With almost half of marriages ending in divorce, Charlotte Lytton meets the women choosing to commit to themselves instead.
When 38-year-old Sophie Tanner celebrated her second wedding anniversary on Tuesday, there were none of the usual trappings — no flowers or romantic meal for two, no card sealed with a kiss.
It’s not that her other half is remiss, but that on May 16 2015, when the PR consultant took her vows on the steps of Brighton’s Unitarian Church, the person she swore to cherish for eternity was, well, herself.
“I literally had the idea when I was lying in bed recovering from flu and a bad relationship,” she remembers.
“Everyone celebrates getting together with someone and getting married, but there’s no milestone in society that celebrates escaping something awful or returning to your own happiness and contentment.”
Initially, Sophie’s idea was to write a book in which a woman married herself, but after two years researching sologamy – people who commit to themselves – for her novel, Happily, she was sold.
“By the end of that journey I was such an advocate for it, as a concept that I thought I’d better do it myself,” she says. “It felt like an obvious step, and all of my friends and family had become really into it, so by the time I said I wanted my own wedding, they were on board.”
The nuptials were both holy and wholly unique; the vows Sophie wrote were all adapted from their Biblical origins, she wore a £60 (R1028) vintage white dress and her father Malcolm, a 69-year-old painter and decorator, gave her away – to herself.
Afterwards, the 50-strong wedding party danced through the streets of Brighton and down to the beach to the sounds of Kendrick Lamar’s I Love Myself playing from a boom box.
It’s tempting to dismiss this as the height of Generation Selfie’s narcissism, particularly as the ceremony is not legally recognised (Sophie’s letter of enquiry on the matter, to Brighton and Hove register office, while researching her book met with the response that marriage was “exclusive” to two people).
But for Sophie, the weight of the occasion – a celebration of being single, and thoroughly enjoying it – still holds.
“Initially, I thought of the wedding as a light-hearted thing, and held it during the Brighton Fringe so passers-by could be a part of it,” she explains.
“But I got really nervous the day before. It felt like a really important thing to be doing, especially as it was one of the first sologamous marriages many people had seen.
“A few people told me it was the best wedding they’d ever been to. The atmosphere was amazing and it felt really powerful.”
While solo ceremonies such as Sophie’s are unlikely to unseat the traditional union for two, they do seem to be on the rise; part of a much bigger social trend for women rejecting the traditional timeline of their mothers and grandmothers, and forging an independent path, worlds away from the spinster stereotype.
“I think it’s hard not to adopt whatever society’s messages are, and I certainly think that one of the messages is, ’You are not enough if you are not with someone else’,” says Erika Anderson of her decision to self-marry.
The 37-year-old, who lives in New York, wed her university sweetheart in her 20s, but the pair split aged 30 after growing apart. Committing to herself, she says, was “an act of defiance“.
The notion of marrying oneself entered popular culture in a 2003 episode of Sex and the City, the US television series, in which Carrie Bradshaw, its protagonist, announced she was fed-up with forking out to celebrate friends’ life choices, but never her own.
In 2010, one of the lead characters on TV musical comedy Glee enjoyed a solitary wedding ceremony. Now, with some 42% of British marriages ending in divorce (unmarried women having outnumbered their married counterparts for the past decade), marrying yourself is, perhaps, the only safe bet.
Its proponents say that it is a modern rite of passage. “A wedding is just a marker in life,” explains Alexandra Gill, a Canadian food critic who married herself in 2006 and renewed her vows on her 10th wedding anniversary last year.
“Our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have the choice to remain single. Self-marriage is an opportunity to celebrate our personal independence, self-reliance and freedom from the chains of convention.”
But unsurprisingly, a number of businesses have spotted opportunities. Alexandra launched Marry Yourself Vancouver, a wedding planning service, last year. In Japan, where one in seven women are unmarried, Cerca Travel offers a two-day package that provides a dress fitting, make-up and hair styling, and a photo shoot, for upwards of £2 500 (R43 000).
Are these companies helping to de-stigmatise lone declarations of love or, as one website posited in response to Erika’s big day: “just looking to make bucks [off] a few sad feminists”?
“This is not a substitute for a partner, on the contrary it is [about being] a stronger member of society [and] more grounded as a person,” says California-based jeweller Jeffrey Levin, who created the self-marriage kit service, I Married Me, despite being conventionally married to his wife, Bonnie.
The pair have sold “hundreds” of packages, which can include white gold wedding rings, vows and ceremony instructions for around £200 (R3 426) in a bid to “allow individuals to be have a physical, tangible way of self-reinforcement and positivity“.
Of course, not everyone looks at the trend quite so positively.
When news of Sophie’s wedding hit the headlines, many on social media were quick to call her a narcissist; acquaintances, too, haven’t held back.
“A couple of guys have become a bit incensed,” she says. She has continued to date since her wedding ceremony, but has no plans to marry anyone (else). “One told me I couldn’t have my cake and eat it by marrying myself and then going on to have other relationships, and a man I was having a holiday fling with flipped out,” she says.
“I was surprised by the anger, it’s not harming anyone. Most of the guys I’ve been out with have been really supportive. It’s been a good filter to see their reactions when I tell them, as if they suddenly become wary, they’re not the one for me anyway.”
Sophie has one sister and four step-sisters, ranging in age from 22 to 38. She is, thus far, the only one out of the six of them to have been a bride.
“We’re all familiar with the fact that 2.4 children don’t always work out,” she says. “I think Mum might quite like me to find a nice man and be happy, but she knows from experience that things don’t always end up like that.”
Perhaps sologamy is the inevitable next step for millennials, who have already traded the traditional grown-up signifiers of home ownership and settling down for travelling the world, itinerant careers and moving from one rented flat to the next. In these very modern marriages, as with so much else, the only constant seems to be themselves.
VERY MODERN MARRIAGES
When was the first sologamous wedding?
American Linda Barker got hitched to herself in front of 75 friends and family members in 1993, in what is thought to be the first ceremony of its kind. “It’s about doing things for yourself and not waiting around for someone else to make it happen,” she said. Indeed.
Can you marry other things, too?
If your union being devoid of legal recognition isn’t a dealbreaker for you, then the world’s your oyster. Though no one has married one of them, yet. Two years ago, artist Tracey Emin wed a rock that resides in the garden of her French home; she describes her other half as “an anchor, something I can identify with”.
Can men do it, too?
Well, the church of self-love doesn’t discriminate, but fewer men seem to be queueing up to make it official. Heron Saline took his vows in Minnesota 15 years ago and since then, he has “felt a deep sense of peace and safety, belonging and just plain love”.
Can you divorce yourself?
Not legally, given that solo weddings aren’t binding. Which means if you’ve got irreconcilable differences with yourself, you’ll just have to figure it out. – The Daily Telegraph