The Tender Trap – Marriage.

Ball and Chain

If you come from a family where being married is the ‘norm’ you may have grown up without questioning that your destiny will, one day, be to become a married man. There is still, bizarrely, an unwillingness to talk about the cons as well as the pros. People (like me) who point out the potential pitfalls are decried as being ‘bitter’ or ‘women haters’. Yadda yadda yadda.  I’d rather pass on the real life stuff for you to ponder alongside the rose tinted spectacled view. Most people don’t find out the things I’m about to share with you until their marriage has gone belly up, by which time, of course, it’s too late.

There are plenty of places where you can find lists of all the great things about marriage. You can probably rattle a list off yourself.  There is a good chance that you know at least one couple who have been married for decades and are still blissfully happy. They may be your parents. They are not in the majority.

What if I told you that there was less than a 50% chance that your marriage will be happy and enduring?

If you went to a track day for a bit of opposite lock driving fun and you were told that there was a roughly 50% chance that you were going to crash you would possibly rethink your plans for your day off, or, at the very least, make sure that you had made thorough provision to minimise the risk of serious injury if you did spin off

The figure of 50% isn’t one I’ve just plucked from the air.  In the UK the rate of marriage breakdown is roughly 50%.

The Woman’s Perspective

The first thing to understand is how women view all of this. Most women, like most men, would like to have a long term, mutually fulfilling relationship. Most women see the gold standard framework for this as marriage whereas, I suggest, far less men are bothered about the formalities.  A big factor in this is the importance which women tend to put on the day itself. Remember the scene from ‘Shrek 2’ when our eponymous hero finds the childhood diary of Princess Fiona? It’s filled childhood drawings of herself and her future husband, Pictures of wedding dresses and trying out her married name “Mrs Fiona Charming”. It is, as Shrek observes, a “scary book”.

Your intended may not have obsessed about her future groom to this extent but you can bet she’s been thinking about her wedding a lot more than you have. Want to know something else? In your girls fevered imagination, the identity of her Prince Charming has been largely unimportant. During her formative years she has not been dreaming of the desirable attributes of her groom, his calm, loving and kind character. His keen wit and intelligence etc. He has been just some figure in a morning suit hovering attentively by her side. Handsome, yes, of course. Chiselled chin. Bit of designer stubble maybe.

The real imaginative effort has been put into thinking about how she wants everything else and, in particular, how she wants to look. The dress, her shoes, what the bridesmaids will wear, what the colour scheme will be, the flowers, and how she will be, for this one day, a real live princess.

I’m not saying that women just get married in order to have their wedding day. For most, they want to wed for the usual, romantic reasons. For a woman, though, the day itself is far more important than it usually is to a man. This leads to two things: firstly, spiralling costs for the wedding itself, which must, of course, be absolutely perfect and, secondly, a proportion of women who might otherwise be content with ‘living in sin’ feeling that they must get married to a) have their big day and, b) make a grand gesture about their relationship.

Let’s boil all of that down into a single proposition:

For the bride, the day itself is a MASSIVE deal

What happens after the wedding, you know, ‘long term’, has probably occupied far less attention than the obsessing about the day itself. I regret to advise that this has only gotten worse in recent times with the rise of the narcissism epidemic, driven by social media. Make no mistake about it, whatever most women may say, they care A LOT about what other women think. It is often said that women don’t dress for men, they dress for other women. The wedding day is the ultimate expression of that. Nothing will make them happier than a multitude of female friends and family gushing to them about how PERFECT their wedding was and how AMAZING they looked.  Think this is bullshit? Consider then the ‘my perfect life’ blogs that the interweb is littered with (and Youtube for that matter). Women love other women to adore and envy them and, in return, love to adore and envy other women.

To not get married, for a woman, means that she will be deprived of her big day when all of the attention will be focussed on her, all day long and she will be perfect and beautiful.

Admittedly it is not just about the day. I don’t have any hard evidence for this but I bet if you took a poll of single men and women between the ages of, say 18 and 40 and asked them if they would be quite happy if they never got married, I bet you’d find that far more women than men would be unhappy at the prospect of never getting married. Women (on the whole) like marriage. It is, in a funny sort of way, acknowledgement of their desirability (albeit subconsciously); a man is willing to forsake all others for the rest of his life. In theory.

Just to recap, I’m not saying that men don’t necessarily want to settle down with a nice girl. Many, if not most, do. It’s just that men, on the whole, are happy to just get on and do it and do not see the need to formalise it in a grand and expensive gesture. Got it? Good. Let’s move on.

And it usually is expensive. At the time of writing (2015) the average cost of a wedding in the UK is £21,000. Seriously. 21K for a SINGLE day.  Expectations are not reasonable anymore. I used to do a bit of wedding photography on the side. I stopped because expectations are almost always completely unrealistic (always the bride’s expectations) and almost impossible to meet. Everybody wants the same results that they see in a celebrity magazine where the top professional photographer is attended by a team of assistants and shot at some plush stately home or on a beach in Goa. The same results are usually required by every other bride for a budget of about 1/10th of what the afore-mentioned top pro would charge. Incidentally, if you want really good wedding photos, which is the only thing you’ll be left with when the day is over, expect to budget around £2000 up.

The soaring expectations of brides has even given rise to a new term.  Ever heard of ‘bridezilla’? Yes? Ever heard of ‘groomzilla’? No, I didn’t think so.

The old tradition that the wedding is paid for by the bride’s parents can no longer be relied upon either. That was fine back in the day when everybody had more realistic expectations. Now, when every girl wants her wedding to look like a feature in ‘OK!’ magazine, expect to be picking up at least some, if not all of the tab yourselves. At the least, if you have traditional (and well heeled) prospective in-laws, it is tradition that you will pay for the honeymoon (which, at least, is one part of the wedding where you get to have a say) and the engagement ring which, again by tradition, should cost a month’s (or two, depending on who you talk to) salary. Add in the cost of the stag do etc. etc. and it’s an expensive proposition whichever way you slice it.

There seems to be a sense these days that the day MUST be perfect regardless of cost. Bear in mind though that a pound (dollar, whatever) spent on a wedding is the same as a pound spent anywhere else. Personally, if I had that sort of money to burn and someone lovely to burn it with I would be inclined to spend it on the holiday of a lifetime. A few months travelling together perhaps. The Caribbean, the spice markets of Zanzibar, snorkelling off the Great Barrier Reef, an epic road trip across the USA. All of those things? You pays your money, you takes your choice.

Marriage is for life, not just for the Wedding Day (Unless you are Katie Price)

And here’s the rub. Marriage is not just about a lovely dress and shoes (and maxed out credit cards). It is intended to be for life. That is the way that the law is geared up as well. The ‘modern’ approach, much favoured by vacuous ‘celebrities’ is to get a divorce at the drop of a hat. At least they get to have more than one special day where they can be a princess again. Albeit a princess with several children by different fathers in tow. Fine for them. A celebrity mag will pay them a fortune to cover the wedding and they have tons of cash from ‘writing’ trashy novels and appearing in reality TV shows.

That’s probably unfair to Katie. I’m sure she has married for the best of reasons. Every time.

Fortune does not smile so warmly on the rest of us. Marriage gives rise to legal responsibilities. I urge you to read my last post about that very topic, because marriage is a legal contract. You wouldn’t buy a house or even sign up for cable TV without having a look at the contract would you? Yet, bizarrely, almost nobody takes the trouble to find out what the consequences might be for them on divorce, because it’s just not the done thing is it? Completely bonkers. What I want to encourage you to do here though is to examine your own motivations for wanting to get married. We’ve already had a look at some of the motivations that a woman might have to get married. What about you?

No, really. Why do you want to get married? There are many people, men and women who want to get married for the noble reason that they are in love and want to commit themselves to the other person for the rest of their life. That is the only reason isn’t it? Well no. In fact, it’s not even a particularly good reason. It is pretty much accepted that the first hot flush of love only lasts for around 4 years. That’s not to say that the love dies. Sometimes it does. Sometimes when the pink mist has dissipated all of the irritating little habits become easier to perceive. Still others find that the passionate love morphs into something more gentle, something deeper and longer lasting (maybe even until death do you part). What is pretty much guaranteed is that you won’t feel the same a few years down the road. It is going to change, not necessarily for the better. And the same is true of your partner. People change as they get older. You will too, and I’m not just talking about your waist size.

Sometimes a man might marry because he wants to ‘make the girl mine’. It’s like closing the deal. You want to put down a marker that she is yours. Great, except, as we’ve already seen, it’s not just men who get bored, have affairs, decide to leave. Women do too. Marriage certificate or not. Marrying a woman is no guarantee that her head will not be turned at some point down the road, however unlikely that may seem when you are standing at the altar.

Then again, a man might get married because his partner has issued an ultimatum and he doesn’t want to lose her. You know, “if you don’t marry me I will leave you because you clearly don’t love me enough”.  If your partner is inclined to make that kind of threat, I’d advise you to call her bluff. If that’s the reason you marry someone (and she knows that you are not keen) you have established a precedent that you will cave in every time she makes some threat if you don’t do what she wants. Do you want to live with someone like that?

Maybe you decide to get married because of the tax advantages. No really. An old boss of mine got married to her partner of 20 years simply because they had decided that it was financially more prudent. Well, you may get a few modest perks from the government for getting married but, as we’ve already seen, by the time you add up the cost of the wedding and what you stand to lose if it goes tits up, any little governmental incentives pale into insignificance.

But half of marriages are successful, right??

That depends on how you define ‘success’. If you mean ‘not ending in divorce’, then yes. You need to realise, though, that the divorce rates only tell part of the story.

A marriage may be successful in the sense that it doesn’t end in divorce, but does that mean it’s a happy marriage? People stay in unhappy or ‘ho-hum’ marriages all the time and for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they stay together for the kids, or because they can’t afford to divorce, or because they have religious convictions or they just feel that to stay together is the right thing to do. I know people (personally) who stay in marriages which they are unhappy and unfulfilled in. Husbands and wives whose partner never makes love to them, constantly nags them, controls their behaviour or money or maybe they just grow apart.  If a proportion of the ‘successful 50%’ are not happy and satisfied in their marriage that means that, in fact, less than 50% of marriages are truly successful. That’s a sobering thought isn’t it?

If, having read this, you still find that you have the urge to get married then fine. Good luck to you. Do yourself a favour though and take the time to really look into what it will mean for you and what the implications are if things go wrong. You are a fool if you don’t, my friend.

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