Speaking from experience, Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan thinks freeing oneself from the pressures of traditional marriage could be a Very Good Thing.
All hail the news that heterosexual couples will soon be able to avail themselves of civil partnerships instead of traditional marriage ceremonies. Thanks to the bill allowing straight civil partnerships clearing the final parliamentary hurdle, we should see cohabiting couples taking the civil plunge before the end of the year.
It’s a great move towards equality, it’s a recognition of changing, increasingly atheist but no less loving times, and it will provide current cohabitees with greater protection (there’s no such thing as ‘common-law’ spouses, kids! If you’re not married, you’ve naff-all rights) if it all ends in disaster.
What may turn out to be its most immediate advantage, however, is in saving relationships from what Kate Moss once called (after getting hitched to rock star Jamie Hince) the “marriage shock”. She was right to call it that: no matter how long you have lived together, no matter how long you’ve been sharing a bed, a TV remote and maybe even a pet, no matter how keen you are to keep on doing so till death do you part, the year after you finally say “I do” is an absolute headfuck.
Because it’s not just the wedding dress that comes with a sweeping train behind it – it is the institution of marriage itself. And you don’t necessarily realise how fully you have been immersed in what ‘Marriage with a capital M’ has historically meant. It’s being a Wife with a W. It’s traditional femininity, traditional masculinity and traditional expectations.
Before I got married, my partner and I were quite happily bumbling along, tolerating my inability to cook or in any way make a home-type space, and his inability to put up shelves, earn regular money or arrange an MOT. Once we’d tied the knot, however, it was as if a switch had been flipped. We were suddenly furious at each other for not fulfilling what, somewhere deep in our primeval, idiot brains, we felt were the ‘right’ roles for man and wife. The expectations we’d grown up with and internalised long before we were savvy enough to resist came out kicking and screaming.
“Free will’s an illusion,” my husband said mournfully towards the end of the year, when through the medium of thrice weekly vicious arguments and tears, we had gained some insight into our condition. “We’re just puppets.” I didn’t answer. I was arranging the sofa cushions.
A civil partnership would have been a brilliant option. It offers the freedom of a clean slate. The core message to each other and the world remains – I love you more than anyone else and we intend to see out our days together while causing each other as little pain as possible – but you are unencumbered by historical trappings and stereotypes. Your lives won’t suddenly be measured against outmoded but pernicious expectations. You won’t feel like helpless puppets, manipulated by unsuspected formative influences and stubborn sociocultural clichés.
Of course, marriage is great – there’s a reason it’s persisted down the generations. If you believe in a god, marriage is a sacred thing. For others, it’s the understanding of what it involves that makes it so bonding. But deciding to devote your life to someone is a tough gig. It doesn’t need extra pressures.
With the new law, there is now another option for shaping it, one that will allow people who cannot countenance tradition (or whose relationships may not survive the marriage shock) to proclaim their love publicly and protect their pension rights. I say amen to that.
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