Friday 24 May 2019

Patricia Casey: 'If marrying yourself is the new craze, it's no wonder we're worried about our future'

Wedding photos: People are now marrying themselves in a movement that appears to attract young, professional women. Photo: Yeko Photo Studio
Wedding photos: People are now marrying themselves in a movement that appears to attract young, professional women. Photo: Yeko Photo Studio

Patricia Casey

The world is changing fast.

A recent behaviour and attitudes poll found, unsurprisingly, that more than 60pc of those surveyed felt Ireland was changing too fast. It showed that 47pc agreed with the statement that we are "losing Irish identity in face of foreign national influx". Some 45pc of men felt that "the #MeToo movement had gone too far", along with 38pc of women.

Surprisingly, those interviewed were equally divided about the statement that religion did more harm than good. And 69pc agreed with the statement that "society is too politically correct".

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The findings of the 'Irish Times' poll came as something of a shock to many commentators. There clearly are some who see all change as good and who fail to appreciate that individuals and society as a whole take time to adapt, and in fact may not adjust to the changes.

If rapid change is imposed, there is a real possibility of a push-back against it, as was the case with Trump and with Brexit.

The fledgling party in this country, Aontú, is showing signs of capitalising on some of the genuine concerns of the people, north and south.

Who would have thought that certain phrases in common use a few years ago would be problematic in the future? We no longer have pregnant women/mothers but pregnant persons. This is for fear of offending transgender women. Birth certificates, if the parents wish, now refer to parent one and parent two, rather than mothers and fathers.

In the recent past universities were viewed as places to stimulate the mind and introduce new ideas. Instead they now have safe spaces to protect students from ideas or discussions that might upset them, and they have to be warned if there are any difficult or contentious issues being discussed so as not to be "triggered". Guest speakers are "no-platformed" if they are likely to be controversial.

Is it therefore a surprise that changes enveloping our society, from education to language, from marriage to gender, are met with caution and even resentment? But more changes may be on the horizon.

Who would have thought that marriage could diversify beyond that between a man and a woman, or more recently between the same sexes? In Japan, a 35- year-old school manager, Akihiko Kondo, married a hologram virtual singer, Hatsune Miku, before a guest list of 40. He wears a wedding ring and she sleeps beside him in the bed. He claims she wakes him up in the morning and sends him off to work. He regards himself as a normally married man. He is not the only one. The hologram company that produced this doll has issued almost 4,000 similar "marriage" certificates to other Japanese men who turn to marriage in these alternative dimensions. This drastic measure is attributed to a very large shortage of brides. Up to 25pc of men aged 50 are still unmarried. Akihiko wants to be regarded as belonging to a "minority group", deserving special recognition.

Closer to home, another type of alternative marriage is beginning to appear.

Sologamy is marriage to oneself and in recent years some famous people have taken this path. Grace Gelder, a famous British photographer, tied the knot with herself in 2014, while an Italian fitness trainer did the same thing in 2017. The wedding is literally "all about you". It was captured very well by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie 'Zoolander 2', about a transgender woman who married herself.

And stories are frequent in popular culture about these spectacles. They are of course not recognised in law but despite this, the full regalia is on display. A white bridal dress, guests in all their glamour, confetti, vows to love oneself and a ring, sometimes on the finger, sometimes the nose or ear. Clearly these are not widespread but they do occur and with increasing frequency. They are believed to convey a message of transformation from a hurt person to a confident, fulfilled "me".

For some, they are seen as a way of avoiding the answer to the dreaded question about "settling down". Ultimately they are more likely to be a marker of some personal difficulties rather than an indicator of personal fulfilment.

Sologamy appears to attract young, professional women. The stories of those involved point to them as having been hurt in love and for the most part having had broken relationships. The loneliness in their lives seems palpable but there is also a tinge of narcissism and self-absorption. Perhaps that is why they failed in romantic relationships.

The world in 2019 is indeed a strange and difficult place, with new forms of relationships emerging that are not even seen as evidence of existential longings, unmet in the current climate, but as personal choices to which individuals have a right.

Our society is unrecognisable from that which went before, so momentous has been the pace of change in our world view, or day-to-day lives, our political life and our language.

Could sologamy be the next relationship craze? Anything is possible and in 2030, who knows, the government may be issuing sologamy certificates. But clearly this is not marriage as most people would understand it. Words are very important and to place sologamy within the marriage framework is a self-indulgent farce.

Patricia Casey is consultant psychiatrist in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, and Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at UCD

Irish Independent

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