Last year VICE asked the question: Is marrying yourself the next hot self-esteem trend? Reports were coming in of women from California to the UK's south coast, mostly in their thirties, taking the next step with themselves. Sticking up two fingers to convention and saying, "Alright, I'll take your outmoded tradition, your patriarchal road to ruin, and I'll make it about myself in every single way."
Sologamy, as it's called by the powers that be, isn't recognised in the US or Europe. However, while it might not be a legally binding union, it is part of a growing self-empowerment movement. The benefits are plentiful – no pressure to change your perfectly decent surname, no doing sex with the same body again and again, no resentment over a lopsided cleaning rota. It's all about real self-love. So you can see why people are into it.
Sasha Cagen is a life coach who offers lessons on how to embrace what she calls the "quirkyalone" lifestyle: a way of being for those who find themselves terminally single and just want to appreciate being alone until something perfect comes along romantically, if ever. Cagen is an advocate of the self-wedding, which she views as a much-needed coming-of-age ritual that functions like a Bat Mitzvah or a quinceañera. She wrote a book about it when it first started happening in northern California ten years ago, and now runs a business off of it. Plenty of women have got self-married directly as a result of her ideas and direction.
There are also plenty of critics of the concept, who largely think it's a narcissistic mess and the true embodiment of everything wrong with a society centred around self-importance and personal fulfilment. However, with the amount of young people staying single on the up, it's likely a move that will continue to appeal to some.
But is it a solid idea? Does it actually make you feel any better, or does your face now just come up in Google Images every time someone searches "woman marries herself"? I spoke to Cagen and other women who married themselves in the past year or so to see how they feel about their commitment retrospectively, and how – or if – it's really changed anything.
Sophie Tanner, Brighton, novelist.
VICE: During the honeymoon period were you just totally in love with yourself?
Sophie Tanner: Yeah I was. Six months before the wedding I'd moved into a studio and lived alone for the first time ever. I felt really lonely and weird about it. But in the honeymoon period there was a change. I was more, "You know what? We're going to have a night in together." There was a sense of treating yourself and indulging. People ask if I want to get married and I can say, "Actually, I'm already married to myself." You don't have to worry any more. You're not waiting around for the one because you are the one. You've found that person.
Have you had the usual marriage ups and downs?
I've had a lot of sickness: normal winter crap, sinusitis, colds and that sort of thing. And that phrase keeps floating around in my head – "through sickness and in health". It can be depressing and boring when you're ill in bed all the time. I'm expecting serious arguments and bad patches because people change and I'm expecting to change again, and have to get to know myself again and accept that change. I think there's always going to be times when I let myself down or I behave in a way I'm ashamed of. But I'll just accept that and not beat myself up.
If you do date anyone else, how will that work with your marriage? Would you get a second marriage?
People think if you marry yourself you gain a nun status, but obviously if you're a nun you commit your body to God. This is committing yourself to yourself. You can still love everyone else. Some people ask if I'd divorce myself, but divorcing yourself is being in the worst place you could be. That's when you don't ever want to live with yourself again, which is akin to suicide, really. I'm not going to get to that point. So would it be polygamy? I don't know how it fits, but I'm open to a relationship or potentially marriage.
Do you think self-marriage receives criticism because it's a form of radical self-love too great for a lot of people to come to terms with?
Yeah. Stylist covered it when I first got married, and although I'd addressed the concept of narcissism quite a lot, there was a lot of chat about how it was narcissistic. There's a huge difference between vanity and self-love. Why people find that the most vain thing you can do in this society – when selfies are so prevalent and there's so much about putting on your best face and appearance – I don't know.
Do you have anniversary plans?
I might be going to France in the mountains and getting some people who want to get married to themselves to come too. Have a big banquet. I thought it'd be nice to work with a charity for disadvantaged young women, to empower them.
Grace Gelder, London, photographer.
VICE: Why did you want a self-marriage?
Grace Gelder: I was getting happy with who I am as a person, but also wanted to look at the things that weren't working so well – basically, take stock of everything and make vows for the future based on that. It was a great exercise in being able to reassess and look at what's working and what's not.
What did you learn post-wedding?
What surprised me was that it went viral and I flew to Hollywood and the Middle East and was on television in god knows how many countries. That's when I learnt loads about the concept. For the feminist activists in Lebanon, self-marriage represented rebellion against restrictive expectations of marriage, and for the Americans it was like, "Cool, amazing! You love yourself – we all love ourselves!" That's when the learning started for me – when I had to discuss it in loads of different contexts. If I had any doubts about what I'd done I wouldn't have survived the media coverage – it was horrible at times. It taught me how much conviction I had behind my idea and to keep having conviction in my ideas.
If I'm unsure about something in my life, I always have the vows to revisit and look at the things that are really important to me, because I spent a long time thinking about them. I've always got those clear agreements with myself, so whatever's come up or whatever decision I have to make, those are underlying. And that's been a massive help.
Have you ever regretted doing it?
Never. On a scale of one to ten, I'd say it has nine out of ten changed the way I am in the world – the way I present myself, prioritise things. I have a lot more clarity around what's important to me, and that affects how I present myself or how I interact with people. My sense of who I am is much stronger and less dependent on other people. It's definitely affected my creative work because I do a lot of shoots around ritual, like New Year's – what people want for the upcoming year and incorporating that into a photo. Ritual has become very important to me.
Can you see self-marriage ever becoming totally normalised?
I can. I know a lot of people who have self-married as part of a meditation but not necessarily had anyone around to witness it. My decision to have people there is because I knew I would be more likely to take the commitment seriously, but that's just me. Very good friends can now hold me accountable from time to time. This year people are already asking me to speak and write about it, so it's picking up here and it's generally younger women. There's an acknowledgment that whether you're in a relationship or not, if you don't have a good relationship with yourself, your life is not as fulfilling.
Sasha Cagen, California, life coach, author and advocate of the "quirkyalone" and self-married lifestyle.
VICE: Okay, let's get serious. How was life any different after you got hitched?
Sasha Cagen: Afterwards, life goes on, you know – any marriage takes work. Obviously it's a journey that you go on with yourself, but you have these vows and promises to yourself that are very grounding. I think the biggest difference for me is the ring or engagement necklace that I put on, and every time I doubt myself it really calms or centres me when things come up or I need more confidence in myself; everything from a romantic persuasion to a business situation. I really think that marrying yourself is the best thing you can do for yourself, really.
How does it affect
your dating life?
Well, some men understand and some men don't. It makes you put up with less; you're less prone to settling and more interested in self-respect and not settling for scraps, basically. A lot of women get trapped in believing that relationships are painful and [involve] going for people who don't give us what we want. When you marry yourself you are basically creating a standard of what a relationship is, and you start training yourself to go for nicer people.
If things go downhill will you get divorced?
No [laughs]. That's the greatest thing: the only way to divorce yourself is to kill yourself, and otherwise you're in it. Let's say I neglect myself and become ill and I'm not sleeping properly, then I'm neglecting my self-marriage. One of my vows is to put my life ahead of my work. When I get into a situation when I'm being a workaholic and not taking care of myself, then I'm not obeying the vow of my self-marriage. But that just means that I have to come back to it, not divorce myself.
I think it makes a lot of sense. Do you think of it as a self-care thing?
Yeah, I think it is, and on a very deep level it marks a societal shift. A marriage was to celebrate becoming an adult, but now we live in a different world where people are staying single. A self-marriage is a coming of age ritual and it's really beautiful; to really commit to yourself is to say what your priorities are on a deep level. I think it is a step forward for women to really value themselves. Most people think it's really crazy, but I think it makes total sense. People are going to catch up with us in 50 years and it will be totally normal.
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