The conscious coupling (thanks Gwynnie) we call marriage is under threat. For a large chunk of us, there is no real need to submit to this ancient institution. A recent prediction I found suggested that in the not too distant future, marriage will be the preserve of the strictly religious and/or aristocratic. In short, wedding bells are on their way out - we mere mortals should expect to hear just a faint tingle of their quaint ding-dong. Yet I, along with many others, will be donning a white dress and saying 'I do' in just under a year's time. So why, quite frankly, do we bother?
We're all certainly putting it off longer. The average age for first time brides and grooms takes a substantial leap backwards as each generation comes through (22 in 1966, 25 in 1991 and 30 in 2014). We're also already living with our partners, so in day-to-day terms, marriage doesn't change our reality. It's crazy really to imagine a world where this was not the case. What a phenomenal gamble! (Can you imagine signing a 'till death do us part' business contract with no break-clause and little experience of the client/employer? Didn't think so.) So once you're at the stage of blissful cohabitation - why throw rings / caterers / seating plans and some wordy vows into the mix? After all, 'one in three marriages ends in divorce' is one of the most bandied about statistics in modern day Britain. Not only are the long-term prospects gloomy but the actual wedding day itself is rife with blatant and symbolic misogyny. ('Given' by your father, traditionally promising to 'obey' your husband, and remaining voiceless when the speeches kick off; you're normally one serious chatterbox.)
Such is the bleak outlook for marriage, that Brenda Hoggett, a judge on the family division of the High Court, and one of the authors of the Law Commission's 1990 report on family law, says this: "Logically, we have already reached a point at which ... we should be considering whether the legal institution of marriage continues to serve any useful purpose." When Brenda appeals to logic, she has me hooked. The average annual salary in the UK is 26.5k and the average cost of a wedding in the UK is 22k. These figures speak for themselves. To spend such a huge portion of your yearly cash flow (if we keep talking in average terms) on one day, one afternoon really, is a little mad.
Marriage no longer represents status as it once did in the 50s - a home away from your family home (you'll have already done this, with numerous friends, in a variety of flats and houses, perhaps even in Australia...), a homemaker as a woman, (most want more than this) a provider as a man, (a tad outdated and patronising). These kinds of stereotypes no longer exist (praise be), and life continues much as before upon saying 'I do' - with both bride and groom sustaining previous career ambitions, relationships with family and friends, and independent, equal status within, and contributions to, the marriage.
But this is precisely why I think marriage is stronger, and purer, than ever before. We're no longer doing it because we 'ought to'; we're not adhering to an expectation from society. As women, we don't do it out of fear that our mothers will flap Mrs Bennet style should we remain husbandless, and for men, there is no lure of the live-in, lifelong housekeeper /cook / cleaner that comes, no questions asked, as part of the package. It seems to me that the only reason marriage has stuck around despite all the odds has got something to do with, dare I say it, that four-letter word beginning with L.
The voluntary nature of modern day marriage is what appeals to me - no longer tied up with status, judgment or property contracts that were discriminatory to women. Social pressures have cooled off, and so all that's left is a genuine desire to, as they say, put a ring on it! I'll see you at the altar...