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David Bouchier: A thoroughly modern marriage

Thad Zajdowitz

It’s wedding season again. In some primitive European countries, the month of May is still greeted with ancient traditions like the Maypole Dance, where young unmarried people dance around a pole holding long ribbons, until they are thoroughly entangled. After this, presumably, nature takes its course, and weddings may or may not happen later.

Weddings, like most things, have become more expensive and more complicated over time. These days your dance around the maypole may cost you $25,000, plus limousines and videography. Despite a slowdown in 2020 because of COVID the $50-billion-a-year wedding industry is doing very well, and the institution of marriage is sustained by it. I suspect that the desire to have a wedding is sometimes stronger than the desire to have a marriage. It might be better to separate the two, so that anyone who likes weddings can have as many as they can afford without being stuck with the co-star for the rest of their lives. Weddings are about theater, but marriage is about the more serious subject of love and companionship.

Marriage is splendid, when it works, but it is never an easy choice. “Till death do us part” is a big commitment, especially now that we are all determined to live so long. Young men especially are accused of being commitment-phobic. Yet they readily make lifetime commitments to things like tattoos, body piercings, football teams and Harley Davidsons. What’s so special about marriage?

It may be the idea of a lifelong marriage that gives them pause, or the trauma of wedding itself, or the fear that marriage and adulthood will be the equivalent of a police raid that closes down a long and enjoyable party. Those carefree teenage years can be stretched into decades, and it must be hard to give them up. Young women too are becoming more attached to their freedom and marrying later or not at all.

A wedding was once seen as a rendezvous with destiny. Now it’s more like a throw of the dice. Many brides and bridegrooms must march down the aisle twice, or maybe three or more times before they pick a winner. There’s no three strikes rule, which is good news for Mr. Trump, now on number three, and some people have a really hard time making the right choice. Liz Taylor, for example, has had eight husbands.

This practical, unromantic trend in matrimony, perhaps first popularized by King Henry VIII and then re-invented in a kinder, gentler form in Hollywood, has revived the old idea that marriage should have built-in time limits, like a car lease. You could turn in your partner of either or any sex in good condition with limited mileage after three years or take the option to make the contract permanent or extend it for a while.

Romantics naturally hate this notion of conditional marriage. But the happy result would be even more weddings, without the intervening traumas of divorce. More weddings would mean more hearts and flowers, more tears, more bad poetry, more family drama and many more shopping opportunities. Children could look forward to a regularly scheduled supply of new and indulgent step parents, and nobody need ever feel trapped in a relationship again.

This is a perfectly rational, workable and sensible proposal, like term limits on Congress. Like all rational, workable and sensible proposals, it will never happen.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.