For several months now, Miguel Mendías has been obsessively planning his upcoming wedding. He’s narrowed the guest list down to around fifty friends and family members, who will be traveling to his home in Marfa from as far away as Australia. He’s asked an Indigenous silversmith in New Mexico to make two rings for the occasion, and he has lined up a James Beard semifinalist to bake decadent cakes for the affair. At the altar, he’ll be wearing a custom lace jacket, vintage couture Wranglers, and a pair of cowboy boots.
Mendías’s bride, meanwhile, with whom he has been living since 2017, but who is considerably older than the middle-aged groom, will be nude throughout the ceremony save for a giant wreath of native desert flora adorning her sturdy frame. As part of the ceremony, guests will be treated to a Native American flute performance, blessings, and plumes of colorful copal smoke, followed by a night full of live music and free-flowing sotol, the native liquor of the region. “It absolutely will be the most amazing, fabulous and fun party ever!” Mendías told me during a recent phone conversation. “Hopefully, nobody objects.”
For Mendías, the notion that a guest might publicly balk at his union is a real concern. He’s not sure his own mother will attend his wedding, nor is he certain about how the event will be received by a handful of extended family members who live in the area. Like a high school student preparing for a debate, he’s even devised scripted responses for potential antagonists ahead of time.
That’s because Mendías is organizing a large-scale event to wed his 120-year-old, 680-square-foot adobe house—his relationship to which he considers the most committed and meaningful one that he has in his life. Unions with inanimate objects, of course, aren’t legally recognized, but Mendías’s marriage is much more than a one-night show. He plans on legally changing his last name to a shared hyphenate: Miguel Mendías–West Galveston Street. (He’s still deciding whether to include numerals and abbreviations: “It’s such a long name.”) Mendías has no intention of dating another human being and says his commitment to his home is “lifelong,” a sentiment he intends to capture in the vows he’ll read before guests on his wedding night.
An artist and activist who has engaged in civil disobedience and protest movements since the early years of the Iraq War, Mendías has a penchant for provocation. Like many with deep ties to the region, he’s been vocal about the county’s elevated tax on adobe homes, which has strained working class budgets and, in the eyes of many locals, turned one the world’s humblest building materials into a status symbol for the wealthy. For many, it’s also a reminder that the community has always faced sharp divisions along class lines. Generations of Marfa’s Mexican American residents were alienated from the courts and the formalized process of transferring property rights from one generation to the next, clearing the way for newcomers to push them out of their homes and for trendy boutiques and Anglo-owned businesses to take their places. With that historical context in mind, marrying a house could be interpreted as the ultimate territorial claim, but Mendías remains adamant that his marriage isn’t about repossession or complicated racial politics.
Labeling the marriage a purely political statement, he argues, actually diminishes its depth and complexity. Mendias’s romantic love for his house is real in the conventional sense, he insists, while also noting that justifications for marriage differ across cultures and that the Western ideal of marrying for love is a relatively recent phenomenon. “My love is certainly provocative and I’m fine with that,” he said. “But I’m not trying to rock everyone’s boat. I’m also just trying to exist here.”
At first glance, the betrothed isn’t much of a head-turner. With four tan-colored walls, a simple metal roof, and a wooden door dating to the turn of the twentieth century, the modest dwelling is surrounded by a rickety wooden fence and a dusty yard. To the casual observer, the home looks like countless other inconspicuous properties nestled among Marfa’s quiet, sun-scorched streets. But to Mendías it means much more. Originally given to his great-grandfather as a wedding gift from his in-laws, the four-room home had been a part of Mendías’s family for generations before its earthen walls began melting back into the desert in recent decades. As a kid Mendías would spend his summers playing on the same block without realizing it contained nearly a century’s worth of family lore. After discovering the home’s history as a teenager, he says, he quickly felt a strong attraction to the abode. “My grandmother’s close connection to those walls and those rooms, I was very taken by that,” he said. “But the aesthetic appeal was very strong as well.”
Nearly two decades later, in 2016, after living and working on the East and West Coasts, Mendías eagerly returned to his home state of Texas to reclaim the structure when he learned it was going to be auctioned off by Presidio County, which planned to seize it due to delinquent property tax payments. Already, he learned, a buyer from Berlin was interested in bidding on the property. When Mendías moved in, the home had neither electricity nor running water, but he was determined not to let it out of his family’s hands. “As millennials, these milestones that other generations have had access to have so often been unattainable to us,” he said. “That idea that I could own a home and I could do it here, in Marfa, the place that my family is from, that was almost unbelievable for me.”
During Mendías’s first few months in the home, he slept on a broken concrete slab in a sleeping bag and relied on kerosene lamps after dark. After paying off $17,000 in delinquent property taxes by working seventy hours a week as a bartender, he spent the past six years rebuilding the house. Along the way, the engrossing renovation process prompted Mendías to become an adobero, someone who specializes in the process of turning sand, dirt, straw, and water into the thick mud bricks used to construct desert homes for more than a thousand years. He is one of the few remaining adoberos in Marfa at a time when the humble building material has become a trendy status symbol.
Over the years, the hands-on work deepened Mendías’s connection to his ancestral history and, by extension, his home, whose walls are quite literally mixed with his blood and sweat. He now refers to himself as “adobesexual,” an orientation that he describes as sensory-based and heartfelt, though not necessarily conventionally sexual.
Many friends see Mendías’s relationship with his house as quite natural. Sandro Canovas, a Marfa adobero, plans to perform a blessing during the ceremony. “So many people who grow up in this area leave, but Miguel came back to fight for the house, to learn the craft of adobe, to maintain his connection to his family,” Canovas said. “It makes sense that he would marry the house. I think it’s very poetic.”
Occasionally Mendías swoons when discussing the house, his voice filling with the sort of affection most of us would reserve for a long-standing partner. He says an undeniable sense of calm washes over him each time he catches a glimpse of the abode, even when he’s having a bad day. He adores the structure’s stout shape and the way the home exudes a laid-back, approachable energy. Inside, he says, the earthen walls are calming and cool to the touch, with an enduring thickness that offers a sense of protection from the outside world. “Sometimes, I’ll feel like I’ve wasted a chunk of my life being so focused on the house, and then as soon as I see it I don’t feel that way,” Mendías said. “To me, that’s so much like being in a relationship. You might have doubts at times, but you feel compelled to build your life with your partner because there’s this love there and it never goes away.”
Mendías knows a human partner might be able to offer him a similar blend of happiness and support, not to mention verbal communication and cuddling. But many years have passed since he met someone who did offer those things, and he lives in a two-thousand-person town; he describes dating there as “bobbing for apples in the smallest barrel imaginable.” He is lonely, he says, but so are many others living on the fringes of civilization in various states of isolation. “It’s true that I never thought I would find love here in a deep, meaningful, and romantic way, the kind where it takes over your whole life and changes everything you thought you knew about yourself—and then I realized that I already had it in the form of my house.”
Mendías’s only doubts about his home stem from how others may react to his unconventional marriage. “I have to face the realization that much of the world isn’t going to understand this arrangement,” he said. “I’m expecting to receive some amount of home-a-phobia.”
As bizarre as it may appear, Mendías’s arrangement is not as unusual as it may have sounded even a few short years ago. As marriage rates drop across the Western world, a growing number of people are embracing nontraditional unions. On the less adventurous side of the spectrum are marriage partners who practice ethical nonmonogamy or living apart together (LAT). Recently, CNN highlighted the experiences of four women—including a 77-year-old divorcée—practicing sologamy, the state of being married to oneself.
The more adventurous side, on the other hand, is much more adventurous. Behold, for example, Amanda Liberty, a British woman who claimed to be in a long-distance relationship with the Statue of Liberty before eventually deciding to get serious and settle down with a 91-year-old chandelier. Or take Erika Eiffel, née LaBrie, an American woman who had romantic encounters with a Japanese martial arts sword and an archery bow before marrying the Eiffel Tower in Paris (they have since disbanded). Despite some of the obvious parallels, Mendías bristles at the comparison to Eiffel. “She is not French and she didn’t build the Eiffel Tower with her own hands and her own blood, sweat, and tears like I literally have in recent years.”
And yet, Eiffel and Liberty and Mendías are all practicing object sexuality, a deep expression of emotional attachment to inanimate objects or structures. “Unlike sexual fetishism, the object or structure is viewed as an equal partner in the relationship and is not used to enhance or facilitate sexual behavior,” Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioral addiction in the psychology department at Nottingham Trent University, wrote in Psychology Today. “Some objectophiles even believe that their feelings are reciprocated by the object of their desire.”
Mendías sees romantic love as a subjective expression of someone’s inner world, one that shouldn’t be confined to procreative, heterosexual pairings. The decision to share that love in a ceremonial fashion, he says, is a way of asking his community to help him validate the person he has become over the past seven years of semi-isolation in Marfa. It’s also a way of addressing the anxiety he feels about not meeting certain goals or crossing various markers of adulthood off his internal checklist. He doesn’t have money, he says, nor does he have career accomplishments that rival some of his peers in Marfa’s art scene. But he does have his home.
Living in Marfa, Mendías can’t go anywhere in town without running into two or three locals who know him by name. In recent days, as a way of gauging his community’s reaction, he’s been announcing his marriage to acquaintances he encounters around town. So far, he said, so good. “When I tell people I’m getting married they’re initially shocked because they’ve always known me as a single person,” he said. “They seem less shocked that I’m marrying my house.”
- More About:
- Politics & Policy