The idea to marry myself came to me in January last year, when I was at work one day. Three weeks before, on Christmas Eve, I had received a text message from my boyfriend of five and a half years: “I can’t do this any more, it’s over,” it said. I was a 42-year-old with two children and I had already been divorced twice. It was devastating and left me in a funk, unable to eat, sleep or smile.
My ex used to say to me: “You can get married, darling, but it won’t be to me.” It suddenly struck me that he was right. I could get married - to myself.
While it’s not legal to marry yourself in any country, I’d read that growing numbers of people were having symbolic ceremonies to celebrate their single status.
An American woman named Linda Barker was the first person to do it, in 1993, but I became interested in ‘sologamy’ after watching a TV interview with Sophie Tanner. Her situation resonated with me: after a bad relationship, she wrote a novel about a sologamist called Happily. By the end of writing, she was so enamoured with the concept – and herself – that she decided to have a solo-wedding in Brighton in May 2015.
I thought it was wacky, but it also made a lot of sense. I was so down, and knew that I needed to learn to love myself before I would be able to attract the right people into my life. For years, I had poured myself into relationship after relationship, losing myself in the process. It was time to put ‘me’ first - a way to affirm that I can be happy on my own and to move on from the relationship.
With the proposal accepted, I went on Amazon to find a ring. A nice-sized rock, which looked impressive and cost just £14, became my fourth engagement ring – and the first to represent an everlasting love. The date for the wedding was set for June 1, giving me six months to organise a blow out wedding.
My colleagues, sitting next to me, were the first to know of my plans. They, like most people, thought I was a bit mad, but they also know me for being impulsive and committing to an idea when I have one. A few years ago, for example, I shaved my head to raise money for a cancer charity because a friend had ovarian cancer. More recently, I dyed my hair pink and got a nose ring.
My children – Ruby, 15, and Jasper, 11 – reacted by groaning, “Oh here we go again”. Ruby is more conservative than Jasper and thought I was crazy, but her friends were all behind the idea so she soon eased up. I bought her a lovely dress and Jasper a tuxedo T-shirt for the day, which they thought was great. The rest of my family got on board, too, though my brother didn’t bring his son as he thought he wouldn’t understand it and he didn’t want to confuse him. I’m hoping his opinion has now changed.
It was my 80-year-old mother who was the hardest to convince. Like everyone else, though, she soon came around. At the end of the day, she told me she was really proud.
I spent the next six months organising the £4,000 wedding. I picked a beautiful village hall in Osmington, near where I live in Weymouth, for the venue, which was filled with flowers, candles and 130 people. There was a DJ, live band, karaoke and a huge vegan feast that I catered. My friends colluded to help write my vows and I had a photo shoot on the beach with my ring and flowers.
For the first time in my adult life, I was single and happy - the experience was empowering. Rather than wasting my time, energy and love on someone else, I was putting myself first.
My potted and relentless history with men started at 16, when my father died in a car accident. From then, I developed a pattern of idolising boyfriends, trusting them too quickly and pouring myself into relationships. I met my first husband at 22; we we were engaged within six weeks, married within 18 months and divorced after two years. He was a nice man, but we were too young and not right for one another.
I met my second husband a week after splitting from my first and the pattern repeated itself. We had Ruby before getting married, and then Jasper came along four years later. But after eight years together, we divorced. He was measured and calm, whereas I’m high energy and impulsive. We’re still friends and amicable in our parenting.
Relationships only got more difficult from there, as I bounced from one man to the next with little time in between to heal or become independent. I often transferred emotions from my last relationship into the next, all the way until that awful Christmas Eve text.
The atmosphere at the wedding was amazing, and everyone was celebrating, including a couple of ex-boyfriends and some former in-laws. It was just like any other wedding - just without a groom. I walked down the aisle, in a pink dress, with a big smile - towards no-one. A friend gave me away and another officiated. I repeated the vows and put the ring on myself, and we passed a paper plate around the 130-person congregation for everyone to sign in lieu of a register, as it’s not a legal procedure.
It was the best day of my life.
Two weeks after the wedding I was ready for a new challenge – and to start cheating on myself – so I applied to go on First Dates. I didn’t consider that for some people it might be a bit too mad. Instead, I planned to joke that I was married, but a bit bored. My episode airs this week, but I can’t give anything else away.
Some people don’t understand it – but to me, it made absolute sense and that’s why I’m going to renew my vows at a similar ceremony every year, even if I am in a relationship. I have even bought four wedding dresses that can be used in the future. It is a way to centre and value myself, as well as remember that I can receive love that is equal, not one-sided.
I hope that at least two other people will join me in marrying myself at this year’s ceremony, same time and place. A man from Somerset and a woman from Scotland, both of whom I met through online groups, have got in touch to say they would like to and my friend who officiated at my wedding is happy to do so for them, too. I have sent invitations to even more people this year, including Damien, the man I’m matched with on First Dates.
Being Mrs Denton has taught me to be happy in my own company and skin, to not put pressure on myself to look or act in a certain way. Confidence is the most attractive thing a person can have and the marriage has given me that.
My marriage to myself might not have come with a wedding night or honeymoon, but the plans for the future are far more exciting.
As told to Cara McGoogan
First Dates continues on Channel 4 on April 30 at 10pm