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Meet: The Woman Who Married Herself

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” Oscar Wilde

It isn’t every day that you find yourself sandwiched between Julian Assange and George Foreman in an article about vanity, but since the media discovered the story of my self-marriage moments like this are becoming fairly commonplace. You may have read a rather badly researched article about how I was “fed up” with being single and so married myself, or one that called me an “attention whore” but decided I was cool because I photographed people without their clothes on. I had an unexpected two-week crash course in how to and how not to do radio and TV interviews, which involved me flying to LA and Beirut and engaging in countless live conversations on the airwaves.

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The decision to marry myself arose largely as a result of me being single for six years. I felt that had I been with a partner for six years I would likely want to celebrate this somehow, and make commitments for the future we would create together. I would most probably want to do this with a celebration of some sort. Why could I not do the same to celebrate the achievements and lessons I had learned about myself?

During these six years of singledom I had taken it upon myself to start digging around in my psyche in an attempt to understand more about what makes me tick. Naturally this is a lifelong task, but fortunately it is one that I enjoy and even more fortunately I stumbled across an organisation called Shakti Tantra and went to learn with them.

What followed was a good few years of insights, laughter, tears, reflections and guidance from some of the most vivacious and wise women I have ever met. My personal experience was that by studying Tantra and engaging in different exercises and rituals, I gained a lot of clarity about the areas of my life where I had work to do, as well as those that I was comfortable with and “doing well” at. The emerging awareness of the parallels between healthy sexuality and healthy creativity helped me to refine my photographic practice. The nude portraiture I do now was influenced by the knowledge I gained during this period. Now that I am more comfortable in my skin, I can help other people feel more comfortable in theirs.

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Self-acceptance is a good way to describe what was cultivated during this time, learning to accept all parts of myself and to do so with a confidence that requires any shame, guilt or fear to budge. A particular workshop that covered agreements – those that we make with ourselves and those that we make with others – made me think a little more deeply on the topic. Like many programmes that teach sexual self-awareness through partner/group exercises, consent and boundaries are key themes and the workshop explored this well. I realised that approaching life in my creative, unpredictable way is all well and good, but without a solid set of underlying agreements with myself I’d probably waft around forever more without getting my creative ideas as far out into the world as I’d like.

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The Monday following the workshop, whilst reflecting on the weekend, the idea popped into my head that I needed to marry myself. Ideas come and go all the time, but the thought of saying my vows out loud in front of my friends appealed, as they would be held in not only my mind, but the minds and memories of those I loved. As a creative, I also work well with a deadline so the ‘setting a date’ element of planning a wedding suited me well.

I’ve been expressing myself creatively since I could move in time with music and hold a pencil, so creating a wedding for myself was a wonderful task. I enlisted the guidance of a celebrant friend and was generously granted the use of a Devonshire farmhouse by another. I chose a March date for a spring wedding.

I’ll be honest, the month before the wedding was tricky. Not only was it February, but I was emotionally up and down, not getting much done and feeling a bit unsure what on earth I was doing with my life. I had procrastinated hugely on getting the invites out – I sent them exactly a month before the date – and was nowhere near finalising my vows. In hindsight, I guess I was having last minute wedding jitters. As with all my important deadlines, I jump-started into gear at the last minute, ignoring the odd doubting comment that “maybe I wasn’t quite ready?” or “you don’t seem to be taking this seriously”. Friends were essential to the success of the day. My best friend Arthur insisted on being my “Man of Honour” and I selected seven “Best Women” from my female friends and one of my sisters to help me with the ceremony. I had estimated around 20 guests maximum, but on the day there were a total of 50 people there. I felt incredibly moved and it was all rather surreal. I want to note that this was intended to be a PRIVATE ceremony. There was no video taken as I was disorganised and I asked a photographer friend to candidly capture the day. The ensuing media attention came completely out of the blue

The day was great fun. There were tears, plenty of piss-takes, and some poignant moments such as the making of my vows and a very captivating story. I’ve kept some of the intricacies of the ceremony private – especially since it went viral – to ensure that the essence of the day, and some of the key memories stay intimate and out of reach of the hungry newspapers.

One of the reflections I have on the sudden media attention is how much like meditating it was. Instead of your mind chatter bouncing around whilst you try to observe it, you are doing your best to stay centred whilst opinions from around the world fly towards you. Useful voices, critical voices, people who think you are ace and people who clearly want to laugh at you. I came out the other side of the whirlwind exhausted but unscathed and I am sure that this is because a) I believe in myself. b) I didn’t get attached to the criticism or the praise and c) I have the most amazing circle of friends and a supportive family. I will never again worry that I spend too much time talking with my friends and nurturing friendships, those relationships were enormously crucial during this period.

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I lastly want to mention a little about the erotic dimension of a self-marriage. If you are going to get married to someone you are likely having good sex with them already, obviously if you are waiting until marriage to lose your virginity this will have it’s limits. I am keen to express that this is no different when you are married to yourself. I use the term “self pleasure” as I prefer it to masturbation, but I couldn’t care less how people want to refer to the activity – wanking, flicking the bean, hand sex – whatever works for you. To all the people who have asked me – whilst sniggering – “what did you do on your wedding night?” I answer with the question “What do you think I did?” I am a thirty one year old woman, I’ve developed a great understanding of my body, my desires and I’m proud to say that I have great sex with myself too. I consider it essential to my wellbeing, stress levels, ability to say what I want and to direct my lovers accordingly. One article by a female comedian said “The whole idea of a honeymoon is to lie around on a beach, get all sexy and root a lot. Without getting too graphic, two weeks of rooting yourself is going to get pretty bloody dull.” Personally, I disagree. Sure, a sexy two-week holiday with a lover is great, but in my opinion a two-week sexy holiday with yourself could be great too. If you really are bored with yourself, I am pretty sure you are giving someone else sole responsibility for your pleasure. Anyway, ranting aside, like all marriages, there are times when I’m busy or tired, and I have to schedule in a night of pleasure in a slightly more rigid fashion than I’d like to, but in the end, I always feel better for it. In the words of Esther Perel, when speaking about reconnecting with your own desire “If you are dead inside, the other person can do a lot of things for Valentine’s, it won’t make a dent. There is nobody at the reception desk.”

I understand that self-marriage is a step way too far for many. I see huge value in simply imagining what vows you might make if you were to have a wedding to yourself, or considering what deserves celebrating. I also highly encourage imagining your own solo wedding night and seeing what fantasies you can come up with…

Grace is a photographer and tantra practitioner. She loves helping people feel sexy and liberated and sees the beauty in all who step in front of her lens. You can see her pictures here gracegelder.co.uk - she is still learning how to use twitter at @gracesphoto