Almost two years ago I wrote a blog post called “Achieving Home” about the decision to move to Buenos Aires–at least for a while. At the time, I was asking myself, What am I devoted to? What matters most?
The answer: I wanted to focus on my memoir, and I didn’t find it possible to focus in the Bay Area because I was consulting to Silicon Valley CEOs while serving clients in my burgeoning coaching business and working on my book. It was too much to do at once.
I never really thought I would live in Buenos Aires forever, and so, over the last couple months I have been spending time in various places in the U.S. to consider whether I would want to move back.
For me decisions have become about feelings as much as thought. The pros and cons list can only take me so far–the feeling of “yes” at a certain point has to take over. So I was going to “feel” San Francisco and every place.
When I came back to the San Francisco Bay Area after spending 20 months away, I wasn’t surprised to see that new cafes had sprung up while other longtime businesses had disappeared. But wow, there was so much change! It’s a dizzying experience to come back to San Francisco because the area changes so quickly.
San Francisco is a very unique U.S. city. Republicans demonize San Francisco for being liberal. San Francisco is very progressive but actually people in the San Francisco Bay Area do many things are differently: sex, relationships, gender, food, work, drugs, and therapy. Trends start in California, then some go come nationwide–or worldwide.
San Francisco is a safe place to incubate new ideas because people are so open-minded and entrepreneurial. They’re willing to give new things a shot. Most big tech companies have their HQ there or nearby too: Google, Facebook, Apple. For better or worse, tech has changed the world. It’s no surprise to me that I birthed the quirkyalone concept in San Francisco, and that idea found an audience globally.
In the last 20 months, San Francisco seems even more intensely San Francisco. Maybe this is part of the polarization of the country as a whole post-Trump, each place becomes more intensely itself in reaction. The right gets righter, the left gets lefter.
In this post, I want to tell you about the trends that popped out to me with my new outsider eye: in San Francisco and other liberal enclaves around the U.S. When you’ve been away for a place you see it differently when you return.
Since many people say trends start in California these trends could be a preview of what comes next wherever you live.
Before talking about more fun and light-hearted trends, I can’t help but note the biggest trend in San Francisco: the absurdly high cost of housing in the wake of the ongoing tech and biotech boom. Which has led to a rather unfortunate urban dystopia.
The average cost for a 2-bedroom apartment in San Francisco in 2018 is $4,423, per rentjungle.com. In Oakland too the rents are nuts: an average rent for a 2-bedroom is $2,922. There are very few places to go if you lose your housing in Oakland or San Francisco.
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $75 million to SF General Hospital to make it the Zuckerberg Hospital now but his company and all the other big tech companies have contributed to rent increases that have displaced so many people who made the city unique and great.
Before I left for the last 20 months, I was going on dates with engineer men who made the money to afford luxurious hotel-like apartments on destitute streets in San Francisco surrounded by homeless encampments. San Francisco has turned into a dystopia with too much luxury and destitute poverty right by its side.
Can the city wrest its soul back? The Bay Area always attracts dreamers who find a way through their social networks to survive but at the same time many people have left as a result of the tech boom. I assumed the prospects for a sustainable San Francisco were bleak—that the entire Bay Area would one day become like Manhattan, totally unlivable unless you are wealthy or working 70 hours a week for a tech company.
On this recent visit I was surprised to see that people are still fighting in San Francisco for affordable housing. A mayoral election is coming up after the sudden death of Ed Lee, a man many thought was too friendly to tech interests at the city’s expense. Can a new mayor take the city back to make it more humane? Is there still a sliver of hope for the Bay Area to remain a place with a diverse citizenry beyond the techies and their families?
Many of my friends hang on and the Bay Area will always have a big piece of my heart. Here’s to hoping for some real civic action on creating affordable housing and policies that work for the whole.
Here are just a few of my impressions on the changes that popped out at me after 20 months away.
— Kombucha is taking over the beverage section. Still don’t know what kombucha is? Have you visited the beverage section of your convenience store lately? Kombucha is a fermented beverage that many people love and many people think is gross. It’s a polarizing beverage, if you will. Kombucha is made by brewing cold tea, sugar with a slimy big mushroom called a “scoby.” With its probiotic content kombucha is good for the intestines. I love the effervescent kick of it.
Since I started drinking kombucha I’ve noticed the trend has gone mainstream. Pepsi Co. bought KeVita, “the leader in fermented probiotic beverages” and so now we have corporate kombucha.
Spotted in Beacon, NY. And here I really need a bang trim.
There are also lots of regional, artisanal local kombucha makers. In Beacon New York, an artsy town in the Hudson Valley I visited after San Francisco, I tried out this Calmbucha that looks just like beer in a mug. Yum.
All over the healthy cities of the U.S. you’ve got your local kombucha brands but on San Francisco Kombucha seems to really have taken over. Kombucha used to be a fringe thing but now there are just sooooooo many brands and flavors. You had mystic mango, tantric tumeric and gingerade for a long time but now you have watermelon basil. That somehow says it all for me: watermelon basil flavor kombucha is a crossover moment.
spotted in San Francisco
By the way, kombucha has not made its way to Buenos Aires. Instead, water-based kefir is taking off in the Paris of the South.
—Avocado toast is the hot new trend. I didn’t actually witness any avocado toast but my friends told me it’s the hot trend at many cafes.
—More 100% gluten-free restaurants. I have celiac disease so eating gluten-free isn’t negotiable. I was always surprised by how few 100% gluten-free restaurants there were in the San Francisco Bay Area–there seemed to be more in Buenos Aires (where no one eats gluten-free as a trend). This time I noticed far more totally gluten-free eating establishments, which is fantastic because that means we celiacs can let down our guard and not have to cross-examine the wait staff about cross-contamination. Relief! Here’s a list of 17 SF GF spots. I tried Kitava and As Quoted, and especially adored Kitava. Here’s hoping the 100% GF trend spreads nationwide to more restaurants.
—Recreational cannabis is very available. When I left Oakland, there was already a lot of pot in the Bay Area–the whiff of it could often be smelled from my apartment. If you had a medical card, you could order a delivery service (Uber for pot) to bring all varieties of “flower” to your door.
Last yearCalifornia voters legalized recreational cannabis and made it even more seamless to get pot. Now anyone can walk in off the street without a medical marijuana card to buy cannabis.
During my visit I took BART downtown to see a fortysomething Silicon Valley friend who now works at LinkedIn where the average age of employees is 27 (that’s another thing, SF feels so young!). On my walk from downtown BART to LinkedIn I noticed the Flower Power dispensary on the way.
Flower Power serves a daily menu of edibles such as cannabis chocolate, gummy bears, chocolate covered blueberries, flowers (of many indica and sativa varieties) as well as “extracts” and “pods” of cannabis. Don’t know what the extracts and pods are? I don’t either.
The location of Flower Power is wild: just steps from the BART train and in the middle of all the hot tech startups. It’s so convenient to get pot on the way to work or home. The woman working the counter told me she served employees from Lyft and Uber that morning.
When Trump was elected I wondered if more people would smoke more pot to check out of the pain of reading such horrible headlines. Maybe that’s happening.
—Microdosing LSD as the new coffee. OK, wait, what? So not only does everyone have easy access to cannabis gummy bears, a lot of tech types are microdosing LSD! I was having coffee with a techie friend he told me about the latest Silicon Valley trend for productivity and creativity.
Microdosing LSD means taking very small doses of the psychedelic. Back in the 60s, Timothy Leary days, people took 250-500 micrograms. Microdosing people now take 10 milligrams to be more effective at work. My friend described these users as quite square tech types: their goal is less mind expansion, more success.
There is no research on the long-term effects or whether LSD is addictive at a microdose. Are they also microdosing LSD in New York on Wall Street?
-Trans-pronoun awareness. There are a lot of linguistic trends that I’m not exposed to because I’m faraway in Buenos Aires. One of them is this new convention of using pronouns to identify your gender, or your refusal to identify with the gender binary of men and women.
While I was visiting I went with a friend to pick up her son at a San Francisco school. I was shocked to see all the teachers had their little pictures posted with their names and preferred pronoun: “she,” “he” or “they.” I thought if you look like a woman or a man it was assumed we call you “she” or “he” but it seems like the trans awareness is all about destabilizing assumptions about everyone’s gender.
Later I talked with two friends who are in law school and a PhD programs at CUNY (City University of New York). For them, it had become not-so-unusual in the classroom setting for people to announce their desired pronoun.
Is this level of trans sensitivity in schools a trend of just New York and San Francisco? I’m not quite seeing it in Texas or Montana.
–Feminist desk signs and other gift products. I was shopping for a friend’s birthday gift and couldn’t help but notice how many feminist products there were in gift shops: everything from memorial books from the Women’s March to “Boss Lady” signs to put on your desk.
spotted in San Francisco
Just five years ago it still seemed edgy to call yourself a feminist. Post-Trump and Harvey Weinstein, all of a sudden feminism seems downright trendy.
I bought a Boss Lady desk sign for myself and a friend because I thought, hey, that’s fun and inspiring. I wanna be a Boss Lady.
Later when I traveled on the East Coast in Beacon and Brooklyn, New York, I noticed even more feminist products now that my eye was attuned to them: a tote bag, a craft product for kids, and even more desk signs!
spotted in Brooklyn
spotted in Beacon, NY
Spotted in Beacon, NY
Commercializing feminism could result in watering down the movement — that’s what Jessa Crispin warns against in Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto but I have a hard time getting worked up over feminist tote bags. If girls are learning to make craft products to smash the patriarchy instead of playing with Barbie that’s probably a good thing.
Now that we have a pussy-grabber in the White House and the #metoo movement it’s not surprising that we have more Lady Boss signs for sale.
Here’s to hoping those lady boss signs take off as a trend everywhere. In Congress. In big companies, in auto plants, in academia. I fully support that lady boss trend.
What trends are you spotting? Let me know what you see in the comments.
Sasha + Elizabeth at the Quirkyalone Providence Meetup
Sasha’s mom and Elizabeth discuss tricky nuances of online dating using Quirkyalone as a jumping-off point
“It’s that feeling of not having to explain yourself.”
“It’s that feeling of finding your tribe.”
“I felt a lot of shame–I had a lot of shame about things not working out the way I expected.”
These were just a few of the things said and shared at the absolutely lovely quirkyalone/together meetups we had at Cafe La Boheme in San Francisco and at India Restaurant in Providence over the last month.
I’m doing a series of Quirkyalone meetups while I’m in the U.S. from Buenos Aires.
New York: you’re up next! Be sure to get on thenewsletter to get the details for the New York City meetup.
In the Bay Area, women joined us from Modesto, Richmond, Mill Valley, Oakland and San Francisco. One woman traveled two hours to be there.
In Providence, we had people from all over southeastern New England.
Quirkymen: you’re welcome too. This San Francisco meetup happened to be all ladies but in Providence, Rhode Island men joined our meetup.
For those who are new to the concept, Quirkyalone isn’t about being single actually–it’s about staying true to yourself and not settling.
At the SF meetup we really dug into our personal stories. Some women had been married multiple times, some had never lived with a man. It doesn’t matter what your romantic history is, it’s still easy to feel like you’ve done it wrong in some way in this society if you are not fulfilling the “ideal.” No matter what our unique histories are, we have a lot in common to work through to get to a place of inner peace and self-acceptance.
There can be a great feeling of isolation and “what’s wrong with me?” if you haven’t found a partner and all your friends have. Finding community is always key in the journey.
Everyone who came was creative in some way. In San Francisco, we had a former Japanese pop star, a fiction writer, and a singer-songwriter with us at the table. In Providence, we a had a Journey Dance teacher–one of my favorite new dance modalities.
Everyone wants more community–online and off. It’s so important to cut the isolation and meet others who share your values and are in your situation, online and off. There are so many of us grappling with the same questions.
This meetup was a kind of percolation for some ideas I’ve been brainstorming about how I can serve more of you with a quirky online support to help you stay on the path of self-compassion and self-acceptance; to be OK with being single while also being open to relationship; and to nourish your relationship with yourself and your happiness.
I was able to “focus-group” the ideas with the people who came. I got a lot of great feedback from them–so stay tuned.
Laronda and Lisa who came to the Bay Area meetup are taking the reins to organize a BAY AREA quirkyalone/together chapter with some ongoing meetups. They are thinking simple events, from meeting in a cafe to a walk to one member showing others his or her neighborhood.
They’ll share with me what they learn organizing these meetups and later we’ll be able to share those lessons with you.
So two important things . . .
IF YOU ARE IN THE BAY AREAand want to be part of this free BAY AREA meetup group, send an email with your name and email address and I will share your contact info with the organizers Laronda and Lisa.
IF YOU ARE NOT IN THE BAY AREAstay tuned.
Stuff is happening! Stay tuned on the newsletter to find out what comes next. 😉
photo by Natalia Brasil / Cura Fotagrafia / taken at our Self-Love and Sensuality Women’s Retreat in Florianopolis, Brazil, November 2017
Today is International Women’s Day and I want to take this opportunity to recognize the fierceness of women who don’t settle.
–The women who left relationships that offered security but didn’t allow them to be who they are and won’t tolerate anything less
— The women who want a big love with a true equal and are willing to wait for it beyond the socially marked “expiration dates” of 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, on
— The women who prioritize their own self-development
— The women who slog through online dating and stay positive! (And/or take breaks knowing Tinder, GreenSingles, and Happn will be there when you come back.)
— The women who want hot sex and aren’t afraid to own or explore their sexuality
— The women who want respect and equal pay at the workplace, who negotiate for themselves, and support other women to get fairplay too
— The women who are speaking up in the #metoo movement about sexual violation and the women who are working on their own healing privately and quietly
— The women who dare to create their own #happilyeverafter whether they are with a man or not
Not settling is not just about not settling for less than what you really want in love or in bed. Not settling is also not settling for a president or a legislator who disrespects women or a boss who routinely harasses women on the team. Not settling is about being in alignment with yourself and your own principles. . . it’s also about not settling in your relationship with yourself!
So it’s with a special bow to this non-settling spirit that I wish you a happy International Women’s Day!
A big shoutout to the men who truly support this kind of questioning, open-minded, needle-pushing women. We need you. I hope you men get that feminism is a big tent. Feminism is a movement to liberate all of us from confining gender roles and any residual idea that women are inferior to men.
PS. A little bit of levity about not settling: A very dear male quirkyalone friend shared this link with me. If you want some inspiration about not settling in online dating, follow this Instagram account idratherdiealone.
Today is Quirkyalone Day! Please do something excellent for yourself!
We’re throwing a Quirkyalone Day Meetup/Lovevest in Providence, Rhode Island tonight, and I’ll be organizing a Quirkyalone/together Meetup in the Bay Area February 27.
I’m sharing the details for these events in my newsletter, so if you haven’t signed up for the newsletter yet, be sure to sign up now! That’s how you will get the down-low on all quirkyhappenings.
Happy Quirkyalone Day! xo Sasha
PS. Here’s a throwback to a Quirkyalone Day party in San Francisco in 2005. I started Quirkyalone Day in 2003 as a feel-good alternative to Valentine’s Day focused on self-love that’s available to everyone, single or partnered, and the beat still goes on today.
It’s my birthday week, so I send you greetings from a new year. I’m back in Buenos Aires (I’ll fill you in on the rest of the Forever Young European tour later!).
For my actual birthday, I was able to have an intimate dinner at my apartment with a few close friends in Buenos Aires. My friends are scattered all over in California, the Northeast, Brazil and Europe. On birthdays, I’m nostalgic for times in San Francisco when my birthday parties were full of long-term friends. But really I am lucky to be able to have dinner with a few dear souls here in Buenos Aires.
Over the birthday dinner, I read my hopes for the next year, what I accomplished over the last year, and “what I know” – it was wonderful to be witnessed in my hopes and dreams and also for what I’ve accomplished in the last year. I recommend this kind of reflection–and sharing it with others to be witnessed–as a ritual for your birthday.
Over the dinner we had a fabulous conversation about what it’s like to be single expat without children living far from family or our roots. We were talking not only about our own personal situations but about this historical moment that we find ourselves in.
For those of us who are not following the traditional formula of what it means to be a woman (being a wife and mother, the caretaker of others) our lives can feel a bit off the map of the media and social media—the pressure might be as much internal as external when you don’t see your own reality reflected back to you very often. Facebook and Instagram can be a confrontational landmine with all those happy family and kid photos from friends. Even though I am well aware of how hard it is to be a mother, and I generally feel at peace with my decision, I still sometimes wonder, hmmm, am I missing out? Am I way off track here? What about MEEEE?
My anthropologist friend pointed out that it’s extremely recent in the history of humanity that any great number of women have been free to construct lives outside of the identity of caretaker. (Let’s say women’s participation in the workforce really took off in the last half of the 20th century. It’s not as if this revolution toward equality is complete—women still earn less than men and we assume women will be the primary caretakers of children and aging parents, or that women have an instinctive relationship with babies. If a woman doesn’t relate to babies or her baby, that’s seen as weird; a father doesn’t bond with a baby, well, that’s not his thing.)
It’s no wonder that a lot of us feel self-doubt about our paths through life, even if we come off as confident and having it all together.
We are pioneers in the big picture of herstory.
That’s what conversations like these are so valuable. That’s why we need each other.
I’ve been thinking a lot about companionship and community lately. As much as I love and need solitude, I also need committed relationships that provide companionship. Loneliness has become the modern epidemic. (Read this fantastic story on “All the Lonely People” for more.)
Facebook aims to fill the gap with “presence” and “community” but actually I find Facebook often tends to make us more distant from each other because people send a chat message or leave a comment rather than call. Social media can facilitate in-person connection but it can also create a lot of shallow relationships. (I believe that some more authentic online communities such as Gateway Women, o or online classes I have taught, can cut loneliness and bring people together—but it has to be an online community where you feel safe to be authentic and real.)
We all need to have some degree of companionship and commitment from others. One big attraction of a committed romantic relationship is that it’s committed. It’s not casual. It’s not, hey, I’ll show up for you if it’s convenient. It’s, I will show up for you. You show up for each other in times of need. If I get cancer, if I need help financially, and so on.
Many people–50% at any given time–are single in the US, for example.
Even if we really do want to be in a committed romantic relationship, how can we also create those kinds of commitments with friends? How do we create a feeling of being loved and solidly held with our friends too? What forms of support do you have in place and treasure, what do you appreciate?
We need other models for committed relationship. We are the pioneers, so what will those look like? One person won’t have all the answers. Many people will. I wonder what thoughts you have on the topic. What works for you in terms of companionship and support, or what do you wish for more of in your life?
I’m also going to be exploring the concept of a private, supportive online community–quirkytogether, if you will, where important and nourishing real conversations like this can take place and people can also meet each other, online and off. Having met many of you as my clients through coaching, my online classes, and the Tango Adventure, I know this is an ideal community for such supportive, nourishing, life conversations–and I’ll be asking for your thoughts on what a community could provide soon too.
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.
Self-marriage goes mainstream in this remarkable 7-minute documentary on Nightline/ABC. And as my friend Melissa Banigan said about this piece, “YES to women taking charge of the ways we define and love ourselves.”
I’ve been writing about self-marriage now for over a decade, since I first wrote about it in Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics. I have observed the trend grow from a fringey thing only performance artists do to a meaningful ritual being practiced by women (and some men) who work in more mainstream occupations. It’s starting to take off. The cutting-edge of marriage is self-marriage.
The radical question we’re asking is, What if you were to make vows to honor and believe in yourself? In a world full of war and hatred, the planet definitely needs more love. In a world full of self-loathing of all kind, Americans need more self-love.
What would the world be like if our coming-of-age ritual involved committing to treat yourself well as an adult, whether you marry another person or not?
In this marvelous documentary, Nighline explores the concept with a depth that is rare for TV.
Nightline put seven minutes of attention on a woman taking herself seriously as a full human being, whether she has a husband or not–having fun with it at the same time!
There are so many incredible bits in this piece. My favorite part of me, personally, is the B-Roll. Producers tape B-Roll stuff of a person doing something, so they have more than boring talking head footage. They taped me walking around Columbus Circle in New York. It’s a bit awkward to be taped walking about, What should you be doing?
A guy selling honey in the farmer’s market in Columbus Circle started making jokes with me so you can see me laughing with him. . . the interaction with the honey salesman feels like joy. They also show a moment from my own self-marriage three years ago in the Japanese Gardens in Buenos Aires where I kiss my hands after the vows, and that feels like joy also. Erika Anderson, a woman who married herself, who is the star also exemplifies the joy. This whole segment is so joyful. It’s a deep, meaningful thing to do to commit to value yourself–and self-marriage can be a lot of fun!
The realness and vulnerability of Petra Hanson sharing her intention to marry herself with her friends is also wonderful. This is not, ahem, an easy thing to do.
Helping a woman marry herself is just about one of my favorite things to do. It’s creative. It’s deep. It’s meaningful. It will change your life.
I get lifted up each time I’m in the presence of a woman who has married herself too. When one person marries herself it definitely lifts everyone else up too.
The haters will hate, of course. There will be people who will confuse self-marriage with a commitment to being alone or a barrier to marriage with another person, or the people who will call us insane and narcissistic.
When I started to share the story of my self-marriage, I knew that some people would think I was crazy.
I didn’t share the story immediately. It took me three years to work up to that point because I needed to let the experience bake into the cells of my being before I was ready to go public.
Choosing to take a radical stand means there will be misunderstanding and backlash.
But in all honesty, I can hardly take their criticisms of narcissism and selfishness seriously.
Over on twitter, some dude writes me:
@sashacagen are u high? It’s creative? By the way selfishness, self love & narcissism are at an all time high & the u.s is @ #1.
@sashacagen only thing u accomplished with that is making yourself look like a narcissistic insane woman. Single is great but not special!
I’m so glad he wrote these tweets–because they help me to clarify the true meaning of self-marriage.
How you treat yourself is always a reflection of how you treat others.
If you are relentlessly critical of yourself, you will also be critical of others.
If you treat yourself with compassion and respect, you will treat others with compassion and respect.
Therefore, the most generous thing you can do is commit to love yourself.
It will make you a better partner, a devoted friend, a more caring family member, and more compassionate to others.
My self-marriage vows were all about the theme of accepting all of me, even the parts I don’t like.
I vowed to love even the dark parts I reject, even those nasty, critical, vengeful parts of me.
When you marry yourself, you marry the whole world.
Vowing to love all parts of me, even the parts I don’t like, helps me receive these nasty hateful tweets and say, Ha, it’s OK. I know that nasty, critical part of me too, and I also love them.
You haters, don’t worry. I love you too.
My self-marriage has affected me in many ways. I’m working on an essay (this is just a hastily dashed off blog post) about the whole experience, how it’s affected me, what I’ve learned, and how I now help others to take this step of self-respect. If you’re a magazine or newspaper editor and you want that essay, contact me. I’m in so deep working on my memoir I don’t have the time or energy to pitch my work. But I really want to publish this piece, so if you are interested, contact me and I would love to work with a visionary editor on it!
If you are feeling like it might be time for you to marry yourself, and you want some support and guidance, you should contact me too.
Unclassified Woman is a wonderful podcast about combatting “limiting female narratives”:
“With almost 25% of women over 40 child-free by choice or childless through circumstance, it seems absurd that women still have to justify their decisions or endure pity about why they’re not mothers. Motherhood is not a mandate and yet so many women are made to feel ‘less than’ or viewed suspiciously or disparagingly, if they are creating a life of meaning beyond biological mothering.
All of these outdated stereotypes lead to one dangerous assumption: what’s your value beyond being a mother? As mainstream society still tends to over-celebrate mothers juggling ‘it all’, and under-celebrate women who, whilst not mothers, have created lives of purpose and service – Unclassified Woman is the perfect antidote to limiting female narratives.”
Michelle Marie McGrath, the creator of Unclassified Woman, and I recorded an intimate conversation last year.
I remember the conversation being so personal that I was afraid to listen to it when she sent it to me. I summoned the courage, pressed play and found the conversation very nourishing.
I hope you will find the realness nourishing too.
In our Unclassified Woman conversation, we go into:
– the messy truth about why I haven’t had children, and many women today do not
– social infertility and circumstantial infertility (our choices are not always entirely choices)
– a near-death experience I had that helped me see I can’t put myself through so much pain around comparing myself and the value of my life to friends who are mothers
– the process of grieving not having a child even though I was never sure I wanted to be a biological mother
– the delicious moment when you figure out who you are and stand for your own value
International Quirkyalone Day is an alternative to Valentine’s Day that I started way back in 2003. It falls, of course, on February 14. It’s just a coincidence. Well, that’s our story and we’re sticking with it.
Since then Quirkyalone Day been celebrated in more than 40 cities around the world as an inclusive holiday to celebrate all forms of love, including, of course, self-love! Self-love is the foundation for all your relationships, ultimately–with friends, family, and a romantic partner.
If you are new to the concept and the holiday, here’s a video to get you up to speed.
Let me highlight also that in 2017 it’s more important than ever to recognize that Quirkyalone Day is a celebration of independence.
This year I encourage to celebrate your independent voice and encourage you to use it to speak out!
Political leaders such as Elizabeth Warren are exhibiting this independent streak–and they deserve our support.
I look at the CNN video where Elizabeth Warren talks about being silenced when she tried to read Corretta Scott KIng’s letter on Jeff Sessions and I see people making nasty comments about her that are so similar to the 25-year campaign against Hillary. “Not an Elizabeth Warren fan. I find her loud, abrasive and a liar.” My sense is that any woman who is outspoken is going to get this kind of blowback from men and women. When are people going to wake up to their gender bias?
Just keep on trucking. Just keep on showing up with your quirkyalone spirit.
There have been times in my life when I have doubted, are there really liberated guys out there who want to date liberated women? Sometimes, when you are swiping on Tinder, you lose faith. (Perhaps Tinder is not the best place to look for feminist men!)
Now, after the historic Women’s Marches, now being called the largest demonstrations in U.S. history, with more than 3.3 million attending more marches in more than 500 cities across the country, I can say with more confidence that you are out there. To all the feminist men at the Women’s Marches, whether you came out to join us or you were home watching the kids so your partners could come. We see you. We heart you. We want you. Men supporting female quality is hot!
The Women’s Marches on January 21 showed that when women lead, they bring out the soul of a country.
But it wasn’t just women at the Women’s Marches. There were also lots of men at the march in DC–of all ages, races, and sexualities. (As well as trans people.) A lot of men watched kids so women could go.
The Women’s March was a great reminder that millions of people believe in female equality, but also that there are lots of feminist men out there.
So for a moment, I want to pay tribute to the men. The men who support nasty women!
We don’t need male approval but it’s great to have male allies. We feminist women need you feminist men now more than ever now that we have a pussy-grabbing president until we don’t.
At one point, I was meandering through the crowd in the Women’s March in DC with my friends and I overheard a guy use the words “male privilege.” Where in my life did I ever hear men talk about their male privilege? I didn’t hear the context of what he was talking about, but I could imagine the privilege to negotiate more bluntly at work without fear of being viewed as a bitch, to be single without being called a spinster, to go out at night without fear.
Here’s a guy who acknowledges male privilege and speaks of it. Right on.
I whispered to my friend Sara, “There are so many cute feminist boys here. Awwww.”
A few minutes later I saw a guy with a sign “END LOCKER ROOM TALK.” Again, awesome. A man who wants to challenge the idea that pussy-grabbing without consent is a joke. Swoon again.
For those of us who are single, the feminist men at the march are a great reminder that there are liberated men who want to date a strong woman. I definitely was not thinking of the Women’s March in DC as a place to pick up a guy but by the end of the march, I was thinking, wow, the world is full of way more feminist men than I knew.
The next morning I held a quirkybrunch for single women who had attended the march. We discussed the men at the march and agreed they were awesome. “I want to meet a man like that,” one of the women said.
I told them, “I’m going to put a new picture on my online dating profile: a photo of myself in my pink pussyhat. With the caption, at the Women’s March in DC.” (I can’t let them think it’s a fashion statement devoid of feminist context!)
For my male readers, I’m not telling you to call yourself as a feminist as a come-on. But if you do support women openly and embody feminism you are going to win with great women. Wouldn’t any self-respecting heterosexual or bisexual woman want a woman-supporting man in her bed?
For married women the feminist men at the Women’s Marches are a reminder of all the men out there who want equal relationships.
I was talking with my friend’s husband who stayed home with their two kids, young boys under the age of 6 so she could come out and not spend all her time tracking down the kids. He said, “A lot of it doesn’t affect me personally as a white guy, but I think expecting that people are treated fairly with compassion and dignity is what we all expect. There’s this American idea of fairness. The American dream is about fairness, even if it’s not true we should strive for it.”
At the end of the day, we got our tired selves home to my friend’s neighborhood on the metro. Crowds were streaming off the metro into Takoma Park just outside DC and when we emerged onto the plaza by the metro entrance we passed a sweet, nerdy-looking guy in his thirties with a baby stroller. He was holding a sign scrawled on 8.5 x 11 paper written in blue-ball-point pen that simply said, “THANK YOU.” He must have been there to wait for his wife as she came home and to thank all the others who had gone to the Women’s March.
We said, “Thank you!” to him as we walked by. Really moved by him.
He said, “This is what a feminist looks like,” pointing to the baby inside the stroller. I couldn’t tell if the baby was a girl or a boy.
My friend Sara said, “You too.”
Here are some more of the men from the marches in DC and NY. NY photos supplied by my hottie feminist male friend in Brooklyn.
Author of Quirkyalone and To-Do List, a life coach living in Buenos Aires working with women and men worldwide who identify with my quirkyalone concept of not settling in life or love. Representing the quirkyalones since 2000!
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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 a few self-aware men) get clear on their goals and achieve them while always helping her clients focus on core issues such as self-worth.
Through Solo Chica, Sasha is creating a whole new way for women to travel solo with confidence and local contacts to support them for transformative cultural experiences.
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