Black Art in America
Yasmin Eleby, a kindergarten teacher in Houston, hadn’t been in a serious relationship for six years. But the lack of a significant other didn’t stop her from getting hitched and inviting 160 guests to the Houston Museum of African American Culture to witness the occasion. She went all out, buying a ring to mark the occasion—an amethyst-and-diamond eternity band—spending months pouring over each detail of the ceremony and enlisting the help of 10 bridesmaids and three ministers on her big day. “I would love it if other people—men and women—had enough self-love and self-worth and they wanted to commit themselves to themselves,” says Eleby. “I would say go for it. You cannot be with someone else if you don’t love yourself.”
Some—well, many—called this act crazy. I wondered what motivated Eleby to go this untraditional route. Was this an act of desperation or self-love? And how much did she spend on this? (“I had enough money to pay for what I wanted,” she says.) I tracked her down at home, where she was unwinding after a day’s work. Over the course of the interview, we talked marriage—yes, she still wants a husband; media mayhem—“I am totally shocked how me loving myself is offending somebody else”; and mental health—no, she is not crazy (or bitter).
The Root: I’ve read about a couple of other women who decided to marry themselves. In 2012 there was Nadine Schweigert in North Dakota, and in 2014 Grace Gelder from the United Kingdom did it as well. Were they your inspiration?
Yasmin Eleby: For a few years leading up to my 40th birthday, I’d been joking that if I didn’t have a wedding by 40 that I would just have one myself without a groom. I thought having a wedding ceremony would be a unique way to celebrate my 40th with my family and my friends. And the closer that it got, I realized I had to put up or shut up.
TR: I’ve been reading the reactions to all the stories on you, and a common comment is, “Where were her friends? They didn’t stop her!” When you told your friends—like, “Hey, guys, I’m going to have a wedding and marry myself!”—what did they say?
YE: Some of them didn’t believe me. They thought I was joking, but once I explained to them what it would be about, they were supportive.
TR: When the invites for the ceremony went out to guests, what was their response?
YE: Not very many people knew it was a wedding. It was kind of a surprise. The invitations just said come celebrate my birthday in a unique way. I invited two of my exes. They were both happy for me. They were excited about it once they got there and realized what was happening.
TR: A lot of people have assumed that marrying yourself was an act of desperation. What exactly was the ceremony about for you?
YE: The ceremony is not about me being bitter for not having a man. It wasn’t like, “OK, I’m upset that I’m 40 and don’t have a man.” I wanted to show myself my self-love, my self-worth and my self-respect. It was always about me loving me. When God sends me my husband, he will come, but until then, I’m OK with it just being with me.
TR: What vows did you take during the ceremony?
YE: The first one was about forgiving myself. We’ve all made mistakes. I had to realize that if I ask for forgiveness, then it’s done. I don’t have to keep dwelling on the past. I can let it go. My second vow was to honor myself as a beautiful, fabulous being, conscious of making decisions for myself and to honor my self-worth. The third vow was love. I made a promise to love myself and to know that the more love I have for myself, the more love I have to share with others.
TR: This all sounds so sweet, but it’s been received in a much different light. What do you think of the reactions to your ceremony?
YE: It has been blown way out of proportion. From the few comments that I’ve read, they’re trying to paint me as crazy or bitter about not having a husband, and that is so not the case. I’m not bitter, I‘m not crazy. I’m just a fun-loving unique individual, and I just wanted to do something special and different.
TR: In hindsight, do you have any regrets about the ceremony?
YE: Not one.