Jonathan James’ post on the speech by Baroness Deech has attracted a good deal of angry comment from men, who criticize the courts for not upholding their marriage vows, because they did not wish to divorce. In civil law, marriage is regarded as a form of legal partnership, like any other. If one partner wishes to dissolve the marriage, therefore, even if the other does not, this must eventually happen.
But the pain these men obviously feel may be more positively focused elsewhere. In 1992, I wrote a book, “Divorce – A New Beginning”, calling for marriage, rather than divorce, to be made harder. When a marriage has broken down and love has gone, I wrote then and still believe, it should be swiftly ended with dignity and civility, in a process not focusing on the past.
But I also wrote that getting married is simply too easy and should become more difficult in law. I felt then that marriage had become too focused on the Big Day – the dress and the party – rather than what it means in law: a voluntary change of legal status, by consenting adults, to one of joint partnership, with all its incumbent obligations. This is something not to be entered into lightly. I was concerned then that the real meaning of marriage had been lost.
What is our understanding of marriage in 2009? If anything, it seems to have worsened. In the glare and fallout of celebrity weddings, splashed across the media – particularly widely-read glossy magazines – marriage seems to have become even less meaningful than it was in 1992. It has become commonplace to have children before the marriage takes place and, overall, the wedding day itself is an excuse to party.
In Living TV’s “Four Weddings”, the first series of which has just ended, a quartet of brides was asked every week to vote on each other’s dress, venue, food and overall presentation. The couple whose wedding was judged the best won an expenses-paid honeymoon.
Each programme strove to take the word “fantasy” to new heights – from the currently universally accepted Princess-style dress (strapless, with a massive skirt and train, because every woman dreams of being a princess when she gets married) – to brides emulating a distinctive shade of pink, chosen in homage to their heroine, the former topless model Jordan, and arriving, in one case, in the same pink glass coach.
The eclectic mix featured one bride who was a secret witch and others who engaged in pagan ceremonies. One ceremony took place in an underground cave and another was for leather-clad bikers. Ceremonies at registry offices were frequently dismissed as too dull and one in church was described by a bride as “boring”.
Varied celebrations followed, in indoor and outdoor venues spanning working men’s clubs, hotels and football grounds. Unfortunately, some guests were not at their photogenic best – many of them were shown the worse for wear on an almost empty dance floor. Drunken dancing dads and best men’s bare bottoms were a source of entertainment.
In each programme, there was a vote after every wedding party and the four brides were then filmed, in full wedding regalia, on an airfield, waiting for the winning groom to arrive and whisk his successful partner off on their expenses-paid honeymoon.
Does this programme sufficiently respect the solemn commitment the couple has entered into? Does it sanctify the four marriage ceremonies that have taken place and are the reason for the parties in the first place? But, more importantly perhaps, does it accurately depict the state of marriage within our society today? And, if it does, don’t we urgently need to do something about it?
I know better than most that marriage just isn’t about fantasy dresses and parties. It can be dull and boring. It can be a desperately unhappy place for one or both partners. It’s easy to fail at marriage, even after many years or if one spouse thinks all is well, and the tears of happiness can fast turn to those of sadness and worse. The misery and despair of broken marriages stand out from the comments on the post I mention above, which speak for themselves in all their unhappiness.
But how do you guarantee success? No-one can, although I think that entering into marriage with real and solemn commitment, because the spouses are genuinely suited to each other, want to be together through thick and thin – bad times and good, wealth and debt, happiness and grief – and share the ability to laugh all the way through is a good start. Before marriage, I think couples should be expected to focus on what they anticipate from it and their future spouse. They need to examine themselves deeply, to ensure, as far as possible, their marriage is really going to last. The more the focus on the wedding, as opposed to each other, the more likely the union is to end in tears. I have had several clients who married only because arrangements had gone too far to call it off.
It’s nice to see a funny, lighthearted TV programme – about people having a good time, laughing and enjoying themselves – but as I watched this series, I felt worried, as well as amused. If you want to make a programme about parties, should it be tagged on to getting married? And if that’s indicative of what marriage has now become, isn’t it time to do something serious about it?