(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!