June is the month for weddings. For the bride, that means orange blossoms and Kate Spade china.
For the singleton, it often means another hideous bridesmaid dress.
This fundamental injustice could be one of the reasons some single people are deciding to become married people, only not in the usual way. In a trend called "self-marriage," a person makes a vow to love, honour and cherish him or herself.
Weddings for one have been popping up here and there for a while. Glee's Sue Sylvester, unable to find anyone else who shared her love of "extreme taxidermy, tantric yelling and poking the elderly with hidden pins," got self-hitched in Season 2.
In Committed (2010), Elizabeth Gilbert's dithery meditation on the meaning of marriage, Gilbert writes of a friend who on her 40th birthday performed a private symbolic ceremony in the Pacific Ocean. "She had finally married her own life," says Gilbert, "and not a moment too soon."
Self-marriage recently gained a national media spotlight when Anderson Cooper interviewed a North Dakota woman who tied her own knot back in March. Commenting on the story, comedian Stephen Colbert cracked wise about this blow to North Dakotans: "Your state finally gets a woman, and she decides to marry herself."
Joking aside, the issue has sparked a predictable controversy about the cultural message that self-marriage sends. Is it a "form of accountability," as one self-married newlywed suggests? A feminist declaration that you don't have to wait around for Mr. Right? An assault on traditional marriage? Or just 21st-century narcissism with bouquets?
The self-marriers seem to have a range of motives for marrying (rather like their two-person counterparts). Some view it as a lark, a party, a Vegas impulse, even a form of performance art.
For some it's an extension of the Oprah-esque mode of self-help, which exhorts everyone to be self-empowering, self-affirming, self-caring, self-actualizing -- just plain selfy.
For others it's a New Age journey. One website offers a self-marriage course in which one vows "to honour the intimate relationship and union with Self, in order to live authentically at all times." The process begins with a formal self-engagement and "culminates at the end of the project with a potential self-marriage ceremony."
(Potential? What are the implications of breaking off an engagement to yourself? Certainly, the "It's not you, it's me" ploy becomes very tricky.)
Opposition to the self-marriage trend also comes from different directions. Some of it just feels like another eruption of the simmering feud between the married and the single, each faction being vaguely aggrieved and resentful about the other side's choice, to the point that it looks like over-compensation.
Some critics are miffed that self-marriers reject the traditional institution of marriage, viewing it as regressive, but still claim its most obvious outward sign, the wedding.
Others seem to think that the self-marriers are getting the milk for free. Or they're buying the cow. Or they are the cow. Or something. (Oh, it's so confusing!)
My own reservation isn't moral but practical: Self-marriage looks kind of dull. Two-person marriage is not only a good way to discover another person, it's also a better way to discover yourself. Paradoxically, you find out more about yourself by taking into account someone else's point of view, instead of just confirming your own.
Marriage is important -- not to mention interesting -- because it makes you part of something bigger than yourself. If the biggest thing you can imagine is you, then self-marriage might not be the road to happily-ever-after.
Possibly the next trend will be self-divorce.