a self-love poster spotted on Providence’s not-so-mean streets
I spotted this philosophical poster on my way across the street to walk underneath the changing trees of fall.
“A heart that loves itself cannot broken.”
First let me say that I love these mysterious people who are stapling self-love posters to telephone poles. Their intent to spread the message of self-compassion could not be more admirable. Their tactile work is so much more satisfying and human to take in than another inspirational quote on Instagram.
My heart swelled reading their message. But my critical mind could not stop there.
“But is this true?” I stopped to ask myself, before crossing the street to walk through the park. “Is it really true that a heart that loves itself cannot be broken?”
the first blush of fall on that walk
My heart got broken this year in a way that it had not been broken in years. There were nights when I woke up at 4 am and felt like a meteor had landed in my heart, leaving a charred crater in its wake. The despair of that break-up left my heart jagged and in pieces.
Did that mean that I don’t love myself? Or did that mean I was allowing myself to feel?
I thought about that lovely poster on my walk through the trees.
Here’s how I would amend the text if I were to make it feel true to me.
“A heart that loves itself cannot be permanently broken.”
“A heart that loves itself heals more quickly after heartbreak.”
“A heart that loves itself will not lose itself in grief for years.”
“A heart that loves itself will grow more resilient to love again.”
When I was going through the worst of this heartbreak, someone told me it was a good sign that my heart hurt so deeply. Being more heartbroken than ever, he said, meant I had opened up to love, and the hurt would only lead my heart to grow back stronger. I took solace in the idea that heartbreak could only grow my capacity to love.
Here is what I know for sure by now: Heartbreak is unavoidable. Loss is the flaw in love. Many of our attempts at romantic relationships do not work out over the long-term. Even superficial online dating attempts can break your heart, slowly over time, little by little, cut by cut. Horrible people will be elected as our leaders. People will disappoint us. Our friends and lovers and family will pass away.
There is always going to be heartbreak and disappointment.
The best we can hope for is that our hearts break and then grow back stronger. Self-love comes when we stop blaming ourselves. The key to healing your heart is taking out the thorn of self-blame.
Healing is a shift in perspective. A shift of knowing that you are lovable and life can be good even after devastation. Cue the song, “I Will Survive.” Seriously, if you are going through a heartbreak right now, play that song on YouTube and dance to it. We need to feel the feelings and let them move through us, through journaling, talking with a trusted friend, coach or therapist, dancing, walking, or whatever works best for you to alchemize the pain.
It’s not inevitable that a heart grows back stronger. A heart can also break and not stitch back together. A heart can grow bitter, jaded, shriveled, and resigned, which happens all the time.
Many, many people give up on love and their dreams all the time. It’s a miracle to keep going and to be at peace with your life as it is right now.
It takes a strong heart to keep on beating. A heart that loves itself.
P.S. In a little over two weeks, on Thursday November 4, at 8 pm ET (NYC time), I am going to interview my dear friend Carolyn Arnold about her new memoir Fifty First Dates after Fifty. This is a free online event to celebrate the launch of Carolyn’s book. We would love for you to join us.
Carolyn, an inveterate social scientist, and definitely a quirky, independent woman, devised an unusual dating plan to go on fifty first dates to find the right partner for her. I’ll be asking her about how she stitched her heart back together after disappointments and rejections.
Once you have been slammed a number of times in dating, how can you stay positive and keep going? You can read this interview I did with Carolyn way back in 2012 to get a taste for what we will be talking about.
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 thinking it’s too late, you should definitely come. You can register here.
I don’t like to invoke pity for the single condition, but let’s get real: being single during the pandemic sucked for many of us. Cats and dogs are not enough. Vibrators are not enough. I’m not even talking about sex. I’m talking about human contact. Single people need hugs, too.
A friend of mine who was single during most of the pandemic talks about being “skin-hungry.”
Here in the U.S., we thought we were on the brink of regaining normalcy. We thought we would be able to leave those masks behind!
We were all mustering up the courage to leave our houses, go out and meet new and old friends.
I danced tango outside at a Providence milonga twice with glee. I was eagerly planning on going to a 100% vax-only milonga in Boston in August. I was filled with emotions: hope, anticipation, fear, overwhelm, but at least I was getting the tango hug back and would get to meet new people after moving back from Argentina.
I got to feel tango bliss again…but was it fleeting?
In the age of the Delta variant dancing cheek to cheek with strangers doesn’t sound like such a solid idea.
Things are changing again! If there is anything we have learned during this pandemic, it’s that we never really know what is around the corner.
Our current situation comes as only fifty percent of the people in the US got vaccinated. When I tell my Argentine and Brazilian friends this fact, they say, WHAT?!
In Buenos Aires people are fighting to get a second dose of Sputnik V, and in the US, millions had their choice of Pfizer or Moderna and said no, or not yet.
Widespread vaccine refusal gave the wildly contagious Delta variant fertile ground to spread in the US as it has in many countries. When a virus spreads it mutates. Delta is a new creature. And it’s a warning sign of future variants to come that could be vaccine-resistant.
Still the vaccinated and unvaccinated are at risk for long-haul Covid, long-term symptoms of fatigue, malaise, pain, brain fog, and difficulty breathing that doctors have not known how to treat.
A lot of people have not read about this new reality. A lot of people don’t enjoy reading the news. Or they are frankly sick of the virus, which I can understand. Or they are living in their own reality bubbles.
There’s no going back to normal. The question is how do we make life–and single life–work in the new normal?
I’ve approached Covid-19 with the idea that I will be safe and find ways to live anyway. Life is short. I take a middle-way approach.
For now, I am avoiding indoor dining, putting on the mask again in stores, and prioritizing one-on-one interactions with vaccinated people (being vaccinated is sexy right now). And yes, why not a modern-day Covid Lysistrata Campaign? Wanna cuddle? Get the shot! The Lysistrata Campaign is an old idea with a new twist. Women (or people) refuse sex with others to end a war. In this case you only have to refuse sex with the unvaccinated so you still have a lot of sexy people to say yes to. If you want to spread that idea, grab the image at the top of this post.
Sadly, there’s going to be fewer tango hugs for a while. But I’m still going on dates, because those are one-on-one interactions. And I’m seeing friends.
I’m getting tested again when I have a doubt. In Rhode Island rapid and PCR testing is free and readily available. Yesterday I had a second date. When I woke up with a sore throat, I scheduled a free test to be sure. Within an hour, the results came back negative, so I could meet this guy without fear. Was the date worth it? Happily, yes.
Home tests available at drugstores are a great option if you want to socialize but don’t want to be a superspreader. Home tests give are also great for those iffy situations when you don’t know if it’s a cold or Covid–or you were just exposed to a lot of unmasked people.
Some people say we will just have to live with Covid as the new flu—but the is a deadly flu leaving 23% of people who get it with chronic fatigue-like symptoms. I have already been there, and done that with chronic fatigue. I spent two years of my life unable to exercise, sometimes unable to pull myself off the couch to cook a meal. I don’t want to repeat that experience. Sometimes people look at me and wonder why I am so passionate about not getting Covid. That’s why.
Still, we have to live, right? We have already spent over a year cooped up inside. That’s not good for anyone’s mental or physical health.
What about you? How are you managing the new, new normal?
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.”
The humorist Fran Leibowitz (star of Netflix’s docu-series “Pretend It’s a City”) talked to NPR’s Terry Gross about living alone in New York City during Covid.
Leibowitz said, “Well, it still seems to me to be by far the best choice. I cannot understand how people who do not live alone have stood this last 10 months, because the only upside of having to stay in my apartment is at least there was no one else there. I would find that unbearable, I mean, truly unbearable.”
Ha! When I heard this line on the radio, I glanced around my own apartment to ask myself whether I was happy that there was no one else there. I mean, sure, I love my solitude and all my weird secret single behaviors, with no TV blaring news programs or sports I don’t care about, but I can’t say that I genuinely agreed with Leibowitz that living alone during Covid is the best option—for me. I am not quite the badass Fran L. is, or rather, I’m a different breed of badass.
We all experience living alone and being single differently. Even if we can be OK with being single–or actively enjoy it–living Covid single has been something else. Since I’ve been in transition from Buenos Aires back to the U.S., I’ve done a little bit of everything over the last year: living alone, living with family, in a relationship, and single. I have to say, the transitions were the hardest. Living alone after spending weekends with a partner or living family most of the time was tough. Solitude is a good thing—and there can be too much of a good thing. I missed having people to talk to without setting up a Zoom or dialing the phone.
I was glad to see this news story from the New York Times: A Pandemic is Hard Enough, For Some Being Single Has Made It Harder. The concerns of people who live alone have often been ignored by governments in coronavirus guidelines that unilaterally discourage household mixing—what about all those households of one? For many of us who are single and living alone, the need for human contact can push us to the limit. Some of my single coaching clients have talked about not feeling human, just because they are working on Zoom or email, missing all the serendipitous, everyday fleeting encounters we’d normally have, at the dry cleaners or the office.
Not everyone has access to the New York Times so I will give you a few key nuggets:
“Some who said they were content with being single before the pandemic have nonetheless struggled with what they’re missing in emotional support and even routine physical touch.”
“…while people missed sex, there was more severe pining for nonsexual forms of touch: the day-to-day contact, couch cuddling and hugs — even high-fives — that have been severed off in an age of social distancing.”
“For some, losing nearly a year of searching for a partner is time people didn’t think they could spare…” “That’s especially an issue for those feeling a biological rush to have children.”
This is an especially good Twitter thread to read. A clinical oncology consultant in the UK started a conversation about the dreadfulness of being single during Covid.
I don’t know who wants to hear this, but being single during this pandemic has been downright dreadful.
I’m not taking away from the seriousness of the pandemic. Please take it seriously, but by God has it been hard when you simply don’t have anyone to share time with.
All this time alone has its silver linings. Look at all that time you have to get in shape/learn a new language/get clear about what you really want in a relationship and your life. That’s all true, and I’m all for using our time intentionally, living consciously and deliberately.
And we need to be real about the challenges we are facing. Otherwise we stuff down the emotion in our bodies, and it manifests as pain, illness, stiffness, and get this—fatigue! Is that why Covid has been so tiring?
What about you? How are you living Covid? If you are single, are you savoring the alone time or dying for the time when you can go out dancing or to the gym or to yoga class, or wherever it is that you see people? If you’re in a relationship, do you sometimes wish you were living alone? If you are single and living alone, do you wish you were cohabiting so you had someone to talk with? If you’re single with kids home, how is it going for you?
Let us know in the comments.
I want to remind you that I am a life coach who specializes in working with women and men who identify or aspire to the quirkyalone concept, so if you have quirkyalone tendencies and you are struggling with any of the above (or something else), there’s a good chance that I will “get” you.
Could you benefit from the structure and support of life coaching?
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.
If you read my book Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics you may remember the section on R.O., or Romantic Obsession. That part of the book was one of the most fun to write, and one of the most emotionally resonant, or so I heard from readers. It turns out that many of us quirkyalones have fallen into our share of R.O.
Here’s an excerpt to jog your memory:
“It’s a little-known fact, but quirkyalones, for all their independence, also have a tendency to be swept away when they get close to love. We are passionate, romantic characters, and that click happens so rarely that the search for a partner can take on the character of a holy grail. If you only meet someone who stirs your interest once every two years, this is bound to be an epic event. If things don’t go according to plan, or even if they do, well, this can be difficult. We sometimes plunge into romantic obsession, or R.O.”
I experienced my first and deepest R.O. 25 years ago when I was in college. So I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on and writing about R.O. (That’s a lot of years!)
Since I launched my coaching practice in 2012 I’ve talked to a lot of women who have fallen into R.O. states for longer than they would like. Many quirkyalone women came to talk with me about a variety of life issues and decisions, but often the pain of the R.O. was the trigger for getting support. They wanted a way out of persistent obsession with someone who had told them in ways, subtle or not, that they were not interested in continuing a relationship.
Since I know R.O. to be a hidden topic for quirkyalones (because after all we seem so self-assured and confident, so not prone to obsession!) I recorded this unscripted video sharing what I have learned from my own R.O.s and helping others . I called the video the Hidden Messages of Romantic Obsession because many years later, I can see that usually an R.O. masks or distracts us from a deeper issue. It’s never really about the person we are obsessing about–it’s about something else for us to heal.
This is a big topic for many of us so if you have thoughts to share please do so in the comments!
P.S. I’ve been making more videos lately. This new twist has happened because I’ve become good friends with a genius Turkish filmmaker and fellow Buenos Aires expat Tan Kurttekin who is helping me make videos about pussywalking. (What the hell is she talking about with pussywalking?)
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.
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.
I'm a women's empowerment coach. I talk to women about their lives and help them get unstuck and create the present and future that they want. My books Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics (Harper SanFrancisco) and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us (Simon & Schuster) have been featured in 100+ media outlets, including the New York Times, CNN, and NPR.
The best way to stay in touch is to sign up for my newsletter. See you in your inbox!
You're not alone. You're quirkyalone.
My weeklyish newsletter the Sasha Cagen Weeklyish goes out to 5,000 quirky souls.
Sign up to get inspiration to never settle, love yourself, and live a quirky life you love. You'll also get access to the quirkyalone quiz.
You're almost done!
Next step: check your email to confirm your subscription to the Sasha Cagen Weeklyish.
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.