On Saturday, Sophie Tanner will renew her wedding vows. To herself. The 40-year-old digital and PR consultant decided to tie the knot in a “sologamist” ceremony, complete with white wedding dress, bridesmaids, officiating “minister” and ring-bearer — in the form of her black labrador, Ella. Her father walked her up the steps of the Unitarian Church in Brighton, where he gave her away and looked on proudly as she exchanged vows with herself. Four years on and she appears to be living happily ever after and has just published her first novel, aptly titled Reader, I Married Me!
Tanner’s decision to get hitched was initially prompted by a string of unfaithful boyfriends. When she discovered, at 30, that the man she was living with was cheating on her with one of her friends, she went into a downward spiral. “I had bouts of depression, bitterness and fantasies of violence towards both of them, which really knocked me. In the past I’d always bounced back, but no amount of partying, binge drinking or casual sex seemed to work this time,” she says, sitting cross-legged on a window seat in the Brighton seafront studio flat she shares with Ella.
“A few months later I began to feel all my natural optimism and happiness coming back. I realised that I actually loved my life and, more importantly, I loved myself. It was such a revelation to feel as if I could be perfectly happy on my own in the life I was living.”
Tanner started writing a blog about it ,which eventually led to an idea for a Bridget Jones-style novel that she pitched to an agent at a bloggers’ conference. “The agent loved it, apart from the ending. ‘What if in the end the heroine doesn’t marry herself, but falls in love with a man?’” But Tanner wouldn’t budge. The fact that the heroine ends up marrying herself rather than her Mr Darcy may not be your average romcom denouement, but it’s pretty key to the plot. Nor does it detract from Tanner’s witty one-liners and brisk, funny style.
“And that’s when I decided to do it for real, because the character was really me. I also wanted to test the market — everyone talks about female empowerment and being proud to be single, so this seemed like the ultimate grand gesture. After all, what better way to celebrate love than with a wedding?” Tanner, who grew up in the West Country, and whose parents are divorced — her mother three times — started researching self-love “before it became a buzzword out there”.
She emailed Brighton and Hove’s ceremonies office to find out if self-marriage was possible, but since this was before gay marriage was even legal, she was told that since marriage “is the union of one man to one woman to the exclusion of everyone else”, the office was unable to help. She went ahead anyway, just not legally. Her vows to herself were broadly based on traditional vows and included some delicious twists, including the “minister” pronouncing that for Tanner to “feel complete”, she should “love thyself, cherish thyself and pleasure thyself”.
It’s the burning question obviously. Is she monogamous? “I’ve never had any trouble with self-pleasure,” Tanner replies airily. “It’s about my relationship with myself not about my relationship with other people, so obviously you can’t cheat on yourself. Cheating is about lying to someone, but this is about being honest. Marrying myself is not a sexual thing where I’m saying my body is only for me, it’s about trying to improve my relationships in life. I’m not trying to be two people and certainly haven’t signed up to become a nun.”
So she hasn’t been celibate? “Absolutely not!” She sounds offended. “I’ve made better choices in my sex life than I did before because it’s about not settling for something less than I deserve. I know that sounds a bit Oprah but I do try and live by that, because I made those vows.” She does admit, however, that her most recent relationship broke up because the man in question said he wanted no strings. “What’s wrong with strings?” she says, with a disappointed shrug.
Would she ever divorce herself? “No. Divorce would be suicide because it would mean I couldn’t live with myself. I’ve committed to be responsible for myself for the rest of my life.”
She’s not the only one. It’s not quite a trend yet but Tanner knows of several other singletons, mostly women, who married themselves, including Melissa Denton on First Dates — and then of course there was Carrie Bradshaw, who in an episode of Sex and the City did it for a pair of Manolos.
Not surprisingly, the publicity for Tanner’s wedding provoked some nasty trolling. “There were a lot of misogynist comments on Twitter and Facebook. The worst was ‘She’s so fat and ugly no wonder no man would touch her with a bargepole’. There is even a webpage called Sophietannerisac***, but she remains stoical. “Perhaps some men who are insecure might have felt threatened, as if I was saying women don’t need them, but what about the positive? I did this was because I wanted other women to know that they don’t need to jump into a relationship as a last resort or because they feel pressure from society.
“There’s still a big stigma to being a single woman — a ‘bachelor’ is much more acceptable — and there’s an unspoken sympathy from my peers, like, ‘Poor you. I’m sure you’ll find someone’. No one believes me when I say I’m not looking for someone.”
Tanner thinks women tend to be more emotionally self-sufficient than men, probably because “we have better support networks and we’re more vocal about our feelings”. Since marrying herself, she says she has definitely become more compassionate, among other things involving herself in Time to Talk Befriending, a local charity that matches elderly, lonely people with volunteers. “All it takes is going round for a cup of tea, but to do that you have to not be wrapped up in your own thoughts.
“Rather than feeling like a failure, as many people who have still not made it to getting married and having children do, I’m proud to have made a positive out of a negative. That’s my success and I can die happy.”
Reader, I Married Me! by Sophie Tanner is published today (Trapeze, £8.99), buy it here.