Standing in a satin gown, holding a bouquet of cream roses, Nadine Schweigert prepares to say her vows. Like most brides, she shakes with nerves as she recites her lines. But Nadine has no groom to turn to for reassurance. Why? Because the 36 year old is marrying herself.
It might sound crazy, but a look online will show you that a growing number of young women are choosing to do the same. To them it’s a way to celebrate themselves and hit back at the pressure on single girls to get married.
“Traditionalists may call it bonkers,” says sex and relationship author Sophia Davis. “But it’s a symbolic ceremony that the ‘bride’ uses to show they don’t need a man to validate them. Rather than settle for Mr OK, they are choosing to go it alone and they want to celebrate their lives and the person they are. For some women it’s a kind of therapy.”
Having a ceremony certainly boosted Nadine’s confidence.
She met her first husband Kirt at the age of 21 and married him two years later. Within four years, they had three children, Sarah*, now 14, Jenny*, 12, and Brett*, 11. But by 2002 – when their children were four, two and one – it was clear the marriage wasn’t working.
“Adjusting to parenthood was hard,” Nadine, a call-centre worker and yoga teacher from North Dakota, explains. “We argued a lot – about money and how to bring up the kids.” That summer, when Nadine was 27, the couple split.
“Over the next few years I had a series of failed relationships – sometimes I ended it, sometimes they did. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t make a relationship work, so I tried group therapy to work through my problems. I discovered I was a classic people pleaser and didn’t respect myself enough. I was making do with the wrong kind of men. I thought I needed to be in a relationship to make myself happy. But once I accepted that I didn’t, I started to appreciate my life more and realised that I was great with or without a guy.”
It was her therapist who put the idea of a “me marriage” into Nadine’s head.
“Two years ago, we were chatting about the relationship I was in at the time and whether it had a future,” Nadine recalls. “My therapist said: ‘Don’t worry about marrying him. Have a love affair with yourself. That’s the way to feel happy.’ Although it was a bit of a joke, what she said just made so much sense to me and I started to wonder if it would be possible to have a ceremony where I vowed to be kind to myself. A way of marrying ‘me’ as it were!”
Much to her surprise, internet research showed that it was possible, and other women were doing it.
So Nadine began planning her big day – from who she’d invite to what vows she’d say to herself. It took 18 months to make all the arrangements.
“I found an art gallery to hire for a few hours for the ceremony. Then I slowly started to talk to friends and family about my plans. Some people got it straight away and were really positive, offering to make cakes or help with the invites.
“But other people weren’t so sure. My children thought it was weird. At first Brett said: ‘I’m embarrassed for you,’ and refused to come. But he got used to the idea eventually. My parents, Darrell, 75, and Charlotte, 69, were really supportive. I think they thought it was a bit crazy, but they promised to be there.”
On March 10, 2012, Nadine said the vows she had written to herself, wearing a £65 dusky-blue wedding dress she bought from a local boutique, in front of 45 friends and family, including her mum, dad and her son Brett.
“My daughters, who by then were in their teens, had moved to live with their dad so they didn’t come, but Brett loved it. I had one bridesmaid and my friend Saree conducted the ceremony.”
Nadine’s “me marriage” isn’t legal and doesn’t prohibit her from marrying again. After the £350 wedding day, she took herself off on a five-day honeymoon to New Orleans.
“Two of my friends came with me for a few days, then I spent the rest alone, chilling out, exploring and doing a painting class. It was great,” she says.
Put a ring on it
While it might sound a bit out-there, the idea of marrying yourself has been gaining popularity, with women around the world lining up to slip a ring on their own finger. The Little White Wedding Chapel in Vegas has reported a growing number of women doing it, while seven single Canadian girls married themselves in one ceremony in June 2006.
And women in the UK are jumping on the trend. Google “I’m marrying myself” and you’ll find posts by women across the country making plans for their own solo service, with photos of wedding dresses and venue plans, and discussions of the vows they’ll make.
Other women prefer to make a private promise. Rachel Evans, 41, a PA from Essex, made her pledge to herself five years ago after two failed relationships.
“I realised I needed some time by myself to get back to a place where I could be in a relationship. So I wrote a set of vows – to look after and love myself, work on my confidence, to look at life more positively and do everything I could to be a good person.
“I had my own ceremony at home alone. I wore a black corset top and a skirt. I lit two candles and I went through my vows – I felt like it was a private thing that I didn’t want people to comment or judge me on.
“Afterwards I felt more secure and whenever I had a wobble over a man, I’d read my vows again and refuse to settle for anyone who wasn’t perfect. Now I’ve met a guy who I’ve been with for over three years and he’s someone I could see myself settling down with. Marrying myself played a huge part in that.”
According to relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam, the trend is rooted in how we feel about marriage and ourselves.
“Over the past 30 years there’s been a shift towards thinking that we only get one life and have to make the most of it. With the popularity of self-help books and therapy, we’re much more focused on understanding ourselves and making ourselves happy,” she says.
On top of that we’ve become cynical about the idea of traditional marriage leading to happy ever after.
“Marriage, or at least life partnership, is the goal for women, and we crave the security and validation of a partner dedicating themselves to us forever. But with many marriages ending in divorce, it’s more like we’re just promising to be together for as long as we can. So while marrying yourself might seem like an extreme thing to do, it’s actually practical – it’s women making a promise they can keep. And as long as it’s not just a cry for help, it can be a really positive thing.”
Nadine agrees: “My wedding to myself was one of the happiest days of my life. I felt so glad I’d done it, and that feeling has lasted. Although it’s not a legal ceremony, somehow it feels like it’s now taken the pressure off me to be coupled up and I live on my own terms.
“If I have a bad day I remember my vows – to love myself like those I most treasure. I put myself under less pressure, and try to enjoy every day I have as a single woman. I’d only get into a relationship with someone who made my life better in every way.
“I’d definitely advise other women to have their own wedding – you’re the one person you’re stuck with for the rest of your life. Embrace that fact, and love yourself till death do you part.”
‘My me-wedding took the pressure off my boyfriend’
Melanie Talkington, 39, a shop owner and lingerie designer from Vancouver, got married to herself – with six of her single friends. She says: “The idea for our wedding came about because I had a load of old wedding dresses in my vintage clothes shop. I started talking to my photographer friend about what to do with them, and we came up with the idea of seven of us, all single and aged between 23 and 50, marrying ourselves!
A lot of my mates were getting married, but I wasn’t anywhere near that, and it was a bit of a statement against the pressure women feel to get hitched. But mostly it was about celebrating ourselves. Luckily all the brides loved the idea, and over the next few months we met up and emailed to plan our big day.
We decided to get married on Jericho Beach, Vancouver, with everyone wearing a different dress from my shop. We wanted to keep the ceremony very intimate, with just us and a photographer, and have guests come afterwards to a champagne picnic.
The reaction from our friends was mixed – most of our female friends were intrigued and thought it was a great idea. The men couldn’t see the point but agreed to come and support us anyway. A week before the wedding, we had our hen party. We hired a room in a restaurant and all wore red – it was really fun. The waiters knew it was a hen do and kept asking: ‘But who’s getting married?’ They were a bit confused when we said: ‘We all are!’
On the morning of the wedding on June 24 2006, we all got ready at my house, and my friend picked us up in his vintage convertible Cadillac.
People were cheering us or tooting their horns as we drove past. Then we went to the spot we’d picked out for the wedding and exchanged vows in front of each other – we’d all made up our own, and it was really emotional. It became as much about us bonding as friends as marrying ourselves. It sounds crazy, but afterwards we all had that wedding glow.
The wedding wasn’t about staying single, it was about celebrating ourselves, our lives, our friendships and making vows to love, honour and cherish ourselves. And when you feel good about yourself, you draw good people to you.
We meet up every year on our anniversary, and for the first one we booked a weekend in Vegas. It’s a day to connect again and think about the promises we made that day. I’m now living with my boyfriend – we’ve been together for four years and meeting him after I married myself felt like it took the pressure off our relationship.
We’ve talked about getting married to each other, but for me there’s no rush. I’ve already been a bride and had my day of feeling special – and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”