What is lost in this model is something so fundamental that it could explain much of the current disenchantment with the institution: complementarity, the idea that man and woman are two halves of humanity, signifying our essentially relational nature. One doesn’t have to be married to participate in the giving and receiving of human relationships, but marriage, with its typical fruitfulness in the form of children, reminds us all of an existential need and call.
It sounds like a joke, but it is not entirely. Still recoiling from the insanity of marriage between two people of the same sex, we are told that people — women largely — are now marrying themselves. That’s right: having the dress, the ring, umpteen guests and saying “I do” to your very own ego. The UK’s Spectator magazine is the latest to survey this weird trend, the origins of which some writers trace back to 1993.
Admittedly, there are still only a handful of women in this lunatic fringe, but it includes writers, artists and life coaches who attract media attention. There’s an earnest TED talk about it by Tracy McMillan, an American television writer with a trail of broken marriages behind her; an online business peddling the I Married Me Self-Wedding In-A-Box, complete with ring, “ceremony instructions, vows, and 24 affirmation cards (so you can continue the practice)”; and lawyers to tell you, quite unnecessarily, whether it’s legal or not.
There is even a new word for these narcissistic nuptials: sologamy, which takes its place alongside monogamy, polygamy and polyamory as an apparently intelligible concept.
Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it is also sad to think of the dashed hopes, confusion and loneliness that would make ritual self-affirmation seem like a replacement for marital love.
That is why, although it would be easy to dismiss same-self marriage as a passing minority fad — already parodied by women marrying themselves to objects (a rock, a sandwich, a rollercoaster) and animals (a snake, a dolphin) — that will soon exhaust itself, we must take it seriously. It is symptomatic of a serious dilemma facing women, and men, today: the difficulty of finding someone to marry. The difficulty of even understanding what marriage is.
Marriage rates in Western countries have fallen dramatically over the past 40 years, and especially since the 1980s. Economic changes affecting men’s employment, the rise of women’s employment, delayed marriage, the decline of religion, the social acceptability of pre-marital sex and cohabitation, ideas about the meaning of “equality” in marriage – these are just some of the factors in the decline of marriage.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census data, in 2012 one-in-five adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) in the US had never been married, compared with only one in ten (9 percent) in 1960. Though they were not “out there” marrying themselves, men were more likely than women to have never been married (23 percent vs 17 percent).