Lucy Meggeson who lives across the pond in the UK, who is great and hilarious, and who is definitely my kind of woman (I bet we could be BFFs if we lived in the same city), interviewed me for her new podcast Spinsterhood Reimagined.
Here’s the description: “Are you single, childfree, and tired of the stigma attached to your ‘spinster’ status? Are you actually having an awesome time, loving your life because of the freedoms afforded to you as a result of being alone and not having kids? Or are you not quite there yet? Either way, this is for you.”
Lucy’s mission is to help other women who happen to be single and childfree know their own value, and that their lives are just as meaningful as anyone else’s. Knowing that working with single women has been a focus of my coaching practice, she asked me all kinds of juicy questions. Because she made me feel so comfortable, I told her the truth, the whole truth! I so suggest that you give this one a listen!
Lucy asked about:
The best part of being single, even when it’s not your first choice
How I finally found peace in not becoming a mother, and appreciate my life on its own terms, after years of struggle with that topic
My own relationship history: quirkyalone and quirkytogether. I am known for celebrating singledom but I’ve actually always been pretty relationship-oriented! In this episode we talk about women who want to be quirkyalone, women who have always been in relationship and haven’t paid as much attention to their own needs and desires, and how I help them get clear about what they really want in relationships and life, and live fully.
How I used to be embarrassed to call myself a life coach, but not I’m embarrassed by it anymore now that coaching has grown and gotten more respect, and more people are wising up to the value of hiring a coach
How I draw on tango and physical mindfulness practices like pussywalking to help my clients step into their power at work and in relationships, and become the women they want to be
The power of listening to your body (and developing your sensuality) to make better decisions and change your life
We had so much fun recording this episode, and we hope you enjoy it! Let us know what you think in the comments, and be sure to leave Lucy’s podcast a review if you like it.
Here’s a funny little promo Lucy made for the episode. Lucy used to be an audio engineer at the BBC. Can you tell?
Life is feeling a bit overwhelming lately, and so in today’s newsletter, I decided to go light with this dollop of joy and enlightenment from my spirit animal Jonathan Van Ness, author of Love That Story, and star of Queer Eye and host of Getting Curious.
There are a lot of reasons to love Jonathan, but I think one thing I admire most is his unabashed enthusiasm. He often sounds like a nine-year-old girl getting super excited about something he truly believes in, and that is such an attractive quality in an adult.
Drew Barrymore asked JVN (as he is known), “What is your advice for people who are actively dating?”
And by the way, this is excellent advice for life, and work, as well as dating.
JVN: “Even if you are looking to be in relationship with someone, we always are going to come back to our relationships with ourselves.
In yoga this one time we learned, we all learned that we all have this invisible magnet inside of us that is positively or negatively charged, you know. I think when you are working on yourself, it’s going to charge that magnet in such a way that the person you are meant to be with is going to vibe towards you anyway, so you really can’t lose by investing in yourself and your relationship with yourself anyway.”
When I talk to my women coaching clients who are 50+, I hear a lot of frustrations about dating. What’s the best dating site to use? Are all the good ones taken? And what about internalized ageism? Is it really too late to find love or is that a story you have been telling yourself based on negative experiences? Does anyone really want to get involved with someone who doesn’t want to shack up together? SPOILER ALERT: Yes! There are plenty of quirkytogethers (or aspiring living-alone-togethers) out there, people who want a committed relationship but not to cohabitate.
This topic of finding love at every life stage (and keeping your sexual spark alive too) is near and dear to my heart because I know it’s not easy but it is possible to find a new mate and feel sexy at every age–I see those stories play out around me in my personal life and with my clients. I also have noticed many women who came to Buenos Aires to study tango with me convinced that no one would find them attractive. I’ve seen those same women get checked out by the men in the milongas with my own two eyes.
The story we tell ourselves about what is possible makes all the difference.
All of this is why I am really excited to invite you to this free online event.
Carolyn, an inveterate social scientist, and definitely a quirky, independent woman, devised an unusual, and highly structured, dating plan to go on 50 first dates to find the right partner for her in her late fifties. Not everyone would want to go on 50 dates–personally that marathon of first dates sounds hellish to ambiverted me!
But I admire Carolyn’s pluck–and the example of resilience she is providing by sharing her story. I’ll be asking her about how she stitched her heart back together after disappointments and rejections.
This event will be a chance to hear about Carolyn’s book, get inspired, and learn about how other women 50+ are faring in the dating scene.
If you have been considering working with me as your life coach this free event is a nice low-pressure chance to get to know me a little better and see me in action interviewing Carolyn.
If you are over 40, 50, 60, or 70 and battle voices in your head that tell you it’s too late, you should definitely come. Yes, it’s great to come to peace with being single, we all need to walk that path to find contentment and joy exactly where we are right now in life. But if love is something you really want, then why give up and deny that? You can register here.
P.S. In reality, everything we are going to talk about will be relevant to people of all ages – so if you are any age and dating or contemplating dating again, you should join us.
If you are looking for something to watch, I suggest Love on the Spectrum, an Australian docu-series on Netflix about autistic people on their dating journeys.
It’s light, entertaining, and uplifting. Plus, the people they are following have a lot to teach all of us, including neurotypical people, about how to be emotionally brave in dating.
Love on the Spectrum is the best dating show because the people are so incredibly real. They say things like this, “I feel very warm, appreciated, and comfortable with you. How would you like to go out with me on a third date?” I loved it when one of them said he would never want to be on The Bachelor because he wouldn’t get to be himself.
Dating is tough enough for everyone, but it is has got to be tougher for autistic people who face stigma and tend to find social interactions challenging. What I love about the people on the show is their honesty. No pretending, no facade. What you see is what you get.
When it comes to love, their sincerity is so refreshing. They get hurt and disappointed, but they don’t get jaded and they don’t give up. One of the most important qualities to cultivate when you are dating is resilience. They also have parents who really support their self-love.
Lovely Michael is not afraid to say, “I’m on a quest to find true love.” How many of us are willing to say that out loud?
Another great line comes from 22-year-old Teo, who said, “I get so nervous about… what if I die alone?” Who says that on a date?
They bring gifts on first dates. They take it slow. They ask permission to hug or hold hands. Their courtships are so quaint and lovely compared to the hot mess of the dating-app world.
The people on the show get advice from Jodi Rodgers, relationship specialist for autistic people, who teaches them how to ask questions and listen to the answers.
Since the dating apps have come to dominate the ways we meet, almost everyone today needs a rudimentary course on how to date today because phone-based apps like Tinder and Hinge have shaped many people’s behaviors to be downright rude and bizarre.
I suspect the producers are heavily coaching them to say how they really feel on their dates, or they are just the most authentic people ever. I have never seen modern-day people be more open confessing their feelings. “I’m into you–how do you feel about me?”
Someone has to be brave enough to ask that question first. Telling someone else how you feel on a date equals MAJOR LIFE SKILL.
The people on the show are young, in their twenties and early thirties. I would like to see the show follow older people on the spectrum in their dating journeys too and to hear about how their relationships have gone.
The bottom-line message from the show is: Be yourself. Be brave.
A friend told me about YDB. I am not sure of the origin of this wisdom, but it’s too good to not share.
This is for all of you who are struggling with an ex, a break-up, an RO (romantic obsession).
I know how hard it can be to get over people especially when you have opened your heart after it’s been closed for a while–and allowed yourself to believe in love again.
It didn’t work out. And your heart hurts. You can’t believe how long you are thinking about this person and what you once shared.
Here’s what you do. You tap into the power of YDB.
What does YDB mean?
You Dumb Bastard?
Yucky Discolored Box Syndrome? (Yes, this exists on the Internet. It has something to do with Adobe.)
It means YOU DESERVE BETTER!
So go ahead and write the acronym YDB before his or her name in your phone contacts list, if she or he is still in there. Or emblazon YDB before their name in your mind. YDB Mark. YDB Carlos. YDB Francesca. Change their name to YDB-their name for as long as you need to.
Maybe it feels like a leap to believe that there is someone out there for you who will be a better match for you. Well, in the meantime, you also deserve better than torturing yourself with thoughts about someone who doesn’t want to be with you anyway.
Whenever we are trying to change our experience, we are working on changing our thoughts. That process typically doesn’t happen overnight. Choosing new thoughts on purpose is a practice. It’s like going to the gym and lifting weights. The strength to choose new thoughts comes because you are consistently choosing differently.
So whenever that person comes to mind, you repeat YDB.
By brute force we start to believe that new thought.
Put it in your phone or in your journal or on a sticky note on your refrigerator.
I so enjoyed talking with Dr. Peter McGraw, a behavioral economist at the University of Colorado who is investigating solitude and how to create a remarkable single life, now or forever.
It’s kinda crazy. I have done many fantastic podcasts about being quirkyalone with women, and this was the first time I talked with a man who is investigating these topics!
Peter and I chatted about:
the problem of “internalized inferiority,” of seeing our single periods as lesser than our coupled periods and the tragedy of waiting to be coupled up to do the things you most want to do in life (I share about how I’ve struggled with this too)
my personal story behind quirkyalone, and why I chose that combination over, say, “freakyalone”!
quirkyalones in pop culture in the 90s and oughts, from Love Jones to Ally McBeal
how single people have been ignored–at least in the US–in policy discussions during the pandemic
why quirkyalone, even though it seems to be a celebration of singlehood, is also, in its deepest core, an argument for depth in relationship
the many ways people meet needs for connection in 2021, with everything from Tinder to solo poly
why I prefer to talk about self-acceptance and wholeness rather than being a “happy single.” Being happy all the time is just way too much pressure! And going for what we want in life may involve some pain, discomfort and struggle.
Here’s a little teaser before you click to listen in…
“The choice of the word quirky, why? Can you tease us with some of the alternatives that you considered?
In the book Quirkyalone, I have a bunch of alternatives like eccentricalone, bizarrealone, or freakyalone.
Freakyalone is a whole different book and it’s in a different section of the library. It’s not in the library, first of all.
Why quirky? It’s because quirky is softer, for one. It’s eccentric but with a human touch that makes you feel you can get warm and cuddly with a quirky person in a way that maybe you don’t feel you can with freakyalone. It was that sense that I had as a young person and has remained the same as I get older. I only connect with a certain amount of people. I’m not a generic person and quirkyalones are not cookie-cutter type. It’s a practical recognition for a quirky person.
It may take a little longer to find someone who matches you, not that they have to have all the same quirks. Everybody is completely individual and all of my work has this honoring of our quirkiness. When I work with clients, for example, I’m interested in finding out who they are and how they tick because everybody’s different. That’s my orientation to the world. The quirky part is the way of honoring that. I love that about us as people.”
Laura definitely groks “quirkyalone” (probably because she is one!). In our interview we talked about how we can move from “single shame” to owning our stories as discerning quirkyalones.
Why? So we can stop all those self-critical thoughts in our heads–and be more peaceful within ourselves and open to more love and connection.
For example, in our conversation, we talk about with shameful thoughts and questions like, “Is it my fault that I’m still single? I’m the one common denominator!” Or “Am I actually unlovable?”
By now I have enough experience as a life coach, writer and human being to know that people in long relationships also struggle with questions about whether they are lovable, but these questions really do hit hard if you are single for a lot longer than you want to be. I’ve worked through those issues myself–they will be on full display in my memoir (working title Wet). I often talk with clients who carry around the feeling that it’s their fault they are still single.
Loneliness, in my view, gets very tangled up with shame. We feel ashamed of feeling lonely and needing or wanting more connection than we have. We might even feel ashamed of having needs for love or companionship that have not been met. Or we might feel ashamed that our life stories don’t fit the “norm” of how adulthood is supposed to happen with certain milestones by certain ages.
According to this San Diego-based psychological study, 75% of Americans struggle with loneliness, even if they have a partner and a network of friends. These researchers found wisdom, compassion and empathy help people to feel more connected to humanity and the cosmos. Interacting with others who share values and interests can be helpful too.
Laura wants to help us to change the way we view loneliness so that instead of feeling ashamed of our loneliness as a personal failing we see it as a message to be attended to. I hope this conversation can give you more wisdom to look at your own feelings of loneliness when they come up. As Laura helped us see there are lots of ways to look at a dating history that has been mostly single. There might be something right with you if you don’t settle for a mediocre or unhealthy relationship.
In this video, you will hear us talk about:
What we mean when we say “single shame.” It’s that feeling that might overcome you when your date asks how long it’s been since your last relationship. It’s been years, and you don’t know what to say
What it means to “own your story” so someone can get to know you. If we don’t love and accept our own story enough to share it will be difficult for anyone to get to know you.
This brilliant corrective to single shame. When you are caught in a loop of self-judgment about still being single, sometimes the best thing to do is stop judging yourself and accept the mystery of life.
What I think about the idea that “you have to love yourself to love someone else.”
How relationships are mirrors and are co-created between two people.
How my ideas about relationships have evolved since publishing Quirkyalone in 2004
The memoir I’m working on now Wet is a follow-up to Quirkyalone. The new book goes into my own single shame story of how healing the effects of trauma helped me to open up more deeply than ever before in an important romantic relationship
Touch starvation when feeling lonely–and how tango or any kind of dance with contact can be an antidote
So go back to the top of this blog post and watch this video because it’s truly special (it starts off slow but it’s really a gem if you identify with being quirkyalone). Then, want to read or hear more about working with your loneliness and healing single shame?
Laura interviewed more than a dozen healers and thinkers on the topic of transforming loneliness from many spiritual perspectives. These videos are very nourishing. Check them out on her YouTube channel.
I’ve been talking about single shame with other authors, coaches and therapists for a while now.
This is tough stuff and you don’t need to do it on your own. Sometimes the best way to work through shame is to work with someone who can be your compassionate witness and guide to help you work through these feelings. Simply acknowledging and talking about shame often lessens those feelings considerably. You can find a therapist in your area and ask him or her if she is sensitive to these types of issues or check out my coaching page and request a consult to explore coaching with me.
Though loneliness has become something of a hot topic in the media, I wonder how many of us would feel comfortable to say it out loud to another friend or loved one, “I’m lonely.”
Many of us are reluctant to admit to others when we feel lonely.
I know from my own life and working with quirkyalone/quirkytogether people that loneliness has particular dimensions for people who have been selective in their choices and spent many years being single.
We don’t talk about the loneliness of that path all that much–for example the loneliness of staring down a weekend with no plans.
We wind up feeling even more lonely alone when we don’t see our experience reflected back to us or discussed.
Laura who has been following quirkyalone for 15 years and I first talked over Skype to discuss the focus of our conversation.
We settled on the theme the loneliness of single shame, or of believing something is wrong with you if you have been single for years or just longer than you want to be.
I highly recommend you listen in. Generally when I do conversations with others on single shame it’s healing for someone out there.
This conversation can help you prepare for those awkward moments on dates when someone asks you how long it’s been since your last relationship.
Even more I hope this intimate conversation can help you feel more at peace as you gradually rid yourself of those nagging “there’s something wrong with me” voices in your head.
I remember evading questions on dates when men would ask me, So how long has it been since your last relationship? I felt marked–like something was wrong with me–because I had been single for years.
I’ve since helped many clients who have coped with similar feelings of shame so I know quite well by now single shame can be quite a “thing.”
In our conversation, I talked about my own experience of working through single shame to the end point of owning my story as a discerning quirkyalone and about my experiences helping others along that journey.
The interview is called “From Single Shame to Owning Your Story as a Discerning Quirkyalone.”
Our interview will be aired Saturday, February 23, 2019.
Laura’s series TRANSFORMING LONELINESS: Follow Your Heart’s Longing into Connection, Belonging, and Love will be available FREE from February 19 – 26.
caption: Buenos Aires amantes (lovers) can be passionate. Hernan hung this sign up in the street for Flor, “I love you with all my life. Never will we be far apart again.” The phone number on the right: call it if you want to make a sign!
Argentines are very expressive, and their Spanish is distinct from, for example, Mexican Spanish. There are plenty of books and websites out there that explain Buenos Aires slang, or lunfardo–slang words you will never learn in a high school Spanish class.
Over the last four years of living in Buenos Aires I have learned there is a particular modern lunfardo, or slang, when it comes to dating, sex, love and relationships. Certain words would come up again and again. Once I understood the words I understood the culture and what was happening in my own life.
So I have put together this dating glossary for you. I thought it would be a service to the many women (and men) who come to Argentina looking for love. (Or who simply find themselves here, dating). Dating can be bewildering in another culture, and language can help guide you. Knowledge is power. When you are able to name a behavior, or a way of being, you are able to say: I want this, and I don’t want that. You can say you want a chongo, or not. You’ll know what it means to put someone “in the freezer” and why so many men and women call the opposite sex “hysterical.”
Whether you come here on vacation or you live here, here are some words to help you date in Buenos Aires.
Chamuyero: Once I was at an Internations expat event at a bar talking to two Porteños (Porteño means Buenos Aires resident), and I asked them, what is the essence of Buenos Aires? They said, with impish glee, chamuyo.
Chamuyo is bullshit. Sometimes poetic bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless. A chamuyero is a bullshitter, par excellence. Chamuyero is truly the ultimate porteño word. While Rio de Janeiro has its malandros (charming tricksters who do anything to avoid work), Buenos Aires has its chamuyeros.
A chamuyero talks in circles but really they are talking about nothing. You can’t pin them down. Everything they say is airy and unreliable.
In dating, chamuyo is flattery. Chamuyo is quite related to the piropo, a flattering or romantic compliment to seduce a woman. Piropos can be a sport; there are plenty of websites listing piropos to use with a woman or a girlfriend or wife: For example, here’s an Argentine piropo submitted on a user-generated piropo website: “Con un mate y tu compania ya es resuelta la vida!” (With mate and your company, life is already resolved!) That’s a sweet one, and not too over the top. I could believe that piropo or get off on believing it.
The difference between a piropo and chamuyo is chamuyo is clearly bullshit–and totally generic. My chamuyo red flag goes up when a guy starts using the word “princesa,” for example. You can filter out the chamuyo or you can just get off the chamuyo, knowing it’s only that. See also: Lie to me, I love it when you lie to me.
A chamuyero milonguero (tango dancer and frequenter of the milongas, events where we dance tango) may flatter you by telling you what a wonderful dancer you are. In this case, I’m all for the chamuyo. Bring it on! I love it when a guy tells me I dance well–or even better, when he talks about our dance connection (if it feels true). Argentine men are much more likely to give flattery during a dance than American men. A little flattery is actually great technique–it helps me relax and dance better.
Translation: Ah, you left. I thought you kept partying and you had found yourself a chongo for a touch and go Hahahaha Rest! LOLLLLLL Could be! But today no
Chongo: I learned about “chongo” in the best way, from one of my favorite Argentine tanguera friends. A “chongo” is a “touch and go”—usually a man (they don’t talk so much about chongas, though it’s possible to be one) who wants sex and nothing else. As she explained to me, if you’re bored, alone, and you don’t have anyone else in your life, maybe you want to send a message to your “chongo.” As if on cue, just after she told me about the “chongo,” another woman walked behind us at a table on the milonga and said a guy was “re chongo” (really chongo). This word strikes me as powerful! A lot of men (and perhaps women) want to move really fast in Buenos Aires and have sex quickly. A good percentage of them equally move on. Chongos are into seduction, quick sex, y nada mas (nothing more). These people would be chongos, or chongas, and you can decide whether you want that or not. Knowledge is power, ladies and gentlemen.
Histérico: I don’t think it’s possible to date in Buenos Aires for longer than a few months without learning the word “histérico.” It’s really a must that you learn about this word.
What is “histérico”? In English, hysterical means, among other things, “feeling or showing extreme and unrestrained emotion.” In Buenos Aires, “histérico” is mostly about drama and game-playing. A histérico is insanely seductive and passionate until you start reciprocating, then he or she disappears, and then begins the endless-hot-cold behavior. Histéricos are inconsistent. Not stable or trusted. In essence,histéricos enjoy the chase—not just once, but over and over again. So don’t take it personally if they disappear. A histérico is like a serial chongo but with more drama. Love is a battlefield. Buenos Aires is like anywhere else, there are also men and women who want relationships, so you can look for the signs of histérico or chongo and make choices accordingly.
Once you have a name for the condition of histérico, it’s quite helpful. I’ve helped two women realize they were involved with histéricos, and as soon as they have a name for the condition they seemed relieved and were better able to let go and move on.
“In the Freezer”: A guy who probably wanted to be my chongo taught me the expression “in the freezer.” He was talking about a past relationship and said that he had dated a woman for a few months, but then the relationship went “in the freeezer.” “What does that mean?” I asked. “We stopped talking for a while, then we started talking again.” I found this expression to be hilarious. I tried hard to stifle my laughter. I don’t want anyone to put me in the freezer. “Please baby, don’t put me in the freezer! I am not a chicken breast or a bag of peas!”
When talking about this expression with my friend Alexandra, she suggested an additional interpretation: If you’re going out with someone but there’s someone else you want to save for later, you might put the second person “in the freezer” to possibly take out later to thaw.
Mimosa: People in Buenos Aires are affectionate and they kiss to greet (just one kiss, as opposed to the French, who do two kisses on either cheeks.) Men too kiss each other. It’s quite a contrast to the American handshake or back-slap. I see a therapist in Buenos Aires–a very Porteno thing to do, self-knowledge is valued here. When I see my (female) therapist, we kiss each other on the cheeks hello and goodbye. A hello or goodbye kiss with a therapist would never happen in the States.
Mimosa is a word that expresses affection–but in the context of being lovers. Many Argentines have talked to me about the importance of “mimos”–mimos are like love pats and cuddles. I think of a cat as being mimosa. A snuggly person is mimosa. This might be my favorite word in the Buenos AIres dating dictionary because I am mimosa.
Mujeron: A very sexy, va-va-voom Sophia Loren kind of woman, in full possession of her sexuality and sensuality. Buenos Aires is full of mujerones.
Pedazo de pelotudo: Piece of shit more or less. You might throw these words at a histérico, if you felt like it.
Pasional: Passionate. Argentines are very passionate, whether we are talking about love, or football. See the above message from Hernan to Flor.
Pendeviejo/a: Pendejo means young person. A pendeviejo is an older person who dresses like a young person. (Viejo means old.) Imagine, a woman in her 70s. From behind you see her shapely body in tight jeans or a sparkly sequined dress and you think she is 30 then she turns around and you see she is rocking 70.
The pendevieja’s lack of shame in rocking the forever 21 look after retirement is rather spectacular. There are many pendeviejas in certain milongas. Pendeviejo/as don’t pay attention to the rules. They wear tight, flashy clothing that I never felt comfortable wearing, even when I was in my 20s. Buenos Aires is the place to be a pendevieja. You can be a pendeviejo too, an older guy in a youthful t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.
Telo: Telos are hotel rooms that you rent by the hour to have sex if you don’t have a private place at home, or you are on a date.
A few more tips on dating in Buenos Aires:
Confirming dates: Whereas in the US or Europe when you make a date with someone you can generally expect they will show up. It’s not really like that in Buenos Aires. People confirm with texts that the date is happening.
Lateness: Being late is more normal, and sometimes people think that is acceptable even on a first date (we are talking 20-30 minutes late). Sometimes the histericos will use lateness as a way to show you that you’re not that important or to play power games. I would steer clear of anyone who is not respectful with your time. (That can rule out some people.)
Online dating and apps: People in Buenos Aires are using Tinder, Happn, Bumble, and OKCupid. Your results will vary. I can say based on experience that you can meet good people on these apps—over four years, I’ve met a boyfriend, a lover, and a long-term friend. I can also say most people don’t put much effort into their profiles (the profiles are shorter, fewer words, than the States and Europe) and the swiping can be extremely depressing. Overall I would say OKCupid is the best bet because people are more likely to fill out and read a profile. The mobile apps are so geared for superficiality, which means chongos. If you want a chongo though, go for it!
Have any words to add to the Buenos Aires Dating Dictionary? I am sure there are more. Please add them in the comments. I’d love to see how tong this list can go.
Listen to the 1938 tango Song “El Chamuyo” before you go . . .
a photo from the day I married myself in the Japanese Gardens of Buenos Aires
Marriage itself is evolving: First we had straight marriage as business arrangement, then we had the soulmate marriage, gay marriage, and now self-marriage. Two years ago the media got fascinated with the mini-trend of self-marriage. Since then I have emerged as one of the foremost experts on self-marriage. Certainly not anything I ever predicted I would be when people asked me what I wanted to be when I was in high school. I’ve been quoted in Cosmopolitan, Self, Vice, ATTN, New York Times, and on Nightline/ABC . I’ve given a million soundbites in the media about why women are saying I do to themselves, but I never really feel like I’m getting at the essence of why—at least for me. It’s easier to talk about the societal trends, but the societal trends are not as deeply true as the personal reasons. So I figured, I would tell my own self-marriage story in the truest way possible. The universal can be found in the particular and the particular is rarely found in a media soundbite. So here goes.
It still startles me to see in print: I married myself. It seems odd. It is odd. I never would have predicted that I would marry myself even though I was an early observer of the self-marriage trend.
Quirkyalone is a word I created to describe people who prefer to be single rather than settle. When I first heard about women marrying themselves, I thought it sounded like a way to ritualize the core principles of being quirkyalone: to love yourself and not settle in your relationship to yourself or with another person. I interviewed two Bay Area artists Remi Rubel and Aya de Leon who had married themselves. Remi and Aya drew on traditional wedding rituals: shower, wedding, reception, and honeymoon. They both went on to marry men and considered the self-marriage foundational, to help them not lose touch with their own needs within marriage.
At the time, I was 30. The self-marriage concept impressed me but I certainly never expected to do it myself. They had worn white wedding dresses and declared their love to themselves in front of an audience of friends. I could not imagine making vows to myself in such a spectacle. Really? I’m a relatively private native New Englander at the core: a writer, and a coach, not a performance artist. Couldn’t you love yourself privately without declaring your self-love publicly?
At 39, my feelings about self-marriage changed
Ten years later, why did I warm to the idea of marrying myself? There were many reasons, in retrospect, that map with the reasons more women are turning to this latest initially odd-sounding twist on marriage. As Rebecca Traister has pointed out in her book All the Single Ladies, women are not consciously rejecting marriage so much as they have more options to not settle out of economic obligation and social pressure. Today only 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 are married, compared to 60 percent in 1960. According to the Pew Research Center, millenials are much more likely than older adults to say society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.
But it’s not as if I wasn’t looking for a partner. Like increasing numbers of women I hadn’t find a man to marry between 30 and 40. When I was in my twenties, I thought he was magically going to appear when I was 30. But he hadn’t. And he still hadn’t. Was that because I wasn’t ready? Was it bad luck? Who knows?
Many friends had married. We feted them with gifts, toasts, and photo slideshows celebrating them from infancy on. I didn’t begrudge them these celebrations, but when you get to 40 and haven’t had a wedding, you realize marriage is the only coming-of-age ritual our society provides. Some would call all that marital attention “couple privilege.” Where’s the coming-of-age ritual for me, or any adult, if she hasn’t found a spouse or doesn’t want to marry?
The pressure of the so-called “expiration date” had been weighing me too. All that pressure I felt at 30 or 35: that was nothing in comparison to the inner panic about being single at 40. I knew it was crazy to worry about whether men would still want to date me when I was no longer thirty-something, but I worried.
Something even deeper was tugging me to marry myself that was I wasn’t even able to fully articulate my reasons at the beginning. I just had the impulse. There is a quote from the memoirist Rayya Elias that I like: “The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that’s where you’re gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there.”
I like the idea of starting with the truth, but sometimes you don’t know the truth when you start. You can only grope toward the truth via instinct and the actual living.
But how to do it?
I wanted to marry myself with no clue on how to proceed. Even though I had written about self-marriage, I felt lost. It’s not like there is a set of instructions to follow handed down by generations. There is no self-wedding industry. (Or if there is one, it’s tiny.)
When in doubt, I turn to Google. I did a search on “self-marriage” and that led me to Dominique Youkhehpaz, a “self-marriage minister and counselor” with a B.A. from Stanford University in Cultural and Social Anthropology with a focus in Love, Ritual, and Religion. Dominique married herself in 2008 at 22 and helped others do the same since. I emailed her and we set up a time to talk.
Dominique explained the introspective, creative nature of self-marriage: “You can’t marry yourself without thinking about it deeply.” That was reassuring; I was on the right track if I needed time to find answers. She gave me examples: a Polish woman took 30 days to celebrate herself for 30th birthday. A guy married himself in a musical in his backyard. Another woman married herself alone in her bedroom with a candlelit ceremony. Talking to Dominique brought a huge feeling of relief; I could marry myself my own way. No white wedding dress or big audience required.
Dominique underscored the power of ritual, emphasizing that I could create my own ritual, private or public. “Ritual in itself has the power of transformation,” she said, and that made sense. I also thought, ritual somehow seals the deal. I would create a ritual. I hung up the phone feeling relieved, but like I had a gigantic creative question to answer: how was I going to marry myself in a way that felt true to me?
Who to tell
I also didn’t know whom to tell. Telling even my closest friends felt vulnerable. I didn’t know anyone else who had married herself, and the act of self-marriage still seemed unusual, verging on pathetic. Let’s get real: most of my friends had married men, and I was talking about marrying myself?
Later I would talk about my self-wedding ring at parties in Buenos Aires and a woman ten years my junior would ask me, “Why did you marry yourself and not the earth?” Suffice to way that kind of conversation was not happening for me in the Bay Area in 2014.
I texted my best friend my intention: “I’m going to marry myself, will you help?” Jenny had married an alien in a performance art ceremony in the 90s in which I was a bridesmaid, so I’m not sure why I was worried about telling her. But now Jenny had a partner. Her alien wedding was art, my self-wedding was sincere. She responded supportively.
Who knows why, I told my mother. Why did I think my practical New England mother, who has been married most of her life, would understand self-marriage? When I told my mother, “I think I’m going to marry myself for my fortieth birthday,” she laughed and said, “Whatever’s good for you is good by me.” I was sure she was thinking, My nutty California daughter. I wonder if she will ever get married to a man?
I also told the guy I was dating. He was the closest I had to a boyfriend at that time. He said, “Sure if you want to jump out of a cake for your birthday I will support you.” I took a sip of my wine and said nothing, feeling inwardly self-righteous, and thinking, You don’t get it. Marrying myself is not nothing like me jumping out of a cake! Marrying myself is about taking a stand for my own self-worth and the self-worth of all women, married or not. I decided to tell fewer people.
There was one last person I told in those quaking moments, right before I turned 40: my best friend in Buenos Aires, Alexandra. (Though I lived in Oakland, California I was spending time in Buenos Aires because of my Tango Adventure business.)
“I think I’m going to marry myself,” I told her in Spanish on Skype. Ale is Colombian, but we met in Argentina through tango.
“I married myself!” she said. What a surprise. Ale had married herself already! She told me the story that day.
She had woken up from an anxiety dream. The dream said, “You’re past 30, who are you going to marry? Who are you going to marry? You better do it now.” She decided the answer to the expiration date anxiety was: I will marry myself. She went to a fair that Sunday and bought a ring, declared herself married and instantly felt calmer.
A friend told her, “This is good but don’t close yourself off from others.” She said, “Of course.” Ale felt the same way as I did: self-marriage is something you do to honor yourself, and to calm the panic about not being married in a society that still puts pressure on women to marry by a certain age, but it doesn’t shut off relationship possibilities.
When Ale told me her story I felt like I was stepping into a small sisterhood: the sisterhood of women who had married themselves. I wasn’t so alone in this anymore.
A time of reflection
I had started therapy a year before I decided to marry myself in order to look at any blocks in my own capacity for intimacy and commitment. For a person who wanted to marry herself, I’ve actually been focused on my relationships. I had struggled in a lot of my romantic relationships with abandonment fears, and I had what I would later call “single shame”—a fear that none of my long-term relationships had been long enough, and thus, no one was going to want to be with me.
There had been one therapy session when my therapist looked at me and said, “There’s a lot of shame here.” That had been a hard thing to hear because it was true. Even though I have professionally taken a role as an author and coach who helps others with their shame about being single I was still plagued by a lot of those demons myself. Later I would realize that a lot of that fear came from the fact that I held a secret for twelve years of my childhood: a secret about having been sexually abused once. The secret itself had left a deep mark on my psyche. The secret had imprinted corrosive messages: if you ever tell anyone the truth they will leave you.
My self-marriage, it seemed to me, was about working through that shame, owning all of me, and learning how to be vulnerable enough to share my feelings and my full story. As Brene Brown teaches in her TED Talk on vulnerability, the path to joy and connection runs through sharing the stuff that’s hard to share. Sharing that stuff brings us closer. Somehow I felt that marrying myself would help me get closer with others.
Two questions came out of that therapy session; “What are you marrying?” and “Why call this marriage rather than a self-love ritual?”
I didn’t have the answers to those questions at the time but I kept them with me. I started reading about what Jung calls “the shadow,” the parts that we disown in ourselves. My therapist defined “the shadow” as the stuff you don’t walk to talk about even in therapy. I started to think I would marry my light—the things about me that are fantastic (I can be cheerful, fun, brilliant, helpful, caring) and the dark that I hide from others (I can be moody, messy, angry, bitter, negative, revenge-prone, and neurotic). I wanted my ritual to say: you are lovable, all of you. Even the parts you find difficult.
For my entire life people have told me I am very hard on myself. So I thought, marrying myself would help me with self-acceptance. The essence of love is acceptance.
As far as why call it marriage, I decided that was a semantic strategy. We consider marriage to be deep and important. So is loving yourself. If you called self-marriage a self-love ritual, the ritual wouldn’t have the same weight or importance.
the charms we found at the gas station
So then how did it happen in the end? How did I actually pop the question, and make vows to myself?
I got engaged spontaneously at a gas station on the way back from my 40th birthday hot springs trip to the desert. I had been shy to ask for attention about the self-wedding during that birthday weekend because it was a joint birthday with two friends. I didn’t want to make it all about me, but then I fell silent, moody and sullen in the car, because actually I did want attention.
On the drive out of the desert I finally got up my courage and asked my friends Liz, Sonya, and Jenny for help. We had stopped at a gas station selling Elvis paraphernalia, stuffed animals and jewelry. That’s where I broke down and told them why I had gotten silent in the car. They were enthusiastic about helping me. I just had to ask for help.
We found the perfect charm necklace with two charms: love and Alexandra (my formal name) and did a photo shoot outside the gas station in front of a red and yellow sign for “Premium Gasoline.” I was engaged, and it was just my style, spontaneous. Kind of like eloping with myself—and three friends.
Getting over my cold feet
Nine months later I got married in Buenos Aires. My Colombian friend Alexandra helped me plan the event. I very much needed her as wedding planner to move the process along. I was starting to procrastinate. Ale and I chose a date, June 15, and a place, the Japanese Gardens in Buenos Aires. The guest list: short. Me, Ale and our close friend Nele. (We all met through a seminar called psicotango, which is all about finding yourself through tango.)
The night before Ale came over to help me pick out the outfit. The forecast predicted cool and drizzle. I didn’t want to be cold at my own self-wedding. We settled on my favorite red pants, a blue tank top and black sweater with a lace back. Red pants make me feel like a superhero. A necklace that belonged to the woman I was subletting from—something borrowed! The shoes and tank top: something blue.
“It’s your last night as a single woman,” Ale told me, as she put on her jacket to leave. “Take a bath, light candles, pamper yourself.” I took a bath by candlelight after she left, something I had never done in my life. It’s hard to describe the happiness of that night. It was a little like being a kid on Christmas Eve, the feeling that something very special was going to happen the next day.
When Ale showed up at my apartment the next morning we both felt giddy. We walked over together to meet Nele.
On the way to the Japanese Gardens
My plan for the ritual was simple. I would say something, ask each of my friends to offer a reflection, and then read my vows. Thus began the ceremony, up on the balcony of the sushi restaurant next to the Japanese Gardens so we would be away from the crowds.
“Today I am here with two of my best friends in the world to marry myself.” I explained at the beginning of my ceremony at noon on the balcony of a sushi restaurant so we would be away from the crowds. “By marrying myself, I marry my light and my dark. I bring together all parts of myself, including the parts I do not find easy: my insecurities, anger, and moodiness.”
Ale spoke, “The decision to marry yourself is to become conscious of who you are and accept yourself. When I married myself, I had a symbol, and I want you to have a symbol too. I bought this ring for you a long time ago. I liked it so much I thought I might keep it. I didn’t imagine that I would give it to you as a symbol from one woman who married herself to another.”
Ale handed me a black, brown and red ring she had bought in Colombia. I almost cried. We had unexpectedly created a new ritual: a self-married woman giving another woman a ring.
Putting on the ring
I read my vows. There were 18 of them. I’ve never particularly had the ability to edit myself when I get going. Here were three of them: “I vow to create intimacy in my life by making myself vulnerable, revealing how I really feel.” “I vow to fall in love with others’ imperfections as I fall in love with my own.” “I vow to see myself as beautiful.”
Post-wedding photos with Nele and Ale
Here is the video where you can see my ceremony:
As we walked home, Ale said, “Your ceremony reminded me of how I felt when I married myself, a happy place, Que lindo, How nice, I don’t have to be with a man to make myself happy.” I could tell Ale and Nele got a sympathetic high from my own ritual.
She also joked, “I’ve already forgotten my anniversary, but that’s okay. Self-marriage is like marriage, you forget your anniversary, you lose your ring. But the important thing is we know we are married.”
How is the marriage going? Are we happy together?
A lot of people will comment “how sad” when they encounter self-marriage. I suppose they are saying: “How sad these women have not found men to marry.” Or society is breaking down. Maybe they are thinking we are narcissistic, or any of the other knee-jerk responses people have to self-marriage. Do I sometimes feel sad because I’m single? Sometimes. Do I feel sad about having married myself? Never. My self-wedding was one of the best days of my life.
What difference does it make that I’ve married myself? It’s now been three years so I have plenty of time to reflect on whether this made any difference in my life. First the truth. I didn’t go on a honeymoon. I lost my wedding ring and the engagement necklace. I do not have wedding photos of myself splattered around my apartment.
Self-marriage is not legal. I don’t get any tax benefits from the state, and being married to myself doesn’t give me companionship: someone to have sex with, help me when I’m sick or talk to when I’m lonely.
Marrying myself also did not turn me into a Buddha who embodies perfect self-care and perpetual self-compassion.
Clearly, it’s not as if self-marriage is the end point.
But self-marriage has changed me. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. Marrying myself was a moment in time when I took a stand for my worthiness as a human being. When you marry yourself, you are saying, I am worthy of being married to—by myself or anyone else. The symbols from the ritual—the ring and engagement necklace—have consistently grounded me, especially in moments when I have felt shaky (like a break-up). Wearing my replacement ring gives me the same feeling of calm that the first one did. The self-marriage ring disrupts the idea that you can only be happy when you are married.
The ritual has affected me in many ways. The most profound has to do with the depth of relationship I’ve been able to have with another person. My boyfriend after the self-marriage was the first one who knew that I had a trauma of childhood sexual abuse–and that it still affected me as an adult. I was never able to even contemplate sharing that part of my life story with a partner before.
In the past when I would have reactions to conflict and criticism—some might say overreactions, and men would leave me. They would find me difficult. Ben was the first boyfriend who knew about my story, and therefore he could love and understand me. I had to be comfortable enough with sharing my story for that depth of connection to be possible. I had to work through that shame to get to self-acceptance. My self-marriage was a milestone in that process. When I told him my story I was upholding my vows to myself.
That man and I are no longer together, but it was the most loving relationship I have been in.
At the moment, I am dating. As I said, self-marriage, for me, was never about the commitment to be single. It’s about a commitment to self-love. I am infinitely aware that when I date and find someone that I like a lot of my shit comes up: my fears of abandonment, intimacy, commitment. The poet Adrienne Rich nails it here for me. Getting to love, and not infatuation, is no small thing: “An honorable human relationship … in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.”
Love, actually, is not for the faint of heart. The act of laying ourselves bare to another human being, to be seen for all of who we are, lovely and not obviously lovely, tests us. We can have anxiety attacks, sabotage relationships, or give up. Self-marriage helps me hold my own heart. My ring is a reminder: Of course I am lovable, I love myself.
Sasha Cagen is the author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics. She lives in Buenos Aires, where she sometimes help women marry themselves (remotely or in person) and teaches tango in 7-day tango holidays that bring together women and use tango as a metaphor for life and relationships. She is at work on a memoir called Wet, a journey of healing through sensuality in South America that goes even further deeper into these topics of shame, self-love, relationships and healing.
Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Her work as an author, life coach for women and entrepreneur has been featured everywhere from NPR and the New York Times to CNN and Vogue.
In her well-loved newsletter going to thousands of women and men who identify with "quirkyalone," Sasha is the voice for people who don't want to settle--in any area of life.
In her coaching practice, Sasha helps smart, successful women (and sensitive, self-aware men) get clear on what they really want and then to achieve their goals while always helping her clients focus on core issues such as self-worth.