We've hit rock bottom. The number of people getting married has hit an all-time low. In fact, it's been dropping for decades. Sounds great to me. But why aren't people bothering?
Of course, the usual reason cited is money. You only need to look at the current financial situation; a global downturn doesn't make the prospect of shelling out £500 for chair covers very appealing. But being married saves money! is the cry (perhaps from your Nan). What with tax breaks, the odds are you'd make back the price of your gold-plated sugared almonds. But for many people, it's still not worth it. My wedding was pretty cheap. We made a lot of the stuff ourselves, and had a great party. But the reality of being a 'wife' was not quite what I was expecting. Perhaps the reasons people don't fancy dropping the cost of a deposit on a house (or in London, a cupboard under the stairs) on one day, is a little more complex than simply the big bill.
I think it has a lot more to do with status. Marriage has always been about control. The woman gave up her rights, was passed from father to husband. But things haven't really changed, or at least not as much as they should have. I was determined that it would be different for me, but that's not exactly what happened. For starters, I changed my name. It's for future kids, people said, your names sound stupid double barrelled. They had a point. But why should it be me? Apparently him changing his name was ridiculous, yet if we were just doing it for hypothetical babies, what did it matter whose name it was? I felt like I'd lost something of myself, that I wasn't an equal partner. And I had to learn a new signature, after I'd spent ages practising mine in the back of exercise books at school. That's not what I signed up for.
The fact is, people treat you differently when you're married. And not in a good way. I was baffled when, at the age of 26, people my age asked me where my husband was on a night out. As if we were a fused being. They asked if he was messy, like cleaning was now my job. And so many questions about my uterus. It's never felt so considered. These were the same friends I'd had a few weeks before the 'big day.' Apparently, I'd morphed into a baby-obsessed domestic assistant that needed all decisions to be approved by her husband. Just for putting on a white dress.
The picture isn't much rosier for men. Again, despite our young age, his work mates told him he'd need 'permission' to go to the pub. They referred to me as 'The Mrs.' He was suddenly a shackled man who had a desperate desire to go out and cheat on me, despite just having promised eternal loyalty. If this is what marriage looks like, no wonder no-one's that fussed. I felt trapped in some stereotype, fooled by Disney into thinking that the easy bit comes after you walk up an aisle. Which is one reason it won't be something I'll be repeating.
To avoid all this, you could just get the same rights through a civil partnership. Splendid. Except for straight couples, that's illegal in the UK. According to David Cameron, straight civil partnerships will "undermine the sanctity of marriage." I think it's a bit late for that. Endless celebrity marriages that last a matter of days, weeks or months have done far more to squash any sense of marital purity than any shiny-faced politician could. The fact is, it's easier to get out of a marriage than a mortgage. I got my divorce online, for a few hundred quid. Changing my name back (phew!) by deed poll was way more of a hassle. People don't approach it in the same way because it doesn't have the same status. Which is a good thing. We aren't allowing our final definition of happiness to rest on one fixed solution, but finding our own routes. It's a little scarier without the compass, but I'd rather tread my own path.
Already, there's a company in Argentina that puts on fake weddings, because so many young people will probably never go to one. Maybe they'll become some quaint rite of passage our grandchildren will read about and think we were mental.
Perhaps the increase in gay marriage will help to get rid of this 'one-size-doesn't-quite-fit-all' mould. It's about time that people gave us modernised versions. We live in a world with so many happy relationships, with people of all genders and ethnicities. If we succeed, and turn it into something that doesn't restrict us, then great. But until then, I'd rather say, "I don't."