I was at a wedding last week that didn't really strike me as the kind of joyful affair that weddings are expected to be. The bride and groom have been together for quite a few years and already have a house and a mortgage together, so perhaps marriage just seemed like the inevitable next step for them. Its very bitchy of me to say this, but despite all their efforts in making sure that bridesmaids, dresses, honeymoon, reception dinner, transport etc were perfect, they omitted the "and together for all our days" -an obligatory part of the vows - on their marriage ceremony service sheet. It was clearly the element of the process which was least important to them.
It all set me thinking about something Salman Rushdie said in the June edition of Word Magazine (you'll find the magazine website on that link but the article seems to only be in the printed mag):
"I don't see any reason for marriage at all, truthfully. In fact, I have always thought it's more of a proof of commitment to each other when you don't get married than when you do. If you stay together because that's what you want to do every day - that's true commitment. Writers are not easy to live with, but then nobody is easy to live with. If you could walk out the door anytime you want and you don't - that's powerful. I'm not sure there's any value to the contract of marriage. But women like it. I honestly don't regret anything, they're not failures, but the idea of there being one person for life hasn't worked out for me. I'm impressed by those for whom it has."
Before considering Rushdie's opinion it is worth noting that he has recently undergone his fourth divorce, so it has obviously been a long and bitter road that has led him to this conclusion. Nevertheless, I found myself nodding in agreement when I read the words "If you saty together every day beause that's what you want to do - that's true commitment." Then I stopped and thought about it and realised that there are more things holding people together than expensive rings on their fingers and a piece of paper. In countries like America where divorces can be quickly obtained it is surely easier to dissolve a marriage than it is to sort out what happens to the remaining mortgage payments a couple were intending to share for another 25 years or so. Having children together is naturally a bit of an obstacle to the old "I'm fecking off now, love" attitude that Rushdie appears to assume all dissatisfied unmarried partners carry toward each other. It is indeed a powerful thing when a couple stays together simply because they want to, but that is surely what the contract of marriage is intended to imply. Couples staying together when they are making each others' life a misery is not a good thing, but neither is one of them bolting at the first sign of trouble.
Mind you, I don't think many people do that. I'm sure I'm not the only person out there who has found it extremely difficult to break up with a girlfriend despite the lack of children or a mortgage to complicate the issue. Feelings of love and responsibility are pretty tough to shake off and it is surely those that keep couples togther long after the wedding photos have faded. There are now plenty of things that bind two people together more tightly than marriage certificates but I still find the process a valuable way of celebrating your love with the people who matter most to you.