British Photographer Grace Gelder Married Herself, And It's Actually Not as Weird as You Think

There’s no getting around it: A lot of the time, dating sucks. But in the midst of all the coffee dates and random hookups, have you ever thought, “Screw it, I’m just going to marry myself?” Grace Gelder did — but she didn’t stop there. She actually went ahead and tied the knot with herself on March 16 in a farmhouse in Devon, UK.

A photographer and filmmaker based in London, Gelder recently spoke about the experience of marrying herself to The Guardian. Her grandmother supported the idea — “Oh, you always think of something new, Grace,” she said — as did her parents, who told her, “As long as it makes you happy, Grace, we’re fine with it.” Some of her friends joked that it was a little bit narcissistic — something Grace was aware of (“I was under no illusion how self-indulgent that might appear”) — but it was light-hearted ribbing, and most of them also offered their support.

And she had some pretty clear motivations, as well. Gelder recalls listening to the Bjork song “Isobel” when she was 18 and reacting strongly to the lyric, “My name’s Isobel, married to myself”: “Crazy as that sounds, I totally get that,” she said. “It’s about making this pact or promise to yourself and then somehow enacting that in how you live your life from that day on. More recently,” she continued,” I’d been on a journey of personal development using meditation, dance, and performance to increase my self-awareness.” So one day in November 2013, on a park bench at Parliament Hill, she popped the question to herself.

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Gelder conscripted her friend Tiu, a celebrant, to help plan and carry off the whole thing. It was low-key and somewhat improvised, the very antithesis of the metaphorical three-ring circus the wedding industry has turned marriage into: The wedding dress was thrifted a few days before the ceremony; the invitations were sent out via email; and the farmhouse venue was donated by some friends. Gelder didn’t expect a huge turnout — but amazingly, she found a crowd of 50 friends and family waiting for her when she walked into the farmhouse on the day of the ceremony. She gave herself a ring, she said her vows, and Tiu pronounced her wife and wife. Instead of kissing another bride or groom at the conclusion of the ceremony, Gelder kissed herself in a mirror.

Although they’re quite different, a certain similarity strikes me between Gelder’s marriage to herself and Suzanne Heintz’s “Life Once Removed: The Playing House Project.” True, Heintz’s “marriage” to her mannequin husband, Chauncey, and their “life” with their mannequin daughter, Mary Margaret, is more a commentary on the outdated idea of “settling down” — but both use the idea of marriage to make a statement about the self. Is marrying yourself narcissistic? On some level, probably. But at the same, it’s also a powerful symbol of being at peace with yourself, accepting of yourself, and of pledging to take care of yourself, no matter what ups and downs life deals you. And that? Is something worth considering.

A piece of advice that comes up frequently on Captain Awkward, AKA the best agony aunt out there, especially in times of trouble, is to be kind to yourself — and it’s solid advice. Although Millennials are often accused of having narcissistic tendencies, I also think we’re so often swept up in what others think of us or how we should be behaving that we forget to be kind to ourselves. A little self-love is healthy — and sometimes, it’s exactly what we need to get through a difficult time and come out stronger on the other end. As Gelder said to The Guardian, the ceremony both looked back at the past six years — a time during which she was single romantically, but building a “brilliant relationship” with herself — as well as ahead to the future, “[looking] forward to a new phase.” Here she is, throwing her bouquet like a boss:

Some of Gelder’s female friends have apparently told her she’s an example to women — to which she responded, “Why not an example to men, too?” Said Gelder, “Creating a wedding of this kind on my own terms felt incredibly empowering” — and that sense of empowerment should hopefully be able to transcend race, gender, and creed. “My self-married status — meaningless though it may remain in the eyes of the law — has also given me this great sense of clarity,” Gelder told The Guardian. And just because she married herself this year doesn’t mean that she’s opposed to the idea of sharing a wedding with someone else eventually — but for now, she’s working on herself. And that’s a worthy pursuit, indeed.

Check out Gelder's work over at her website.

Images: Ryan Smith Photography/Flickr; Amy Grubb, courtesy Grace Gelder