Long Reads

Do we really need to get married to have a committed relationship?

Fewer women than ever are getting married in the UK, with the number of married women dropping below 50%. Writer Caroline Corcoran, who has been with her partner for 10 years and has no intention of tying the knot, isn’t surprised.

“It will be you two next, right?”

“This would be a really awesome place for you to have your hen do.”

“I can totally picture what your wedding dress will look like.”

It doesn’t matter how many times I tell people that my partner Simon and I aren’t getting married, they still want to box us up in society’s ‘normal’ package. 

Except… is marriage even the norm anymore?

Not getting married: the number of women getting married has dropped below 50%.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the number of women who are married has now dropped below 50%, with 49.5% married in 2018 versus 50.8% in 2008. Being a Mrs – and don’t get me started on the double standard between the Miss/Ms/Mrs debate and a nice simple, have it for life Mr – is on the decline, and I’m part of the trend.

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On the surface, Simon and I are obvious candidates for marriage. Having been together for 10 years, we have two children, own a house together and we’re happy, in love and welcome any excuse to drink wine at 1pm. A lot of people who’ve met us in the last few years assume we are already married. And when people refer to my ‘husband’, I often don’t bother correcting them.

caroline corcoran at wedding
Not getting married: author Caroline Corcoran at a friend's wedding.

It’s not that I don’t like weddings; the polar opposite is true. I’ve had some of the best times of my life at friends’ and family members’ big days. I’m an emotional, wordy person so I’ve wept and whooped at speeches in hotels, chateaus and fields. I’ve organised hen weekends that make me smile at the memories years later and I’ve danced until the early hours with my shoes off, euphoric. They’re also one of the best chances I get to catch up with friends. I moved out of London three years ago and now a wedding invite means a long, happy day to reconnect.

So why don’t we have our own wedding?

To me, the question is like asking somebody why they haven’t been on holiday to a certain country, or why they’ve never done a bungee jump. We’ve done a lot of things because they mattered to both of us and we prioritised them; marriage, especially for all of the effort it entails, simply isn’t one of those things. 

Finances play a part: I hear figures of what people spend on their weddings and I want to sob for the trip to New Zealand they could have had for that, or the multiple dinners they could have eaten. If Simon came home with a ring that cost a month’s salary or whatever the old adage is, I think I might have a heart attack at the waste. 

I know you can do weddings that are affordable. But it seems that in the same way that a small wedding with 20 guests creeps up to 100, including Great Auntie Carol who no-one’s even seen in 15 years, the money side of the big day creeps up, too.

If we got married, I wouldn’t change my name and I wouldn’t become a Mrs. So really, what’s the point? We would be doing it purely just to have an awesome party, and I’m 40 in two years so I plan to cover that off then anyway, far more cheaply and with a lot less stress and pressure. 

wedding bouquet
Not getting married: "If you want a wedding then you should bloody well have a wedding, and enjoy every brilliant second of it."

To be clear, I have no issue with marriage for other people. Of course I don’t! If you want a wedding then you should bloody well have a wedding, and enjoy every brilliant second of it.

It’s the same as how I’ve completely supported my friends who have decided not to have children while being a mother myself. Everyone’s trajectory is different and what I believe passionately that we should have in 2019 is choice. Choice over our own narratives and choice over how we symbolise our individual version of commitment.

For me, commitment is symbolised in the man who has held my hand in a hospital bed and drapes my dressing gown over the radiator on a cold morning. A man who’s got my back, and champions my wins, and is always on my team. 

The nearest we have come to considering marriage was – we’re such romantics, I know – during the wedding of friends who had been together for 20 years but decided to marry for financial reasons around tax law.

Since then we have shored ourselves up as much as we can: we have life insurance and wills and so on. But I’m aware that by not getting married – were something to happen to one of us – we would be worse off than married couples.

That irks me: it’s 2019, and I don’t believe I should be pressured into marriage for such a crappy, outdated reason. Far from thinking it means that we should get married, surely it means that laws need to be modernised to reflect new societal norms?

Luckily for us, we feel the same way about marriage. If one of us suddenly changed our mind and felt strongly that they wanted to get married, though, we would do it for the other. In the meantime, I have a 40th to plan. And I must start writing that speech… 

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Caroline Corcoran’s debut novel, Through The Wall, is out now. Get your copy here.

through the wall caroline corcoran

This piece was originally published in September 2019

Images: Getty, Unsplash / Lead image design: Alessia Armenise


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