My 17-year-old daughter, Rae, recently graduated from high school. For the past two decades, I have fretted about her every need. Now I’m worried about her future. Have I equipped her to be a healthy, self-satisfied young woman? Is she ready to go out into the world?
A few weeks ago, I had an idea that would commemorate both her finishing high school and becoming her own woman. She had to wear a long white gown for graduation. Why not add a ring to the ceremony and have a wedding as well?
I’m not talking about a traditional wedding ceremony. I want my daughter to marry herself, long before she gives her hand to a groom.Most important qualities
It’s not as if Rae has never thought about marriage. When I once asked her to close her eyes and imagine her future groom, she had no trouble: ‘‘He likes to have fun, he likes to dance a lot and he’s a very good singer,’’ she said, a dreamy smile on her face. ‘‘He has a nice body, one earring, he’s thinking about getting a tattoo and he has a good job — like a doctor or an actor.’’
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I’m not sure, however, whether she has a similar list of valuable attributes that she wants to see in herself. Self-marriage is the first step toward figuring out who you are and whether you’re ready for a relationship.
I first heard of self-marriage about four years ago. I was reading a book called ‘‘Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics’’ (HarperSanFrancisco, $19.95). In it, performance poet Aya de Leon described how she felt pressure to marry as she approached 30. Because she wasn’t dating anyone at the time, ‘‘I felt I needed to make a commitment to my life, to my creativity, my livelihood, my spirituality,’’ she wrote. She added that when she did get married one day, ‘‘I will be my wife, and his partner.’’
She found an African Yoruba priest, went to the beach and, in a simple dress, married herself.Marriage isn’t a fix
Ken Donaldson is a Florida relationship therapist and author, and a proponent of self-marriage. Several years ago, he found himself in a strange place — the middle of a divorce.
‘‘When I first met my wife, I believed that I was supposed to be married,’’ said Donaldson. ‘‘I thought if I wanted to be happy, I needed to be married; and once I was married, my life would be whole and complete forever.’’
But after about 6 1 /2 years, he discovered that marriage didn’t complete him, it depleted him.
‘‘I was left with this perplexing question: ‘What really went wrong here?’ ” he said.
He soon figured out that part of the problem was that he didn’t know who he was before he got married.
‘‘Most people have what I call relational dyslexia,’’ Donaldson said. ‘‘We think if we get a relationship, it will give us direction. Self-marriage is about creating a credo about who you are and what’s important in your life. It creates a standard to operate from.’’Take some time out
This sounded like something perfect for a young person who hasn’t already gotten into a committed relationship. A person like my daughter, Rae. I broached the idea with her tentatively. I even mentioned to her that Queen Latifah once admitted to Oprah that she’d married herself.
‘‘So it would be like a nun getting married to Jesus, basically,’’ Rae said.
This conversation had taken a bad turn. It’s not like I wanted her to NEVER get married.
Psychologist Gail Parker thinks that Rae has a point.
‘‘Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are just trying to figure out who they are,’’ Parker said. ‘‘One of the ways that occurs is in a relationship.’’
At Rae’s age, getting into relationships is how she will learn who she is and who she isn’t, Parker said. ‘‘But it’s not too early for adolescents to hear from their parents that marriage is wonderful, but it’s important to get to know yourself first.’’ Parker said that the mid-20s is a time when a self-marriage ceremony could be particularly effective. ‘‘By then, people have reached some level of emotional maturity,’’ she said. ‘‘Taking time out from relationships at that point to explore yourself is a wonderful preparation for the next phase of life.’’ Parker thinks a self-marriage ceremony also can be beneficial in mid-life — even if you’re already married. ‘‘Once you’re beyond the childbearing years, it’s a moment of significant change,’’ she said. ‘‘A self-marriage ceremony in mid-life can help people discover who they’ve become while raising kids and launching careers. Then they can question who they still want to be.’’ That makes sense to me. When I got married almost 25 years ago, I had never lived by myself. I easily got lost juggling my marriage, career and kids. As our kids got older, I started thinking about what I wanted. I changed my hair. I changed careers. I changed how I treated my body and respected my own time. I guess I had a secret commitment ceremony to myself, without the dress and the vows. So instead of leaving it to chance, or to life experience (which can be a difficult teacher), I tried to broach the subject with my daughter one more time before she got her diploma. Think about who you are and who you want to be, I urged; write it down, and profess it to the world. ‘‘No, because I’ll look, like, ridiculous!’’ she recoiled. ‘‘Nobody gives themselves a wedding.’’ I’ll check back with her when she’s 25. For now, I’ll have to trust that she’ll get to know what’s in her own heart before she decides to share it with someone else. That would be a true act of love.