Friday, 13 March 2009

Britain's First Divorce Fair

(with apologies to my lovely former colleagues who tied the knot last weekend & about whose marriage I harbour no cynicism whatsoever, despite the following - mainly written last year from when the Fair was originally postponed).

This weekend Brighton plays host to Britain's first Divorce Fair.

After I'd finished choking on my cornflakes, my mind went into comedy overdrive as it imagined the stalls on offer;

Win Custody of The Kids - hoopla
The Sloughed Spouse Slave Auction - to re-match divorcees,
Pet Palimony lawyers - to futureproof the pets (the hidden victims of break-ups apparently)
A boxing ring in which sparring spouses can settle what solicitors cannot.
Defrocked vicars finding new careers in undoing marriages-gone-wrong with unfrocked blasé blessing, after which rings could be exchanged back again and wedding dress and grooms' outfit whipped off and ceremonially shredded, revealing the new single-again makeovers underneath. Finally splicees-turned-splitees could enjoy their last dance together (literally) before waving each other off with their share of the proceeds and a piece of cake and going away!
A stall selling large saws to saw those disputed possessions in half.
A stall for the vengeful who lack the imagination to sew their own rotting prawns into the marital curtains, valances or car seats.
DIY divorce kits for those who are prepared to be amicable for the sake of £20 rather than making solicitors rich and ending up with considerably reduced settlements.
Then there's the 'Divorce Me Quick' hats and 'I Went To Brighton And All I Got Was This Lousy Divorce' T-shirts
Not forgetting the Fairground barker's immortal cry of; 'Roll up, Roll Up - All the fun of the affair!'

Of course in real life it's rather more blandly entitled The Starting Over Show

Sad, but inevitable I suppose. Divorce is not about to go away, and for every marriage that throws in the towel without really trying (the vast majority being among the under-30s) is doubtless to be found another where physical or emotional abuse has degenerated into an everyday fact of married life. Or perhaps the couple concerned have simply grown apart to the degree they will never be happy together again. No one's fault - it just happens sometimes that something can start out being right at the time, but not remain that way, no matter the hope in the hearts of that once happy couple as they walked up the aisle. Certainly I am now of a maturity to appreciate that not everyone of my grandparents' generation was happily married, whatever impressive anniversary they were photographed celebrating and face value I took them at as an impressionable teenager. Some of them were indeed as lonely as any singleton in those days of put up and shut up or 'you've made your bed so you must lie in it'. Economic necessity too played no small part aside from misplaced shame, and doubtless continues to do so in these uncertain times.

Which brings me to my pet theory, recently stolen by John Cleese, though if the Fair had not been postponed from last year my view would have been blogged first - namely that barring the legal age of marriage being raised to 30, perhaps in this reductive climate it would be more practical to reduce marriage contracts to only five years duration say, (with the possibility of mutual re-election for another five years when renewal time came up - an 18 year contract if kids came along). Then couples would not have time to lapse into complacency and would be forced to work harder at their marriages if they wanted them to last. Conversely the pressures of panic over the words 'til death do us part' would be lifted, possibly giving the marriage better odds of survival ironically.

In the old days when people had every chance of losing a spouse to the Grim Reaper relatively young, and subsequently being free to re-marry, it was probably not such a big deal to plight your troth for life to the first or second mildly attractive prospect who asked, and mean it (for latter-day example sic Jack Tweed's selfless act of love and bold commitment in marrying the terminally-ill Jade Goody). Fortunately most of us can now expect to live a great deal longer than poor Ms Goody and have many more experiences in life to shape us, such as better access to education, travel and opportunities. We are only too well aware that there is a whole wide world out there and not just the boy or girl in the next village. Gone too are the limited horizons, knowing our place in society and constancy that our grandparents knew, whether this is 'for better or worse.'

Not that I wish to see the candy-bar mentality prevail of the 'well I quite like this chocolate bar, but I won't commit myself to it just in case I meet another chocolate bar I like even better' variety. There must surely be a happy medium between unrealistic expectations of a soulmate-for-everyone and not valuing others as human beings of equal validity, sentiency and worth. There seems something patently wrong in condemning someone as 'second best' for example, just because they are not right for us personally. The wrong match for us might be a-dream-come-true for someone else who is a closer emotional and otherwise match for them (though fair enough condemn that ex if they have truly acted like a jerk, rather than been civil in their handling of the situation, or behaved as a 'deadbeat' mum or dad to any children resulting from the broken relationship).

However to see our media seesaw wildly between featuring the unashamed antics of those who change sexual partners as often as their socks v the coquettish born-again virgin brigade who've pledged themselves to celibacy until Mr/Ms 'Right One' comes along (with neither doing a good job of sounding balanced), you wouldn’t think that there might be any such middle path known as common sense, paved with the gold of a certain amount of sexual continence and self-respect.

Just call me a pragmatic romantic!


Steerforth said...

I think people too often confuse physical attraction with compatibility and get married when the relationship is still exciting.

Then, once the novelty's worn off and real life comes crashing in (nights of passion curtailed by early starts for work or sleepless babies), the cracks start to appear.

This is nothing new and the higher divorce rate these days exists because people don't have to stay together; not because marriages are unhappier than they were 100 years ago.

As you say, looking back, it's easy to see that the marriages of elderly relatives weren't as strong as they seemed. My mum's parents hated each other, but were constrained by poverty and social convention.

30 is a good idea, as people change so much in their twenties. Hopefully, by that age, you'll realise that friendship is the most important part of a relationship (not that I'd ever marry someone with a face like the back end of a bus).

Wisewebwoman said...

I view marriage as a construct of the patriarchy and it should be abolished. Women are nearly always the losers when it comes to breakdown/divorce. If children are not intended from the union it loses even more credibility.
I really believe it enforces inequality and I'm consistently surprised that we haven't come up with a better and more fulfilling arrangement for all concerned, including the children and pets.
I could write reams but will stop now, dear Laura.

Steve said...

Weirdly enough, I've commented elsewhere this week about the old Celtic ceremony (I think ) of handfasting where a couple were effectively married for a year after which they could renew for another year or go their separate ways peacably. I think it sounds remarkably sane and civilized - and as you say a spur for oouples to work at the relationship to keep the flames of passion, love and respect alive.

The Divorce Fair sounds grand. Hope the have a Shoot The Mother-in-Law in the Barrel stall. Bet the queue stretches right out of the main hall.

KAZ said...

Marriage should be a legal contract - nothing more.
Meringue wedding dresses and all the trimmings should be banned. I used to have a 'divorce sofa' that came apart in the middle. Nothing sinister - it was just going cheap.

Reluctant Blogger said...

Yes, I loved the idea of Celtic handfasting that Steve mentioned the other day on a post that I wrote.

I don't believe in marriage at all - but yes, limiting the span of an arrangement would perhaps be something I might contemplate.

But yes, many "happy" marriages are far from that - people just get stuck in their ruts and are too afraid to change. Marriage is an outdated institution - well, unless we reintroduce smallpox and other illnesses that wipe partners out for us.

Tessa said...

I think I got the best of both worlds by waiting until I was well into my 40s before marrying for the first (and last, however it turns out!) time. We both were already showing all the signs of the curmudgeons we've become and the kids (his three, our one) were past the mewling and puking stage. Besides he made it through my menopause and two kids' puberties happening at the same time with aplomb, so I'm thinking he might be a keeper.

Funny, though; when I told my late mother I was getting married, her reaction was "I can die happy now, knowing that you're settled down!" Like I was still growing pot in cupboards and throwing my bonnet over any and all windmills. I almost called off the marriage. But I didn't ... and she didn't die for another ten years, so maybe she didn't trust me to make a go of it. Ha!

The Sagittarian said...

It's all rather hit and miss isn't it?
My parents had a lovely marriage, yet I know others who did not.
As for me, I was a late starter and got a pre-owned, house-trained model who seems to be working out for now!

Can Bass 1 said...

Well of course, he would say that, wouldn't he?

garfer said...

I blame the bicycle.

Mobility is unnatural and all that jiggling disrupted the nether regions.

Pair bonding and the puncture repair kit were never likely to work out.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Steerforth I think you raise some interesting points, and you are right that too many people marry on the basis of sexual chemistry rather than because they have something real between them which might endure. Luckily, beauty being in the eye of the beholder, hopefully there is a 'market' for everyone out there, however ill or well-blessed in the looks department (though of course it helps when people make an effort to be clean, charming and presentable at least)

WWW, I think many women are all too often victims of their own desire for children/a family (if not quite someone to financially support them) and let this cloud their judgement of who they marry, marrying in haste to repent at leaisure when opportunity presents. Or perhaps they still think a man will give them confidence or validate them in some way, even in this day and age. There seem to be plenty around still like that, not least those who maintain a pretence of being confident on the outside.

Steve, the celtic handfasting ceremony sounds infinitely sensible.

Kaz, well certainly the fancier the wedding the more pressure a couple put themselves under to make reality live up to it I reckon, much though the sumptuous wedding I attended the other week was lovely and the couple concerned about as sincere as it gets (not to mention both in their early 40s so hopefully old enough to know what they want/are doing.)

RB, I used to believe in marriage, before I found out it didn't seem to believe in me... But que sera. Perhaps it's an institution that at least needs revision if not outmoding.

Tessa how wise you sound. If a person doesn't know their own mind/what they want by their early 40s, there's no hope for them is there? What's all this about chucking bonnets at windmills? I haven't heard of that one before. Your mother's reaction is hilarious - but like you say she obviously STILL didn't trust that you could manage without her for a good few years, bless!

Sagittarian - good on you! Sounds like you've made a wise investment there.

CB1 - pardon?

Puncture repair kits Garfer, that's what troubled marriages need. Good idea. I'll add it to my fantasy host of Divorce Fair stalls.

Nota Bene said...

Call me romantic...I madly want to believe in marriage, but the cynic in me says that it's a dying institution for because there's no longer an economic need, people can be more selfish, and socially it doesn't have any standing..but strangely our need for a long term partner seems ever stronger

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Believe it or not, I'm also a hopeless romantic at heart Nota Bene.

But I'm also a terrible cynic after too long reading Private Eye and observing life around me.

I do think our expectations are so much higher these days and therein lies the danger that reality will not live up to them.

I've also had more than one unrealistic ex who believed they didn't have to work at a relationship because if it 'was meant to be, then it was meant to be'. I believe both are currently on their tod!

teeni said...

I couldn't agree with that last paragraph more. I don't watch much television but when I see the way things are so irreverently displayed and how disrespectful people act towards each other at times, I sometimes have to laugh but then, I am so ashamed of my own humanity because of it. Sad. On that note, and just because you put it in my mind, my sympathies go out to Ms. Goody and her family.

Old Fogey said...

I'm in favour of marriage. Not because I believe it makes people happy - nothing does that - but because, for all its failings, it's the one institution the state can't have full control over. It's personal you see - and in marraige we are independent of the state. The state has a vested interest in weakening it.

Your penultimate chapter is spot on. If we start out saying marriage won't be like we think it should, then we won't be disappointed. Thinking you've found a soul mate and you will.

Good luck with the job hunting

Lucy Fishwife said...

I think people should be made to pass a test (in manner of driving test) to prove they were fit to undertake matrimony. Ditto for childrearing. The problem as I see it isn't that divorce is too easy, it's that marriage is sold as this great party with loads of presents (have to admit mine was, hurrah) with no real emphasis on how living with somebody does, actually, take work. God, I sound like my mother (divorced) and aunt (twice divorced).