I Now Pronounce You: Wife!
The cost of marrying oneself
I recently received an email invitation to a wedding with only one participant: my friend, the New York-based writer Erika Anderson, had decided to marry herself. Here is a lightly edited version of our subsequent conversation.
ESTER: So Erika! Tell us a little about yourself and about this party you’re planning to throw.
ERIKA: I know this is all a bit ridiculous, but to begin: I’m living in my first apartment that’s mine and mine alone, which, as you know, with NYC real estate, is a feat. And I’m turning 36. So I decided to turn my birthday brunch / housewarming into a day where I also marry myself — because why the hell not?
I’ve been wearing my old engagement ring for a few months as a way to recommit to a book I’ve been working on, and recently someone in a bar noticed, and asked me who I was marrying. “Myself!” I immediately replied. So I’m following through on that.
ESTER: There is so much to unpack here. :) Perhaps let’s begin with your living alone for the first time, or at least in an NYC apartment by yourself for the first time. How long has that been the case, and what made it possible?
ERIKA: Let’s see, I’ve been in my own place for two months. Which to me is a really long time, especially since I’ve been traveling and vagabonding for the last year, to do research for said book, and because I was in a space of zero geographical commitment. The copywriting work I’ve been doing for the last three years shifted from part time to full time, and once the funds were there, I thought, “I’m doing this.”
A friend was moving out of his place in Brooklyn Heights, and once he told me the address — on Pineapple Street — I knew it had to happen. I’m using a lot of pineapple emoji these days :)
I mean, it’s a serious investment, but I realized that there was no way I was going to write this book without having my own space, and having lived in NYC for the last five years, this is where my community is.
ESTER: I’m impressed that you could go from vagabonding to solo living in a posh neighborhood! Had you done a lot of saving in advance to make it all possible?
ERIKA: Hmm. No. The truth is that I still have credit card debt to pay down, and while I’ll be able to do that this year, I realized that I also needed to invest in a home, even if it’s only for the year. The importance of having a sanctuary where I could write trumped everything else, and it turns out that I love it. I might be a secret introvert: very social, but recharging happens solo.
ESTER: What was the best thing you spent money on while you were vagabonding? Something related to sanctuary / being alone / secret introversion, or something social?
ERIKA: Good question. The truth is that I was able to vagabond fairly inexpensively since I was almost always staying with friends, both here in the US and when in Europe. Perhaps the “best” thing was my crappy rental car because I hadn’t experienced the freedom of the open road in so long. And everyone I met across America was incredibly friendly, always wanting to make sure I knew where I was headed. I called it my New York detox — apparently there are other places to live.
ESTER: Who knew? Now that you’re back in NY, and living on your own, you’re throwing a party. Please tell us more about this party.
ERIKA: I’ve decided to go with a French theme, since I lived in France and Switzerland for years before moving to NY, and I learned that sometimes you should absolutely eat an entire loaf of bread in one sitting. So there will be plenty of baguette and cheese, plus whatever fruit looks good. Oh, and rosé and Prosecco (sorry, France — champagne is $$$!). But one thing about this co-op where I’m living has a gorgeous roof deck that overlooks the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, so assuming the weather’s nice, we’ll head up there for a toast as I decide to take the plunge and marry myself.
ESTER: Will the ceremony take place up there?
ERIKA: Yes, that’s the plan. After I made my “self-marriage” registry public on Amazon, a “self-marriage expert” bought me some shot glasses and said her services were available. I guess that was a business investment on her end? I won’t be hiring anyone, but I did get a dress and … must I admit that a makeup artist is coming to my place?
The truth is that I love dress up. Always have, always will. Instead of giving myself a wedding ring, which just feels odd, I have ordered a personalized ID bracelet that reads “je te choisis” — I choose you.
ESTER: OK, I need to hear about this “self-marriage” expert. (We’ll come back to the registry.) (And the make up artist.) Self-marriage is enough of a thing that some people can market themselves as self-wedding planners?
ERIKA: Apparently! I was only aware of it from references to “Sex and the City” (I never watched the show) and Dennis Rodman. But I’ve been researching it more recently. It’s legal in Japan, women have done it in Taiwan, the UK, the Netherlands, and tons of American women, even one who calls herself Beautiful Experience. Some couple is trying to market a “self-marriage” kit, which I can’t imagine sells well, because the whole idea is DIY. Plus, goodbye marriage-industrial complex.
ESTER: Is it all targeted at women? (Dennis Rodman being the exception that proves the rule?)
ERIKA: I think so. I don’t think the patriarchy would like it if men started marrying themselves. I mean, I don’t think said patriarchy loves that women are doing it. (The only detractors I’ve read from are men, and they were ‘Shocked!’) But it’s mainly treated as something frivolous and benign. I swear, though, every article about self-marriage cites “Glee” (yes, a guy married himself on the show), and “Sex and the City,” as if those weren’t fictional plots.
ESTER: Right. Besides, I’ve seen every episode of SATC, God help me, and I don’t recall any of the characters marrying themselves. What I do remember is Carrie going to a party (baby shower or something?), having to take off her shoes, and then, after they were taken by someone else, registering for a bunch of stuff, since she realized she’d had to buy gifts for so many other people. Did she actually marry herself in that episode?
If she did, it clearly didn’t stick, because she goes on to marry Big, duh.
ERIKA: Ha. That’s exactly what people are referring to, and you make a good point — she doesn’t actually marry herself, she just makes a registry to get her Manolos “back.” But Samhita Mukhopadhyay, who wrote Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life refers to this episode when she looks at “married privilege.” That was the first I heard of it.
ESTER: What is “married privilege,” according to that book?
ERIKA: I think something along the lines of, “You get the presents, the bridal showers, the baby showers, we come to your weddings no matter where they are, you get the social media glory and we get silence.” That is 100% my own words. I’ve certainly felt some of that, even though I used to be married. I’m private about my dating life, so it happens behind the scenes — only friends know about it. There are never photos to commemorate what might have been meaningful relationships that simply didn’t last, and they aren’t less for not lasting. At the same time, when I was going through my divorce and friends were breaking up, saying, “It’s basically like I’m divorcing too.” I was like, “Um, no.”
ESTER: Are you thinking a lot about your marriage and its dissolution these days, now that you’ve planned this second marriage to yourself? Do you think this is something you would be doing if that hadn’t happened first?
ERIKA: I guess so. I mean, my first marriage has almost always been in the backdrop of my dating life. I’ve written a lot about that — drawing my new experiences against that landscape. I try not to think too much about what life would be like if I hadn’t been with someone for my twenties. I know that’s what I wanted then — relationships were number one. The only thing, really. And I saw how incredibly destructive that can be — to move from country to country, neglecting career and community to stay with someone.
But I got divorced almost six years ago. I was a different person then. Or that the person I am now was just starting to wake up when I walked out of that marriage. My ex is now remarried and I just want him to be happy. I really do. And I want to be happy too, so instead of feeling some pressure to marry — from society and myself — or merely pressure to be in a relationship, I’m saying “Hey, I’m good enough as is.”
ESTER: Is that what the wedding to yourself is intended to communicate to the world?
ERIKA: Absolutely. This is a “nothing more, nothing less, here I am” kind of thing, to my friends and to myself. I’m going to tell you a secret that won’t be secret anymore. When I’m having a bad day, and I find myself in an elevator, I give the inside of my wrist a little kiss. Not like a full blown make out sesh. But a peck. Like, “Hey, babe, it’s going to be okay.”
ESTER: That is really sweet. And this will be like doing that, only in a much more public fashion! So what kind of commitment are you making to yourself here? And after this question I promise we’re going to talk registry and make-up artists. But I want to know: are you promising to love, honor, and cherish yourself, no matter what? Or do you have a different vow?
ERIKA: You know, I still have to work on my vows. I don’t believe in no matter what, because sometimes I really don’t cherish myself. I’ve been looking over other self-marriage vows and it’s all, “I’ll never let you down ever again!” and I’m like, “Hells no, I will definitely let myself down.” I’m not turning into an angel after this. But these are the vows I made when I got married ten years ago:
I commit to love and cherish you as I love and cherish myself
I commit to share myself completely, my gold and my shadow
I commit to sharing my joy, my anger, my sadness and my fear
I commit to you fully and completely in body mind heart and soul
I choose you
Turns out cherish was in there! The last line grabs me though, since that’s what my bracelet will say. Actually, I looked up “je te choisis” and found a prayer to the Virgin Mary, and even though I’m not religious, I was taken by some of the language. I might adapt it and translate it.
ESTER: Okay, now walk me through the financial aspects of this! How much are you expecting to spend, more or less, and what prompted you to set up the registry? How will that part of things work?
ERIKA: You know, I’ll be shocked if people actually get anything from the registry. Mainly it was a note to self of everything I need to buy for my place since I came into this apartment owning books and clothes, full stop. When I sent the registry to my family — as ideas for birthday gifts — I made note of just how selfish I am, since this doesn’t go down well in the midwest. Still, my dad asked, “Is this for real?” Ha.
But let’s see, I’m expecting to spend …
- $60 for the dress (ModCloth)
- $100 on makeup
- $300–500 on food / party thangs
- $200 on wine / bubbly
- $60 on shoes
- $40 on bracelet
- $60 mani / pedi
- $10 eyebrow threading
- $50 on flowers
I will probably just ask friends to take some photos. I guess that looks like $1000? If so, that will be the cheapest self marriage I’ve heard of. Cheap date, even for myself!
ESTER: Cheap or not, it sounds like a day to remember. And who knows? Carrie did get her shoes. (I was wrong, by the way: I checked, and she did tell her friend she was marrying herself.) Maybe your friends will surprise you! Any last thoughts?
ERIKA: I think if you don’t get it, that’s fine. Just ignore and move on. And if you get it, celebrate your goddamn self. I mean, Americans are supposedly the most narcissistic people in the universe, but actually there isn’t room for narcissism inside love: love for oneself or for others. Saying yes to myself isn’t saying no to anyone else. And on that note, this will be an open marriage.
Also! I forgot to mention two books / writers that were vastly influential in this quest.
After reading Kate Bolick’s feature “All the Single Ladies,” I went to a panel at PowerHouse Books, and I remember hearing her say something along the lines of, “We now have more time being single than ever before. I hope you’re not going to spend it looking for Mr. Right.” The thing is, I was. I was looking for a husband replacement. Thank god I didn’t get one. I needed this time on my own, outside of a solid relationship.
Then this winter I went to Rebecca Traister’s talk with Anna March at Greenlight and her book All the Single Ladies (notice a theme?) was a feminist primer and a fuck yeah. Women are often blamed for being “alone” as if not being in a relationship means we’re flawed, though the same insult is rarely thrown at men. The fact is, because we can stand on our own economically, because marriage is now a choice, we should absolutely have high standards. No more responding to 2:00 AM texts and thinking that’s the best we’ll get.
ESTER: Best wishes, Erika!
ERIKA: Thanks so much, Ester! I’m going to say congratulations to myself too. I guess I get both :)