I was walking round Tesco with one of my sons when I overheard a mum talking to her 8 or 9 year old daughter about “Nan’s boyfriend”. In a split second that rolled surprise, reflection, perspective and understanding into one, I realised that this isn’t really that remarkable. Of course, Nan’s circumstances could have been anything from being a widow with a perfectly platonic best friend relationship through to the latest in a lifetime of serial partners – it’s not for me to know or judge. But Nan, probably in her late 40’s or early 50’s, is part of the generation that discovered the freedom, the edginess, the daring of defying the establishment and living together. Marriage was ‘just a bit of paper’; true love didn’t need such props to keep it alive.
Now it seems, the sons and daughters of Nan’s generation are turning again to marriage, only this time it’s positive choice rather than the expectations of society that’s calling couples up the aisle. An article in the Sunday Times by Shane Watson observes that “…the generation of twentysomethings whose parents didn’t bother at all are not just interested in marriage, but eager to get on with it.” Harry has proposed to his girl friend because he sees marriage as the ‘live-strong’ option. Clover married because it felt “like a brave, life-affirming choice. Anything less seemed a bit lazy”.
Lessons we’ve done with 14 and 15 year olds suggest that many consider marriage worth aiming for, even if only after some exhaustive compatibility tests with a few potential partners first. I doubt that this youthful optimism will bring about a wholesale return to marriage – many will choose to co-habit because it’s easier. But big changes in culture often seem to be more like millions of small changes in perception, and I believe perception of marriage is changing.
Perhaps a time is coming when marriage will be seen not as an old institution but as the highest and most empowering relationship, almost a holy calling for those prepared to make this most prophetic of commitments. A parable of a wedding feast yet to come.