Jess Swanson, Senior Editor
Jess Swanson, Senior Editor
Jan 2021

Cold feet seem like a rite of passage before your wedding day. Is a ceremony really worth it? Should I wear white? Will I have to say, “I take myself to be my lawfully wedded wife”? Run-of-the-mill pre-matrimony jitters, except for the last one. But that’s what happens when you essentially propose to yourself and decide to throw a solo destination wedding at the five-star Rosewood Mayakoba resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

Microweddings might’ve loomed large in 2020, but mine will perhaps be the micro-est microwedding of them all: just me and my shaman officiant. No bridesmaids, no in-laws, no flower girl. Heck, there won’t even be a groom.

The Marry Oneself program launched three years ago at the Rosewood Mayakoba’s Sense spa. It isn’t predicated on the materialistic planning of a wedding, but instead is a four-day “journey” centered on self-love, organized by the resort’s resident shaman. The itinerary is built around the four elements of nature (water, air, earth and fire) and steeped in ancient pre-Hispanic teachings.

After booking the trip, I resist the urge to start wearing an engagement ring. But I do adopt one habit of the newly engaged: blurting to absolutely anyone that I am getting married—to myself. Some folks raise their eyebrows, repeating the words until it makes sense (it doesn’t!), while others shake their heads and laugh. One man sincerely congratulates me, which is momentarily puzzling. I arrive at the resort with my wedding party (me and my carry-on), and resolve to quell any lingering bridal anxieties by throwing myself a solo bachelorette party that consists of rounds of mezcal margaritas in my suite’s plunge pool.

My wedding consultation is held at the property’s Sense spa. I am led past couples in plush white robes to a shimmering aquamarine cenote tucked away in a thicket of mangrove trees. A spunky little woman named Fernanda is waiting for me at its bank. She is the shaman, an indigenous woman of Nahuatl descent, no more than five feet tall, and wears her long, salt-and-pepper hair in a thick braid. My journey will be premised on the four elements of nature, she tells me, except she refers to them as my long-lost abuelitos.

We start by the pool with a series of breathing exercises that are meant to connect me to the present moment, but seem more like a gateway to hyperventilation. Once I feel properly oxygenated, Fernanda instructs me to move with her in “sacred geometry.” It is less Fibonacci sequence, more Zumba fitness class as I put my hands on my hips and thrust them awkwardly in an infinity symbol, then a rectangle and then a triangle. To the spa-goers sipping on aloe juice, Fernanda must look like my personal trainer, and in a way she is.

After warming up our cores, we put on bathing suits and dip in the pool. Fernanda puts green pool noodles under my neck and knees and as I float she chants in Nahuatl softly in my ear. “You are born in water,” she explains. “The pool represents the placenta in the womb.” She twirls me around for 10 minutes. When we get out, she says she had made contact with my ancestors: a man “who worked on the water,” and a “pushy woman” who talked a lot. My paternal grandfather was in the Coast Guard, and to call my paternal grandmother loquacious would be an understatement. Fernanda keeps her eyes closed as I tell her this, nodding. We return to the cenote for the “air” and “fire” portions of the ritual. Still dripping, I lie in a circle of bougainvilleas. Fernanda has a mystical tool kit of sorts: a ceramic jaguar whistling jar (which mimicks the big cat’s roar), a wand with brown heron feathers, a drum and maracas. She circles around me using all of them, chanting in her native tongue.

Fernanda is a shaman at the Rosewood Mayakoba’s Sense spa / Credit: Jess Swanson

“Look!” Fernanda yells. “Oh, my goodness, look!” At least a dozen black birds are coming to roost in the tree above us. I’m not sure what it means, but Fernanda does: “Black birds mean ancestors,” she says. “White birds mean a baby.” I am moved, and certainly relieved that this isn’t going to be a shotgun wedding.

Next we sit cross-legged in front of a small white candle and stare at the flame. “Fire is the only one of the elements you can create,” Fernanda points out. Then, seemingly out of the blue and in a hinting tone not unlike my mother’s, she declares: “We’re at your wedding and we never talked about love.” I hesitate. “It’s okay, I know you’re sola.” I shrug. “If I weren’t I’d be marrying someone else and not myself.” She flashes a coy smile.

Our consultation ends with an “animal walk” to connect to the earth through the spa’s tree-lined pathways. “Follow my lead,” Fernanda instructs. I walk behind and imitate her as she hunches her back and sways side to side like a bear, then gets on her haunches and dangles her arms overhead like a raised monkey, then takes big, stomping steps and grunts like King Kong, or a bridezilla. We look absolutely ridiculous as the other guests step out of our way.

“Tomorrow is your ceremony,” Fernanda announces at the end of the consultation. I nod. “What do I wear?” I ask her. “Whatever you want!” she exclaimed. “It’s your wedding day!”

I decide I don’t want to wear white and return the following morning in my favorite coral-print dress. Fernanda is once again waiting for me by the cenote, chanting and pounding on her drum.

She has created an elaborate altar: bougainvillea, a basket of rose petals, a necklace made of different seeds laid out in a heart, a hollowed-out coconut holding water and a small candle. I take off my shoes and step into the center.

“You look beautiful,” Fernanda assures me, probably sensing my nerves. I am all alone. No father to give me away, no bridesmaids, no ring boy or flower girl. No groom. And yet Fernanda’s presence puts me at ease. In lieu of vows, Fernanda has me face each cardinal direction, commanding that I “give thanks for being led down the right path” when facing east. “We give thanks to my parents and ancestors” when facing south. “We trust that I connect with all parts of myself” when facing west. And then complete silence when facing north.

My eyes are still closed when I begin to feel rose petals falling on me. “You’re married!” shouts Fernanda, my officiant and flower girl. “Congratulations!”

I hesitate for a second, afraid of ruining the tenderness of the moment with a joke about how I might go about divorcing myself—but I can’t resist. Fernanda doesn’t flinch. “Hermanita, until death do you part … But really we don’t use that word—death—in my language. We call it a return to the elements: water, air, earth and fire. Today you are all one. You’re alive.” Then, after a few awkward seconds, she cracks her own joke: “Don’t worry, polygamy is allowed but don’t forget you’re one of the lucky ones—your first marriage will always be to yourself.”

When I check out, everyone on staff makes a note of congratulating me on my wedding. An oblivious guest walking past also congratulates me. “We got married here, too,” he says. “Congratulations to you and your…”—he hesitates, not wanting to assume my sexual orientation—“...partner.” “Oh, no,” I tell him, point-blank. “Just me.” And then I jump into my airport transfer, leaving him stumped.

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