First Things 17 November 2014
It’s only a trickle, not yet a trend, but it is out there, and it has a name: sologamy. Sologamy is the marriage of someone to one’s own self—the his- or herness of it is not relevant, although it seems to be mostly women who are doing it. Apparently Linda Baker was the first person to marry herself back in December 1993. Others have followed suit, including Sara Sharpe, who wrote about her self-marriage in A Dress, A Ring, Promises to Self. And there’s Nadine Schweigert, a thirty-six-year-old-woman from Fargo, North Dakota, who was interviewed by Anderson Cooper after marrying herself in front of some forty of her closest friends. “I, Nadine,” she said to herself, “promise to enjoy inhabiting my own life and to relish a lifelong love affair with my beautiful self.” Jennifer Hoes is a Dutch woman who did the same thing in 2003. Her same-self marriage was the subject of a recent ten-minute documentary by Aeon Magazine.
What is going on here? In the Christian tradition, marriage has historically been understood as a lifelong, conjugal covenant between a man and a woman, a union of love that involves the giving of oneself to God and to others. Today the institution of marriage, which has flourished not only among Christians but across many religious traditions of the world, is being challenged from many angles and by many practices. Until quite recently, these were all regarded as inimical to human flourishing in society. Such practices include so-called same-sex marriage, polygamy, incest, polyamorous relationships of various kinds—and now sologamy.
In some ways same-self marriage is the logical outgrowth of what cultural critic Christopher Lasch described in his 1979 bestseller The Culture of Narcissism. Lasch, building on Sigmund Freud’s classic essay “On Narcissism” of 1916, applied the term to the sense of grandiosity and excessive self-love that seem to mark not only psychologically disordered individuals but post-sixties American society as a whole.
The Narcissus of Greek mythology was a handsome young man with whom all the beautiful girls fell in love. But Narcissus spurned their affections in favor of his own attractive self. While walking through the forest one day, he knelt to drink at a clear pool of water. He was so enthralled by his own image in the pool that he immediately fell in love with himself. He drowned grasping after his own reflection in the pool.
Each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,” wrote W. H. Auden in 1940. For Auden’s “cell” one could almost write “cell phone” today. The age of digital narcissism is ever expanding—selfies everywhere on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Tinder, Snapchat, Instagram, and LivesOn. LivesOn is intended to perpetuate the identity of the self even past the grave. “When your heart stops beating, just keep on tweeting.”