I interviewed the 40-year old woman who married herself. This is the "behind the scenes" version of how it came to be.
So, seemingly every Black new site ran the story of Yasmin Eleby, the 40-year old woman who married herself on January 3. No one, except the person who published the original story, thought to track her down — including me.
I wanted to write on this, for the obvious reason that nearly all I write about is dating and relationships, and well, it was so damn fascinating. Like I'm looking at the pictures, and the decor, and as someone who just had a wedding and knows how much everything costs (at least in New York), I can tell she dropped some dough on it. And I'm wondering, what was she thinking? But not in the outraged way, I really wanted to know. I'm ashamed my first inclination was to ask.
I guessed that she was 40, really wanted a ceremony since a lot of women dream of one their whole lives, and said something like, "f--- it! I'll just do it myself." I took as a way of claiming what she wants-- or at least part of it, since I assume the dream probably included a man standing at the altar with her. If her logic was "F-- it!", I thought maybe this was empowering as opposed to desperate, as many people who read about it took it as.
So I pitched the story to my editor at The Root (I have two weekly columns there), about viewing this act through a different lens. I mean, she looks happy in the pictures floating around the Internet, and it's not like she was hurting anyone, so...
My editor had another idea. "Would be great if you could interview her", she wrote back. Oh. Why didn't I think of that?
So I tracked her down on Facebook, and sent a message. I noticed that her page hadn't been updated since her nuptials, and guessed that maybe she was taking a break from social media. I mean, she's not a celeb who's used to the attention, she's the center of a viral news story, and most sane people would be overwhelmed by all the interest, and shattered by the comments.
I searched for any friends we might have in common. There was one, a woman I'd met at a networking event I attended in December 2013. So I sent her an email to see if perhaps they were more than Facebook friends, and she knew how to get in touch with her. She did. After a bit of back and forth-- people are always skeptical of journalists-- Yasmin agreed to do the interview.
Her friend called me on three-way with Yasmin on the phone. Now, I hate doing interviews with an "audience". People tend to be much more guarded when someone they know is in the room and honestly, much less resistant to journalist's "skills", i.e., the way we ask questions to get the people we're interviewing to say things they don't always want to say. (Its' for that reason, I always keep a publicist in the room/on the line when I do interviews.)
This was Yasmin's first interview. Ever. Some people get all tongue-tied and nervous. But she'd been reading the comments and had a LOT to say.
Check out the (mostly) COMPLETE interview:
Me: Where did you come up with the idea to marry yourself?
Yasmin: For a few years I’d been joking f that if I didn’t have a weeding by 40 that I would just have one myself without a groom. And the closer that it got, I realized Ihad to put up or shut up. I thought having a wedding ceremony would be a unique way to celebrate my 40th with my family and my friends.
When you told your friends, like “hey guys, I’m going to have a wedding and marry myself!”, what did your friends say?
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
And when you say what it would be about, what exactly do you mean?
The ceremony is not about me being bitter for not having a man. It wasn’t like, "Okay, I’m upset that I’m 40 and don’t have a man”. That's totally not the purpose. The purpose was, I wanted to show others as well as myself, my self love, my self worth and my self respect. It was always about me loving me. And not having to seek attention from others, knowing that’ I’m okay with just me. When God sends me my husband, he will come, but until then, i’m okay just being with me.
How long did it take you to plan the ceremony?
I started planning in August.
Was this the wedding you’d always dreamed of, but like without the groom, I guess?
I didn’t have a dream wedding in mind. When i was talking with the planner, they were like what is your vision. I had two criteria, no pink, and no tall table decorations. It was pretty open.
How much did it cost?
I haven’t [added up] the bills yet. I had enough money to pay for what I wanted.
How many guests?
*Her friend interrupts to note there were three ministers: sister, neice, and a friend*.
What were your vows like?
Oh, it was beautiful. The first one was about forgiving myself. We’ve all made mistakes. I have 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. The promise to love myself and to know that more love I have for myself, the more love I have to share with others.
How many bridesmaids?
So you have this wedding ceremony and press covers it.
I didn’t invite press, someone invited someone and that person wanted to write about it.
So that magazine writes about it and 3 weeks later, this whole thing goes viral and every major publication is talking about. What’s been your reaction to all of this?
I am totally shocked how me loving myself is offending somebody else. What I did wasn’t meant to disrespect anyone else, to hurt or offend anyone else. It was just a way to celebrate with my friends and my family 40 years that I’ve had on this earth, that God has granted me. And some of my friends haven’t made it that long, some of my classmates and my family haven't. I have been blessed. And I wanted to celebrate that blessing. And I’m really shocked that made some people upset.
Do you have any regrets?
Did you buy yourself a ring?
What’s it like?
My favorite color is purple. One of my favorite gemstone is amethyst. It's an amethyst and diamond eternity band.
What do you do for a living?
I teach kindergarten.
What did people say when you said, “Hey, I want you to come to my wedding for myself!”
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. But I invited my exes because we had a serious relationship, and we were very good friends, it just didn’t lead to marriage. Even though the relationship ended, it ended ambicaly and we are still friends, we talk, we keep in touch. I invited them and they came. They were happy for me. They were excited about it once they got there and realized what was happening.
Do you think that— your version of this is very sweet. Do you think it’s been blown out of proportion in what people have been reporting in the media?
Yes. It has been blown way out of proportion. From the few comments that I’ve read, and I try not to read very many... 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.
Have you ever done anything like this before? There was a picture on your FB profile of you in a wedding dress with an effigy of Idris Elba in a tuxedo. There was a golf cart that said “Just Married”
In my community there are a lot of people who drive golf carts, so I came up with the idea to have a golf cart parade. Everybody decorated this golf carts in different themes, so that year my theme was “Just Married.” The year before was Mardi Gras. And before that, Easter.
I get the sense that you like to do it big when you do events.
Yeah, I do.
When was your last relationship?
My last serious relationship? 5-6 years ago. Ive dated, but..
Do you still want to get married?
Do you think this will create a trend? A couple other women have done this.
That wasn’t my intention to start a trend. But 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, I would say go for it. It will only make you a better person. you can not be with someone else if you don’t love yourself.
I agree. Would you recommend this to others?
I would. At the ceremony, the feedback that I got is that it really gave them something to think about. Everybody left that place feeling better than when they came. Like at the end of the ceremony, I was singing “I Believe I Can Fly”and I got to the second verse, there’s a line that says, “I know that there are miracles and life that I must acheiecve, but first it starts inside of me..." And after I sang that, I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. I just broke down, boohooing. I’m looking around, everybody else is dabbing their eyes, and some of the people in the audience had to finish the song for me.
It was beautiful.
When did you go on your honeymoon?
I”m not calling it a honeymoon i havee some trips planned that I’m going on with some friends. Dubai, Cambodia, and Laos.