"I will not wish away my life waiting for 'the one' when I am, in fact, the one"
Last year, 36-year-old Sophie Tanner decided to marry herself, to celebrate her status as a single woman. The spiritual ceremony went ahead in Brighton this month, in beautiful sunshine and to the soundtrack of Kendrick Lamar’s I Love Myself. We caught up with Sophie to find out how her big day panned out.
"The night before the wedding I did actually feel really jittery; I worried that it might rain, that no one would show up, that I would say the wrong thing…all the usual nerves! But actually I couldn’t have wished for a better day.
The sun shone brightly and all 20 bridesmaids showed up for a quick dance rehearsal and some bubbles. Then we picked up our sunflowers and processed through the Pavilion Gardens to the sound of whooping crowds. Kendrick Lamar’s I Love Myself blasted over our portable speakers as we danced past the lawns.
I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, because every time I spun I saw the bridesmaids twirling along with me, their colourful dresses flying, all looking so beautiful.
I’d hired my friend James a cardinal outfit and he was waiting for us at the Unitarian Church stage, looking resplendent in his red robes. My Dad gave me away in traditional style, then James delivered the ceremony with fantastic aplomb and more and more people gathered to see what was going on, gasping in fascination when they heard it was a self-wedding.
I overheard several people saying ‘This is SO Brighton!’
The performance was interactive, with a slow motion catching of the bouquet and the audience were invited to join me in my first dance (If You Wana Be Happy by Trini Lopez). The vibe was amazing.
Everyone got involved, including babies and dogs, and there was lots of laughing and cheering and hugging.
Then the congregation danced their way through town to the beach, stopping traffic and crowds along the way.
We spent a sunny afternoon drinking Pimms at OhSo Social beach bar, there were quite a few sun burned faces afterwards.
I was ridiculously happy that so many of my friends made an effort to be there and threw themselves whole-heartedly into the event, it will be a day I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.
Looking at the photos and videos brings a tear to my eye and just makes me want to relive it over and over again.
I didn’t actually doubt the decision either the night before or on the day, on the contrary, every time I had a spasm of nerves I just thought ‘this is you you’re marrying remember, she knows you better than anyone, she’s always got your back.’
The day was such a dream it only served to strengthen my conviction that I was doing the right thing, I felt humbled by all the support and love. I didn’t really feel self-conscious because everyone was enjoying themselves so much, I’ve always loved theatre and the whole spectacle was very powerful, it was fantastic seeing passers-by react in such delight.
I would wholly recommend this sort of ceremony to others who feel they would like to celebrate themselves. Other cultures have rites of passage which are seen as fundamental to human growth and development, as well as socialisation, I think self-marriage serves this purpose.
Yes I feel like I’ve made a serious commitment, people have jokingly asked how long it will take me to get a divorce but actually that isn’t an option for me as it means I could no longer live with myself!
On Saturday, I promised to face my disappointments, embrace my dreams, realize my hopes and accept my failures through understanding, openness and sensitivity to others. That’s a pretty big ask but I aim to stick to those vows as best I can!"
Below is Sophie's original piece for Stylist.co.uk (written in April), about why she was drawn to the concept of self-marriage, and how she went about planning her big day:
"Self-marriage addresses the notion that being single and thoroughly enjoying it is a viable lifestyle choice; whether this is for a short period of time, during several stages in your life or for most of your adult years. I am a firm believer in the fact that it is possible to live a fulfilled life on your own terms, without a partner to 'complete you'.
My self-wedding will be held on 16 May as part of Brighton Fringe. I can’t think of a better place to marry myself; Brighton was the first city to recognize same sex marriage last year and is a great place to launch my bid to legislate the Same Person Marriage Act. It is a unique, open-minded city and the festival reflects its colourful cultural heritage.
My family and friends are delighted with the news and my father can’t wait to give me away to myself. Both my parents have always been an incredible positive support to me and always encouraged me to be whoever I want to be.
I will wear a vintage wedding gown, have ten bridesmaids and my darling dog, Ella, will be the ring bearer. Our procession will move through the Royal Pavilion Gardens and finish on the steps of Brighton Unitarian Church, where my good friend, James, will be waiting to bless me and read some passages from Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet.
I will then have a champagne reception on the beach, by the bandstand, where my Dad and sisters will give a speech. After the photo shoot, we will head back into town to enjoy the rest of the festival and dance the night away in the wonderful Brighton Spiegeltent.
For my honeymoon, I will be joining a Big Beyond volunteer project in Ethiopia and working closely with the ancient Hamar tribe in the Great Rift Valley.
Above: Sophie will get wed on the steps of Brighton Unitarian Church (inset), followed by speeches beside the city's beach bandstand
I'm an average person and there's nothing extraordinary in my background that has prompted my choice.
I grew up in the beautiful countryside of Dorset and then moved to London to study English and Theatre at Uni. I worked in graduate jobs for a few years before I finally cracked, donned a backpack and explored the world a little bit - mainly Africa and Central America. When I returned from travels I was drawn to Brighton, it may have been something to do with the sparkling sea. I’ve now been here eight years and work as a communications consultant at a digital agency, Propellernet.
A few years ago, as I recovered from a particularly painful break-up, I became interested in the concept of self-marriage.
I wrote to Brighton and Hove Register office asking about the possibility of marrying oneself but the answer was a resounding 'no'. I was quoted the Marriage Act: 'Marriage, according to the law of this country, is the union of one man with one woman, voluntarily entered into for life, to the exclusion of all others.'
This only served to fuel my quest for an alternative, more inclusive, option.
I have had a few long-term relationships and have lived with three different guys, for no longer than a year each. The experience has been mixed. It’s sweet when they come home in a good mood with wine and flowers. It’s nice having someone to snuggle under the duvets with and not leave the bed all Sunday.
However, it seems that my relationships got too cosy, too quickly; one boyfriend complained I didn’t wear thongs enough. Another got addicted to porn, which frankly became a bit tedious.
The last one, well, he roared into my life like a Tasmanian Devil. The entire time he lived with me, I didn’t even read one book – that’s how consumed by him I was. But he was terrified of routine, he couldn’t hold down a job for more than a month and so, of course, he raged off into the sunset.
I won’t lie and say these men haven’t influenced my decision; there was a lot of pain, particularly involving infidelity.
But what I remember the most is the sense of relief once I’d got used to their absence - this incredible feeling of gratitude to have myself back, to regain control of my own happiness.
The fact is, I feel better when I am not living in a bubble with someone else, constantly wrestling with expectation. It is lovely to wake up and not deal with someone else’s weather. I feel brighter, more observant, more interesting. One discovery I’ve made is that I never bore myself.
And then recently, I bought a studio flat and moved in on my own for the first time.
I had a creeping sense of panic at the fact that I was no longer living with friends in house shares, with a constant stream of people through the front door.
For a while I felt slightly ashamed of my situation. Was this the beginning of spinsterdom? Would I be a figure of pity - with a smattering of grey hairs, dehydrating ovaries and only a Labrador for affection?
I did a lot of soul searching and it was a relief to note a growing contentment and peace at my situation. If anything, I found myself seeking out my new space of solitude and reveling in my own company. I decided to commemorate this higher level of autonomy with a self-wedding.
Society has many ways of celebrating the milestones shared by couples but there is nothing to mark your achievements as a single person.
Our culture is rooted in the idea that every person will eventually enter into a heterosexual, monogamous, legally bound sponsored_longform. This has been the norm throughout history and is required to maintain the patriarchal order, resulting in a deeply engendered prejudice to the romantically unattached.
Some critics may dismiss marrying yourself as narcissistic or egocentric, but it is actually nothing to do with vanity or seeking approval. In psychoanalytic theory, traits of narcissism include difficulty with empathy and sustaining satisfying relationships. On the contrary, research shows that single people are much more available to provide emotional support and practical help to friends and neighbours than married couples.
Nowadays, we live in an 'age of loneliness', with us Brits being 'less likely to have strong friendships or know our neighbours than residents elsewhere in the EU'. This isolation concerns me and emphasises the need for more of a focus on self worth and well-being.
Surely it is healthier to aim for self-love over insecurity – it certainly allows you a greater capacity for human connection.
Acknowledging my own happiness in an official union does not mean that I will reject the opportunity of a loving long-term relationship or that I need to live a celibate life; I have not signed up to be a nun!
It just means I will not wish away my life waiting for 'the one' when I am, in fact, the one - anyone else who shares my journey is a welcome addition.
As a self-married person, I will strive to integrate with my community and to continue to nurture the close friendships that provide me with companionship, emotional support and love. I have realised that I cannot find my 'self' in another person.
I hope that other single people will be inspired to celebrate themselves too."
Sophie Tanner's book, Happily, is out later this year. An original and light-heartedly subversive story, it's about about a girl called Chloe Usher, who decides to marry herself. See more information on this and Sophie's self-marriage petition on her website sophietanner.co.uk
Photos: Sophie Tanner and ThinkStock