Over the last year, many people have asked me, “How did that happen?” In other words, “How did you wind up as a guest expert on the Dr. Phil Show?”
Yeah, how did that happen? It’s a good question, and a story that apparently must be told. There is nothing quite like having a televised discussion about self-love turn into a political debate about “animal marriage” with a Trumper on Dr. Phil, who is not officially a licensed psychologist. And you heard that from Dr. Sasha…
Here’s where the story begins. Picture this: a dreary, dark January late afternoon. I was resting at home in Providence, Rhode Island, with slight flurries of snow outside and a cup of tea on the bedside table. My laptop perched on my thighs, and I was lying on my bed, staring at the screen. I try to avoid working in bed, but the end of the day brings low willpower. I had just opened up my email for the 37th time; a more exciting-than-usual message sat at the top of my inbox.
The subject line read, “Dr. Phi Inquiry.” What? My heartbeat sped up.
Kalley, an assistant producer, had written. “1 hope you are well! I am currently working on an upcoming episode that will discuss the empowerment of sologamy.”
Sologamy? I hate the word “sologamy.” Sologamy sounds like a sausage. But I know the word, because many other people have reached out to me over the years to get my “subject matter expertise” on it. “Sologamy” is a media-created word that has become associated with the practice of self-marriage, the ritual of creating a ceremony of self-love, self-acceptance, and self-compassion in adulthood. Some people call it a “soul commitment.” The producers wanted me as a guest expert. “You were referred to me by Amen Jafri. After looking at your website, I feel like you would be an incredible asset to the conversation.”
Everything Kalley wrote made sense. I helped Amen on her documentary about self-marriage. Over the last five years, I have become a go-to expert on the growing worldwide trend in Vice, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, ABC News/Nightline, 20/20, and more. I wrote about self-marriage in my 2004 book Quirkyalone, and have guided single and partnered women on the process of marrying themselves or making a soul commitment. In Argentina, I became something of a minor celebrity as the first woman to marry herself in the country when a TV interview about my 2014 ceremony in Buenos Aires’ Japanese Gardens went viral.
Kalley shared the film date in Los Angeles, February 7, and asked for a call. I thought about it, then texted news of the inquiry to my best friend and the man I was dating at the time. “One step closer to Oprah?”
A giddy feeling came over me, a flush on my cheeks. Getting interviewed by Oprah has always been my dream. When Quirkyalone was released way back in 2004, I got a ton of attention: CNN, NPR, New York Times, etc., but not the ultimate quirkyalone (Oprah). (Quirkyalones are people who don’t settle for less than what they really want in a romantic relationship.) Dr. Phil was discovered and promoted by Oprah. Maybe Dr. Phil would lead me to my inevitable interview with the woman herself!
In retrospect, this line of thinking doesn’t make sense. But hey, that is how my thoughts went at that moment.
Over the next day, I tried to forget about the inquiry. I was about to leave for my first trip to Argentina since the pandemic, where I lived for six years until March 2020. The dates would conflict. I had already purchased plane tickets and rented an apartment in Buenos Aires. But I am a curious person. I couldn’t control my curiosity.
Kalley and I talked two days later. Kalley told me that when Miley Cyrus’ song “Flowers,” about celebrating self-love after her divorce, became Spotify’s most streamed song in a single week, the Dr. Phil staff decided to devote the Valentine’s Day show to an unconventional topic. She told me they were doing more issue-oriented shows now. OK, I had no idea what Dr. Phil did previously. I had never watched the show. But it all sounded good.
Kalley asked me to make a video telling Dr. Phil why he should have me on the show. Speaking to Dr. Phil in a video seemed like a hokey thing to do, but I agreed and made the video in one take the next morning. I spoke about how women lose themselves in relationships or the search for love, and how the ceremony of self-marriage becomes a way of taking responsibility for one’s own happiness. I hit send.
Really, I didn’t know why I was even trying to get the producers to want me. Kalley told me the show had a rule against paying for international travel; I wasn’t going to pay to reroute my trip. I sent a proposal that would have them paying for a ticket from LAX to EZE (Buenos Aires) but I didn’t expect them to accept it.
Fast forward 36 hours. I was out for drinks with my new friend Sheri in frigid Providence. My phone rang! Kalley told me the producers wanted me on the show, and they approved the travel to Argentina! I pumped my arm in the air, nearly knocking over my Prosecco. I would lose a week of rent in Buenos Aires, but I wouldn’t lose money on the travel (and even gain some miles). I continued to pump my arm up and down like a trucker honking a horn. Oh yeah, I was a badass, asking for what I wanted, and actually getting it!
Feelings of triumph gave way to more complex feelings minutes later.
My phone lit up with messages from Sheryl, a friend in Buenos Aires who spent many years as an investigative journalist. First came a February 2022 link from the New York Post: “Dr. Phil show staffers decry workplace as ‘traumatizing’ and a ‘war zone’”; next a story came from a Buzzfeed News (RIP) investigation: “Current and Former ‘Dr. Phil’ Employees Say The Set Is A Toxic Workplace. The Show Says Everything’s Fine.”
Sheryl is the kind of friend who tells me things I don’t want to hear.
Oh no. I had only looked at the website’s home page and saw they had just done a show about older women feeling invisible, called “Aging Out Loud. I had given the producers the benefit of the doubt and assumed the producers were genuinely interested in women’s empowerment. Was I going to spread a message of self-love or get used and abused?
Right there in the restaurant booth, I called my friend Clyde Ford, who has been a publishing mentor over the last few years. Clyde has published twelve books, on topics as varied as race and healing through touch. Clyde enjoys appearing on right-wing radio shows and arguing it out with the other side. More than ten years ago, he appeared on Oprah to talk about his book on racial equality; the producers also booked white supremacists. He’s been in the trenches.
“So do you think I should do Dr. Phil?” I asked.
“Definitely,” he said. “That’s what you do as an author. You take opportunities, you take risks.”
I nodded. I tended to agree with Clyde.
But I still wasn’t sure. To go on Dr. Phil or not? The question turned over in my stomach over the next day. I liked the idea of bringing a radical idea like self-marriage to people who might not have heard of it, and maybe it would help me in my coaching business and to sell my next book to a publisher.
I wrote my literary agent Jill Grinberg asking her thoughts.
Jill wrote back, “Hi Sasha! Dr Phil is the #2 Talk Show in the US which is pretty major exposure. It could be good to be able to say in the book proposal you were recently on national TV. Did you talk to the producer today? Do you know what the bent of the show will be? I know the topic is self-marriage, but what is his agenda?”
In the end, I said yes. Was it the right decision?
My plane arrived in LA on the night of the Grammies. Traffic was terrible on the freeways, the driver who met me at the airport told me. He sent me a text when I was still on the tarmac. “Your chauffeur is waiting.” That text alone might have been worth the price of admission.
Something about this surprise trip to LA signified things going in a good direction in my life, but was that true? If I had stayed in my job in Silicon Valley fifteen years ago instead of becoming a life and executive coach, perks like a paid driver at the airport might be part of my life, but when you choose to be self-employed, no one else pays for a driver at the airport. The driver also told me, “Welcome home.” He thought I was a Los Angeleno. I spent nearly twenty years in the San Francisco Bay Area, and still feel like a Californian at heart. So that felt sweet too.
I spent the first night with my friend Ali in Echo Park at her home because I wanted to be on the West Coast earlier to lead a group coaching call, and Dr. Phil only paid for one night of hotel. In reality, the treatment was not so luxe.
My friend Jenny flew down from San Francisco. Ali and Jenny, two of my oldest California friends, would both attend the studio audience the next morning. There was something incredible about that. We met for dinner at my hotel the night before; by 9 p.m. I told them I needed to go to bed. I woke up at 3 a.m. to go over the questions the producers sent: You have been studying self-marriage for over 20 years. Has this become more popular in recent times? Why is self-marriage important? What is the main message about? What are some misconceptions of self-marriage? Can you be married to yourself and someone else? Are women’s standards rising? How is self-love being preached today to the younger generation?
A driver picked me up from the hotel lobby at 7:30, and brought me to the CBS studio lot. After a Covid test, the production assistant took me to a small dressing room, where I would spend the next few hours alone.
Many people have asked about hair, makeup, and wardrobe for the Dr. Phil Show, so I am going to tell you the truth: the hair and makeup was pretty fucking awesome, and were among the best parts of the whole experience. When I appeared on CNN, I got zero help with hair or makeup. They plopped me down in front of a camera to talk with Anderson Cooper. I don’t think I understood the power of makeup before the Dr. Phil Make-Up Artist sculpted my cheekbones. I took about 5,000 selfies in the dressing room.
Next, the wardrobe came. Those two women steamed my dress, and gave me a narrow belt, nude stilletos, and pantyhose. They took photos to send to the Executive Producer for her approval. Clearly, guests’ appearances were very important to the producers.
Finally, the most important knock came. It was time to go down to the stage.
In the hallway, I met two other women who had married themselves and would be guests on the show. One of the women wore a bright blue pantsuit and a necklace that said, “amapoundcake,” which turned out to be Danni’s social media handle for her work as a body image coach. Sonya wore a peach pantsuit with a brighter orange blouse below it. Sonya was a business owner in Colorado. They were both Black. I asked one of them if they knew each other; she said no. We were all new to each other. I learned later that the producers put us in different hotels.
The handlers then led us down to the stage. At that moment I felt on top of the world, buoyed by a camaraderie with these two women. Even if some people judged us as insane, narcissistic, pathetic, unmarriageable, or whatever insults people wanted to throw at us, we were strong and knew self-marriage as a beautiful path to take. At that time, the show felt like a culmination of the last 20 years of my work on women’s empowerment.
National attention for self-marriage! Whoo-hoo, I was feeling good!
The production assistant sat me and Sonya in the front. While we were waiting for the show to start, Sonya and I chit-chatted about dating as self-married women (there are some things you can only talk about with another woman who has married herself).
I looked across the way and noticed a white, tan, blue-eyed preppy thirtysomething guy with a sweep of neat hair to his left seated also in the front row. He had a kind of pastel look to him, like he lived in Miami, or appeared on the 1980s show Miami Vice? The producers were looking for a man who married himself to be on the show. Was he the man they found? I tried to make friendly eye contact, but Mr. Miami Vice looked away.
When the show began, Danni sat up on stage first with Dr. Phil. Danni invited dozens of friends and family to her recent outdoor self-wedding, so different from my ceremony, which I did in a much more private way. The producers played a clip of her vows, “Will you commit to never giving up until your dying day? Do you promise to value yourself?” Danni also left small bags with rings in them on each person’s seat, inviting people to marry themselves.
Danni explained, “I overcame a lot of trauma, and it inspired me to marry myself. I realized I wasn’t living for myself and this wedding was my chance to start over.”
I loved Danni’s story, specifically, how she invited others to pledge love to themselves and that she brought healing past trauma in the conversation. Trauma rarely gets talked about in media stories on self-marriage, but finding wholeness is often a part of the journey. Many of us would not be drawn to self-marriage if we had not felt damaged or broken.
By this point, I was thinking, FANTASTIC. But when Dr. Phil introduced the man sitting on my left on stage, the mood rapidly shifted. Mr. Miami Vice actually founded The Right Stuff, a dating app for conservatives. Huh? Dr. Phil next dropped this bomb, “John also served as the Director of the White House Presidential Personnel office during the Trump administration.”
Wait? What? Are we on Sunday morning Fox News or Dr. Phil?
My mask has always served me. People always tell me that I look calm when I don’t feel that way. At that moment my ability to look confident when I was anything but inside was being utilized to the nth degree. I started to disassociate, to have an out-of-body experience mixed with confusion.
“You’ve got a problem with this,” Dr. Phil asked Mr. Miami Vice. “What’s your problem with it?”
“My problem is that it’s making a mockery of a very sacred thing. I think if you want to celebrate yourself, that’s great, I just think there are other ways to do it.”
Mr. Miami Vice started to rant about conservatives being called crazy when they worried about people marrying multiple people, marrying themselves, marrying animals, marrying objects.
What? What are we talking about? Are you really worried about animal marriage? Don’t you think it would be a better use of your time to worry about … I don’t know…climate change?
The producers emailed me questions to prepare for the show, but they never mentioned this was going to turn into a political debate.
I didn’t know where to start, but I had to get myself out of a freeze. Over the past year, I had been training with Katie and Gay Hendricks, two therapists-turned-coaches who teach courses in Body Intelligence. The Hendricks speak about the importance of telling the microscopic truth when in conflict. “Telling the miscoscopic truth” means revealing the sensations you are feeling in your body. It’s a way of inviting someone else into your reality.
What came out of my mouth came naturally as a result of those trainings.
I said, “When I listen to you, I just feel really tense and kind of afraid.”
The audience laughed. Mr Miami Vice said nothing. Later people told me I demolished him but I wasn’t looking to destroy anyone. I was just looking to say something after these men who knew nothing about self-marriage hijacked the conversation. The editors wound up using that high-sensation line as part of their promo for the show. (See below clip!)
Dr Phil next brought up Brad Wilcox, sociology professor and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, who also knew nothing about self-marriage and talked about the importance of people tying the knot in their twenties.
The conversation turned into Dr. Phil fretting about self-marriage spreading, people getting married less, and having fewer children, which could spell a declining birth rate and economic disaster for the country. The show had become ridiculous. Apparently now getting married is our patriotic duty.
By this point, I forced myself to intervene again, telling Dr. Phil during the commercial break that I had something to say in response to Brad Wilcox. Here’s what I said.
I did as well as I could, considering the madness coming out of their mouths, but I wish I could go back and be even more clear. I would say, “Brad, we are here today to talk about self-marriage, which is a ceremony that allows a woman or a man to celebrate their lives and honor their priorities and values. It sounds like you are advocating something else: forced marriage to another person. What do you propose? Should we marry anyone that we can find on Tinder during our twenties?”
Also: “Dr. Phil, why are you drumming up controversy by talking about immigration and the declining birth rate? Do you prefer that women don’t love themselves, and stay in whatever relationship they can get? Would you prefer that women don’t have power?”
“And wait, did anyone ever say that people here on stage who have married themselves are against marriage? I am willing to bet that all three of us on stage would marry another person if we found someone we wanted to marry.”
The “other side” kept going on and on about the “sacrament” of marriage. Marriage is a “sacrament” because God’s love then becomes expressed through a couple’s union. OK, but didn’t Jesus actually say the most important thing to do is to love your neighbor like you love yourself? To love your neighbor, you need to learn how to love yourself. The people who are causing the most havoc in the world surely do not love themselves.
There were sweet moments in the show, like when Dr. Phil asked if anyone in the audience would marry themselves; hands shot up. A young guy said said he would. He clarified that he wouldn’t be cheating if he married someone else. He would forgive himself. That guy was great. Generation Z is primed for the concept of self-marriage like no generation that has come before them.
I got to officiate a ceremony that ran during the credits. Kalley and her sister Camryn wanted to marry themselves on television and they wanted me to guide them. The producers set up a beautiful backstage green room with flowers. Camryn said moving things: she wanted to give herself full credit for her trauma healing. Again, trauma was present. Perhaps that was the high point of the show for me.
After Ali and I got in the car and started looking for a place for lunch, I started putting the pieces together. I banged my feet against the dashboard of her car in rage. I could not believe the producers mainstreamed Mr. Miami Vice, who helped to orchestrate a violent coup against the government of the US on January 6 that resulted in five deaths, as the “other side” on a daytime TV show. Mr. Miami Vice (and I am not using his name here for a reason) should not have been on stage next to us. The producers had no business giving someone like that a platform, and certainly not about a topic he knew nothing about.
The producers took good care of me with the make-up, travel, and hotel, but I didn’t like their “surprises.” I called Kalley from lunch and asked her if she knew they had also booked Mr. Miami Vice. She said that she didn’t and that she thought his craziness made us look better. That’s probably true (we did sound sane in comparison), but still, it was unfair to throw me into a political debate with a Trumper and a conservative sociologist without giving me notice so I could prepare.
A week later I shared what happened on a coaches’ community page with Katie Hendricks. Katie wrote back, “Oooh, you survived an encounter with crazy, congrats! Media, especially Dr. Phil, has veered off into conflict porn. I experience TV as an opportunity to get skilled at encountering the unexpected. Enjoy the ripple!”
Katie nailed it. Conflict Porn. That’s what Dr. Phil and most American TV talk shows want for ratings. The show didn’t want real dialogue; they wanted shock, gotcha moments, and stupidity. A client told me in a session a few weeks later that she was proud to see me up on stage speaking up for self-marriage, but she didn’t understand why Dr. Phil flew me out to LA if he wasn’t going to give me more airtime. Yeah, you and me both sister.
Another client from the 2023 Turned-On Living group wondered if the producers didn’t tell the women about the political people coming on the show so we would look dumb. I wouldn’t go that far. I believe the producers genuinely wanted to have a conversation about self-marriage, but they were operating within such a sick workplace that the “other side” became a Trumper. They certainly didn’t operate with integrity.
Drama was the star of the show with Dr. Phil in the judge position. He is not a judge I would trust. When the cameras went off, his jaw went slack. He seemed to be quite the phony.
Was it worth it to disrupt my life to be on the Dr. Phil show? I can’t say I regret the decision, but then again, I have a hard time regretting any choice because I learn from whatever happens. Would I go on the Dr. Phil Show again if the producers invited me back (which is not going to happen because the show is now off the air)? No! Certainly not! As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
When I think back to Clyde’s advice, “Authors take risks,” I think yes, that’s true. Authors do take risks. Simply by writing our books we take risks. To experience the fullness of life, and get one’s ideas out into the world, we have to take chances. If I get the opportunity to talk about something I sincerely believe in or want to promote, like my next book Wet, my coaching program Turned-On Living, or pussywalking, the sexual-energy mindfulness practice I created, on a large platform, I check out the opportunity. But I would also follow Jill’s advice and ask hard-hitting questions. Hindsight is 20/20, but now knowing what I know, I would have quizzed the producers about the “opposing” side.
Did going on Dr. Phil change my life or help me in my business? Not really. Let’s face it. My clients are not watching much daytime TV. I got a few weird emails, the most memorable from a man who somehow seemed to think I was going to meet him in a motel in Texas (???), a fantastic makeover, and a free trip to California where I got to spend time with two of my oldest friends. I met two trailblazing women who also married themselves. I built my confidence in my ability to speak up in any situation. If I can talk to Dr. Phil about self-marriage, well, shoot, I can do anything. At the very least, I got a story.
Liked what you read? Want to get future essays, blog posts, and other updates about what is happening in my quirky world and what I am offering? Sign up for my weeklyish newsletter.
Want to explore making your own soul commitment (or marrying yourself) within a group context of a yearlong exploration of pleasure, joy, and self-worth? Check out my small group coaching program Turned-On Living and enter your email to start a conversation with me about being part of the 2024 cohort.