Tuesday, 18 January 2011
Marriage v Cohabitation
The events of the past couple of months have emphasised my own mortality. Possibly quite normal for someone in their 60s younger people will think, but few of us feel 'old'. Of course there are things we suddenly realise we have difficulty doing or just can't do but I doubt if many people dwell on such matters.
Therefore, it was with more pleasure than usual I heard this weekend that the daughter of one of my longest-standing friends is to be married in the summer. She's a lovely girl who has shown a talent for music all her life, but once she met a science teacher at secondary school, biology was promoted to first on her list and she has worked her way up that competitive career ladder.
That aside, there was something her mother said during our conversation which made me think just how much our society has changed in the past 30 years. Her mother has three children and this is her younger daughter. Her son and elder daughter married in recent years after living with their respective partners for some time. In fact her son already had a daughter with his partner before they married. Nothing unusual there in this day and age and, according to his mother, all are content.
What my friend said was she was upset by a comment from an acquaintance who had expressed surprise at discovering - let's call the young woman Rachel - Rachael had never lived with any partner. 'Best they try before they buy' was said to her. Now, my friend is a well travelled, broad minded, intelligent person, but she felt the remark reflected unkindly on her daughter. I can understand why because the home, the new furniture and even the children seem far more important than the ultimate commitment of marriage.
Over the years I've heard every excuse as to why some people, who have children together, haven't married. Often it's the cost of the wedding and when I say a touching ceremony can be had for less than £100 in most registry offices, you would think I'd suggested they eat broken glass.
Some men (and women) aren't interested in marriage. Some think a 25 year mortgage is binding enough. In 1991 almost a third of babies had unmarried parents. When the Office of National Statistics releases new figures later this year, it seems likely that half the UK's children will be born to couple who are unmarried.
In this article one woman substantiates her reason for not marrying the father of her children as: "You hear of people who've been together for ages, then they get married and the relationship falls apart". Does cohabitation keep each partner more on their toes than marriage? Does marriage mean anything in these modern times? Our divorce statistics remain static, yet the incidence of family breakdown has increased disturbingly according to Harry Benson, author of Let's Stick Together.
"Making divorce more difficult is not the issue here. The bigger and braver deal is accepting the unequivocal truth that marriage is quantitatively better than cohabitation".
I can't change my opinion that couples should marry before they have children. That may well come from a presbyterian upbringing but I firmly believe children deserve the additional security which married parents can provide.
Rachael is traditional, very traditional and certainly not old-fashioned. During our chat her mother realised she was being slightly too sensitive about criticism of her children and we laughingly agreed that children really are for life even though husbands or partners come and go.
Now I have a few months to haunt the shops and find that elusive outfit which must be accompanied by one of these wonderful fascinators. The adventure starts next week.