I'm So In Love!!
I'm So In Love!!!

Do you care? Probably not. So what would you think then, if I spent one year and 15,000 telling you that I'm in love, and expected you to fork out 100 for the benefit of seeing me in love?

You'd think I was :

a) mad
b) rude
c) self-obsessed

And most of all, you'd probably think I was something of an exhibitionist. No wonder then that recent surveys suggest that the number of weddings each year has declined dramatically. The Office of National Statistics reported that last year marriages fell to an all-time low of 279,000 while divorces held steady at 154,000.

My question really is, why are people still doing it? Why do couples who have already agreed to love one another go to the time, trouble and vast expense of a wedding and ultimately a marriage?

Despite the drop in the numbers of couples choosing marriage each year, over 250,000 is still a huge figure. The prospect of lifetime togetherness must still hold a huge appeal for the majority of the nation. The idea of marriage, a monogamous, lasting relationship is central to our culture, as the Labour Government are quick to point out in recent Home Office campaigns. But why must that mean marriage? Why a wedding?

Over the last two decades, the cost of the average wedding has risen dramatically with the average couple now spending between 5000 and 15,000. This sum is commonly spent on unusual clothes (only to be worn once), meals for up to 100 people, special cars, stationery, flowers that wilt within a day, not to mention fees that churches, registrars and other government offices siphon off. Those getting married often sheepishly offer up explanations for such extravagance. The most common is the jokey "you only do it once" excuse. It always seems rude to point out that 400 of every 1000 marriages ends in divorce.

More serious reasons offered up for the big, frothy wedding ceremony are various. Often religion is sited as a big player in the decision of a couple to get married. The idea that some God or other is watching over and blessing the union is a comfort to some. The question then must be, why is that comfort needed? If marriage is a lifetime commitment couples should be sure of what they are entering into, rather than trusting to faith or superstition to reassure themselves.

According to the Stats Office though, this is an increasingly less common motivation in the drive for a wedding ceremony. Last year 58% of all marriages were civil ceremonies, couples choosing to be wed, but forsaking the religious tackle that traditionally accompanied marriage. Religion, with its stern rules and regulations, such as sanctions against divorce and remarriage, tends to be less of a factor in a couple's decision to marry one another, and perhaps this leads us back to that divorce rate figure. Most couples married last year wanted to be together, but did not want to feel bound by religion to stay together.

Another commonly sited motivation is the idea that wedding ceremonies are for families to rejoice in the young couple's love and happiness. My own mother uses this argument frequently when coercing my hand toward engagement. It would be easier, cheaper and ethically more moral to simply have my picture taken in a lacy white wedding dress in order to allow my mother to feel some sort of closure in my up-bringing. This hanging on is killing her; as she points out she'd just love to see me in white and happy.

I feel for her, but is this any reason for me to spend thousands of pounds? Any reason for me to stand up in front of one hundred people and spill the beans about what I feel for my partner? I'd rather that my family took note of the duration of my relationship with my partner, took my day to day moods and successes as indicators of my love and happiness, rather than some rote vows in a silly dress. I'd rather that my family and others approached the issue of lifetime love in a more common sense fashion.

So is it love that a wedding ceremony is really about? I am not disputing the idea that each of the 279,000 couples last year loved one another. What I do have trouble with is their motivations for the wedding ceremony, an expensive, usually showy affair in front of people who often aren't even part of the couple's daily lives. Aren't the words "I love you" between two trusting adults enough?

©Carrie McMillan 1998.

photograph by Cindy Sherman, used without permission...