Thursday, May 26, 2022

Sologamy As An Act of Self Love: Why One Kiwi Woman Married Herself

Who needs a groom to get married? ‘Sologamy’ – self-marriage – may just be the kind of self-celebration we need.

Anna Dean, 44, is married: to herself. “I actually went through the process of marrying myself for my 30th birthday,” says Anna, a self-employed marketing and communications creative. She threw a party at Mighty Mighty, a Wellington bar and music venue which she had helped set up and where she had a gig managing its major events and VIP club.

Anna didn’t make any vows, but she wore a white dress and white hat, cut a cake, and had a ring made (by Octavia Cook) from an amethyst stone that came from Anna’s great-grandmother’s brooch. “The theme was leather and lace, so everybody wore these outrageous outfits and I got lifted up above everybody’s heads on a sort of Doric column [a borrowed film prop]. It all felt like a really fun expression of who I was at that time in my life – and not a wanky look-at-me thing.” People got it.

Anna’s wedding party

The technical term for “self-marriage” is sologamy. Marrying yourself usually involves a ceremony (nope, not legally binding), wedding dress and vows, and often guests and cakes. The first sologamist is thought to be Linda Baker from Santa Monica in the US, who married herself in 1993 as her 40th birthday – which she wanted to be a joyous occasion – approached. Plus, she’d always wanted to have a wedding cake one day. She had one white dress, one officiant, 70 guests, and one fabulous three-tiered cake.

Sologamy certainly makes for good TV. Who remembers Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City announcing she was going to marry herself after saying that her married friends never celebrated her singledom? (It didn’t happen, and turned out to be mainly about shoes, but hey.) The characters of Sue Sylvester in Glee, and Holly Franklin in The Exes, both married themselves. 

“Sologamy is… women saying yes to themselves. It means that we are enough, even if we are not partnered with someone else.”

Internationally, sologamy has become a thing – if only a fringe thing – over the last five or six years. Self-marriage ceremonies have taken place in the UK, Canada, Australia and Japan, for starters, but most often in the US.

Erika Anderson, a New York writer who married herself in 2016, told a news outlet that she would describe it “as women saying yes to themselves. It means that we are enough, even if we are not partnered with someone else.” She also said she doesn’t think sologamy is very radical. “We’re just using a patriarchal ploy – something that already exists that we already agreed as a society matters – and we’re taking that and applying it to ourselves.” 

Sologamy has even infiltrated New Zealand. In 2020, Nelson massage therapist Stephanie Crampton and five other women (at her invitation) took part in a “self-love ceremony”. A mirror was positioned under a driftwood altar. There were vows, a celebrant, and a small group of onlookers.

Of course, the pandemic hasn’t been a great time for multi-guest weddings of any kind. So why not do it online? On Valentine’s Day 2022, 32-year-old French visual artist, Éva Ostrowska, became the first person to marry herself in the ‘metaverse’ (the collective, highly immersive virtual world). She donned a virtual-reality headset to enter the metaverse as a 3D character and conducted her own wedding ceremony.

It’s easy to make jokes about sologamy. Who knew you can order “I Married Me Self-Wedding In-A-Box” kits for $230 with your choice of four rings, ceremony instructions, vows, and 24 affirmation cards? Can’t you just be in a de facto relationship with yourself, rather than going through the rigmarole of a wedding? What about getting divorced? Would marrying someone else be cheating on yourself? (No, you can still marry someone else later.)

But these kind of flippant comments miss the point of why someone might choose sologamy. Perhaps it’s a radical act of self-love that acknowledges your own value and values. Perhaps, when you lose yourself in your fast-paced life, it’s a way of finding yourself. Perhaps it’s about rejecting patriarchal norms and social expectations about needing a partner in order to flourish and be happy. 

Hell, perhaps it could be a ‘f**k you’ to The Daily Wire, a conservative American news website and media company, which ran a story called ‘SOLOGAMY: The Saddest Trend You’ve Ever Heard Of’. “Sad, bitter feminists with a millennial-like flare for narcissism are marrying themselves,” the writer stated, sounding sad and bitter.

The ‘charitable’ organisation Family First New Zealand (which describes itself as a non-partisan non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting marriage and family in New Zealand) reprinted this story and linked to the site protectmarriage.org.nz with its slogan ‘One Man. One Woman. That’s Marriage’. Anyone else feeling infuriated right now? 

Anna Dean sure did when she heard about it. The highly regarded “impact producer” is a marketing and communications creative, often working in the arts, culture, politics and entertainment areas. She owns a house in Golden Bay, but works around the country. Anna also runs, with Angela Meyer, the Ace Lady Network: an online community and events series bringing women together for nearly 10 years. For five years, the duo also ran the well-regarded public-relations and creative agency Double Denim, centred on women and focused on projects that promote gender equality.

A trendsetter in her work, Anna had a “wild idea” four years ago: staging a group self-love ceremony where each individual would marry themselves. She originally planned it as part of a wider women’s festival. Then this summer, City Gallery staged the exhibition ‘Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings’, showing the work of the Swedish artist and mystic (1862-1944) whose pioneering abstract paintings were largely ignored by the male-dominated art world. “Understanding what her art and her life were about, I thought this could be the ‘perfect marriage’,” Anna says. The gallery said yes to her putting on a ‘Self-Love Wedding Ceremony’ on 13 February as part of the exhibition’s public programme. 

The invitation read “Come along to a short ‘wedding’ ceremony and take a vow to deeply commit and honour YOURSELF”, noting it was also “an antidote to Valentine’s Day.” Anna didn’t expect much interest – it was a Sunday evening, there was a cyclone, the protest at Parliament was on and, you know, Covid restrictions. So she was utterly delighted when it sold out quickly (it was free, but you had to book). Eighty people participated. “People contacted me in advance saying they were drying flowers so they could throw petals. Some people spent the day in preparation for the ceremony. It was mainly women, but all genders and all sexual orientations.” 

The ‘celebrant’, performance artist Bek Coogan, couldn’t be there because of Covid restrictions, so she appeared on a live feed from her bathroom. “I was the representative in the room,” says Anna, who was wearing priest-like, loose white-and-purple robes, on loan from artist Josephine Cachemaille (who had made them for public rituals). “As people arrived,” Anna says, “I checked in with them, asking if they had any last-minute questions or concerns or wanted a heart to heart.” But people were generally just pumped to be there – and they went all out in dressing up. 

“Some people turned up in wedding dresses and crazy tuxedos. Somebody had handmade her dress.” Some wore hats. One woman made a wreath to wear on her head. “There was even a couple in their 60s who had been together for 40 years and didn’t believe in the concept of marrying another person, but wanted to marry themselves.” 

Some people wrote their own vows, but most followed the vows and process provided by Anna and Bek. “Each person said their vows, then walked ‘down the aisle’ and came face to face with themselves at a mirror. Some people walked, some skipped, some ran. Some people hugged the mirror. Some kissed their reflections.” There was whooping, hollering, cheering, flower throwing. “It was wilder than I expected it to be, but also emotional and serious. It really did seem to tap into an unmet need for both self-love and for connecting with others at a time when many feel isolated or distant from others.”

“I think the idea of self-love is something really potent and needed at this time”

Anna says marrying yourself isn’t a narcissistic thing to do. “It’s about [furthering] self-love: having an understanding of, and resonant relationship with, yourself.” When Anna has mentioned the self-love ceremony at City Gallery after the fact, many women have said they think the idea is cool, and that they could really do with some more self-love. “For instance,” Anna says, “many women have had that inner dialogue of ‘I’m not worthy of a certain type of love, so I’ll compromise because this person’s interested in me’. I put up with stuff that I shouldn’t have partly because I wasn’t clear on who I am and what I wanted.”

“Having being married to a man at age 38 and having been through quite a brutal break-up, I did a lot of self-development work around that. The thing that comes through in the literature and the learning is – and even [famous drag queen] Ru Paul said this – ‘if you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love anybody else’?” 

Also, Anna wants to challenge the notion that the key to happiness in life is “external validation. “As in, are you married? How fantastic is your career? How much money are you earning? Are you still looking hot? What’s the next pair of shoes or whatever item you’re buying?”

She’s not saying that looking hot and wearing heels are out, but that maybe we can affirm our value by looking inside, not out. “There’s this concept of being ‘selfless’. Many women have internalised these ideas of people pleasing, and putting others’ needs before their own, but it’s not necessarily a good thing to say yes to everything, be at everyone’s beck and call, and not set clear boundaries, like with work-life balance. The opposite of ‘selfless’ is ‘selfish’ – but in the middle, there is ‘self-full’. That’s not being ‘full of yourself’ [in a conceited way] – it’s about feeling a deep understanding of who you are, your needs and values, and what you want to spend your time and life doing.” 

Anna says that knowing lots of people can be a kind of “false closeness,” if we don’t know many of them in a way that adds meaning to our lives. “We used to have so much more support.” She’s talking about neighbours, extended families and good friends, as opposed to ‘friends’ on social media where you only see curated pics of their lives, “and know little about what’s really going on for them”.

Also, the pressures of lockdowns and working from home have seen some relationships crumble. “All in all, I think many people are more isolated than ever, so any way they can really connect with themselves is important. It’s that ‘deep soul self’ that can hold you steady through difficult times.” 

“I think the idea of self-love is something really potent and needed at this time, especially because we’re facing a global pandemic. We hear about so many people dying, which brings up the fear of our own mortality and death, which isn’t discussed widely in mainstream culture. Many people have been questioning what’s important in their lives – and we’ll keep facing challenges including catastrophic climate change, perhaps more viruses or World War III [if the Russia situation escalates]. People actually need deep relationships with themselves, and a strong sense of their connections with the world, to be part of the massive social changes required to deal with climate change.”

Anna is talking to the Splore! festival about doing a self-love ceremony like the City Gallery one, but potentially much bigger. “Hopefully I can use the same robes and do it on the main stage, because I reckon it works best as a big public ceremony. I’m really interested in the lack, and loss, of public ritual in Western culture, and how ritual can be used to actually bring communities together in physical spaces, because many of us are so physically distant from each other. I mean, people get together for weddings, funerals and 21sts but there’s no marking of, say when people reach puberty, leave home, or have a miscarriage.” And how about a divorce party?

Anna isn’t currently seeing anyone. “I’m very happy on my own. I’d like a companion to share my life with, but I definitely don’t need someone to complete me. I’m concentrating on who I am and what I’m choosing to spend my time on.”

Is there a ‘poor you’ stigma when it comes to single and childless women aged 40-plus? “There’s so much pressure on being partnered up but I think now there’s actually some pushback against the ‘poor you’ thing. I read about a study that said single women are the happiest women.” The American Time Use Survey, run by the United States Census Bureau, shows that unmarried and childless women are the happiest subgroup in the population. 

Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics and the author of the book Happy Ever After: Escaping the Myths of the Perfect Life, talked about this at the Hay Festival, a big-hitter literary festival in Wales dubbed the ‘Woodstock of the Mind’. “You see a single woman of 40, who has never had children – ‘Bless, that’s a shame, isn’t it? Maybe one day you’ll meet the right guy and that’ll change.’ No, maybe she’ll meet the wrong guy and that’ll change. Maybe she’ll meet a guy who makes her less happy and healthy, and die sooner.”

Anna wanted children but has come to terms with not having them. “I think many women find that really hard and for some people I imagine it’s quite damaging. It’s really confronting. I was shocked, actually, when that kind of hormonal reality kicked in, like ‘you’re running out of time here’. Fuck, it’s brutal. It’s a grief and it pops up at the weirdest times. I had about a six-month period where I couldn’t watch any TV show that had any storyline to do with a kid’s birthday or a graduation, or any of that stuff because it was actually, literally triggering. And I never expected any of that.”

She thinks that her drive to have children contributed to her getting married at 38. “I had this timeframe of the date that I’d be settled down by.” Now, she’s okay with having no timeframe. “And the chances that I’ll meet somebody who has children is probably quite high.” Should she meet someone, she has enough self-love to know exactly who she is and what she needs.

Does she think she could put on more self-love ceremonies, as a sort of ‘self-love ambassador’? “Would people think that that’s about masturbation?”, Anna jokes. What about a more appropriate job title, like ‘self-wedding celebrant’? “Totally! I’d love to do self-love ceremonies where they’re needed.” Anyone keen?

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