Cohabiting or married?
To all outward appearances, my partner and I are just like any other couple. Mortgage, kids, usually too knackered for sex, matching anoraks (just kidding.) Together for 10 years, with everything in joint names, we’re no different to any other married couple. Except we’re not actually married.
We’re what the government calls cohabitors, though personally I prefer the word couple, just without the m word. Cohabiting makes me think of a couple of rabbits shacked up in hutch together. And before you ask, no, we’re not engaged either.
According to some, cohabiting is something of a menace to society, a threat to our children’s happiness, stability and future prospects. Figures show cohabitors are more likely to split up than married couples and it’s claimed that children born out of wedlock are more likely to end up in poverty or crime.
So why don’t we just do the kids a favour and tie the knot? Because while I respect anyone’s right to get married – especially if it’s for religious reasons (isn’t that the point of marriage?) I can’t think of a single good reason to traipse down the aisle in a dress I’ll never wear again. Would my three children be any happier if I had a ring on my finger? Would they even notice? Of course not.
Statistics, shitisitcs. Marriage doesn’t make children happy, any more than it makes adults happy. It’s strong relationships that make people happy, not certificates or statistics. All statistics show is that married couples take longer to get out of a bad situation than unmarried couples.
No doubt the recent spate of celebrity weddings, including the Brangelinas and the Clooneys, may prompt a batch of not-married-with-kids to rethink their status. Well, not me.
The idea of joining an outdated patriarchal institution and being ‘given away’ like a prize cow or a round of cheese, makes me shudder. Women are not objects to be handed from one male charge to another (it is almost always men who do the ‘giving away’) just as men are not commitment-phobic primates who need to be herded up the aisle to prevent them from straying.
I have no desire to be a princess for a day or wear a flowing white gown – another incongruous symbol of a patriarchal establishment. After all, how many brides walk down the aisle with their hymen intact? Certainly not one with three kids in tow!
It’s as if looking (and spending) a million dollars and settling down with a prince is the best a woman can hope for. Personally, I’d rather show my daughters that success and self-esteem doesn’t hinge on persuading a man to put a ring on it.
What’s more, according to the Office of National Statistics, the average wedding now costs more than £20,000. (Clearly, this is not an issue for the Brangelinas or Clooneys.) But why on earth would anyone would blow this kind of money on one single day? A day where it might possibly rain.
Even if my partner and I were to discover a few thousand pounds lying around in the joint account, it would feel immoral to fritter it away on taffeta, tiers and tiaras. Yes, we could recite a few vows at the local register office. But I really can’t see how our own lives, or our children’s lives, would be enhanced by a piece of paper.
Even the idea of a wedding list makes me cringe. After a decade of cohabiting, it’s not like we need a set of coasters, or a new frying pan. Nor would our lives be significantly enhanced by a gravy boat, butter dish, set of champagne flutes, or any other wedding list must-have. And now that the kitchen is overflowing with Peppa Pig utensils and Tommy Tippee cups, we don’t have the cupboard space anyway.
Some John Lewis vouchers wouldn’t go amiss, but that’s hardly a reason to get married.
There’s always the honeymoon. But with three kids, and no suitable grandparents to deposit them with, that too is out of the question.
Yet couples like us who choose to make their commitment to each other rather than the state, do so at their legal peril. Cohabiting partners receive none of the inheritance rights of married couples (if my partner was to die, I’d get nothing) and in the event of a relationship breakdown there’s no guarantee the wealthier partner will have to support the rest of the family. So it’s important to have a will at least.
It’s not cohabiting couples who need to change, but the law. I’m not suggesting marriage should be done away with like opal fruits and marathons (anyone else remember the 80s?) Feminism is about choice and that includes the choice to get married. But it’s time cohabiting couples were given the same legal recognition and rights as their married equivalents. For the sake of grown-ups and children.
The Mature FatherJohn Medina is the author of "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five."
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