In a world where divorce rates are at an all-time high, does anyone ever really live happily ever after?
Last weekend I accompanied one of my oldest and closest friends to a meeting with her wedding planner. There we sat, sipping cups of tea in the quaint old-English venue, as questions were fired over about how far she had got with planning her big day.
“Have you thought about having a receiving line?”
“How about the menu?”
“And what about the material for the chair covers?”
Natalie, being one of the most relaxed people I know, flicked through her wedding notepad and answered as best she could. Just seeing how organised she was opened up not only a whole new side to her I hadn’t seen before, but new sides to the concept of marriage that I had barely even considered in the past.
As I reached for the teapot and continued to listen to the wedding planner, the idea of values and tradition began to surface.
“Will you be having a toastmaster?” she asked, to which Natalie speedily declined.
“And who will be making the speeches? Traditionally it’s the father of the bride, the father of the groom and then the best man…”
“They’re all men,” Natalie responded blankly. This is one of the things I admire about my friend most. She has never been afraid to speak out about something she believes in, like women’s rights.
“Well my bridesmaid’s making one,” she continued, “and perhaps I will too.” The wedding planner scribbled this down hesitantly.
Later that day I got to thinking about marriage and the role it now plays in the modern world. Our trip to the wedding planner had happened less than 24 hours after news broke that gay marriage would most probably be legalised in the UK by 2015, a decision being backed by our current government.
As a gay man, this should be fantastic news, and in many ways I think it is. It’s exciting in the sense that I believe everyone should have the right to choose whether they want to get married or not (civil partnership has always felt like a second-rate option to me). Personally however, the idea of marriage has never really had that much appeal.
Perhaps this is because I associate marriage with religion, and although I am in no way an atheist, I have always considered myself as far more spiritual than God-worshipping. However, although the definition of marriage varies from culture to culture, the underlining message remains the same: public recognition that two people are in love and have decided to spend their lives together.
The trouble is, it doesn’t often turn out this way. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, divorce rates have continued to rise since the 1930s, raising many questions about marriage’s worth in the modern age. The evolution of gender roles has obviously played a big part in this, with women matching and often exceeding the career heights and salaries of men.
Despite the changes in our busy modern world there are still many people who believe, or really want to believe, in marriage and its values. All you have to do is look at the world’s fascination with last year’s marriage between a prince and a young middle class woman to realise how many adults still need to believe in fairy tales.
Perhaps this nostalgic feeling to the ideals of marriage stems back to childhood; from the Disney films we watch and the fairy tales we are told, to simply looking up at our parents. Of course, the reality is that most people don’t have this nuclear family vision surrounding them, devaluing the worth of marriage from day one.
I guess when it boils down to it; we all want to believe in fairy tales. We live in a confusing world that often lacks light or clarity, so the idea that two people in love can make an oath to the world that they will (or at least try to) stay together forever, has to be a positive thing.
Whether it’s in a church in front of a God, or in a park simply in front of your friends, it should always have the same meaning. Whether you’re the same sex or different races, whether you’re a prince or penniless, it should still be about love.
So this summer when I watch one of my oldest friends walk down the aisle, I will be full of joy and pride that she has found the man she loves. She may not have a toastmaster, but she will have her family and friends. She might make her own speech, but then when has tradition ever been able to silence her?
Our weddings might not look the way we had imagined them as children. Many of us won’t want to get married at all. However if you allow yourself to love and be loved, even if it’s within yourself, then the world will always be filled with light and we will all live happily ever after.