What would you do if you wound up single on what was to be one of the most special days of your life—your wedding day? My friend Desiree did something remarkable and revolutionary: instead of hiding away, she marched boldly into a proud new future, and in the process became an inspiration to me and, hopefully, some of you as well.
On a recent Sunday, when I would have been attending her wedding to a man, I stood on Bow Bridge in Central Park and witnessed Desiree get married—to herself. A circle of her friends surrounded her while her cousin officiated, reciting vows she had written for herself, which included the lines, “I will make my happiness a priority and forgive myself when I’m not perfect. I will trust myself and stand within the power of my own strength. I will love myself forever more, through good and bad, thick and thin, and for exactly who I am today. I promise I will never, ever, ever, settle for less than what my heart and soul desire.”
When I heard those lines, what’s when I knew exactly how revolutionary what she’d just done had been, because those are promises I think we’d all be better off making to ourselves, singled, coupled, or somewhere in between. While Lori Gottlieb is urging us to Marry Him and settle for “Mr. Good Enough,” it’s high time single ladies demand not just rings, but respect, and realize that we don’t need to get that from a boyfriend, lover or fiancé to feel complete. I’d also argue that once we do get into relationships, it’s vital not to forget about what we love about ourselves.
Desiree wasn’t sure until two weeks before the date whether she was going to go through with her solo ceremony. “I felt like I needed to claim the day for myself and do something positive with it, as opposed to sulking at home all day wondering why I wasn’t getting married,” she says. “I didn’t want to focus on what I had lost but rather what I still had and even what I had gained. At the end of a relationship, it is common to feel drained and out of sorts. I wanted to make spending time with myself and nurturing myself a priority rather than attempting to jump into another relationship right away as a way of self-medicating.”
Women remaking single life and turning it from a curse into a blessing is a theme of several new books, including the memoirs 31 Dates in 31 Days (Seal Press) by Tamara Duricka Johnson and Falling for Me (Harper Paperbacks) by Anna David. Johnson, a “Good Morning America” writer, was on the verge of turning 31 when she took her dating life into her own hands and went on 31 consecutive dates with 30 men, blogging about them the whole time. She says that out of desperation was born motivation, and what started out as a project to find out why she was “the world’s worst dater” turned into her figuring out how to tune in to her own needs. “My girlfriends and I would frequently commiserate, thinking there were no good guys left. We consistently allowed ourselves to fall into the trap of jumping too quickly, falling too hard, and offering too much. It took me years to realize my habits were simply an indicator that I was lacking boundaries and respect for myself.”
Sex and relationships writer Anna David went on a similar journey to find herself first before looking for love, with a little help from the wisdom of Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl and long-time Cosmopolitan Editor-in Chief. She did everything from learning to cook and redoing her apartment to traveling to Seville and Marrakech on her own. “I used to wholly buy into the notion that a single woman was half a person, but after really revamping every aspect of my life for this book, thinking I was doing it so that I could attract and be ready for the perfect partner, I realized that I’d actually done it for myself,” says David. “I’d never taken the time to, say, buy flowers for my apartment unless a guy was coming over and I wanted to show him how domesticated I was. I never traveled by myself because I thought it was embarrassing or I somehow wouldn’t be able to handle it. I never took the time to put myself together unless I was going somewhere that I’d want to look attractive for a man. And it feels pretty wonderful to be doing those things for me.”
Desiree is choosing to look at the positives. “I have a much clearer idea of what I want and don’t want in a partner.” She’s celibate, for now, and is focusing on passions like writing that got neglected during her last relationship. Another friend recently got married (to another woman), yet decided to take a solo honeymoon, proving that independence isn’t solely the province of single women. Perhaps finding ways to strengthen our sense of self, before, during and after a romantic relationship, is the best path to true contentment, and doesn’t put the pressure of “making” us happy on a romantic partner. “I think a woman should think of herself as a whole person rather than just half of a couple, and she should know that a good relationship will support the person she is, not subtract from her. If that is not the case, I want her to know that as scary and uncomfortable as it can be sometimes, it’s okay to be alone,” says Desiree.
Women who don’t marry, for whatever reason, are “social outliers,” according to Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Executive Editor of Feministing and author of Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life (Seal Press). “Despite all the progress that women have made in their careers, educations, families and romantic lives, they are still put in positions where they must show themselves to be independent but not too independent or they will scare off their fragile ego’d potential beaus,” she says. As someone who doesn’t plan to get married, I’ve found that that idea alone is controversial, even in 2011. I had a cab driver ask me “Why?” repeatedly, like a little kid asking why the sky’s blue, when we got into a conversation about this, and he simply couldn’t understand why a woman wouldn’t want to get married.
Whether we do or don’t desire matrimony, formalizing the celebration of our independence, individuality and power to be our best selves is intriguing. There’s a ceremonial aspect of a wedding that I appreciate, a formal acknowledgement of moving from one stage in your life to another. While the idea may be easy to dismiss as laughable (cue Daily Candy London’s April Fool’s Day joke about “Party of One Planners”), I found it inspiring to see my friend’s happily beaming face bask in the sunshine, a circle of her friends, and the start of a new life.
It would be easy to think that after a bad breakup, let alone a broken engagement, one would be cynical about love, but Desiree isn’t. I’ll leave you with her words, from a recent blog post, ones I plan to reread every time I tell myself that there’s no one out there for me or tone myself down in order to seem more girlfriend-worthy: “Not loving is not the answer. Not trusting is not the answer. Not trying is not the answer…. It’s about me treating myself the way I want and expect a partner to treat me. It’s about surrounding myself with those who genuinely love and care about me and have my best interest at heart. It’s about me celebrating the fact that I’m still here, still alive, looking toward the future, yes, but also fully realizing that life is still happening in the here and now. And right now, what I have is me.”