Friday, November 24, 2006

From Today's Indipendant

Jemima Lewis: For richer, for poorer - but not for children

I am in my mid-30s: who knows if my wrinkled ovaries can produce the goods?

Published: 11 November 2006

The respectable burghers of Great Dunmow are not amused. The Essex town is best known for hosting the 900-year-old Dunmow Flitch Trails, in which married couples vie to demonstrate their connubial happiness. Those who succeed in convincing a judge and jury that they have not quarrelled in "twelvemonth and a day" are presented with a side - or flitch - of bacon, and carried through the streets by men in olde-worlde peasant smocks and neckerchiefs, to the delight of passing tourists.

It's the kind of barmy festivity at which rural English towns excel - but lately, the spirit of merriment has soured. The current Flitch Trial Judge, solicitor Michael Chapman, wants to open up the competition to same-sex partners - causing apoplexies among traditionalists. The arguments for and against are wearily familiar: we have to move with the times; it's political correctness gone mad; civil partnerships don't count as real marriages; it's the love that counts.

And finally, from former Flitch winner Fred Shephard, 86, we have this old chestnut: "It's about what marriage stands for, and having children in wedlock."

With the greatest respect to Mr Shephard (who must know a thing or two about marriage, having been at it for 66 years), this child-centric definition of wedlock won't wash. For one thing, its logic is being overtaken by events. Increasing numbers of gay couples are having children within civil partnerships; does that mean conservatives will recognise their form of marriage as genuine? I think not. And what of those respectable married couples who, for whatever reason, don't have children? Does that make their union less valid?

The idea that procreation is the chief purpose of wedlock is a saccharine fiction concocted by the church and popularised by the Victorians. In reality, marriage is, and always has been, more about making money than making babies.

Until the 1753 Marriage Act, the state did not interfere in the romantic arrangements of the masses. Except for royalty and the upper classes, whose dynastic weddings demanded a show of pomp, matrimony was a private - and somewhat haphazard - affair. No particular ceremony was required: only that the couple should promise themselves to each other in front of witnesses.

Many women preferred to stick to common-law arrangements in order to retain their fiscal independence. People with family businesses, such as cobblers, often discouraged their children from getting married, preferring them to live - and work - at home. Daughters might have babies of their own, but they would remain with their parents, contributing to the family coffers in exchange for help with childcare. Far from raising eyebrows, this was considered a highly respectable arrangement. As one contemporary put it: "The folk of Framlingham say that none but whores and blackguards marry. Honest folks take each other's word for it."

The Marriage Act - which required bans to be issued and the ceremony held in church - was intended to bring order to this chaos. It was aimed primarily at the moneyed classes, to stop their daughters from eloping with unsuitable adventurers, but it had the effect of putting everyone's domestic life into the hands of the church. For the next two centuries, marriage was portrayed as a moral and familial duty - one that, though it legally impoverished women and made men rich, was especially incumbent on the fairer sex.

Marriage is a better deal for women now, of course - we are even allowed to keep our own money! - but it remains in large part a fiscal institution. Civil partnerships were introduced to give gay couples the same economic perks as heterosexual ones. Analysts believe that one reason married couples are less likely to split up than cohabiting ones is the prohibitive cost of untangling their finances.

It doesn't sound very romantic, I know, but in a curious way, it is. I am getting married this time next week. All my adult life I have been financially independent, and proud of it. I worked hard and put money into pension funds and ISAs. I bought a house I couldn't afford in an unfashionable area of London, and watched with relief as property prices rose. I fought my spendthrift instincts, and tried to plan for a self-sufficient future as a spinster.

Now I am marrying an entrepreneur: the kind of man who believes in risking huge sums to make even bigger ones. I am selling my house and buying shares in his business. We recently set up a joint account, which means - a concept that still brings me out in a cold sweat - that I can spend his money, and he can spend mine. If marriage is about trust, there can be no greater proof than this.

I am in my mid-30s: who knows whether my wrinkled ovaries will be able to produce the goods? If procreation were the only point of marriage, I would not think there any point at all. I am marrying Henry because he makes the mundane seem like an adventure; and because if I'm going to be richer or poorer, I want it to be with him.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


We're reading our mariage book a bit at a time at the moment, discussing it as we go. This week we read a chapter on how to talk effectively.


The chapters are very insightful and provide much food for thought, but reading the boook together also provides an excellent springboard for open communication about marriage and our relationship, and allows topics of conversation to arise that might not be discussed otherwise. It's also healthy to talk about our dead good relationship in an objective and *safe* environment. With this in mind, reading the marriage book course jobbie togther is good for the all round communication in our relationship, outside, perhaps, of the context of the prose.


This chapter brought up more things than just talking effectively. Ben in particular finds communicating thoughts and feelings more dificult, so he's started keeping a diary which makes it easier for us both to kickstart a conversation.

The next chapter is about listening effectively, but I learned from this chapter that in order to enable Ben to talk to me effectively, as a listener I need to be open to him and make sure he feels safe to open up, and that it's good to ask probing questions and draw him out of himself.

We also covered hobbies/interests in this chapter - one of the things talked about in the blurb/introduction of the book is that marriage is a discovery of how rich and rewarding each other is. It suggested sharing activities together, and we thought it might be nice to start something together from scratch so we can have fun learning about something together - dancing might be this and will come in handy at our wedding!

We also talked about mealtimes and how they can be a huge source (Ben: sauce - geddit!) of time to communicate and how mealtimes are a unique opportunity for a family to sit down together and talk. We'd love to have a bigger kitchen because it's only really big enough for one person to cook and we get stroppy being in each other's way, so that's something to look for in a future house, but in the meanime we'd like to utilise the time around meals more - preparing the meal, eating it and then washing up is big chunk of time for us to be able to share our days with each other and talk in depth.

The thing I'm struggling most with at the moment is the idea of giving our best to each other. So often I come home from work and want to flop down and be boring for the rest of the evening. The book talks about how we can make such an effort for work etc but forget that the people we need to make the biggest effort to save our best for are those closest to us. I need to work on this - I'm my grumpiest and tiredest after a day at work and this isn't fair to Ben.

I'm really enjoying the time we set aside to talk about us. I hope we never forget to do this even once we're married, because it's invaluable time invested in the thing that's most important to us.

Marriage Vows Sound Cool

I, bloke, take you, chic,
to be my wife,
to have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death us do part;
according to God’s holy law.
In the presence of God I make this vow.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

(I promise I'll write a proper blog here soon! /Ben)

Friday, October 06, 2006
`A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.` Terry Pratchett

`I pay very little what any young person says on the subject of marriage. If they profess a disinclination for it, I only set it down that they have not yet seen the right person.` - Jane Austen

Saturday, September 30, 2006
Laura: We had the vicar round for tea this week and we were given our homework for when we start meeting more regulary to discuss marriage n stuff. The Marriage Course Book is written by Nicky and Sila Lee, who pioneered and run the Marriage Course at Holy Trinity Brompton. I'm enjoying i so far, it's not as patronising and narow minded as other books I've tried. Our plan is to read a bit at a time and then discuss together.

Ben: I'm going to read chapter one tonight.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Welcome to our wedding blog, for all things weddingy. Maybe it will involved into a married people's blog, as I'm sure that's a whole adventure in itself.

We have a church booked and a vicar to perform the ceremony. Nicholas Vesey will be presiding, which I'm looking forward to hugely. His description of what he'd like the ceremony to symbolise was exactly what I was wishing for in my head. It's a pleasent surprise when vicars agree with one! He said something along the lines of it being a truly spiritual union, which I think Ben and I are on our way to already. (I think you have to be on your way to consider getting married).

The church will be St Luke's on Aylsham Road (I feel like we're invading the blogoshere's church!) as for some reason St Augustine's doesn't hold weddings.

I'm quite at ease with the ceremony part of the day now. I'm looking forward to us meeting with Nicholas and planning the service. It will be the most important part of the day, and I'm glad God has provided us with a church leader who is supportive and has similar aims to us.

The reception is still booked for Wensum Valley Hotel. That's the part of the day I don't feel so easy about, it seems such a huge fuss and expense. Dad has offered to pay for the hwole thing but it still doesn't seem right spending a huge sum, even if it isn't our money! But there will be guests who have travelled from afar and it will be nice to cater for them properly.

Think that's all for now!


Wednesday, August 30, 2006
365 days 23 hours and 44 mins 'til marriage!