The concept of a couple 1 has changed considerably: master-signifier of our time, it has become an autonomous entity which has to be treated as if it were fragile and capricious, vulnerable to the dangers of breaking-up. The relationship that it refers to is marked by its finitude. The statistics on this matter are illuminating – one in two couples in the Paris region split up. Nevertheless, the desire to pair up, then marry and have children shows our attachment to traditional family values.
An unprecedented expression.
Even if the forms of marriage have changed according to fashion, culture and the times we live in, it still takes two to marry. The number “two” embodies the duo of the loving couple, independently of the parental couple, which is responsible for the children. The story of a couple is no longer centred around the children, which is why couples are made and unmade according to whichever way the conjugal winds blow.
We are familiar with marriages of convenience, marriage-for-all [“mariage pour tous” an expression coined recently when same sex marriage was legalized in France], posthumous marriages… but not with the existence of “marriage with oneself”. This form, it must be said, is not recognised in law. Nevertheless, the press has chronicled this invention, born from the mind of an American woman called Nadine Schweigert, a 36 year old pharmacist living in Fargo, North Dakota, who decided to marry herself. That was in 2012, and since then the phenomenon hasn’t stopped growing, spreading as far as England and Japan – where agencies even offer “Solo wedding trip” package-holidays 2. The expression “to marry oneself” is a pleonasm. One always marries oneself, whether one knows it or not; one is always married to one’s own “jouissance”. That is what Lacan teaches us with his formula “there is no sexual relation” (il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel). Everyone enjoys [jouit] on his own account, which love covers up, veiling the real of this impossible harmony between the sexes. To marry oneself attests to the importance of this non-sexual-relation. Recognising the fact that one can love and enjoy oneself as if involved with a loving partner would pretty much be the paradigm.
A woman’s invention
It is not entirely innocent that this idea was born from the mind of a woman. Women, in fact, await love under the form of a phallic gift which would ensure them the completeness that they do not have, whereas it is known that, for a man, marriage to his organ often creates a resistance to finding a partner. A man is married to his phallus while a woman is married only to her lack. This is confirmed by the position of those feminine subjects who, by marrying themselves, seek to limit this quest for a romantic partner. It is a question of the enactment of the real of the feminine symptom in order to accept this lack, to make do with this lack, and to enjoy it. Inventing a solo marriage solution to signify the end of the wait for an ideal partner is a response that may appear fallacious, but it restricts this unlimited “jouissance” of the search of the alter ego.
In fact, to marry oneself is i(a) presentified, it is to marry one’s ego ideal, to decide that there is an object in me that I can love more than myself, and to make this known. In this respect, one can consider the expression “to marry oneself” as a linguistic invention which, by including another to oneself, attributes to marriage the consistency of a reciprocity, and brings in imaginary otherness.
If some see in this the apology for narcissism, it is purely illusion. It is instead an attempt to distance oneself from the failure to unite, making it possible to love the injured self, putting it on the stage of the Other, proclaiming that it will from now on be one’s only love, accepting the loss that comes from renouncing the love of the other.
The expression also evokes another of Lacan’s formulae, “To know how to make do with one’s symptom” 3, which Lacan establishes as a solution at the end of the analysis. The emphasis is placed on the “with”, which determines the strictly singular use one will have of one’s symptom. To marry oneself becomes an enactment of this making do with, making do with the marriage in so far as it is a symptom for a woman.
Nadine Schweigert declared that after three children and a divorce, she spent many years waiting for someone to come into her life. Alas, she did not find a partner, which led her to start group therapy in order to feel more in tune with her body, and to “accept herself”. Following on from this, she decided to put into practice her new position in life, which is none other than to declare herself capable of choosing a solo life and to celebrate it. Her marriage with herself is a decided choice, an answer to the malaise of this desire to live as a couple, which is made out to be the norm in our culture, an ideal and a life project. To Nadine, and those who have come after her, the celebration of an auto marriage is an answer to the imperative of the super-ego, which ignores the fact that the object of desire is situated in the phantasy of each individual and has nothing to do with the need for completeness.
It was a lay ceremony. No Gods to praise! She perpetuated one by one the “semblants” of marriage: invitations sent out to family and friends, the party, wedding dress, ring, speech, etc. All the “semblants” proper to the event accompany the bride, who is the princess of the party. This marriage with oneself brings into play the belief in oneself as the last anchor point the subject has. There is humour there, but isn’t it rather something belonging to the register of irony? Is this then a parody of marriage? Not really. Indeed, this theatre of loving oneself allows the dimension of horror when facing this gap that has to be concealed, the gap which represents the renunciation of love and desire. The ceremony being the last semblance of it, madness not because of an unrelenting narcissism as some imagine it to be, but madness of the One-all-alone facing its destiny.
Some sites have seized the opportunity and have started offering their services for these solo marriages. One of them offers help to formulate the vows, suggests the sharing of ideas on how to practice auto marriage, and promises to organise “the most beautiful day of your life for a truly unique marriage”. It offers help to “those who realise they do not need anyone to feel complete” 4. The formula is interesting. It points out how much the stepladder of marriage functions as a solution to these wounded women.
Satisfaction and fall of the ideal?
Certainly, suggestion and auto proclamation are major tools to convince oneself that one can be satisfied by oneself as a partner! Experiencing this union will take us to the next step, because marriage with oneself does not guarantee that one will not one day betray oneself… Oneself would then ask for a divorce! Marriage-mongers and other shopkeepers for lost souls will have the right solutions at hand.
The question arises as to whether this celebration has effective effects of symbolisation, if this relieves these women of the weight of their failure to find an adequate partner, if this allows them to face this ideal of a couple that plunges them into a kind of dereliction, if the jouissance connected to the search for a partner could be pacified… or if it all appears to be a comedy, and thus, closer to the “grimace of the real” 5 of which Lacan speaks in Television.
What an analysis teaches us is that, once the fantasy has been gone through, solitude often becomes the partner of the subject… whatever the choices of the partner might be. Consequently, agreeing to live without a romantic partner is no longer necessarily a symptom. One just has to imagine that one can enjoy without the body of the other, which is after all, more often than not the case. “A body enjoys itself” 6, Lacan says in Encore, leaving to each man and woman the time to become aware of it. Love and jouissance do not in fact make a couple. It is up to each one of us to choose how to go about it.
Let’s not forget to add this other formulation that makes the hand-span of the previous.
“It’s from lalangue that proceeds the animation of the jouissance of the body”7.
Only the experience of analysis enables one to grasp the impact of this assertion, and even more, to draw out a few consequences, on how to know what to do with… oneself, marriage or no marriage.
“translated from the French by Francine Danniau”