Me, Me, Me

Why Singles Should Say ‘I Don’t’ to The Self-Marriage Movement

It happened on Glee and in Sex and The City, and now in Japan women can marry themselves. But is self-marriage liberating, or a depressing absurdity?

12.30.14 10:50 AM ET

At Christmas, with images of families sitting around tables overflowing with food and tinselly cheer, singles could be forgiven cheering the news that “solo weddings” are being offered to single women to Japan. The BBC and other outlets reported that Cerca Travel’s two-day “solo wedding” package included choosing your own special gown, bouquet and hairstyle, a limousine service, a stay at a hotel and a commemorative photo album.

These (roughly) $2,500 ceremonies are supposedly about encouraging “positive feelings” on the part of the single brides. It seems more like a makeover though, because there’s an option of renting a “decorative” man, aged between 20 and 70 to pose alongside you if you so wish. A fake groom for your big day: magic!

The report quoted Tomoe Sawano, one of the first to try out a “solo wedding,” as saying, “This package boosted my sense of self-esteem… the effect was equal to a more extraordinary experience, such as visiting a World Heritage castle.”

And so, with the single population ever increasing—and people becoming more and more self-interested and privileged—perhaps this is the natural next evolution of the wheel: too busy to meet others, too independent to put up meekly with the tiresome habits and energy-sapping demands of others, too mistrustful of suitors generally, and eager-beavering away as the drones a hyper-capitalist society demands, the single will now marry themselves.

At least we know we’ll turn up to the ceremony on time, and we can take up as much of the bed as we like.

But is this as empowering as it sounds, or an admission of defeat, not just in terms of finding love but also making more profound bonds with others? If couples can seem smug and self-enclosed, the married single represents an even more irritating manifestation of that. Self-marriage is the ultimate brand extension of a self-obsessed, selfish populus.

The telling thing about the Japanese ceremonies is that they show that the single person would still like to marry someone, even if that someone is themselves. It makes their singledom look ludicrous. Marriage is a bond and a commitment—marrying yourself is ridiculous because you are already married to yourself. You already do all you can do for you. You already protect you, and look after you in sickness and in health. You have to. Your landlord would not have it any other way.

Marrying yourself merely underscores selfishness and self-interest, rather than enabling you to live singly in the best way. The ceremony doesn’t protect you—it isn’t even legal. It is gestural, but even worse it is empty. It is a joke, and not a funny one. Marrying yourself isn’t the answer for single people seeking affirmation or security. It’s desperate.

Marrying yourself sets you apart more from the world, when the real trick of being single is making and sustaining different kinds of meaningful connections with your fellow man, or woman, outside the realms of traditional nuptials. The world encourages us to be quite selfish enough without exacerbating this unattractive trait by encouraging the single to marry themselves.

While what she did may sound like the payoff to a joke, Sawano is not alone—even if marrying oneself is still seen primarily as a bit of a joke itself. In a 2010 episode, Glee’s Sue Sylvester married herself, having concluded that she was the best match for herself.

In the ‘A Woman’s Right to Shoes’ episode of Sex and The City, Carrie—fed up after her Manolos have been stolen at a friend’s party—announces she is getting married to herself, registering a gift account at Manolo Blahnik’s store for a replacement pair of the lost shoes, which the friend (at whose party Carrie’s shoes went missing) ends up paying for.

The framing of that episode echoes the emotional and cultural bedrock of why, I guess, you would want to marry yourself. The friend initially treats Carrie’s desire—that she take the loss of her shoes seriously—as a bit of a joke. She judges Carrie for spending $500 on the shoes, because—now married, with children—she has far more important things to spend her money on, she says.

Carrie’s rejoinder to this is a cheering rejoinder all singles feel at one time or another: yes, I have not married, or reproduced, but I enjoy what I enjoy. My life still has meaning, even if that is shoes. When Carrie announces that she will marry herself, the replacement Manolo shoes become the central item on her registry (not plates or glasses or cutlery)—this is joyous because Bradshaw is celebrating, and acknowledging, the frippery her single life affords her, not defending herself against accusations around that, and not being shamed by it.

But Carrie’s marrying herself was a one-episode sleight of narrative hand: the majority of Sex and The City is a single woman’s paranoid fairground ride through urban life.

The women encounter multiple losers, freaks, the Mr. Perfects, who always have something wrong with them—fierce parents in the wings, premature ejaculators, ones who explosively curse at orgasm.

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Ultimately, Sex and The City was all about getting married—the race, the panic—and in Carrie’s case a faulty wedding to Mr. Big set the trajectory of the first of the two (ill-conceived, especially the second) Sex and The City movies.

In a show about single women, Sex and The City was always in a rush to get to the altar—and with a man there waiting. For a show about the choices facing single women, Sex and The City was remarkably panicky about the choice to be alone, and what that could mean—and so it did the predictable familiar of making a joke about marrying oneself, then promptly forgot about it.

Writing in The Guardian in October, Grace Gelder said when she had married herself—in quite a fun-looking ceremony attended by her sister (her family were wholly supportive, she says) and many friends—the act was one of “self-love,” though not narcissistic.

“I’d been essentially single for almost six years and built up this brilliant relationship with myself,” Gelder wrote. “Nevertheless, I was aware of getting into a rut, where a relationship with someone else seemed like too much hard work. So I really wanted to pay tribute to this adventurous period of self-discovery but, at the same time, look forward to a new phase.”

She concluded: “I seem to sense much more clearly than before if something is worth pursuing or best left alone. And just because I married myself, it doesn’t mean that I’m not open to the idea of sharing a wedding with someone else one day.”

In Gelder’s reading, then, a self-marriage isn’t for life, it is a statement of single wellness, a sign to loved ones and society that she is on her own and doing OK. She will not be committing adultery on herself if she meets someone else, because her self-marriage was really a statement that she was, at this time of her life, doing just fine.

But why did Gelder need to marry herself to make that clear: by doing so, it underlines the importance of what marriage symbolizes, rather than her liberated single self. Marriage is the most conservative, conventional, patriarchy-rooted response Gelder could have chosen to declare her autonomy and strength to the world.

Rather like the Japanese women marrying themselves, there feels a defensiveness to the act, a sad admission, rather than a statement of liberation or independence. If you think divorce between two people is messy and traumatic, imagine divorcing yourself. How do you throw yourself out of your own home? Singles marriage therapy would be a (disturbing) riot.

In Japan, one woman said she liked the experience of marrying herself as an exercise in pampering.

The company running the enterprise, rather poignantly, says marrying oneself in its ceremonies, is to enable the "experience the feeling of being a princess” to single women who are not sure if they will get married, but want pictures of themselves in a bridal gown while they are “young and beautiful.”

There is nothing that empowering in these ceremonies, no grand feminist statement, no grand personal statement—just a rather pathetic play-acting of symbolism, and a sad acknowledgment toward the much more traditional marriage ceremony that may never take place in these women’s lives.

Anyone thinking of marrying themselves would be better advised to take a trip, or go to a restaurant, or a fantastic walk, or spend time with friends, see some art, go to a movie—stake your claim, show your single pride, but as a statement of itself and of yourself.

If feminists once decried marriage as a prison, a cultural licensing of female servitude and subservience, marrying oneself makes the worst of that even more acute. The single person merely turns all of that on themselves, rather than at least sharing the various joys and dramas of daily life with a significant other.

Expectations, reasonable or unrealistic, remain so even if we impose them on ourselves. Self-marriage isn’t the answer for the perennially single. Staying healthily, sanely single is.