Marriage out of fashion

// 22 February 2007


There was once a time when great faith was stored in the holy sanctity of marriage. It was an institution not to be scoffed at, and considered a true indication of the depth of affection existing between a couple. Yawn.

In days gone by a young boy and girl couldn’t hold hands for more than five minutes before being promptly catapulted down the aisle so fast that the smoke didn’t have time to clear before they stumbled through their vows and said “I do”.

That was just the way it was; the way a relationship was supposed to develop, with the bride trying to look as sincere as she could in a white dress, and the groom wanting the formalities to end so that he could go and get pissed with the lads. Makes you nostalgic for the good old days, doesn’t it?

But it looks like this tradition is coming to an end, with the results of a government report (as seen in The The Times) concluding that the number of Britons tying the knot has fallen to the lowest it has been in one hundred and eleven years. The data, compiled by the Office of National Statistics, revealed that the number of marriages dropped by a whopping 30,000 between 2004 and 2005 to just over 244,000, and it is predicted to decrease further.

This doesn’t mean we’re not pairing up (after all, even the animals on the arc had partners), but this rather provides empirical evidence for the cultural shift that has taken place in recent years.

Couples are now happy enough living in sin, rotting like beasts between dirty sheets, an option more favourable than spending a fortune on a cake that tastes like shit, feeding distance relatives and hangers-on who are just there for the free food, and enduring hours of crap speeches about larks that never happened, while a lecherous old uncle nobody remembers tries to shag the chief bridesmaid.

More and more couples are choosing to co-habit, meaning that in the not too distant future married couples will occupy a marginal position in Britain, lurking in the shadows, ducking behind cars during the sunlight hours, and hiding their wedding fingers for fear their shiny veneers may expose them for what they really are, one of the lesser spotted ‘until death do us part-ers’.

A little dramatic maybe, but this is good news for us singletons. Hopefully this will alleviate the pressure put on us by our overbearing mothers to pair up and squeeze out young ‘uns, who we in turn are expected to subject to the same from of torture, because if getting married is no longer considered the norm, then these archaic expectations are invalidated, with the allure of silver ware, champagne and bouffant hair of such epic proportions to make Marge Simpson sack her stylist no longer invested with cultural significance.

Not surprisingly, the development of this trend is being used as political fodder. The opposition claims that the Labour party is to blame for the decline in marriage, since they precipitated the abolition of Married Couples’ Allowance (a tax break for husbands and wives), and have introduced policies to remove allusions to marriage from state documentation.

Today David Cameron used this report to reiterate what he believes is the correct direction for our home policy, which is to place emphasis on marriage and family life. He has proposed that there be tax reductions for those who enter into legally binding relationships, and is also contemplating a system of transferable tax allowances to reward couples that stay together.

The trend in marriage decline is being taken as an indication of our moral laxity in Britain, and something that needs to be rectified with urgency. Robert Whelan of the Civitas think tank believes this issue needs to be addressed by the government since:

“The idea that marriage is important for a couple has been lost. People now marry for the sake of the children – and couples who are putting the mortgage first and delaying children often see no reason to marry.”

But why are we not getting married anymore? As we strive to compete with men on a professional level, many of us are putting our careers first, opting to postpone or dismiss the potential to marry until we are where we want to be financially and career wise. When women were considered to have a place in the home and only the home, marriage was considered the epitome of the female role, with women striving to be the best homemakers they could be. Now that we have freed ourselves of the shackles of male oppression we are investing the same effort and conscientiousness into achieving our professional ambitions, refusing to be hampered by having to get dinner on the table by 5.30. We work hard and we play hard, and so we’re holding out on marriage for as long as we can; men have sewed their wild oats for centuries, now it’s out turn.

With the average age of a women to have her first baby now at thirty, we are not experiencing the nesting instinct until much later, and so we don’t have an immediate need to bolster ourselves to a potential mate until we feel we are ready.

The prospect of prancing around emulating a lemon meringue for the day in front of a hundred of my closest family and friends has never appealed to me.

But, what is evident in the commentary proliferating in response to these findings is the emphasis placed on the financial ramifications of marriage. Some experts have speculated that many are reluctant to do the honourable thing owing to the phenomenal cost and losses incurred during divorce settlements, totally dismissing that the nature of this argument is itself counter-productive since a couple preoccupied with how the marriage may end before they’ve even cut the cake are probably not ready to take the leap anyway.

What is being forgotten is that marriage is an institution that has it’s roots deep set in religion, harking back to a time when the average evangelical Briton attended church on a Sunday, prayed regularly and demonstrated pious dedication to the scriptures.

Today the average Briton is likely to display more devout attention to the latest issue of Heat magazine, and so couples have developed personalised ways to express their mutual devotion divorced from religious doctrine. Religion in itself has played a significant role in the oppression of women, harking back to that time when Eve, happily skipping around the Garden of Eden, foolishly ate that apple.

Ever since we’ve been forced to suffer pain in childbirth and what did Adam get? He had to wear trousers and work, which, considering the wealth of occupations open to men and the trendy mens’ wear on the market, was not actually much of a punishment. It’s not surprising then that many of us reject marriage as a form of legalised repression, and it’s the fact that we can dismiss this as a life choice and not get stoned to death or forced to adorn a scarlet letter that demonstrates the progressive changes that have been made with regards to the position of women in society.

These days marriage is more about the party and the extravagance, with magazines and newspapers weekly permeated with the daguerreotypes of the latest stars to get hitched, if not on their own private islands then somewhere equally as exclusive. In many respects marriage has become a way to express excessive wealth, not accessible to the hoi polloi and if people love each other, are happy in their committed relationships and don’t feel the need to enter into a legally binding agreement to validate this, then what exactly is the problem?

Photo by Meredith Farmer, shared under a Creative Commons license

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