On the rooftop of her Brooklyn apartment building this past spring, Erika Anderson put on a vintage-style white wedding dress, stood before a circle of her closest friends, and committed herself — to herself.
"I choose you today," she said. Later she tossed the bouquet to friends and downed two shots of whiskey, one for herself and one for herself. She had planned the event for weeks, sending invitations, finding the perfect dress, writing her vows, buying rosé and fresh baguettes and fruit tarts from a French bakery. For the decor: an array of shot glasses emblazoned with the words "You and Me." In each one, a red rose.
"It wasn't an easy decision," she noted on the wedding invitations. "I had cold feet for 35 years. But then I decided it was time to settle down. To get myself a whole damn apartment. To celebrate birthday #36 by wearing an engagement ring and saying: YES TO ME. I even made a registry, because this is America."
Self-marriage is a small but growing movement, with consultants and self-wedding planners popping up across the world. In Canada, a service called Marry Yourself Vancouver launched this past summer, offering consulting services and wedding photography. In Japan, a travel agency called Cerca Travel offers a two-day self-wedding package in Kyoto: You can choose a wedding gown, bouquet, and hairstyle, and pose for formal wedding portraits. On the website I Married Me, you can buy a DIY marriage kit: For $50, you get a sterling silver ring, ceremony instructions, vows, and 24 "affirmation cards" to remind you of your vows over time. For $230, you can get the kit with a 14-karat gold ring.
It's not a legal process — you won't get any tax breaks for marrying yourself. It's more a "rebuke" of tradition, says Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. "For generations, if women wanted to have economic stability and a socially sanctioned sex life or children, there was enormous social and economic pressure to do that within marriage," she says. "Personally, as someone who lived for many years single and then did get married, I know that the kind of affirmation I got for getting married was unlike anything I'd ever had in any other part of my life." That, she adds, is "incredibly unjust."
Marriage (to another person) is on the decline. Barely half of all adults in the U.S. are married — a record low — according to a 2011 study from the Pew Research Center. In 1960, 72% of adults age 18 and older were married, while today, just 51% are wed. People are waiting longer to marry as well: The median age at first marriage is at a new high for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7 years).
Nonetheless, the stigma for single women remains. "It's left over from centuries of one kind of marriage pattern and one path for women," Traister says. She recalls reading books as a girl in which the story always ended when the heroine got married, as if that were the ultimate goal. "We're set up as a culture to treat marriage as the most exciting thing you'll ever do in your life," she says. "But if you marry yourself, you can say: My life is just as meaningful as the life of the person who happens to be getting married."
Erika had been married once before — to her college sweetheart. After meeting as seniors at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, they married a few years later and moved to Europe. But she and her husband grew apart in the years after college, she says, and divorced when she was 30.
She moved to Brooklyn and started dating, but nothing lasted. Earlier this year, she set a goal to write a book she'd always wanted to write. She put on her old engagement ring — a big blue topaz she had bought for herself: She wanted to commit to the book. The ring served as a reminder. "I started wearing it every day," she says. But it led to a much deeper commitment.
One night at a bar, when a man noticed the engagement ring and asked, "Who's the lucky guy?" Erika looked at her hand and quipped, "Myself!" She said it jokingly. But then she started to think about it. Why not commit to herself? "When you're single, society tells you that you are a woman who has not been chosen by someone else," she says. "I decided to choose myself. It was an act of defiance."
Not that she has anything against happy couples. She plans to keep dating, and she appreciates the "ceremony and symbolism" of traditional marriage. "There's something about people coming together and saying, 'We see you, we support you, we're in it with you,'" she says. With that in mind, she started making her wedding plans. She wanted to keep it simple, for herself and for everyone attending. She found her dress on ModCloth.com, and bought pair of retro-style wedge sandals for a '60s vibe. She had a personalized rose-gold bracelet made by a designer on Etsy that says "I choose you" in French.
Not everyone understood. Her dad back home in the Midwest asked, "Is this for real?" A guy she knew said it sounded narcissistic and pointless. But Erika says loving yourself, and being yourself, is a good thing. "I think freedom should mean freedom to choose our own path," she says. "And marrying yourself isn't surrendering to the wedding-industrial complex. It's saying yes to something new."
Solo weddings can take many forms. Dominique Youkhehpaz married herself in a quiet ceremony with candles in her bedroom when she turned 22, vowing to be kind and compassionate to herself. She was the only one in attendance, although she announced the union to friends. For a ring, she went with a nose ring. "I breathe my vows every day," she says.