out in public affairs. There is a public component, no doubt. A few bars, some food and then, inevitably, the strip club. Words cannot express how uncomfortable these places make me (strip clubs, that is).

Do I think that it is women being objectified? Yes, but the women there know this, exploit it to great profit and think nothing more of it. I have no problem with this. Sex is the best way to cajole a man out of his hard-earned cash and, if it can be done, more power to those who can do it.

So what is it that makes me uncomfortable? Hard to say, really. It may have something to do with seeing my friends, people I respect as human beings, in the throes of the lowest aspects of human nature. I try and find the best in all people, and no people more keenly than my friends. They are such a wonderfully diverse and deep group of people and I consider anyone fortunate to meet with us. It is truly an experience not soon forgotten.

Take these people that you respect and put something female and unclothed in front of them, and the whole scene changes. They begin to behave, for lack of a better word, like all of the worst characteristics of guys that you hate and do not associate with under any circumstances.

Is this part of the male nature? Some would say that it is and that my revulsion in the situation tells more about me than my friends. I, however, think that it is something else. It is tantamount to seeing any side of someone that you respect that causes you to re-evaluate that respect and attempt to rationalize it. Something like catching your dad with someone who isn't your mom.

Complete and coherent? Not really. It is, it must be admitted, a complex consideration and one that I am not sure I will settle any time soon. In the meantime, however, I will go with my rationalizations of the past, write this behavior off to momentary insanity brought on by base urges and alcohol and move on through the experience.

As before, I must give great credit to alcohol, which has gotten my through many an uncomfortable bachelor party moment. Many has been the time when I have sucked down countless overpriced Dewar's and waters at strip clubs waiting for everyone else to "get it out of their systems" so the real drinking can commence. Oh, booze; what would I do without you?

To wrap this up, perhaps I am completely off base with my observations and I have missed the mark completely. Perhaps my biases and personal shortcomings are being brought to bear on something that everyone else thinks is fun. Perhaps I am, as ever, making far too much of this.

Or maybe, just maybe, me and the Dewar's Highlander have a point.

What say you?


Frema said...

As someone who recently had a bachelorette party of her own, I can tell you that I was more concerned about having a fun night out with my girlfriends than impressing any guys, so the fact that I may have annoyed some with my butt-pincher doesn't bother me. I only approached men who were on the dance floor, where they were getting their freak-nasty on, and they were all good sports about it. I so rarely get to let it all hang out with my friends. I didn't want anything to get in the way of that. It was for that reason I was adamant about not not having a stripper.

Don't know if this addresses any of your issues. Just throwing in my two cents. :)

Matt Jenks said...

I remember a perfectly fine Milwaukee Brewers game I attended that was ruined by a bachelorette party arriving and sitting a few rows in front of us. Is it just me, or do all the phallus-shaped decorations/implements really seem a bit obsessive? I don't recall having a booby cap on my head during my bachelor party (just boobies).

Going to a strip club for a bachelor party, that's nice and well and all. It's "tradition" (since what, like, the 60s?) to do so. However, how disappointing is it to go to a "strip club" where they don't actually strip? Oh highly, I say.

Good point on the objectification of women. Yes, to an extent they are selling their sex to the guy in the front row with the mullet and moth-eaten mustache. He ain't gettin' any like that, so he might as well rock out and pretend, right? However, I feel sorry for the women who are clearly up into their forties who are still going at it. Maybe they're doing it for thrills or to feel sexy once again. More power to you, if so. Maybe they're doing it because they can't get anything else. Those are the ones I truly pity.

One of the finer "traditions" that we had with the Notre Dame crowd that I think you'd appreciate: steak dinner before the bar. Now that's an adventure you can sink your teeth into.

Pun intended.

Frema said...

P.S. There were also no fake penises. :)

Frema said...

Also, I just noticed that the double "nots" in the last line of my first paragraph in my first comment was a typo. I wasn't set on having a stripper but on NOT having one.

*slinks away quietly before Will thinks she's stalking him*

Matt Jenks said...

Excellent, Frema. I've never met you (to my knowledge) but my opinion of you has gone up with the exclusion of fake peni at your bachelorette party. Well done! :-D

Greg_Shealy said...

I still think that just because you are going out to have a good time with friends doesn't mean that you shouldn't care about whether you annoy someone. I enjoy going out and having a good time with friends, but it doesn't mean I have carte blanche to be completely obnoxious, which is how 95% of bachelorette parties end up being

Aaron Cynic said...

Will, I couldn't agree with you more on all of this. I too face that marriage problem every day thanks to our various good friends all tying the knot, wondering why I don't even want to think of such a thing.

Aside from the hassle surrounding planning a wedding, the various parties are not much of a hoot either, as we've both experienced. I will say, having you to hang out with at that one party definately made things alot easier.

There is something very strange watching people turn from the most average "normal" person into a mass of yelling and throwing of money. But then again, I chalk that up to how repressed most of American society really is.

After all, when you're so tightly wound, making sure all of your friends look perfect standing in front of a church, taking care of hundreds of people coming in and out of town, and dropping alot of cash on something that you're supposed to look back on and cherish forever (i say with the utmost sarcasm), it's understandable how the right set and setting can turn the regular dude into someone wherewolvish.

I think that marriage is another one of those societal expectations that we spend so much time building up in our lives (especially thanks to television and movies) that when it finally happens and is over - no one knows what to do. "They lived happily ever after" can only go on for so long before you begin wondering what it would be like to remember the days where you were allowed to be wild and crazy.

I think we've come a long way from the days where this was just a property arrangement, but the patriarchy isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Until we can face our on fears surrounding the expectations of society, we'll still keep participating in these rituals instead of exploring things we'd truly like to.