This piece is excerpted from Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics (HarperCollins, 2004)
“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”—Oscar Wilde
FACT: About a fifth of all home sales in 1999 were to unmarried women, up from 10% in 1985.
Perhaps a future game show will ask not Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire, but Who Wants to Marry Themselves? Contestants will be judged on their positive body image and how truthful and caring they can be to themselves.
Self-marriage isn’t exactly a growing trend (no women’s magazines have covered it, as far as I can tell), and it’s definitely not a required behavior for quirkyalones. But marrying oneself is a sign of the times. Flipping on the radio, I happened to tune into voiceover artist Debi Mae West (101 Dalmatians, Superman) defending her choice to marry herself to a skeptical Joe Frank on his public radio program; she told him that every time she twirls the ring on her finger, she thinks about her commitment to be good to herself. In the sixth season of Sex in the City, Carrie Bradshaw decides to marry herself, too, registering for gifts at Manolo Blahnik. Living in the Bay Area, I hear about self-marriages about ten percent as often as I hear about two-person ceremonies.
Echoes of the choice to marry yourself are reverberating throughout our culture. Now that people are delaying marriage or choosing not to marry at all, more people are hungering for the coming-of-age ritual that marriage has become. For some people that’s a bigger 30th or 40th birthday party. For others it’s the decision to buy a home on one’s own. Small but growing numbers of single women are signing up for registries (formerly known as bridal registries) to signify that they too would like their share of flatware, crystal, and Crock-Pots. They’ve committed to a domestic life and a mortgage, if not a single man.
The choice to marry yourself takes the coming-of-age ritual to a new level. It’s not just about getting towels or diamond rings or attention. The common theme in most of the stories that I have heard is a commitment to take care of oneself as they might hope or imagine that a lover would. I’ve made the acquaintance of two women who have wed themselves. Their stories follow.
Aya de Leon, a Bay Area performance poet, married herself and wrote about the experience for Essence magazine in June 1997. Now at work on a novel and a collection of essays, tentatively titled, How to Marry Yourself, and Other Scandalous Acts of Self-Love, she explains: “As age 30 approaches the pressures around getting married are so massive. But what’s ironic is that for women, a lot of the time the experience is much more about the princess-for-the-day ritual. I noticed that women were obsessed with the cake, the dress, the pictures, looking beautiful. I decided ultimately at that time I didn’t need the man to have the ritual. I was not dating anybody, but I felt that I needed to make a commitment to my life, to my creativity, my livelihood, my spirituality.”
Getting married on the beach had always been Aya’s fantasy, so she asked a Yoruba priest to marry her there. “The ceremony was really powerful,” she recalls. “Some of my family members were crying at the beauty of what it means for a woman to take herself really seriously. After the ceremony, I changed into my dress and veil. The reception was about being a diva—the moment when I as an American woman get to be fabulous and everyone oohs and ahhs. I wanted a cake with a bride and not a groom, but I couldn’t get one, so I made my own bride and I put her on there.” Aya says that the wedding was a ritual, not a performance piece, and that having a community present was fundamental: “When you vow in public to do something, to make a commitment to take care of yourself, standing up in front of your community and doing that is life-changing.”
Aya continues, “The question I get all the time is, Will I have to divorce myself to marry someone else? No, not all. My partner and I are preparing for our wedding now. I will probably wear some of the traditional bridal stuff because it is fun. I’m not taking his last name. I have told him when I get married I am unwilling to be referred to as his wife. Being a wife to someone has so much charge for me, historically that has meant working too hard, being under-appreciated and exploited. It doesn’t mean that people who take the title ‘wife’ have to be disempowered, but for me there’s too much history. I will be my wife, and his partner.”
HOW SHE DID IT: Aya de Leon
How she did it:
A Yoruba priest married her, in a ritual that included a lot of prayer
On the beach
What she wore:
A simple dress
At age 37, Remi Rubel had attended more than twenty weddings, ten bridal showers, and six baby showers. She wanted to be in a relationship but the process of looking for a partner was not working well for her. She called herself a “magnet for relationships,” but always felt like she was giving away too much. She decided to marry herself—in part to reverse this trend, and also to vow to hush her harsh inner critic. As part of a yearlong thesis project at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Remi threw herself a bridal shower, engagement party, and sent herself on a honeymoon. By obtaining a ministership from the nondenominational Universal Life Churc she was able to marry herself at Mono Lake, an unusual, ancient lake at the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in California. Many of Remi’s friends and family made the drive out to this remote spot for the occasion. (Obtaining a marriage license was more challenging. A clerk at a county courthouse rejected the application, claiming “you have to be an unmarried man and an unmarried woman to legally marry.”)
There’s a funny twist in Remi’s story. During the yearlong process of Remi’s self-matrimony, she met and began dating a man named Ken. At first, Remi resisted the relationship. But the quiet way in which Ken supported her project eventually won her over. “The fact that Ken supported my marriage to myself fully and came to love me throughout the process of marrying myself has been key to my falling in love with him. In addition, he was my wedding consultant, task partner, videographer, and photographer.”
Remi and Ken married exactly one year after Remi’s self-matrimony, and Remi has since given birth to twin boys. “Maybe it’s because I am still in the early-parenting-love-fog, maybe its because my critic and nurturer remain harmonious in spite of their sleep deprivation but I find that I am more in balance than I would have expected at this point in life. In nurturing my children and my husband, I do feel surprisingly whole and well fed. It definitely helps that I have an amazingly helpful husband in most house chores and child raising activities.
Remi credits at least part of her current emotional equilibrium to marrying herself first, “In past relationships with men, I often felt split in half by the compromises that I needed to make to keep the relationship intact. Since my self-marriage, I remain committed to myself first and don’t splinter like I used to. Another thing I’ve noticed is that my harsh critic has toned down significantly since my two marriages. Being a bigamist has served me well.”
Where Remi got married:
In a field, by a lake
Items on her wedding registry:
10 pc. Combination wrench set
Leatherman original pocket tool
Sample Vow: “I will temper my desire for perfection while still maintaining the drive to excel. I look forward to a lifetime of curling up with you at night while we go to sleep curling up so tight that we become one big bundle of bliss.”
Spa retreat (where she ran into an old boyfriend)
Remi Rubel believes getting married to yourself should be a prerequisite to marrying someone else. She has written a letter to one of her state representatives to suggest this as a unique solution to the problem of women sacrificing their own needs in relationships.
I also help women (and a few intrepid men) marry themselves through my coaching practice. If you’re interested in being guided to marry yourself–yes, this is a fabulous thing to do–write me an email.