I’ve just survived my second stag weekend in as many months. When I say ‘survived’ it remains to be seen whether my Sunday-surliness has blotted my copybook amongst that particular group of friends.
The fact is, I am not naturally predisposed to the sort of mindset expected on these kinds of expeditions. At an extremely early age I tended to make individual friends and be shy of groups. As a result I ended up flitting between different groupings on the playground. Later, this ‘oddness’ made me a target for bullies: while large, I sadly lacked strength in numbers in and of myself. But it also made me a social butterfly as I entered my adolescence and meant I could bring disparate groups together who otherwise would have never mingled socially. It was something I really valued and gave me a lot of self-worth at a time that was otherwise trying. Like the main character in
Rusholme Rushmore, I had to be prised kicking and screaming from the school which had formed my identity so much when the time came to leave. Even then I ended up working around the corner for a year.
That tension between desiring to be part of a wider group while being leery of ‘gangs’ has continued with me. It makes me incredibly suspicious of identity politics while being a fierce supporter of universalism. It is that universalism that attracted me to the Liberal Democrats. Of course that in itself is slightly contradictory as political parties have gang-like tendencies. I have always hated things like Glee Club (I quite like sing songs – it’s the enforced camaraderie I’m suspicious of) and lead to me often wandering party conference feeling somewhat lost. Conferences make me want to withdraw into myself – a crazy instinct as they are golden opportunies for me to hook up with so many of my dearest friends on an individual level.
I can be a good little footsoldier on occasion, but I do always end up paying a heavy price for selling my soul. And ironically my individualism probably also informs my occasional sergeant major tendencies – mutinous feelings within the ranks during a campaign is not something I take lightly. If I have to make a personal sacrifice for the greater good then everyone else had better do the same.
The problem I have with stag weekends then is that for 48 hours I am required to give up all that individualism and form an impromptu gang with people, some of whom I had never met until that particular weekend. There is some kind of unwritten code about how you are expected to behave at these events and that can be summed up as laddishness and casual misogyny. Even the most sedate – and polysexual – weekend I have been on involved quaffing large quantities of cheap lager and going clubbing. At some point the topic of lapdancing inevitably crops up. Some stags and best men resist this temptation, others don’t. And what is this fixation with shots, the more disgusting the better?
I am fortunate that I have not yet been informed that I must wear a tshirt with a wacky nickname ending in ‘y’ on one of these expeditions thus far. Nor have I been expected to dress like a superhero or an overgrown baby. To be honest though, if you’re going to go through all this why not go the whole hog? At least it would allow for some ironic detachment.
But where will this all end? In the mid-nineties the Stag Night was still the norm/cliche, as epitomised by the film Staggered starring Martin Clunes and
the bloke wot used to be Robin Hood before Jason Connery Michael Praed. The danger with that business model was of course that it was vulnerable to an ethically dubious best man and/or entourage getting the stag ill/arrested/sold to white slave traders just a few hours before the wedding. The Stag Weekend then is the result of a compromise: the groom agrees to stay sober the night before and in exchange gets to have an even bigger blowout.
But this has formed a cottage industry. The first stag weekend I went on was a package affair in Nottingham. It involved the worst hotel you could imagine (actually just a couple of filthy rooms on top of a pub) and going to the one club in the city that accepted stag groups. I managed about 30 mins before having to walk out after three different people decided to pick a fight with me. Someone made a lot of money out of us that weekend. At least Newquay, from where I am currently returning, had a nicer ambience.
Is the future stag weeks, fortnights, round the world trips? Isn’t all this getting away from the basic premise, which is that the stag gets one last night of freedom before tying the knot? This isn’t freedom, it’s the very definition of conformity. Nor do we live in an era where marriage need be a form of enslavement; quite the opposite.
The real problem I have with these weekends is that I can only take so much of them and end up running away from the herd in order to take a breath. It doesn’t do my friendships any good as it makes me look like a grumpy arse. But at the same time it means a lot to me when I’m asked to go on them. Any ideas for how I can preserve me sanity and my friendships at the same time?
UPDATE: Er, yes indeed I meant Rushmore not Rusholme!