Written by Abi Bliss


Unwedded Bliss

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Abi Bliss and her fella have been happily unwed for nearly two decades. She sees no reason to change this and plenty of reasons not to.

Lovebirds photo by Peter Békési, via Wikimedia Commons.

Lovebirds photo by Peter Békési, via Wikimedia Commons.

I don’t need to watch horror films; if I ever feel like giving myself the creeps, I just try to picture my wedding day.

The problem isn’t with the prospective groom, my lovely boyfriend/partner/gentleman caller/whatever, Alex. OK, he may not be one of life’s natural suit-wearers, but seeing as though one of the foundations of our relationship – 17 years, four months, a few days and counting – is how deliciously comfortable we feel just being ourselves around each other, he’d be welcome to turn up to the ceremony in his habitual non-work garb of climbing shoes, helmet and harness jangling with carabiner clips.

It’s more that the prospect of gathering far-flung (geographically and often emotionally) family members together, shelling out for underwhelming food and overpriced flowers, making speeches where platitudes edge out anything more honest and doing it all under the judgmental glare of ‘tradition’ sounds like the kind of experience I only really feel like enduring next time someone dies.

In fact, I’m not even sure I’d put up with that at my own funeral. *starts researching options for discreet composting in obscure Scottish forests*

“Disentangling our lives would be painful enough without having to pay a court hundreds of pounds to grant us permission.”

What’s more, as someone who blushes when opening birthday presents, the idea of spending a whole day obliged to be the centre of attention, the official Beautiful Bride, puts a particularly vivid glowing red cherry on the stress-cake.

Why don’t we just have a ‘two friends as witnesses followed by a pub lunch on a Tuesday afternoon’ wedding? Or even elope? After all, as people are fond of saying, it’s not really about the wedding, but the marriage.

Well, exactly. That too.

Some of my antipathy to getting hitched stems from feminist reasons: the stuff that, however many best women you appoint for the ceremony, still hangs around in the background like that weird great-uncle asking with a leer if you’re going to be wearing white.

Despite paying lip-service to the vigorous efforts of campaigners a couple of years ago, the government is still dragging its feet on adding mothers’ names to marriage certificates. Then there’s the fact that, for opposite-sex marriages at least (someone must have realised how ridiculous the concept would be for same-sex ones), vows, rings and dancing to Come on Eileen aren’t sufficient – to make a marriage binding you actually have to have done the deed. In a specific way. Yes, the law is under your bed, watching.

medieval wedding

No, that’s not how you’re meant to do it.

Mainly, however – and don’t worry about Alex, the feeling is mutual – having lived together in unwedded bliss for 16 years now, we just can’t see the point.

I’m not naive. As pro-marriage pieces inevitably proclaim, in the UK there’s legally no such thing as common-law marriage. That’s why we’ve made sure we’re on an equal footing financially and property-wise. Should one of us unexpectedly exit the relationship in a horizontal position, we’re confident that the surviving partner will have enough to live on.

As for the emotional security that marriage supposedly offers… well, what of it? Don’t get me wrong; I’m genuinely happy for anyone who decides that marriage is right for them. I even enjoy other people’s weddings: all that dressing up, meeting random relatives and (best of all) watching small children hurl themselves across the dancefloor.

I just don’t believe love is a promise that’s yours to make. How can you determine how you’ll feel in 10, 20, 40 years’ time? Looking at the divorce rate (42 per cent in 2012), however sincerely they are made, such vows are really only declarations of hope.

What about more practical security; the part where spouses promise to care for each other, ‘in sickness and in health’? Considering what life throws at some couples, we’ve been very, very lucky so far; we know that this won’t always be the case. But when one of us has needed support, the other has given it freely; not grudgingly, in contractually obliged doses. People who love each other do that regardless of whether they signed a piece of paper.

“As someone who blushes when opening birthday presents, the idea of spending a whole day obliged to be the centre of attention, the official Beautiful Bride, puts a particularly vivid glowing red cherry on the stress-cake.”

Alex and I were only 20 when we got together. I can’t say I knew then that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him; I just wanted to spend today and maybe the next day, and possibly the one after that.

As the line of days behind us grew longer, so has my longing for our future together. Yet if – perish the thought – one day either he or I decides that we’ve had enough, we should be free to go our separate ways. Disentangling our lives would be painful enough without having to pay a court hundreds of pounds to grant us permission.

In that way, it’s a lot like my career as a freelancer: our current arrangement is mutually beneficial; with no room for complacency we do our best ‘work’ to impress each other; we can choose from the highest-paying clients… Wait, scratch that; we’re monogamous. But the absence of anything legally tying us together just underlines how every day is a choice we make to stay as a team.

I’ll leave you with my favourite song about the subject: French charmer George Brassens’ sweet yet forthright La Non-Demande en Mariage (‘The non-marriage proposal’). The lyrics (translated here) are rather idiomatic but the image of not wanting to hold an arrow to Cupid’s throat takes little explanation.


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Written by Abi Bliss

Abi is Standard Issue’s sub-editor, which means she revels in pointing out typos. On other people’s websites, of course. *shuffles awkwardly* She threw up in the Houses of Parliament aged 10 and it’s all been downhill from there.