Nadine Schweigert got married this February, but there was no exchange of rings or vows. Schweigert got married to herself. At 36 years old and a mother of two she decided not only is she happy with her life—but she wanted to share and celebrate that happiness in front of a room full of family and friends. Whether she meant to or not, she also showed the world she didn’t need a man to get married.
The pressure people—women especially—face to get married is severe, from women’s magazines describing the perfect wedding to every romantic comedy ending with happily ever after. Maybe no one asked you directly (which is rare), but everyone around you is getting married, so you stick out, and everyone wants to know, well, what happened to you? So, does marrying yourself offer a way to fight the nagging insistence that everyone should get partnered up, or does it just perpetuate the idea that everyone should inevitably get married?
One perfect day for “one” is not exactly the “happily ever after” story we are taught to believe in. Schweigert’s decision turned quite a few heads—landing on the front page of her hometown newspaper. Something about this story was incredibly compelling, expressing so many of our cultural anxieties around commitment and single life. What does one do without a partner? What is the point of getting married if it is not to someone else? What does it say about the institution of marriage if women can just run around and marry themselves?
Perhaps because of all these anxieties, getting married to yourself is not something you hear about often. There was that famed moment in Sex and the City when Carrie decided to register herself at Manolo Blahnik for a pair of shoes. And in season two of Glee, Sue Sylvester made a big deal about marrying herself, officiating the wedding herself and calling it “same-self marriage.”
And in real life— in 2010 Chen Wei-yih, a Taiwanese woman married herself, explaining that the pressure to get married is ridiculous. And last fall another woman, Desiree Moodie, in New York City, wound up single right before her wedding day and decided to marry herself in front of her friends and family. (I mean, who wants to cancel all that catering?)
While popular and social culture is still tied to the idea that everyone should find one great true love—our behavior is not exactly matching up. The Pew Institute found last year that just barely 50 percent of Americans are married—a sharp decline from 1960 when 72 percent of all Americans over 18 were married, to today when 51 percent are. And there is a wide array of reasons people are forgoing those nuptials (according to the Brooking’s Institute, it’s the economy), but either way, marriage is less common then ever before seen in recent history.
Sasha Cagen writes in Quirkyalone on the growing desire for women to get married to themselves, “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 hear is a commitment to take care of oneself as one hopes or imagines that a lover would. Women also frame self-matrimony as a unique solution to the problem of women sacrificing their own needs in a relationship. Marry yourself first, they say, before marrying anyone else.” For Cagen, self-marriage can be a radical act not only in self-love, but a statement about the roles women are put in within traditional relationships.
While marrying yourself is an empowering ceremony of self-love for some, others believe that the act of marrying yourself is an example of American individualism gone awry. Brad Wilcox Director of the National Marriage Project believes if marrying yourself becomes a trend, we’ve got a problem. He told me over email, “I think it’s nonsensical … marriage is a fundamentally social institution, and has been so across cultures and historical epochs.” He continues, “Marriage is about establishing a community of love and life together, about committing to someone else, about compromising, about communicating, and—more often than not—about sharing the adventure of parenthood together.” According to Wilcox, if you don’t have that partner, you won’t be able to build that community and your children suffer.
When asked what Schweigert should have done instead, he said she should accept she is single, writing, “She is single, regardless of what she may think.”
Wilcox, an ardent supporter of marriage, is not alone in critiquing the necessity for marrying yourself and some proponents of marriage suggest that this deterioration in marriage rates between men and women is leading to the deterioration of society. Conservative groups like the National Organization of Marriage seek to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage insisting that marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman, this ideal is the very fabric of society, which is slowly withering away. (That unfounded fear is only furthered with Obama publically endorsing same-sex marriage!)
Rhetoric like this often extends to women that marry themselves, since part of the push to keep marriage the way it traditionally has been, is also to keep women in traditional roles as wives, mothers and caretakers. Anti-gay marriage advocates argued that gay marriage would ruin society, as we knew it, and a similar argument is extended to women that marry themselves.
But while conservatives demand pushing traditional marriage and reality television fetishizes one perfect day, the reality of how we are living our lives has changed more than any Mad Men nostalgia can bring us back to. Marriage has shown itself to play an increasingly different role in the lives of new generations—whether they are choosing single life, co-parenting and co-habitating, polyamorous relationships or opting for domestic partnerships.
Many opposed to the idea that everyone has to get married or have a ceremony may not see the value in self-marriage. I mean, isn’t part of “single and loving it” about defying what we consider a legitimate lifestyle? Aren’t many of us single to get away from outdated traditions captured in weddings? Shouldn’t single women be fighting for our own something different—the right to be recognized as who we are, single and unmarried but not judged or seen as incomplete for it?
And still despite declining marriage rates, the pressure to get married is very real. What is considered a legitimate partnership, while slowly changing, is ultimately not supported by the world around us. A lot of people are still getting married and women continue to face enormous emotional and social pressure to get married. This story making headlines is proof of that—while practice is changing, society has yet to catch up to it truly and as a result an overwhelming majority of people feel incomplete without getting married. In the face of such insurmountable pressure, Schweigert’s decision and the decision of many women like her is actually quite courageous.