In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.
Ah, the magical night before the wedding; I recall it well. Getting into bed promptly at 10pm, ready for eight sweet hours of girlish dreams, the taunting tick...tock...tick...tock of the antiquated alarm clock in my childhood bedroom, finally dozing off just as my sister crawled into the cramped double bed after finishing her toast, then laying awake listening to her deep breathing, taking a few natural sleep aids...then a few more...then finally giving up on sleeping altogether and just staring at the ceiling, and ultimately deciding to get in the shower ten minutes before my alarm was set to go off. A few hours later, my hair stylist was doing double duty: both decorating my head, and managing the entire weight of my skull as I dozed off in her chair. Don’t worry, I’m a generous tipper.
I probably would have slept at least a few hours had I been in my own bed with my own boyfriend, but alas, wouldn’t it be fun to spend the night apart? I thought. Wouldn’t it build anticipation? Doesn’t the heart grow fonder when its counterpart is sleeping in a bed one mile away at his mom’s house? For those of you wondering, he slept great.
“A charming custom from the last century is for the bridesmaids to sleep at the bride’s house,” writes wedding historian Susan Waggoner. “A hundred years ago, when travel was a time-consuming business, this was a practical way of ensuring that the bridesmaids would be on hand bright and early to help the bride—and each other—get dressed. If the space is available, it’s a custom well worth reviving for one simple reason: it’s fun!” Susan, I’d like you to ask my bridesmaids if sleeping on my mom’s 40-year-old, cat hair-covered pull-out couch was as delightful as you describe. I mean, we had bridesmaids everywhere: on the couches, on the blow-up mattresses, on our neighbor’s couches, in the bed in which I was sleeping. What can I say, I’m a popular woman.
This sleepover hypothesis is a popular choice for traditional and nontraditional couples, alike. Mandy of Florida says, “We already owned a house together, so we decided to spend the last night apart to make our wedding night more special. I had a sleepover with my bridal party at our house, while my husband slept at his dad’s. It ended up being a great way to get the last-minute wedding stuff done without my husband distracting me!” Ali of Ohio agrees, “I spent the night at my parents’ house with them and my siblings. He was at the hotel with his family. Even though we already lived together, it felt like a nice way to send us off from our ‘old’ family into our ‘new’ family of two.”
My friends are sitting on the couch as I write this, and I ask their thoughts. Holly says, “I liked having the time with my girls, building anticipation for the day. For us, it was almost like our friends were sending us off.” Adam adds, “I think if you do spend the night before apart, it increases the intensity of the experience of seeing them walk down the aisle. The anticipation gets really high.” Holly can empathize with why people would choose to spend the night together, too: “I can understand wanting to wake up together and have a private moment before. I could see people wanting that.” Adam adds, “If you wake up together, it’s still going to be intense, but not as intense.”
Some people aren’t going for “intense.” Certainly, I would have traded my anxiety-filled sleepless night for something a little more zen. Jessica of Virginia says, “We were supposed to spend the night before apart, but when the time came, I was feeling so emotionally overwhelmed that I asked him to stay with me at our apartment. I needed his calm to keep me chill.” Jessica is one wise, flexible woman. Stephanie of Virginia laughs about the question: “Because of a mistake in booking, we were given the presidential suite for a third of the price the night before our wedding. He wasn’t gonna let me have that to myself.”
Some of you may be reading this, thinking, my parents would not be okay with my answer to this question. Maika is one of those people. “Oh geez, this gave me hives,” she laughs. “My mom was insistent on this superstition about spending the night before apart, and we didn’t want to do it at all. I said, we are not following this, and she was so worried. I told her we would take the risk, and if our marriage becomes doomed, then we can blame it on the night before when we decided to stay in the same room.” I mean, why else would a marriage fail? Are there other reasons?
At this point, my friend Adam has lost patience with the debate. He says, “I think if you’re really traditional and haven’t had sex yet, then spend the night apart. And if you’re not traditional, then do whatever you want to do.” Story of every article I write. Leave it to an engineer to say in two sentences what a feminist theorist is trying to say in a Lord of the Rings-length trilogy.